Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

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When No Pictures Remain

June 25, 2003 I woke up having had a stroke.  I lost my eyesight.  A very kind hospital volunteer sat on my bed early on during my recovery.  She described in great detailed the picture hanging on the wall.  She taught me a life changing lessons: You do not have to see images to realize the beauty which fills the world around us.  She also allowed me to understand there is a large difference between having eyesight and having vision.  Images can be discovered in different ways and vision has more to do with the hope for our future rather than what our eyes see in briefly passing moments.

Getting back the eyesight I now have was a long, gradual process.  Half my world is still completely black.  I have hemianopia and can no longer see anything using my left peripheral  from both eyes.  Click here to see a picture I showed on a previous post which demonstrates how a street looks now when I walk out of a building.

Though I did regain fifty percent of what I can see, my visual memory never returned.  The stroke permanently destroyed that piece of my brain.  When I close my eyes and try to remember what something looks like, I can no longer create pictures within my mind.  Whether I am trying to remember what a sunset looks like, trying to picture a glass of water or trying to imagine what a tree looks like, I cannot create any image or color within my mind.  The visual memory loss took away my ability to see anything when I have my eyes closed.

 

Picture I see when I close my eyes

Picture I see when I close my eyes

 

 

Yet, as I said, I did regain half my eyesight.  At first, I could not see anything with my eyes open, and I was unable to see anything when I tried to remember what I had seen previously.  For too long, my world was too dark.  The world seen through my mind was always completely black.

Yet, through this experience, I have been able to learn an important lesson.  I hope you can take something away from this, too.  What is in front of you right now?  What you see when you look out into the world today, treasure it.  Don’t take that streak of lightning, the smile from a stranger or images you may see every day for granted.  One day this image may be erased from your memory forever.  Regardless of how long or how often I am given to experience any sight, I try to treasure it. 

 

Agave in the sunset

Agave in the sunset

 

 

I try to notice all the images and colors which fill my world. 

 

Succulent garden with a sunset

Succulent garden with a sunset

 

 

I try noticing minute details such as how a ripple of water can dance with the fading light.

 

Sunset over the pond

Sunset over the pond

 

 

These are images I see nightly from my backyard.  For three years, I have enjoyed watching the beautiful night sky where I live.  I realize at times I am fortunate to still have so much eyesight missing from each eye.  You see, every second of every day I have this reminder to never take for granted the beautiful world in which I live.  I always remember that early lesson I was taught – just because I can’t see something or memories do not remain does not mean the pictures surrounding me are not filled with beauty.  I celebrate and treasure what I see, even if it is only for a fleeting moment.

 

The view from our backyard

The view from our backyard

 

 

“Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two?”   G.K. Chesterton

Happy Anniversary or Should I Say Happy Birthday?

                Ten years ago I found myself facing challenges I never could have imagined.  Ten years ago this week I woke from brain surgery learning I had a stroke during the operation.  I was twenty-seven.  What was it that allowed me to embrace the challenges faced while recovering from this event?  Where does that inner strength and determination come from?  I really can’t answer these questions.  Whatever it was, wherever it came from, is unknown, yet I am fiercely grateful for this drive.  I can walk independently now.  I can speak clearly without slurring my words.  I celebrate doing simple things in life most people take for granted.  I do all these things which, not so long ago, would have been unthinkable accomplishments if I had allowed myself to accept the speculated dismal outcomes predicted.

Each year I ask myself if the 25th of June should be celebrated as an anniversary or as a birthday.  Anniversaries are happy days set up to celebrate the joining of two lives.  Some might not understand why the date of my stroke would be considered a happy day.  It is though.  I have always believed it is only when life knocks you down beyond where you could have imagined that you really learn to appreciate all the beauty life delivers.  When you climb the mountain of challenges placed in front of you, this is really when you appreciate the beautiful gifts of life.  My life before was happy.  And, though it is different in so many ways, the life I live now is also joyfully celebrated.  So, rightfully, happy anniversary to me for the day which taught me the true potential to change, grow and appreciate the gift of living.  Each year is a happy celebration of joining my life as it is today and the years that helped mold the strength which allowed me to overcome challenges.

