“Alive Day” is a term used by soldiers who have been wounded in battle physically, mentally, or sometimes both. It’s the anniversary of the day their lives changed, surviving the impossible, while being unprepared for the emotional aftermath that will undeniably follow. While I’m not a veteran, I too have a distinct “Alive Day.” January 3rd 2012 – the day I became blind.
That morning started much like any other. I had woken up to an empty house because “Mostly Wonderful” had worked the graveyard shift. I ate my breakfast and headed off to work. When I arrived at my office, I remember feeling a piercing, stabbing pain in my left eye that went right into the side of my nose. I grabbed the ice-pack from my lunch sack and sat at my desk pressing the cool plastic between my eyebrows.
I called my husband, as I did every morning, to tell him I had gotten to work. In our conversation, I mentioned the head pain I was having. He asked me if I had taken my blood pressure medicine. I had. “It’s probably nothing,” he said. I agreed and popped two Motrin before heading off to see a client.
The pain came and went intermittently throughout the day. Admittedly, I was glad when my husband offered to pick me up from work that afternoon. Once safely home, my husband told me to take a nap, hoping it would alleviate my headache. I threw on some old sweatpants and slid under the covers. Two hours later I woke up total darkness.
I Thought I Had Died
At first I thought I had died. I remember saying to myself, “Oh my God, you’re dead. You must have had a stroke or an aneurysm.” That’s when I heard our dogs barking. “You’re not dead. You’re not dead.” And I started screaming for my husband. I just screamed. And screamed. And screamed. I could hear his feet banging up the stairs as he ran towards our bedroom.“What’s wrong? I’m coming. Are you okay?” he yelled. When he finally flung open the door, my hands were flailing in the air trying to reach him.“Help me! I can’t see!”
By this point I was hysterical. I had been battling my progressive vision loss for months, but the doctors had assured me it could take years before anything this dramatic could occur.
“Mostly Wonderful” tried to calm me down, “It’s okay. It’s okay. Take a deep breath. I’m going to get you dressed and we’re going to the eye doctor.” I think I was partially in shock. I remember him sliding on my shoes and guiding me down the stairs into our car. The next thing I can recall was sitting in my ophthalmologist’s waiting room.
The doctor put me through a battery of tests. All of which I knew I had failed miserably. I couldn’t see anything – not even the silhouette of my doctor. That’s when I heard him take a deep breath before saying, “We have a real problem here.”
Over the next few days, there were several more doctors and many more tests. Ultimately, I was told there was nothing anyone could do. Chemotherapy and radiation had caused neurological trauma. My brain was no longer communicating with my optic nerves. I had gone blind and only time would tell how much vision, if any, I might regain.
I consider this 5 Year “Alive Day” a milestone for both my husband and myself. My personal journey through sight loss caused me to question everything I had ever known about my life, faith and family. These are my “5” most favorite quotes that best illustrate the poignant lessons I’ve learned through blindness.
5 Quotes, 5 Poignant Lessons Learned Though Blindness
- “Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside of itself; it only requires opportunity.” George Eliot: I’ll never forget how absolutely ridiculous it felt calling out sick for work because I had “gone blind.” Imagine having to make that phone call? I had no idea how long I was going to be unable to work and the guilt I felt for leaving my co-workers and clients in the lurch consumed me. Man, was I an idiot! In hindsight, I pushed myself back to work far too quickly after losing my vision. I didn’t give myself enough time to process such a dramatic life change. In the end, some of the people I worked with also proved unprepared to cope with my sight loss. After returning to work, I was treated with a level of cruelty I had previously thought was only reserved for Lifetime movie villains. Relationships crumbled quickly, adding to my already depressive state. 5 years later I know these unsympathetic individuals were never really my friends. The cruelty I encountered from these people had been masked deep within the content of their character. My vision loss just provided the opportunity for them to show their true colors. Lesson learned.
- “I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.” Joshua Graham: Don’t misconstrue this quote. There was a fire inside me; just not the kind you might be thinking. My fire… what truly saved me… was my daughter, Nuala. Had I not gotten pregnant with her, I know I would not be here today. I’m absolutely certain of that. My pregnancy with my daughter saved my life. Nuala was my reason for living after going blind. My love for my unborn child burned bright enough for me to “see” a glimmer of hope beyond the darkness. 5 years and two beautiful daughters later, my girls remain the breath to my life and the beat to my heart. They will always be the fire within me.
- “Everyone has their own Everest to climb.” Wanda Rutkiewicz: Fun fact about me; I’m obsessed with movies about mountain climbing, especially Everest. The mental fortitude required to propel these people though their physical pain just to reach the summit of some mountain is utterly amazing. What drives these remarkable athletes? How do they dig deeper than the average person ever dares to dream possible? 5 years after going blind, I believe deep within me lies the soul of a mountain climber. Blindness has been my Everest. Every day I strive towards reaching for the summit.
- “God’s plans for my future are far greater than my fears.” Helen Fagan I was raised Catholic. While I would not consider myself extraordinarily devout; I vehemently believe in God, the angels and the saints. That being said, God and I have had a tumultuous relationship. It started when I was a kid with low self-esteem and extreme emotional anxiety. It worsened when I was diagnosed with cancer in my teens. When I met my husband, I finally felt like maybe God wasn’t such a bad dude after all. He had sent me the only person I believed had ever completely loved me. Despite being ill, in my mind marrying “Mostly Wonderful” meant God and I were finally even. When doctors told me I would never have children; I went back to being angry at the big guy upstairs. I’ve written before how very close I came to ending my own life after losing my eyesight. The specifics of that day are not important; I’ve never even told my husband all the details. All anyone needs to know is at the lowest point of my life; I called on God for help. I needed a sign. I needed him to let me know he had not turned his back on me. He delivered. 5 years after blindness, I never thought I would be blogging my way through life with two kids, a guide dog, and the same “Mostly Wonderful” man by my side. God has affirmed his plans for my future are far greater than my fears. He’s always in the driver’s seat; I’m just the passenger along for the ride.
- “Although the world is full of suffering; it is full also of overcoming it.” Helen Keller I’m not the only person in this world who has suffered through the experience of vision loss. In the past 5 years, I have met many people who have either been born congenitally blind or have acquired their blindness though illness or accident. I’ve also been privileged to speak with many wonderful parents who are raising blind children. Collectively, each of us has had those moments within our unique set of circumstances that requires us to “overcome.” Despite our struggles; we are living productive, meaningful lives. Five years ago, I didn’t understand that. I couldn’t “see” those possibilities. Through the help of my family, supportive services, education, advocacy, and some extraordinary ocular medical professionals; I absolutely believe this to be true.
I’m Still Learning
Every morning that I am blessed to live this life, I try to remember the lessons I’ve learned over these last five years. While I never expected to be a blind mother, my daughters were put in my life for a reason. I will continue to go on fighting, advocating, educating for the next five years, and God willing, beyond… “never losing sight of life, love and laughter.”