As Cody knows only too well, sometimes choosing what seems to be the hardest thing can lead to the best outcomes. We have to learn to love ourselves first and the rest will follow. Cody says; “If it wasn’t for me starting to emerge proud of who I am, these things would have never happened.” What a legend he is!
Hello everyone my name is Canadian Cody and I would like to share with you all the victories that I have had as a self-advocating DeafBlind backpacker living and working abroad in New Zealand. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa Usher’s Syndrome Type2.
I am severely hearing impaired, I wear hearing aids, and I am legally blind, but that has no longer stopped me from living a life that two years ago I would not have believed was possible. After going through a very hard time in my life I found myself in a position to leave everything behind and do something that I had never done before, travel solo.
Let me tell you this, choosing to travel was the best decision I ever made in my life. There are things that I have now done that I used to believe I would never be able to do in my lifetime. I am honestly blessed to have what I have otherwise I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing to you about how rewarding it’s been to find myself and to build up the courage and confidence to show the world that I am proud of who I am. I hope this story of the way I have been living my life will inspire you to start living yours.
My job, my driver’s license, my girlfriend….I found myself hanging on tightly to these things I had established because I was afraid of loosing them all. I felt that I had to stay forever doing the things I had been doing with the people I had been doing them with because they were the only ones who knew of my vision loss. I felt that I would never be given a chance by people who didn’t already know about me. I continued to hang on to the only life I thought I could ever have, I thought I could only do what I already knew how, but even that was becoming a struggle. I was no longer a happy person, I was an angry one. I didn’t have the confidence or self-esteem to make a positive change in my life. I never realized that those things I was afraid of loosing were in fact the same things that were holding me back.
I finally had the mental breakdown my life needed after months and months of torturing myself and others with competition, jealousy, dangerous driving, drugs and alcohol, unrealistic expectations, violence, denial, and thoughts of suicide among other things.
I got fired from my job of seven years and then decided to end my relationship with my girlfriend. She never accepted who I was becoming either. She never told her family what kind of person she was really with. We were together for six years. I couldn’t learn to accept and love myself if she was still a part of my life. A huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders and I was finally free and able to spread my wings. But I still had anger towards the fact that I had pretty much lived in the same houses as my Mother for my whole life up until that point. So I spent the next two months planning my four month solo travel trip to New Zealand. Part of me leaving was to grow as a person by challenging myself outside of my comfort zone and into the fear of the unknown.
Four, five, six months turned into one year going on two years and I’m still here in this amazing country today. The original four months were great but I was feeling like it wasn’t enough of that challenge I was looking for, so I extended my stay. Doing this meant that I was going to have to start working and saving money. it’s been a challenge to get work because of rejection for being legally blind. Many of the times I’ve had prolonged work experiences here is when I’ve hidden the fact that I was legally blind and managed to remain hidden for the duration of the work. Despite my challenges I have worked as a fish freezer boat unloader, a chicken farm worker, a potato chip factory worker, a landscaper, a rubbish runner, a vineyard worker, a kiwi fruit thinner, and as a volunteer for an environmental disaster cleanup. It hasn’t been easy. It’s always been hard to do the jobs fast without seeming suspiciously slow.
I couldn’t be upfront and honest with my employers about my disabilities or else I wouldn’t have had those jobs. I’ve been judged for being slow and seeming lazy, I’ve been verbally abused, I’ve actually gotten into heated arguments over my visual impairment, and I’ve even been physically assaulted because of it. On the other hand I’ve had people coming up to me telling me that they were sorry and feeling guilty that they ever judged me before knowing anything about me. I’ve had it where once I was able to advocate myself to the people I worked with, they actually started to help me keep up the pace so that the boss wouldn’t notice me. I had that job for an extra two months because of that. I have been very empowered by my exposure to and success in different jobs that I used to believe I could never do because I am legally blind. I can honestly tell you that one of the main reasons I’ve managed to be here this long is because of how I’ve gone around with my cane and advocated for myself.
One of my goals when starting to travel was to become comfortable using my Identification Cane. Well not only am I comfortable with it now, but I actually look forward to using it. I soon realized, once overcoming the self-consciousness associated with starting to use a cane, that it gave me so much more strength in certain environments. For me those environments have been backpacker hostels, share houses, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and multi-day music festivals, pretty much all places you would have never found me before I started travelling. My cane provides me with a huge sense of security. It makes embarrassing mistakes okay to make. It sparks my self advocacy. Most people have never seen or met someone like me with a cane before. I never saw myself becoming this person who is raising awareness and education on people who are DeafBlind but that’s exactly who I’ve become, and I absolutely love it!
I’ve advocated myself to the point where people who have gotten to know me really well have actually started advocating on my behalf.
“Hey what does your stick mean?” “This is a partially blind person’s identification cane, people who are partially blind use it to identify themselves as someone who can’t see very well.”
“Sooo you’re blind? But you don’t look blind.”
“But I am, well not completely. I have this cane to indicate that I am a visually impaired person, otherwise people have no idea and just assume that I’m drunk and high.”
“Ya. You look so normal.”
“Ha. Ya. That’s what makes this disability so interesting, the fact that it’s invisible.”
“So you can see me right now?”
“Ya I can see you, but only when I look directly at you. Your face is completely gone as soon as I look past the side of your head.”
“Really?! Hm. Wow.”
“Ya I’m about 70% blind. My vision is like looking through a tunnel, I only see what my central vision scans over, everything else is either black or blurred.”
“Wow that’s crazy. I would have never known. Let me buy you a beer!”
I have been so empowered by all the nice things people have said to me upon sharing my story with them that I am inspired to keep growing as an advocate and maybe more some day. Here are some of the more common things people have told me.
“You’re an inspiration!” “Meeting you has changed my perspective on life”
“You’re a legend!” “You should write a book or become a motivational speaker.”
“I’m so happy to have met you, keep doing what you’re doing and living life full”
“You give the best hugs”
I have lived in houses full of people from all over the world who I became really good friends with. I have hitchhiked quite extensively discovering the true kindness and hospitable nature of Kiwis. I have gone on road trips with new friends and have even driven in some cases. I have had girlfriends from France, Israel, Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Canada and America. I have been guided and helped around nightclubs and festivals by people who have just met me. I have solo tramped an epic and rugged 91 kilometre, eight day track through one of New Zealand’s stunning national parks. I have had life altering spiritual awakenings leading to the discovery and love of myself with the universe. I am telling you these things because it if it wasn’t for me starting to emerge proud of who I am, these things would have never happened.
I could go on and on about how great it’s been to accept who I am and do what I’ve had to do to live this life but the article is already getting too long so I’m going to leave you now with the key points of inspiration from my story.
Love yourself before trying to love someone else. You’re good for more than one person or one company. Question your happiness. Make a positive change in your life. Be adaptable, Get out of your comfort zone. Believe in yourself. Challenge the fear of the unknown. Show people that you’re not afraid. Be an advocate. Connect with humans. Explore nature. Discover your spiritual side. Strengthen your resilience. Exude perseverance. Express gratitude for what you have. Don’t compare yourself to others. Emerge proud and you’ll wonder why you ever waited.
My experience in New Zealand has inspired me to dream of one day creating a world where the living abroad lifestyle is more accessible to people with disabilities.
I also dream of meeting more people like you and me to travel and have a good party with some day. Kindness, love, and light everyone xoxo 🙂