Zenobia Silas-Carson didn’t want her former boss to know she was going blind.
“My manager never caught me scrunching my nose up at the screen trying to see,” she said.
The Brooklyn Park, Minnesota woman was told her vision was clouding due to cataracts, in combination with macular degeneration or nerve damage from diabetes. Injections and laser treatment did not help. She can still see but doesn’t know if, or when, the condition will get worse.
But she found a constructive way to deal with the problem: helping others who share her battle with midlife vision loss.
“I always tell people that no sad or bad life experience is worth its salt unless it is [followed by] a redemptive end,” said Silas-Carson, 74.
She assembled craft paper envelopes for others at her seniors’ residence with resources they could turn to for vision problems or other issues. Among the suggestions was Hadley, a Winnetka, Illinois-based nonprofit that uses workshops, podcasts, and discussion groups to provide free education, connection, and support for people with visual impairments. .
She has taken more than 40 courses in the organization – learning, for example, how to use Zoom and access special low vision features on electronic devices. Silas-Carson, who is working on a memoir, also joined a group of writers with vision loss through Hadley.
She learned skills like how to move around the house, how to measure ingredients when cooking, how to know the height of the flame on the stove. These skills, she said, involve “using your other senses — not the one you’ve relied on all along.”
She praised Hadley on Facebook, saying her programs “give me new hope and I’m exploring more and sharing with others in my community every day…to NEVER give up on life!”
After at least 200,000 people saw the post, Hadley presented Silas-Carson with his Heroes Award, which recognizes four people each year who help the organization by giving detailed feedback or suggesting new services.
“She’s an inspiration,” said Joan Jaeger, Hadley’s Chief Marketing Officer. “She really wants to help other people not struggle with the things she struggled with.”
This has been a theme throughout Silas-Carson’s life. She got married at 17 and had six children (and five miscarriages) when she was 29. One of his children died when he was 2 years old. She underwent a hysterectomy, but experts later told her it was not medically necessary and women of color were often subjected to involuntary sterilization as recently as the 1970s.
She said she was physically abused, divorced, spent time in jail, moved from Chicago to the Twin Cities, and was homeless for a time.
It’s a lot of adversity. But Silas-Carson isn’t one to let hardship hold her back.
“You’re talking to a fighter,” she said. “I like to believe that no bitterness from the past has clung to my heart. … My faith has carried me far beyond the bounds of anger and regret. higher.”
Always a good student, Silas-Carson returned to school, studying social services at community college. She became active at the Whittier Community Theater and the Loft Literary Center, both in Minneapolis. She organized journal writing and tai chi classes, published poetry and two inspirational fiction books, and began working on memoirs. She has worked with women released from prison and advocated for residents of a women’s shelter.
“You can’t just say to a battered woman, ‘Get over it and go over there and get a job,'” she said.
She persuaded stores in downtown Minneapolis to donate makeovers, hair dryers and clothes to make it easier for women to enter the workplace.
More recently, Silas-Carson distributed free food to residents of his apartment building. But that was part of a job as a building assistant, from which she was recently made redundant.
“I spent about a month being Eeyore,” she said, referring to the dark, pessimistic ass of the Winnie the Pooh books. “Then I said, OK, what are you going to do now? You can’t stay in this mess, you can’t sit in your apartment. So I got back to writing and making things.”
Now is the time for her to take up the challenge of vision loss, again by reaching out to others.
“People think, ‘Well, it all stops, doesn’t it, when you can’t see anything? Is that going to stop everything?’ Well, no,” Silas-Carson said.
“There’s so much more I haven’t explored yet…all the things you thought you knew.”