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On Sight: My Story and Battling Blindness

I remember being told not to look at the sun or I would damage my eyes. There was one bright summers day where I cartwheeled to the ground, opened my eyes, and saw it directly. I got my first pair of glasses aged five. Young me liked carrying them around in their case, which was mint green and featured a mouse on holiday. Whilst the case was fine, I did not particularly like wearing them. Once I started begrudgingly wearing them, I realised that I hated being a glasses-wearer. I felt like the glasses hindered my personal brand; I took them off during playtime, and even though I couldn’t see further than my shoulder, I felt more like myself. The glasses were an unwanted appendage. Who needs sight anyway? I am who I am, and aged five, I was not my glasses.

Growing Pains

I am extremely short-sighted, with astigmatism in both eyes – one more pronounced than the other. Whether it was the angered sun or a hereditary trait passed down from a family of glasses-wearers, we’ll never know. By secondary school, I wore glasses full-time. I still didn’t feel like a glasses wearer but life was just so much better with visibility. And so my glasses became very much part of me. I am who I am, and I am short-sighted. I was on pair 14 or 15 around this time; my eyes were deteriorating fast and the glasses could barely keep up. At one point I was told I’d be totally blind by the time I was 40. I was first offered contact lenses aged 16. I was against it immediately. I am who I am, and my glasses were my handicap; my concession; my crutch. My cross to bear, thank you very much. Contact lenses seemed like cheating; pretending I was one of the Seeing. Screw them and their vision: I wore glasses and I was not ashamed.

Mere years later, I switched. At university, I used contact lenses full time. Yet another u-turn in my relationship with my eyes, largely because I realised how much more of the world was available with contacts. I could dance, swim, wear sunglasses, play football. I could see my toes when I got out the shower. Kiss people in bed and see their face respond; a wonder. My glasses came out for special occasions only; hangovers; illness; all-nighters in the library. Across grimy SU dance floors and dark corners of house parties, chancing boys doled out compliments for my supposedly large brown eyes. And so it was: through the opinions of others I learnt my weakest link was also my best feature.

Back To Specs

In April of 2015, I was suddenly, on doctors orders, back to glasses. My eyes were exhausted and dry; my sight was spiralling back down into the minuses and one eyelid had completely given up, drooping weirdly. The doctor asked if I’d suffered any stress or had reason to “cry excessively or repeatedly” and I thought pathetically of the year before and the death of my best friend. Who knew eye strain was one of the many side effects of grief?

Turned out there were also the “3 S’s” – the three sins of contact-wearing. Never shower, swim or sleep in your contact lenses. I’d not heard of them before and had definitely committed all three at some point back in uni. I was hastened to glasses. Glasses, once again, were an unwanted appendage, a dodgy prop. A default I’d cheated my brain into forgetting. Full-time glasses wearing meant returning to a world of purple notches on my nose, continually turning my head, and having to push the frames up my nose when they whacked into my nose stud. Spending the whole of winter walking into rooms and steaming up. Remembering to always pack a microfibre cloth in my bag. A whole set of habits I had to remember.

I spent two months feeling grumpy, ugly and annoyed with the cards I’d been dealt: my arrogant younger self, my awful reasons to cry, and my mother’s terrible genes. Being returned back to my glasses felt like a huge problem. I felt like an imposter after so many years of deceiving the world with my contacts. It was surprising to learn how affected I could still be by the circumstance of my own eyes, after so many years of living with them.

Where I’m At Now

These days I have regained my sight. Pulled myself back from the brink of blindness. I studied and read up on how to improve my sight, and slowly I have clawed back vital numbers, inched my way towards zero. My prescription plateaued, and then, miraculously improved. Whilst I still have never had a “skincare routine”, or learned how to “look after” my hair, my methods for regaining my eyesight are vast and numerous. After all; hair is dead and skin grows anew. Eyes are forever. I want mine to work for a whole lifetime. There are so many ways to look after yourself, so many facets of “self-care”. Fuck split ends; where are the blog posts on not going blind? Why are we not reminding each other to go to the opticians? I tell you now: GO. If you mess up the eyes you’ve got, then you can’t expect a second pair.

