By Molly Burke
When I was a child I could say the words “Retinitis Pigmentosa” (RP). I could tell people what it meant and that it could one day lead to blindness. I knew why I was learning Braille while my friends were learning French. And I felt the benefits of having my white cane. However, I didn’t understand it. I did not understand how going blind would affect me, my life and those around me. I could not comprehend what it truly meant for my future. I understood “going blind” but I did not understand “being blind.”
I suppose I should go back to the beginning. I was diagnosed with RP when I was four years old. I immediately started learning to read and write in Braille, how to use assistive technology and taking O&M lessons with my cane. I did all of these things to prepare myself for the possibility that I would one day be blind, because at that point I could still see. I could still read print, play on the local soccer team and tell you what colour my shirt was. It wasn’t until middle school that I started to see the effects of RP on my sight, my life, and my happiness.
My vision had been stable on and off throughout the years, and it was such small losses that I didn’t really notice it. The summer between grade 7 and 8 I went off to The Mira Foundation to train with my first guide dog, Gypsy. Although I was only 13, I knew this was something I wanted, and needed in my life. However, during the one-month training I started to realize that colours were fading… Black didn’t look as black as it did grey. Yellow looked white and life wasn’t seeming quite as vivid.
Over the next year of life, I went from having decent vision, to nearly no vision. I went from having an amazing group of friends, to having none, and even worse, being bullied. I went from being a bubbly, happy teen, to being depressed and contemplating suicide. At the time, I was so focused on all the things blindness meant I “could not” or “would never” do. I would never drive a car, see my future child smile, or even see my own smile reflected in the mirror. It was all of these thoughts that put me in such a dark place.
I couldn’t seem to see all of the things the blindness had given me. The ability to not judge based on appearance, read after all the lights have been turned off, or even stand up in front of 20,000 people and share this story.
Six years ago I found myself new to the world of near total blindness, without friends, and without hope. I now find myself sitting here with my guide dog at my feet and a smile on my face. I can say that I am the happiest 20-year-old I know. I run my own motivational speaker business, I have amazing, supportive friends and family, and I’ve truly learned to not only accept, but to love my life. It took some time, but I eventually realized that you have two choices in life. You can either choose to change what you cannot accept, or accept what you cannot change. I know that I cannot change my blindness, therefore, I had to accept this part of my life. Accepting my blindness was not easy, and I’m not going to try and tell you it came quickly or without many tears, because it didn’t. However, I will say that once you have allowed acceptance into your life, you will find peace, joy, and a light that most don’t know you can have when living in the dark.
Molly Burke has been captivating audiences as a public speaker since the age of five. She began her speaking career as a youth ambassador for The Foundation Fighting Blindness. Molly has since gone on to work with organizations like Me to We and Free the Children, traveling to India, Kenya, the UK and all over North America sharing her powerful story. She has spoken in front of audiences as large as 20,000, while sharing the stage with stars and activists such as Demi Lovato, Martin Sheen, Al Gore and Desmond Tutu. For more information, visit her website: www.mollyburke.ca.