Playing the Part: An Adolescent Teen Trying to Fit in While Dealing With Her Ongoing Vision Loss

By Janell Groskreutz

As the familiar years of elementary school came to a close, I had to make the big leap out of my comfort zone from the tiny five-room neighborhood elementary school to a middle school with over one thousand students.

My thoughts were consumed with numerous questions, doubts and trepidations, not to mention my anxiety level was off the charts.  I was trying to decipher how to adjust as an adolescent teen, but now as an adolescent teen with a disability.

This unforeseen change in my vision was finally diagnosed and given a name, juvenile macular degeneration, and now I needed to figure out how I was going to live with it.

As I embarked upon my middle and high school years, I didn’t consider myself much different than the vast majority of my other preadolescent peers.  I assumed we were all trying to wear the right clothes, sit at the “cool” table at lunch or not so subtly trying to attract the attention of the boy sitting across from us in homeroom.

While I was busy playing the part of a typical teenager by emulating these teenage behaviors, I was also feverishly trying to be sure my clothes actually matched, where the “cool” table even was in the lunchroom, if I could find it, and if the boy I thought I was looking at from across the room was going to remotely resemble the same boy I anxiously awaited seeing up close.

It was during these formative years I developed quite a repertoire of coping skills, most of which I was oblivious to at the time, yet very quickly I turned “coping” into a science.

I still continued to play the violin, and tried my best to memorize every note.  Once again, I was trying to play the part by carrying my sheet music out on the concert stage to put on my stand, just like everyone else did.  Little did most of the audience know, I could not see one single black note scrolled across the page.  I was usually able to memorize each song by intently listening to the violin player next to me, but there were a few rare occasions I didn’t quite get the notes down pat.  I would know the rhythm of the song, so I would string my bow across the four strings as if I were playing in unison with the rest of the orchestra.  While I was making as little noise as possible, in hopes of not altering the tune, I was also attempting to keep my secret from my peers and their proudly listening parents.

As a freshman in high school, I decided to try out for the pom-pom squad.  I remember there were thirty-six girls trying out, but there were only spots for ten.  This meant I had to learn each routine and perform it flawlessly.  I would strategically line up in formation behind the coach as she was demonstrating each routine.  Some of my contenders misconstrued my practice regimen as overly confident, brassy or perhaps a bit brazen but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.  I figured if I was going to learn each step correctly I better take full advantage of the remaining vision I had left.

On the day of tryouts, I was a nervous wreck.  I practiced until my arms and legs felt like Jell-O.  I was vigorously straining my eyes trying to follow the team captain dancing right in front of me and shadow her every move.  Most importantly, I was attempting to stay in somewhat of a cadence so the judges didn’t think I was performing a routine to a completely different song.  At the end of our daily practices it seemed like all I had to show for my hard work was a splitting headache from eye strain and subsequently a very nauseous stomach.

In addition to the words and chants streaming through my head, I was also trying my best not to fall off the stage, trip over another hopeful contender, while praying the back of my pom pom skirt was not tucked into my bloomers, or most likely a combination of all three.

Apparently, I flipped, twirled, tumbled and yelled well enough to dance my way on to the team.

I enthusiastically played the part of an adolescent teenager trying to fit in, discovering her role in life, despite the multitude of challenges, road blocks and misconceptions society too frequently places upon those of us with disabilities.

I decided early in this journey I was not going to succumb to the proverbial pity party due to my disability.  Instead I would play the part of the starring role in this fascinating yet frustrating, hilarious yet humbling, far from perfect yet very passionate movie I call “my life.” I truly appreciate every scene God blesses me with.  I would be lying if I said there are not moments of frustration, fear, jealousy and even some degree of anger.  However, I firmly believe that God gives us bumps in the road so we can learn to appreciate the times when there are none.

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