14 April 2015

Seeing things

My mom said something last week that made me really think. She said that sometimes she wished she'd chosen to study something more practical for her poor eyesight.

My mom, my brother, and I (along with several others on my maternal side of the family) have a disease that causes optic nerve degeneration. There is no treatment or cure, it's genetic, and it is progressive. My mom is legally blind, and I will likely be so someday, too. She has never been able to drive, but as she's gotten older, she's also lost her ability to read--including her ability to read music. My mom is a gifted musician with a college education in music. She once played numerous instruments, but what I remember is the piano. She has not been able to read piano music since I was little. She can read choral music if she holds it right up to her face...but then even I have to do that.

Being visually impaired is hard. My vision is correctable at this point to 20/40 so that I can drive, but driving at night or in the rain makes me anxious. I've never been able to read the blackboard or white board at school, for as long as I can remember, without getting up and going to stand right in front of it. Overhead projectors were the worst. In college I sat front and center in every class so I could focus and take notes from listening rather than from the board. I can't see the words projected on the screens in churches more often than not. I just have to fake the words or ask for a printout. I have a lot of trouble reading street signs; the GPS is my God-send. When I get lost, I get really, really lost. I set my computer screen on large fonts and use CTRL+ to make my browser fonts larger. I have Timothy read the aisle signs in the grocery store for me.

I can see so much more than my mom, and I am thankful for my corrected vision. But I have to admit that my vision is failing a little bit every year. I have lost some of my peripheral vision in the last four years, and I have developed mild color blindness on top of my optic nerve atrophy. As a single mom in particular, I am terrified that I will lose my vision before my kids are old enough to take care of themselves, that I won't be able to drive them to school, to appointments. How can I take care of my kids by myself when I can't see? Will my vision last that long?

This is always at the back of my mind, this anxiety about my ability to take care of my children if I can no longer see clearly. But my mom's comment made me think more about my work and education more directly. I love medical things, and I wish I could have had a career in some medical field. I would have loved to have been a nurse or a doctor, or maybe a PA. But the truth is that I can't see well enough for those occupations, and even if I could see well enough now, there would soon come a day when I couldn't perform my duties. That is the hard, bare truth.

So what shall I do with my next few years? I can't say. For now I will keep doing administrative work, or editing work if I can find it. In the long term? I don't know. What sorts of careers are open to the visually impaired? It's time I face up to the truth and actually think about that.

My name is Saralynn, and I am visually impaired.

This is my reality.

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