When a person is born into this world, they come with a pre-determined set of assets, talents, strengths and liabilities. It is God’s making, (if you believe) who concocts the ingredients and it for man/woman to shape his/her own destiny based upon those qualities. Talents and strengths often occur naturally and are easy to spot once the person is given the opportunity to shine. However, a God-given disability can become a liability or it can forge a new path, a new direction. Those of us who have a disability as defined medically can often get bogged down in labels, predictions, expectations or lack of expectation by others, political correctness and the like. Like it or not, what we do in life is largely dependent upon us. Yes, it can be a cruel world out there, but it can also be glorious! It is getting to the glorious that is the difficult part and trying to sustain and re-shape, re-invent that is so trying.
Such is the life of Kristen Dockendorff, born with a rare form of Retinitis Pigmentosa, A progressive genetic eye condition leading to legal blindness. (1 in 4,000 people) beginning in early childhood. Night vision and your peripheral vision may be affected first followed by loss of your central vision. However, despite this eye disease, a highly intelligent, talented and creative girl, persevered, and also compensated with an underlying learning disability –dyslexia (Characterized by difficulties with reading, spelling, word fluency and decoding information). She married, had children and spent several years enjoying family life.
The arts were a major strength and something she gravitated toward all of her life. She was a successful Master level Art teacher in the Ashford, CT school system for 32 years teaching such as forms as origami, painting, pottery making, native American art, to pre-kindergarteners through 8th grade. At some point in time, when her eye disease progressively got worse, relinquishing her driver’s license, depression set in, and a period alcohol abuse. Her family life also suffered and she divorced. She needed help in order to re-invent herself. She suffered the slings and arrows of trying to persevere in the classroom, outrageously assigned to recess and lunch duty by an uninformed staff, when she could not see her students. She was also provided a classroom assistant as an accommodation. But alas, this career had to end, to try to begin a new chapter of life.
Fast forward to July 2016. Kristen has been retired for two years and has relocated to a new home. She is hoping to formulate a new career path for sustained employment with the assistance of a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at the Department of Rehabilitation Services- Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind in Connecticut- http://www.ct.gov/dors/site/default.asp.
(For Services within CT – 1-800-842-4510; 860-602-4000). Throughout her ordeal, BESB was a mainstay, providing her with a full complement of services.
A brand new addition to her life is her guide dog Emma , a true life partner, where they just received intensive training, and bonded as a family. Her training was provided by the oldest existing guide dog school (since 1929,) in Morristown, New Jersey – http://www.seeingeye.org.
Another relatively new venture that she has embraced is the sport of adaptive sailing. To “put it all in perspective,” an artist (and musician) has to be creative when money is tight. Kristen recently recounted her inspiring journey on an episode of Shattered Lives Radio. Part of forging a new path is finding ways to create her art from materials not purchased in a store. She travelled to the banks of the Housatonic River, in western CT only to find some durable reeds-cane in which to craft beautiful Native American style flutes, a good match to the art she creates on her potter’s wheel. *** (Listen to podcast for a musical sample!). When asked what her message would be to listeners, she stated, “Be true to yourself.” Having a Shattered Life…or not is all about attitude and perspective. Kristen prefers to “make a wind chime out of a once-shattered life.”
The best means of contacting Kristen is via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in purchasing her pottery or flutes you may view them on https://www.facebook.com/kristen.dockendorff