When you live with a rare degenerative eye disease, it can feel isolating at times, as if no one understands what it feels like to be you. Then, one day, you open up a book and read a story that makes you feel as if you’re reading your own diary. This is how I felt when I read Look Up, Move Forward, a recent memoir by Becky Andrews. While the connection I felt to the author drew me in, your life doesn’t need to mirror Becky’s in order for this book to captivate your attention.
I first met the author, Becky Andrews, last fall when a mutual dream of creating retreats for blind and visually impaired women brought our paths together. We connected online, and the majority of our correspondence focused on details for the “Daring to Own Your Story” retreats that launched last summer. When I finally met Becky in person at the first retreat, she struck me as the type of person you just want to sit down with near a cozy fireplace and talk for hours. The intensity of the retreat didn’t leave time for fireside chats, and I went home from the retreat wishing I had more time to get to know this energetic woman.
Photo Description: Picture of 4 women and their guide dogs on a hike at the Daring Sisters Retreat in June 2016. Handlers (Guide Dogs) From Left to Right: Melissa (Ophelia) , Joy (Roja), Jane (Anya), and Becky Andrews (Georgie)
Fast forward to this fall when my kids went back to school and I was able to sit down with a hot cup of tea in my cozy living room, and get to know Becky through her memoir. She begins her story with the diagnosis of RP as a 19 year-old college student, and goes on to detail the challenges and triumphs she experiences as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, student, licensed mental health professional, athlete, neighbor and friend.
While her all too familiar stories of awkward visual mishaps got me giggling, the shared reality of not being able to hop in the driver’s seat to transport her kids allowed me to shed some tears. I appreciate her honest depiction of what it feels like to be different than other mothers. I also share Becky’s determination not to dwell on life’s limitations. As a mother with young children, it helped me to read about the different stages of parenting she details, and to see the big picture of the lasting lessons she teaches her children by facing many unique challenges with perseverance.
I could also relate to the way she describes the public’s responses to her white cane, as this is something that continues to cause me anxiety. I gleaned wisdom from the transformation she describes after adjusting her mannerisms. “I’m proud to have traded in my insecurity about fitting in for authenticity and a willingness to bravely show up. Smiling became a habit, and though I intended it to shift others thoughts about me, ultimately, it rerouted my own train of thought.”
I would be lying if I said that Becky’s experiences of discrimination did not rattle me. However, the advocacy role she chooses to take time after time left me feeling empowered. As did her vivid descriptions of accomplishing monumental dreams and goals through hard work and step by step action plans. The amount of obstacles she encounters along the way are numerous, and yet she continues to thrive.
I could literally gush for hours about the experiences Becky describes with her guide dogs, but I would then have to send out some major spoiler alerts. For anyone considering the choice of a guide dog, this book should be required reading. The ways in which she details her experiences of intense training, deep connection, and emotional transitions shed light on this unique relationship between guide dogs and their handlers..
Becky’s words of wisdom are punctuated by beautiful quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and a self-help section following her memoir. This final section invites the reader to evaluate their own personal resilience experiences, and provides useful resources and links for further personal growth in the areas of mindfulness, gratitude, and resilience. .
The way Becky describes connecting with people she meets at Foundation Fighting Blindness meetings is exactly how I felt reading her book. “Hearing about the challenges others were facing validated the experiences I was having. Knowing I wasn’t alone didn’t make the challenges go away, of course, but my classmates’ examples made them easier to accept with grace and positivity.”