- August 3, 2020

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series

Names may have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story.

Have you ever considered how important memorizing paths is for a blind person? In COVID-19 dependency on others returns with forgetting.

I am Alexander Borislav, a 26-year-old blind man trained as a psychologist. Before the Coronavirus hit my country, Bulgaria, I had acquired many new clients and was at the top of my professional career. I felt very empowered in my work because I helped others with their emotional and mental needs.

Since the Coronavirus, my life has been chaotic and discouraging.

The eight-day lockdown in my country has had devastating effects. First, I was forced to close my office for two and a half months. Many of my clients who ran businesses went bankrupt; others lost their jobs. Some didn’t want my consultation unless they could be in the office with me. As a result, many clients have left my practice. If that wasn’t enough, the owners of the building where I rent office space would not allow me to hold off paying the rent. So, I paid both rent and utilities from my personal savings and from money borrowed from my parents. 

How bad has it been? In Bulgaria, small and medium businesses like mine did not qualify for financial assistance if they had been in operation for less than a year. What is more, even though I had no income for an entire month, I still needed to pay the national health insurance fee. Fortunately, as a person with a disability, I have a pension by which I am insured. But now, running an independent consultancy, I must pay a second insurance. Not only did my country not try to help, but also made matters worse with its inflexible policies.

Even more frustrating, I was still housebound after the lockdown was lifted for several reasons. I used to walk everywhere independently. In fact, I often made suggestions for friends with white canes for better technique and more agile movement. But now, I have even forgotten how to use my own cane. I trip over it and my grip on it is bad, so I don’t feel confident to walk out on my own. I need to relearn using my own white cane just like I was starting all over again. Also, my mobility has changed drastically. I am no longer safe walking.

Most critically, I have forgotten paths that I once knew intuitively before the pandemic. Yesterday, I had to pick up a jacket from the tailor, but I couldn’t find the shop’s sign. So, I ended up walking on the street for a long way in the wrong direction. I forgot all the paths I once followed effortlessly. I need to relearn them again with someone else because I feel insecure walking alone.

With all of this stress, if I am idle or use the internet or media, I get angry. Due to my lack of mobility I feel very dependent on others. This frustrates and discourages me. Because I hardly leave my parents’ home, the isolation makes me restless and I have trouble sleeping.

But now my life is slowly improving as things open up because I found help in several places.

With opening up, I have found new paths to getting my life back.

Throughout the Coronavirus, I have lived safely at my parents’ place. This helped me to save money and get back on my feet.Now I can do way more things online for my work and my personal needs than ever before which helps with my mobility challenges. My country discriminates against people who are not physically able to attend essential disability service meetings by not giving proper access or using inclusive communication. Now I can attend way more meetings and projects online. 

But an unexpected path that the virus has opened before me is art. My passion is writing poetry. In response to the virus, I wrote a poem and challenged an artist friend to do the same. Soon, other friends who are writers, musicians and actors followed by creating works of art. With one of my poems I even won a literature prize.

It wasn’t long before I was writing poetry and theatre plays again after two years of writing only what was required for my doctoral research. Because art helped me, I even started an emergency poetry initiative, a Tiktok Channel, which really enhanced my blind photography and videography skills. Happily, for nearly three months my Tiktok Channel has had 5,299 followers. Now I am ready to start a second Chanel exclusively in English. I’ve even begun writers’ training so that I can better cope with the pressures of isolation and the challenges of my work. Art has saved me by giving me a pathway forward of inspiration and optimism.

Explaining to people how I did this brought me confidence as did speaking about my blindness. Before, I didn’t like talking about my disability. Now, I am proud of my ability to explain my disability to others. My success has given me confidence so that now I pay way more attention to what I eat and how much I exercise, something that I stopped doing several years ago. In general, I feel more relaxed and healthier.

But I feel my very best when I work as a psychologist. Caring for my patients keeps me centered. In Bulgaria, as in many countries and cultures, there is stigma that comes with visiting a psychologist. In addition, people prefer to get a referral from the general practitioner for a psychiatrist. But these obstacles do not stop patients from coming to me for help. And whereas my patients didn’t like the idea of consulting through the phone or internet, now they do. They have adjusted; and so have I.

Recovering from the virus may take a while. But the pleasures of art, the benefits of a positive outlook, and the satisfaction of helping others all give hope to follow the path moving forward.