Or, should I say Happy Birthday to me?  No, it is not my true birthday in the traditional sense of the word.  However, the stroke changed who I am.  I know I am not the same person I was before my stroke.  I accept that.  I even rejoice this.  I recognize I am a different person in some ways.  I am stronger.  I have more empathy for the difficulties people face.  I am more attentive to the gifts life offers.  I am more grateful for each and every day I have.  Life now is never taken for granted.    Similar to an infant in many ways, the stroke forced me to learn developmental tasks once again.  I learned how to walk and tie my shoes.  I learned how to catch a ball, hold a pencil and hold my beautiful babies in my arms.  I learned these early lessons again with the coordination of an inexperienced toddler, yet having the eyes of an experienced adult.  In this perspective, happy birthday to me.

                Tuesday, the night of my ten year anniversary/birthday ended with my youngest, an eleven year-old, making a tent and sleeping in my room.  She was sleeping near my bed, and I reached out my arm to rub her back.  She turned over and grabbed my hand.  She was rubbing my arm up and down, up and down.  Constant repetitive touches on my left arm and leg have been painful since I had my stroke.  I asked her to stop and reminded her rubbing me like that hurts.  She said, “Give me your other hand then.”  I gave her my right hand.  She didn’t question it.  This is her norm.  This is just how her mom is.  On this night, we fell asleep with her holding my right hand.  I can only hope in the next ten years of our lives we can continue to grow and create as many happy memories of success stories as we’ve discovered this past decade.

Prosopagnosia and Sight Loss: Visions and Dreams

Two questions always asked when I am speaking to people about my limitations are: “When you have lost so much vision, how hard is it for you to cope?”  The other: “Since you have lost most of your visual memory and ability to recognize faces, do you still have dreams?”

Now, I am fully aware what is being asked, “Does it bother you, you can’t see as well as you used to” and “what fills your mind at night”.  I know these are their questions, but I hope the real meaning is never misunderstood by people I am trying to educate and inspire.  My answers in short: Yes I would like to see more.  Yes, I still have thoughts that fill my sleep but not images.

The longer answers: In the recent post A View of My World, I showed a picture of the way I see the world with left homonymous hemianopia.  I do have a lot of sight missing, but vision is not always a definition of what you see in front of you.  I have goals for my future.  I have a plan designed to guide me towards achieving great things.  I am not lacking vision.

Dreams are not always the images and pictures your imagination creates.  Sometimes a dream is what you hope for in the future.  I do have hope.  Regarding the night dreams people are referring to when asking this question, my imagination still fills my sleep with stories at night.  With prosopagnosia, these dreams are limited but still very realistic.  I no longer see pictures of people running.  I no longer see the cliff I am stepping off, but I still wake with a falling sensation.  Yet, I still have dreams that leave me uneasy in the morning or can cause tears to come in the night.  Like my waking hours no images fill my mind.  With closed eyes, I experience only darkness.  My dreams are remembered in a mind that no longer sees pictures.

Have you ever read a really good book?  This book was so good you could not turn the pages fast enough.  This book had you full of anticipation, and you refused to put it down until you finished the last page.  Have you ever read a book that caused tears to stream down your face?  This book may have left you stressed and saddened for the rest of the day.  These are similar to my dreams at night.  I do not see images, but I understand the occurrence through words I think and sounds I hear.

How does someone without much visual memory and prosopagnosia dream vividly at night?  Here is an example of a nightmare that haunted me: I remember singing with my two children in the car.  (I could hear the wind blowing fast and felt movement.  My daughters were asking if we were going to be there soon.)  I screamed as the shattering glass sliced my skin open. (I could hear the screeching of brakes quickly followed by the sounds of metal scratching.  I knew there was pain.  The song my children sang was replaced by haunting screams and sounds of horror and pain.)  The ambulance came and first took away my children leaving me behind. (I heard the sirens.  Someone was telling me to stay calm.  My girls’ voices were becoming fainter as they cried out “Mommy” and said they did not want to have to go without me.)  I woke after that.  I had no memory of seeing anything.  Regardless, I did not need images to get me out of bed and go check on my children.  I did not need pictures to feel the pain and fear that lingered throughout the day.  As an avid reader, I have always known the words can be just as powerful if not more as watching pictures pass across a screen.

I do not need sight to have a vision.  I have enough words, memories and hope to always have dreams.  Yes, prosopagnosia and hemianopia have certainly altered the way I see and feel, but I always believe I have gained more and understand more now.  This outweighs all I have ever lost.  I love the vision and dreams that promise an exciting future.

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