I am aided by technology; I wear contacts for special occasions, performances and meetings, and I stick to glasses at home or in rehearsal. If you’ve seen me in both then it’s a mark that you know me well. I will clarify here that most people who wear glasses and contacts have slightly differing prescriptions between the two. With my contacts I see well, but my prescription with my glasses is so precise that when I wear them, I have sight that is in the top 1% of the country. The top 1%!

And sure, I need a little help with my glasses, but we all need a little help from time to time. They bring X-Men levels of clarity; eagle precision. I have 0-0 vision (or 20:20 if you’re from the US), except in anti-glare, high def, corrected stigmatism glory. It is a vision that matches my other available powers; my ability to eat hot curries, my wolf-like hearing, my swooping voice that can belt a Top C without warming up. I am a superhero of many parts, and my glasses are my sword. Here, let me read you that license plate at the far end of the street.

Day To Day

I am who I am; I have large, brown eyes that see very little. They give me a hazy perspective on the world; trees and buildings are the same; bottles on the floor could be gnomes or logs; people merge into a big mass and I am alone. I love waking up and being greeted by a swirling mass of colour and a huge wolf-dog lingering by the door. A world of madness and mania. I always lose a little magic when I put my glasses on and the kaleidoscope colour separates into a wall of sequinned dresses; the wolf-dog is a coat bundled on the floor.

The idea of laser surgery terrifies me; always has, gave me nightmares as a kid. Why on earth would I cheat nature like that? Admit defeat? Besides, I’d hate to have clear-cut vision first thing in the morning. To see the bags under the eyes of the hungover, tired person next to me; the rumpled clothes and empty bottles; the blurry, dirty stamp on my hand. I’d rather experience the morning through the touch of a gentle, comforting pair of arms; or a sleepy, content voice, or the smell of coffee downstairs. Any sense other than sight. I save the clarity for later in the day and start the morning with my softer senses.

I feel incredibly lucky to have multiple experiences of a single sense. Imagine seeing everything the same way the whole time. How perfunctory; adequate. Instead, I can see well, I can see badly, I can see perfectly. We experience our entire lives through these five rudimentary senses. To have a plurality of range instead of a single channel for this one broadens my experiences. It makes me appreciate far more what it is not just to have that one sense, but to have all of them. My eyes are wide open; I am who I am. I see that now.

WORLD SIGHT DAY

I wrote this post to coincide with World Sight Day. It is, as I hope I have conveyed, a topic very close to my heart. If, like me, you have had access to the help you needed, just take a moment and be thankful for that – because we are an extremely lucky minority. Across the world, 285 million people live with poor vision and blindness.

90% of blind people are in low income countries – that’s clearly hugely disproportionate – and an estimated 80% of vision impairment is treatable and/or avoidable. That’s 4 in every 5. Worse – new studies show that globally, rats of “avoidable blindness” are set to increase in the next few years. You are 500% more likely to go blind in a developing country, and if you do, you lose everything. Women are frequently thrown out of their homes and kept away from their children due to losing their sight. Adults are unable to work, and most children literally die within 1-2 years of going blind. Remember that 80% of these cases are treatable…!

The saddest part is how simple and easy it is to treat. Sight-related medicines and treatment are amongst the most cost-effective in all healthcare. The cost of a cheap pair of glasses or a simple lens surgery can literally transform somebody’s life. Many of us rely on our glasses and contacts; I know when I’ve even forgotten a spare pair for a day or left my glasses at home, my whole world seems to turn into complete chaos. In those moments, my sight has become my priority over all other things. To be without those aids is just unthinkable; and yet so many short-sighted people like me do not have access or means to get help.

World Sight Day is organised by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. I encourage you all to have a look at their amazing work.

If you would like to help or donate money then here are some great charities:

Sightsavers – a UK based charity who perform sight-restoring surgeries around the world.

