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Have you ever knocked over a cup of coffee, and immediately felt foolish for doing so, as if it was some quick action that could have been avoided that caused you not only to lose a cup of coffee, but now necessitates cleaning up the spill? You may feel mad at yourself for spilling the drink, and frustrated that now you need to clean it up. Well, imagine that you can’t see that cup of coffee, that it isn’t even yours, and that you don’t know that it is there. You knock it over. How do you feel? In my case, all the above feelings come into play, but there is something else: guilt. It is a feeling that I did something wrong, and I immediately feel bad about it. It is even worse if it is someone else’s drink, and there is a mess that I created that now needs to be cleaned up.

I have been working on recognizing these feelings, identifying where they come from, and understanding why I feel so bad about an obvious accident. By rights, I should feel less anxiety about these occurrences because I am blind. But I don’t allow myself that pass, and probably feel even worse than a normal-seeing person when these accidents happen.

So why is this the case for me? As a dear friend recently pointed out to me, it all has to do with a lack of control. She explained that while I am not in control of the loss of sight, and therefore spilled someone else’s coffee, I assume the guilt of that action to gain some control of my actions.

This revelation strikes a chord all through my life, as I have tried to make sense of a world where, as a child, I did not understand what was happening around me. Instead of acknowledging the lack of control that I had over many of the things that transpired, like my disability, I felt to blame in some way. This blame led to some false sense of control over the situation. Strangely enough, though, I don’t recall ever feeling any better about the losses I incurred. It only served to give me a hyper-vigilant sense of responsibility over things that I had no control over.

While I am not sure how many people with disabilities experience this issue, I believe it bears examining. This concept was a revelation for me, and one that I plan to put into practice as a soundbite in my head as I go forward. For me, guilt is equivalent to punishment, and is a bondage from which I desperately want to be free. Moving forward, I hope to see spilling anything as simply an accident, having no bearing on my inability to be in control of my blindness. I don’t want to cry anymore over spilt milk.

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Susan Gray is chair of the board of directors of Options for Independence in Auburn.

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