Happily, I am no longer ashamed of my low vision (for the most part)
“Good grief, Carlene, must you sit so close to the TV??” This, along with “Why do you have your face literally in your book” are two questions I heard a lot in my lifetime. Another was “Can’t you see?!?! You need to get new glasses.” I’ve heard so many comments like these that I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has noticed my obvious nearsightedness. For several years these comments were shaming to me. I tried to compensate for my less-than-stellar vision, tried to hide the fact that I have a visual problem that is not my fault. Sometimes I have felt so ashamed, such as at some job I had when frustrated that I couldn’t see certain things. This shame has often resulted in tears, which of course I’ve also tried to hide.
Not anymore. As I often tell people, there are good things about adding years to one’s age, and one of those things is that a person sometimes accepts what is and no longer frets so much about it. For some years I’ve realized that I need to live in a large-print world, and reading glasses and magnifying glasses are always at the ready because, sadly for me, the world insists on tiny print.
Over my working life I spent too many years at various jobs trying to (mostly unsuccessfully) hide the fact because I was deeply ashamed of my low vision, which is due a retina condition known as retinitis pigmentosa (according the the Mayo Clinic web site, or pale retina). My local eye doctor who diagnosed it said that either it is congenital (I was born with it) or somewhere along the line my retina was detached (like, maybe in the bike accidents I had in the early 70s, in which I bounced my head on the curb a couple times).
Either way, what it means is that my retina does not properly reflect light,and my optic nerve is not fully developed (connected to my brain), leaving me with serious nearsightedness. I am legal to drive with my prescription glasses on, though preferably not at night because my condition means my eyes are very sensitive to light (and people’s headlights seem to be brighter nowadays, for some reason).
I recently had a conversation with a friend in which I told him that I used to be ashamed of my poor eyesight. He said, “Why? It is what it is.” True, I said. I think maybe the shaming went back to when I was a kid and heard all that chiding about books in my face, and so on. People were clearly implying, or outright saying, that I was “dumb” and no kid wants to feel that way (trust me on this). I recall my mom saying that a grade school teacher wanted to put me in Special Ed class (that is what they called the class for developmentally delayed persons back in the day) because my school work was less than brilliant.
Mom apparently knew that I wasn’t a candidate for the “Special” class. She said she told my teacher to put me in the front of the class so I could see the chalkboard, and that might help, And apparently it did (thanks mom!!): my grades improved (somewhat) and no Special Ed for me …. yay!!! I’m pretty sure that if I had been put in that class I’d have been way more bored with school than I already was and probably would have been the disruptive child. As it were I was the disinterested, tuned-out child, but that is another article ….
Many people have asked why I don’t get Lasik surgery and I tell them what my regular eye doctor said: because Lasik cuts into the corneas and my condition involves the underdeveloped retina. Twenty years ago when I got the diagnosis the eye doctor said all that could be done for me was glasses to give me some far vision. On the Mayo Clinic site I see there IS a surgery to help people with my condition. Hmmmm, interesting. This site also listed a number of ways to deal with the low vision that I have, and though I now cope the best I can (with readers, magnifiers and extra large fonts on my devices), I really wish I’d had that article to read back when diagnosed.
I also read in my recent AARP magazine that there’s a wi-fi compatible headset that can help people with low vision. At a price tag of $3,000 I’m pretty sure I’ll run right out and grab one. It’s on my to-do list. Maybe when someone pays me $1 for every mean, critical, shaming comment that people said to me over the decades of my life as a person with low vision. Yeah, then I will buy the headset; or maybe get the surgery. Or I might just organize my own environment to suit me and my visual needs. Hmmmm….
This is just one of many retinal problems that people can have (pale retina is relatively rare I guess). Some retina problems are related to other things, such as diabetes. I highly recommend that anyone who has difficulty seeing to head to an eye doctor. I also recommend to others who have “perfect” vision to quit shaming those who don’t. Just a thought. The world needs more kindness. Thank you.