Vision Aid – a global charity who offer sight tests, prescription testing and many more. They also have an ingenious scheme where you can recycle your old glasses and they will go to somebody who needs them. I absolutely love this idea.

20x20x20 – provide free, sight-restoring operations to people in developing countries. The front page video of two sisters regaining their sight made me cry. Imagine being responsible for transforming people’s lives like that – easy, achievable and you can donate any amount in less than one minute.

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9 Comments

  • Reply Jane

    I love this post so much Laila! You have such a charming way of writing and I loved reading your story about coming to terms with your vision. I’m only mildly short sighted and don’t wear the glasses I own because I’m so self conscious about how I look in them, so one day when I started needing them to function I’ll come back and read this post.

    October 12, 2017 at 11:04 am
  • Reply Penny Fordham

    Laila, the way you write is so incredibly beautiful, it’s soothing for the soul.

    October 12, 2017 at 1:14 pm
  • Reply imogenmay

    Ah Laila, thank you for sharing this story. It is also so close to my heart too. My boyfriend seems to have had a very similar experience, having glasses since he was five and having so many issues throughout his whole life. It makes me feel so sad when he tells me stories of missed opportunities and lows in his self esteem. Just recently he has found glasses that he likes and it has made a huge difference, but I realise that so many people don’t have that luxury. Thank you for raising awareness! Immy x

    http://www.immymay.com

    October 12, 2017 at 1:30 pm
  • Reply last year’s girl

    One of my mum’s more annoying habits is the way she asks me to take my glasses off for photographs. She never understood why I gave up on contact lenses (she can’t bear her own glasses) and can’t appreciate that they’re a part of who I am. Sure, it was nice to dress up in lenses on occasion, but my astigmatism meant they never perfectly corrected my vision and it was impossible to stare at a computer screen with them in all day.

    Plus, my purple frames match my hair!

    October 12, 2017 at 2:17 pm
  • Reply Alyse

    Laila, I’m going to link this in my Sunday post this week, OK?

    I loved this piece and reading your story. I, too, am extremely short-sighted and I was nodding along, resonating with your words. Laser surgery scares me as well and for us near sighted people (we have longer eyeballs that cause myopia), the procedure won’t correct the physiological changes to our eyes or change the risks we have to our vision that is beyond prescriptive control. I hate the burden of glasses. My prescription is so heavy that I always feel I am wearing Coke bottles, unattractive, and blind in them.

    “Fuck split ends; where are the blog posts on not going blind? Why are we not reminding each other to go to the opticians?” YES. ABSOLUTELY.

    October 12, 2017 at 5:57 pm
  • Reply Priya

    So glad you shared this Laila. My vision is something that I totally take for granted, until I read something like this. Those things that you listed (being able to see when you get out of the shower, first thing when you wake up, etc.) are things I totally take for granted. Always appreciate you giving me some new perspective on something.

    October 12, 2017 at 8:17 pm
  • Reply jen

    Great post. I’m moderately shortsighted and wear contacts daily since I was 14, after 3 years of hating and fighting with my glasses. Our sight is so important and it makes me angry when I read about people who refuse to get their eyes even tested. Opticians are great, if I’d never gone to one I wouldn’t be able to see my hand in front of my face at this point.

    October 15, 2017 at 6:17 am
    • Reply jen

      After seeing your tweet, i should clarify – I don’t hate my glasses because of BS social norms, I hate my glasses because I have optical distortion that means I can’t see out of them unless I keep my head at one specific angle.

      October 16, 2017 at 10:47 am
  • Reply Emily Underworld

    I loveeddddddd reading this. I am too a blind human with bad short-sightedness and astigmatism. I’ve changed my glasses so many times, and I’m loving the ones I have right now. I get compliments on them from tourists nearly every day at work! Contact lenses were drying out my eyes too, and one time I fell asleep on the train wearing them, and woke up to scratches all over my cornea – it was awful.

    October 16, 2017 at 5:34 pm
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