Writing In Faith: Inspiration From All-Time Greats With Severe Chronic Physical Impairments

Sylvanus A AYENI, M.D.
6 min readMay 17, 2022


Sub-Title: Motivation Shined Through Dealing With Profound Adversities Including Personal Losses

Unknown engraver after Hubbard, Work-School for the Blind, Euston Road. Engraving (published in Illustrated London News, 24 April 1858). Credit: Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo.

Even under the best of circumstances, writing is a tedious, lonely, challenging and yes, sometimes thankless task.

The books that have captured our hearts and imagination and to which we are endeared were, and are authored by individuals who have endured various tribulations including major physical disabilities and bereavements.

What is it about these writers that pushed them to the top of the mountain in the literary world?

They had Faith that the Butterfly Effect would carry their message soaring above the landscape at a later unknown and unpredictable time.

The durability of their writings is all the more astonishing considering the ferocity of the storms of life they had to endure.

These individuals possess deep faith in the relevance and the utility of their message, and unyielding Faith in the Source of their strength despite their infirmities and profound losses.

For many of them, being mocked and shunned by friends, colleagues and even family members at the time of penning their thoughts never shook their Faith. Neither did poverty, moneywise.

For several decades, I was fortunate to care for people with severe locomotion difficulties and impaired usage of arms due to spine pathologies and also people with visual and hearing impairment due to pathologies in the brain.

Thus, I can attest to the enormity of the medical challenges these writers had to overcome.

In the last nearly two decades, through my experience in the non-profit sector I have interacted with people with meager means, and who suffer from serious physical impairments and often dealing with loss of loved ones.

Still, they have to make a life for themselves and their families. Writing under these circumstances almost falls into the realm of “The Impossible”.

That is why one should view in awe, and should be deeply inspired by these iconic writers considering the staggering scenes and milieu in which they delivered their masterpieces.

Writing In Faith Without Physical Sight


Totally blind at the time of his first wife’s death in 1652, John Milton (1608–1674), some would say second only to Shakespeare in the pantheon of English literary giants, produced his greatest poetic works in the last two decades of his life. Paradise Lost in 1667 and its sequel Paradise Regained in 1671, the same year that Samson Agonistes was published, clearly stand out.

His first wife died a few days after giving birth to their third daughter, Deborah in 1652.

A son died in infancy.

He married Catherine Woodcock in 1656. She died in 1658 some months after childbirth.

In the summer of 1660, known for his support of the regicides a warrant for his arrest was issued by the “The Restoration” government. Fortunately, his friends kept him in a hiding place.

In 1663, he married 25 year old Elizabeth Minshull who provided some comfort for him in his last decade.

Weakened by gout and other illnesses, John Milton died on November 9, 1674. He was buried beside his father in St. Giles church, Cripplegate.


Born June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama, U.S.A., Helen Keller was afflicted at the age of 19 months with an illness (possibly scarlet fever) that left her blind and deaf.

Her teacher Anne Sullivan taught her braille, lip-reading, finger spelling and eventually, how to speak.

Her writings spanned nearly six decades. Her books include The Story of My Life(1903), Optimism (1903), The World I Live In (1908), Light in My Darkness and My Religion (1927), Helen Keller’s Journal (1938), and The Open Door (1957).

Her efforts to improve treatment of the blind and deaf were pivotal in removing the disabled from asylums. She was the driving force behind the organization of commissions for the blind in 30 states which materialized in 1937.

Keller was an author, educator and activist. Her lifetime of public advocacy for several causes and communities had lasting global impact. She has become a worldwide symbol for children to overcome any obstacle.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a United Nations day that is celebrated on Dec. 3 every year. Schoolchildren all over the world learn the history of people with disabilities and about persons living with disabilities. The story of Helen Keller is usually featured in the teachings.

Still, there is a lot about her life and her accomplishments that many people don’t know and need to know as a source of inspiration.

She died on June 1, 1968, at Arcan Ridge, her home in Easton, Connecticut, USA. Senator Lister Hill of Alabama gave a eulogy during Keller’s public memorial service.

He said, “She will live on, one of the few, the immortal names not born to die. Her spirit will endure as long as man can read and stories can be told of the woman who showed the world there are no boundaries to courage and faith.”


James Joyce (1882–1941) was a noted Irish novelist, poet and short story writer. His major works in which he explored new literary methods include Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939).

From 1917 until 1930 he endured a series of 25 eye operations, sometimes experiencing total blindness for short intervals. Despite this major health handicap, he kept up his spirits and continued writing.

Indeed, some of his most joyful passages were reportedly composed when his health was at its worst.

In addition to his chronic eye troubles, Joyce suffered great and prolonged anxiety over the mental health of his daughter, Lucia who eventually had to be placed in a mental hospital.

Frances Ridley Havergal

Every Sunday, all over the globe, with joy, dancing, praise, adoration to the Triune God, her hymns are song by Christians, and also during final goodbyes to loved ones.

Frances Ridley Havergal was born on December 14, 1836, at Astley, Worcestershire, England. She was the youngest child of the family. Her father, William Henry Havergal (1793–1870) was an influential Anglican clergyman, composer, hymn-writer, poet and church musician.

When she was eleven years old, the most terrible sadness a child can know befell her. Following prolonged suffering, her mother died. The grief was intense.

Thereafter, Frances contracted a terrible skin disease. She lived, but spent the remainder of her life plagued with poor health, fevers, and serious bouts of illness”.

She survived almost-fatal typhoid fever in 1874. On the first day of this illness, which kept her bedridden for eight months, Frances dictated to her niece the beginning of a new poem:

Just when Thou wilt, O Master, call!
Or at the noon, or evening fall,
Or in the dark, or in the light,
Just when Thou wilt, it must be right.

Part of Frances’ secret was her unyieding rule to be at her study table by 7 am in the Summer, and 8 am in the Winter for Bible study.

These are seven of her best known hymns:

Take My Life and Let it Be

I Gave My Life for Thee (Recast in 1871 in Church Hymns, under the title Thy Life Was Given for Me).

I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus

Lord, Speak To Me

Who Is on the Lord’s Side?

Like a River Glorious

Another Year Is Dawning

It has been said of Frances Ridley Havergal: “Most of her life she was an invalid, but her incessant determination surpassed most people in good health in both literary and charity work”.

She died at Caswell Bay, Swansea, South Wales, June 3, 1879, in the forty-third year of her life.

Inspirations From This Quartet And Similar Minds

  1. They neither focussed on their calamities nor conquests. They used their circumstances to pen words of hope for mankind.
  2. No grumbling. Just gratitude, fortitude, joyfulness and patience.
  3. Their words and penmanship were accompanied by selfless deeds.
  4. Providing Hope, adding Value and making Positive Impact on Society were their primary objectives, not Monetization.

So, keep writing — no matter what — and keep inspiring hundreds, thousands and just maybe millions of our fellow humankind including generations yet unborn!!!

Despite the ferocious pecuniary proclivities of our current culture, the above inspirations should stand tall in our minds.



Sylvanus A AYENI, M.D.

Neurosurgeon. Founder, Pan Africa Children Advocacy Watch(PACAW Inc) www.pacaw.org. Author: RESCUE THYSELF: Change In Sub-Saharan Africa Must Come From Within