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Finding Words

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted with permission from Dialogue Magazine, Summer, 2004.

Writing can be one of the most therapeutic exercises in life. Whether it's keeping a journal or diary, composing letters that we never send, or just writing creatively for personal reasons, the written word has a cathartic effect. It relieves frustration, clarifies thoughts and sparks the imagination.

When I first became blind as a 10-year-old child, I didn't know how to express how I was feeling. I wasn't certain, for that matter, what I was feeling. I found it difficult to talk to family or friends, and as a consequence, I bottled everything up. Once I returned to school, however, the ramifications of my blindness began to dawn on me-if not in concrete terms, then in emotional ones.

I was overwhelmed by intense feelings of isolation, anger, fear, sadness, and even shame. I didn't understand these feelings, nor did I know how to relieve them.

I had never been one to keep a diary. I had tried to keep one a couple of years before, but I found that my entries were repetitive; "Got up. Had breakfast. Watched TV. Went to school. Jumped rope at recess. Came home. Watched TV. Argued with brothers. Went to bed." Every time I read over what I had written the sheer monotony of the entry (and my life) hit me, and I gave up. Why keep a diary if I had nothing important or unique to write? I derived no benefit from it.

My renewed interest in writing blossomed in grade seven. Each week the students had to compose and recite a poem in class. Although I never wrote about personal matters in my poems, I soon discovered that I could give life to my thoughts and imaginings. Whether it was from an overactive imagination due to the lack of visual stimuli or from something else, I have no idea. What I do know is that my mind was constantly filled with pictures--something that never happened when I could see.

But before long, when those emotions threatened to cause me to burst, I started committing my thoughts to paper. I would sit on my bedroom floor and punch line after line of braille on my slate. It helped to relieve the volcano threatening to explode inside me. But a lot of it didn't make sense.

So I began incorporating my personal feelings and experiences into poems. What better vehicle to express one's pain? Like the poems I had written in school, my compositions were neither structured nor poetic. The only thing remotely poetic about them, I think, was their rhymes. But they worked for me.

By pouring my heart and soul into poems, my thoughts and emotions gradually crystallized. That hazy sense of discomfort and misery became fear, anger, loneliness. This was the first real step for me in coming to terms with my disability. Over the years I have also used poetry in dealing with depression, a friend's death and my mother's stroke.

More recently, I have become more serious about writing. I have taken courses in creative writing and my focus has expanded from poetry to include short stories and articles related to blindness. Even these genres can afford relief and some of the most well-received things I have written have been laced throughout with personal memories and experiences.

We've heard the advice, "Write about what you know." Well, for me, that advice is well taken. I have been writing about what I know and feel since the onset of my blindness. But my advice would be, "Don't only write about what you know. Also write about what you think, feel, etc., even if you're not sure what those thoughts and feelings are."

Perhaps something you write will be published!