We often take our vision for granted – and if you lose it, your life is turned upside down. I met Kooshay Malek at a Pacific Palisades Lions Club meeting and was amazed by her story. She has agreed to share with you how she “gave up seeing.” This three-part series will explore losing her vision, how it affected her career choice and how she expresses her creative nature.
kooshay malek
My eyes are what brought me to the US. I was 16 when my father and I came here from Tehran, Iran, for eye treatment. My case was an unusual case: We still, to this day, don’t have a name for it, but it’s retinal tumors of some sort. My case had been through Europe, Russia, Israel, to different conferences, and they sent me to the US as a final recourse. During that time, in 1982, it was the Iran-Iraq war, and the airports were not open. My dad and I had to get special permits to get out for medical reasons. Then to get American visas, we were stuck in Frankfurt for a couple of months waiting. It was a very challenging time. Long story short, we got to Boston, and I started receiving treatments on my left eye. It didn’t respond well, and I became totally blind on the left side. Meanwhile, I could still see 20/20 on my right side. We moved to LA, where we had friends for support, and my mother and sister joined us. I was 18 when my right eye started going bad, and I started going to UCLA/Jules Stein for treatment. I went blind in that eye when I was 22.

My father passed away two years after I lost my sight. I finished college and went through independence training at Foundation for the Junior Blind in LA. I eventually decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in psychology, because I realized I’m a good listener and I’m always wanting to help people, so I thought it would be a good way to channel that. And as a blind person, I didn’t think I had too many career choices.

I’ve been licensed as a marriage and family therapist for the past five years. I have a part-time practice, I do volunteer work at the clinic where I did my internship, and I help train up-and-coming therapists. I think one of the reasons I was so drawn to this field is the fact that when I became totally blind while I was in college, I was able to receive free counseling through school. But once I got out, I was looking for support groups and the camaraderie I had found during independence training — being around other blind people and helping each other emotionally. I couldn’t find anything like that. The only support groups I found were for seniors, so I just found a low-fee therapist to get some support. I’d lost my dad, lost my eyes, lost my country. I was dealing with so many losses. I think that’s why I’m so passionate about doing volunteer work in this area. I tried to pull together a support group for some blind clients, but it didn’t work out, partially due to transportation and location and the same stuff blind people always run into, but I do offer low- or no-fee counseling to them. I also have good relationships with some rehab counselors who refer people to me. I think therapy is an important part of rehabilitation; you have to approach this holistically.

I’ve always been very proactive and resourceful. I’ve often thought, “If only there were a 12-step program for blind people.” I’ve always been able to relate to people in these types of programs: They have to give up a habit that’s no longer working for them, and they have to put their lives back together, step by step, day by day, one day at a time. I really related to that: I had to give up the habit of seeing.

Kooshay Malek - seeingKooshay Malek
Marriage and Family Therapist
Los Angeles, CA

The Habit of Seeing
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