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An Angel of Inspiration...

A Rainbow in the Clouds

By Tammy Ruggles, BSW, MA

 

Having Retinitis Pigmentosa, a blinding disease that steals your vision over time, was a natural part of my life growing up, no different than having hazel eyes or brown hair. For the most part I didn’t let it interfere with the things I liked to do, which included playing with my siblings and cousins on my grandparent’s farm, drawing pictures, and writing stories.

As I grew up, my eyesight worsened, but with financial help from Office For The Blind, I was able to go to college to pursue my dream of becoming a social worker. I studied art and writing as electives, and enjoyed the atmosphere of learning and growing as a young adult.

There was no greater satisfaction than my dream coming true.

As a social worker, I was doing what I was born to do, and that was help others in any way I could. But my social work career lasted only ten years, because by the time I was forty, my vision had diminished to the point of legal blindness.

RP cost me my job, my driver’s license, and my dignity.

I felt lost and useless without my social work career, and I wasn’t quite sure where to go from there, or where I was going to find fulfilling work where I could help people — until a small germ of an idea began growing inside, and I began to ask myself if I could pursue writing as a second career.

It turned out, I could, and I’ve been a freelance writer ever since. It allowed me the opportunity to help others, through writing. Many of my articles and stories are about parenting or social issues. Some may wonder how a legally-blind person can write or use a computer, but it is very easy with today’s technology. I couldn’t do it without my computer.

Throughout the years, I always made time for my passions — writing and sketching. Even with vision of 20/200, I managed to sketch celebrity portraits, with a black Sharpie and the help of my 47-inch computer monitor. Blown up on my giant screen, it was easier to see details.

But RP is one of those progressive diseases that doesn’t stop. It isn’t the fastest progressing disease, and can take years to lose considerable vision, but when you’re trying to hang onto all the vision you have, the loss of any can feel lightning quick.

With RP, I’ve always been in a constant state of adjustment. Adjusting to the vision loss of the past, and adjusting to the vision loss I would have in the future. And then there is the adjustment to the vision loss of the present.

What’s helped me adapt in life is my positive attitude, realizing life is short, and we’re given gifts to use, not to stash away in a closet. Even with vision loss, I was determined to use my gifts any way I could.

Eventually my vision loss reached a point where my eyesight was 20/400, and even though I could use a computer to write, it was useless when it came to sketching my celebrity portraits. I simply couldn’t see the details well enough, regardless of how big I enlarged the photos.

It was time to give up art. I had used my talent and enjoyed it for many years. There was nothing to complain about. There were completely blind people in the world who had to give up this or that. Now it was my turn.

But Sonja, a Facebook friend suggested I give finger painting a try, because I could do it intuitively. It wasn’t an idea that I was thrilled about. Intuition was more than familiar to me. I used it all the time. Using it to create art seemed unlikely. Even finger painters need to see what they’re doing, correct? No, I corrected myself. Not with your vision — with your intuition. You have no choice. You can’t see what you’re doing anymore.

Mentally holding my breath, I bought some acrylic paint and art paper, and gave it a try. At first I was hesitant to show my pictures to people. I could not see them very well, and I had never considered myself a painter. Showing them was the only way to find out if there was any point in continuing.

To my surprise, the feedback was mostly positive, enough to keep my fingers in the paint. I traded celebrity portraits for the rustic images I’d grown up with in rural Kentucky. Copies of reference photos done in black and white for original finger painting done in living color.

It was not long before my paintings were included in exhibits by local art galleries in Kentucky and Ohio, and the response brought a realization to me: I wanted to show everyone that the blind and visually-impaired could create art.

Besides making art my profession, I could use it to help others. I taught finger painting to children in a community out-reach program, and was invited by local schools to meet with art teachers about ways to offer art to blind and visually-impaired students.

Opportunities continue to come my way, and by telling my story I want others to learn what I have learned:

By taking a chance on an idea that may sound ridiculous, and by pursuing your passions, you can find your rainbow in the clouds.

Find me on tammyruggles.deviantart.com/gallery, friend me at www.facebook.com/mss.tammy and check out my free audiobooks for kids and teens at www.youtube.com/misstammyschannel

Editor: Since this is our Angel issue, I asked Tammy if she had ever painted an angel. She said “No, but I would be willing to give it a try.” She got out her finger paints and intuitively painted the beautiful angels shown above — what a gift!