Abi Baker speaks to H&F Circles about her experiences growing up as a blind musician, and how it's influenced her decision to train as a life coach so she can offer mental health support to others.
Image: Abi with her dog Joyce having a walk in the Autumn leaves
Hammersmith resident, Abi Baker, didn't have the easiest time growing up. Born in Bristol, she suffered with cataracts as a baby, something the hospital believed could be easily fixed. But the operation to correct them went wrong, leaving her almost completely blind by the age of 13 months. "I don't remember ever having sight," she says. "I have only ever had some slight light perception, nothing more. I visualise things based on sounds and smells."
Growing up with sighted brothers and sisters she didn't realise the extent of her disability until she was older. "I remember having to use a cane when I was about 11. I absolutely hated it because it made me feel different to other children. Until then I had always been guided."
Despite the challenges, Abi became a passionate musician, learning to play the piano, violin and clarinet. "I was only really allowed to study music. Although I had learnt how to read braille, the teachers at my mainstream school bullied me and didn't feel like it was worth teaching a blind child. I had lots of friends but began to question whether they really liked me or just felt sorry for me."Abi went on to music school, followed by music college, which gave her the escape route she needed to find her own path. She's spent her life working as a professional musician, touring the country with the Inner Vision Orchestra, the UK's only blind orchestra. "I used to do public performances and travel everywhere, but of course lockdown meant the work dried up completely."
Like many other people, particularly those from the visually impaired community, Abi struggled with isolation at the start of the pandemic. "I have a very active mind and I usually spend a lot of time out and about," she says. "When I was at home all the time it felt like my thoughts were racing at 100 miles per hour. There was too much to think about. Luckily I had my life coach training to continue with."
The training had started just before the pandemic hit the UK in February, and was able to continue online. "I've always had a passion for psychology. After being bullied in childhood and doing a lot of work on my own mental health, I am now in a place where I feel I can teach others some of the same techniques I have used for coping with the stresses and anxieties of daily life." While she's not trained to deal with serious mental health issues, she is able to help people optimise their mental health, by recognising the negative thoughts that are bringing them down. "I take a holistic approach that can help people not just live better with themselves but also with others. It's sometimes been difficult during the pandemic for people to see things from other points of view, and life coaching can also help this."
Abi, who has lived in the borough since 2007, is currently offering free sessions to local Hammersmith and Fulham residents. Anyone who is looking for a bit of extra support during this time is welcome. To get in touch or make an enquiry, please email her on firstname.lastname@example.org.