Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

Posts tagged ‘hemianopia’

Most Brutal of Teachers



Insurance said I recovered as much as I could within a few months of my stroke, but I knew I could do more. I knew I would have to work hard, but my recovery was going to be worth every ounce of effort I put into it. It was necessary to improve beyond what I had suddenly been reduced to. Even with all of my hope, I never had the expectation that I would be back to 100% of where I was before my cerebral vascular accident (CVA). Did I want it back? Desperately! But, I also had to accept reality.


The reality, from the viewpoint on my hospital bed, was that I would never get everything back. Although, being a young stroke victim did offer a unique path to becoming a stroke survivor. I still am not graceful when I make a feeble attempt to jog, but at least I walk. My eyesight is completely missing on the left peripheral. Yet, through this I’ve come to realize a vision for a positive future has nothing to do with what your eyes see; rather, it is what your heart, mind, and soul can create for a reality.


I completely agree with C.S. Lewis. I learned. My God did I ever learn. I am extremely grateful I had this brutal teacher of life offer me these experiences. Growing up with epilepsy, I never would have thought I could have seizures which would nearly end my life. I never would have been able to comprehend the idea of brain surgery. I never understood what a stroke was. Why should’ve I? No one young faces things like these. (At least, that was the innocence I used to maintain.) I faced brutal teachers.


Yet, these battles have created an inner strength I never could have imagined. Within these unfortunate experiences, I have learned so much about our brains and bodies. I truly believe it is not only a need but also a gift to help share these life lessons and teach others who are in the midst of facing the brutal teachings life is throwing their way. I have learned. Now it is my hope, desire, and –might I even say- responsibility to help others through this unpredictable journey known as life.


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

Question & Answer Week 1 – b

How did you go about explaining your condition (prosopagnosia) to your children and how did they respond/react? –Haley McMenamin

          My children were not told about me being face blind for quite a while.  They were one and two-and-a-half when I had my stroke.  It was obvious and unavoidable to let them know “Mom has trouble seeing things”.  This is all they knew for years.  I lost half of my eyesight.  Fifty percent of my world is missing with hemianopia.  When I couldn’t find their teachers, ”Mom can’t see where Ms. Smith is.  Can you help me find her?”  This was a very typical conversation. 

Australian 9News asked that my daughters be on a live interview with me in 2010.  I opposed this idea at first.  After the producer explained they wanted to create a Mother’s Day segment highlighting how even moms with limitations can be great parents, I decided it was the right thing to do.

          I took the girls into separate rooms.  I told them each that I had a problem recognizing faces.  I let them know I could not recognize them by their faces, but I knew their pretty eyes and loved their smiles.  To my surprise, they both responded in the exact same way, “Mom, I know you can’t.  That’s how you’ve always been.”  I was shocked.  How did they know this?  How?  Kids just do.  Children are more perceptive than we ever give them credit for. 

My kids have taken this all in stride.  Some children have moms who are horrible cooks.  Some moms can’t sing a tune to save their bedtime.  My kids?  My daughters just happen to have a mom who can’t recognize people.  It is their unquestioned normal.  My children love me because they know I will always be there to take care of their needs and offer an immeasurable amount of love.


lLibrary Grand Opening


How has “face-blindness” impacted your relationships with friends and family? –Ryan Terrebonne

          I generally gravitate towards people who have distinctive characteristics.  I jokingly say I have the United Nation group of friends.  One of the first ladies I made friends with when we moved into this city was a super tall, super slim lady who always wore a light blue ball cap.  She was easy to recognize no matter where I saw her.  I need something unique in a person, so I can find them again and again in crowds.  My friends are generally outgoing.  These people have usually approached me often during the initial stages of our friendship. 

          I don’t lead off conversations with, “Look I have this problem with knowing which person you are next time I see you….”.  Many people have difficulty comprehending this within an initial conversation.  I am certain I’ve lost many great friendships before they were even given a true chance to get started.  Even when I do explain my face blindness, people don’t realize the extent of my condition and think I am ignoring them or shying away from conversations.  Truth is, half of my world is black due to my eye sight loss, and I see every face as a complete stranger.  My limitations do not define my relationships with people, but, sadly, I am sure prosopagnosia has ended some of them way too soon.

          As for my family, prosopagnosia has never effected these relationships.  My husband wears a brighter ball cap when we go out and my kids stay close by me, but this is the extent it plays into our lives.  You do not have to know a face to be able to comprehend the love contained within that person’s spirit.


Question & Answer Week 1 – a

What has your “disability” (for lack of a better word) taught you about the human race? –Laura Cyrek

          I am sure you have heard the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.    There is a profound amount of truth to this when you look at other individuals.  It is easy to judge people.  It’s not nearly as easy for us to forego assumptions, and focus on what is inside this person’s heart. When strangers approach you, judgments often leap into your mind:  Their eyes dart too quickly; they are not truthful.  Their misfit clothes have been worn too often and are getting holes; they don’t have much money.

We often don’t take the time or effort required to discover what is inside this person. Have you read Cross in the Closet?  It covers a wonderful, controversial topic.  The underlying message is very powerful.  This book highlights the need to love people for who they are.  This is a challenge we could all work on in our lives.

What have I learned about the human race?  There is a lot of good out there in our world.  A lot of good.  We need to take notice of this good, and try not to get pulled into the negativity stemming from quick judgments we too often apply.

Everyone has a story.  Every person has a pivotal point or experience that helped shape them into who they are today.  Look deeper than what you see at first.  Their story may be outrageously funny or horrifically sad.  Find these stories and you will better understand who these strangers are.  The human race is a beautiful collaboration of people.  Even people who have built walls up to protect themselves and lurk in a world of sadness and anger have a warm spirit under that dark shell.  People are inherently warm and loving.  Be careful not to misjudge what you see in your passing glance.  Find their story, and you will better understand them as individuals.  Everybody has a story.  Every person has a passion and a dream.  What is your dream?



Was there a specific event or moment that gave you the courage to share the story of your condition with the public? – Amanda Feld

          Over the years, I searched extensively for individuals writing and speaking about my four longest lasting conditions: epilepsy, young stroke patients’ recoveries, hemianopsia and prosopagnosia.  Rarely could I find first-hand accounts of what it was like to live with these conditions.  I did not want to linger in the shadows of scientific studies where 28% of patients found this or 68.7% improvement rate was found with this.  I wanted to hear from specific individuals who had faced the world and succeeded in living a full life despite limitations. 

I knew I had a story to share, and I knew other people could learn from it.  It wasn’t until two years ago I met John Riehl that my hope to share this story became a reality.  John is an amazing man.  I am grateful he saw value in my message and helped me take it to a larger population.  John put together a wonderful video that helped tell my story.  Through John, I had great fortune of becoming friends with professor and documentary film maker Dave Gould.  He has helped me connect with even more people.  This summer I will begin speaking with the American Heart Association of San Diego.  My story is slowly spreading to more and more people.  The response of gratitude is overwhelming when I realize everything I have experienced is now helping others find their way through a journey of adversity.

          My willingness to share my story has nothing to do with courage.  This drive to share my experiences stems from being lost and wanting someone to reach out their hand to show me possibilities of a bright future defined by hard work and motivation not medical challenges.  I did not want to be a statistic defined by research found in medical journals and hand-outs in doctor’s offices and hospitals.  It is my privilege to be able to help more and more people see beyond these statistics.  I feel I can now give back and help people realize adversity does not need to take you over and keep you from reaching your full potential.   Regardless of the roadblocks, obstacles can be overcome through our use of optimism.  Every person has the ability to uncover their inner strengths.



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