Next week is the 2011 NMO Patient Day sponsored by the Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation to be held in Los Angeles. At this same event last year was where I met Erin and Jenna and where the idea of NMO Diaries was born. This year, all three of us are reuniting in L.A. but I am going sans husband.
John had just started a new job so vacation days are minimal. It will be my first time flying alone since my vision loss, and had this been one or two years ago, I would’ve been having conniptions pre-flight. But over the years, I’ve grown a little more comfortable, a little more secure, in my sightlessness, and I’ve decided to brave the trip solo this time.
Becky Maher, the travel agent from Spirit of Travel, ensured me that the airport and airline employees would help me find my gate, my way on and off the plane, and where I need to go once we land in L.A. All I have to do is find a curbside employee or the ticketing counter. Luckily, Erin and Jenna both scheduled their flights to arrive around the same time as mine so they can receive me at my gate.
I remember with each subsequent worsening of my vision over the years and with less and less things I could do independently (e.g. driving, then walking), I would be ridden with fear and anxiety. I pitied myself, wondering how I would survive life “this time.” When my vision worsened to 20/200 in one eye and “counting fingers” in the other back in 2004, I wasn’t ready to let go of any independence. It took me almost a full year before I listed my car for sale. “At least I can still walk by myself,” I thought.
Then in 2007 when my vision worsened to “counting fingers” in both eyes, I could no longer walk independently. I either needed a guide or a cane to get around. I despised my cane; it made me feel different.
Four years later, and we come to today. And while I am not going to lie and say I’m equal to everybody else, that I can do everything everybody else does, I have learned to embrace my disability just a little bit more. I’m not saying I’ve become completely used to it or that I’d choose being blind over being sighted. I’m saying I’ve learned to adapt as best as I can thus far, and every new experience presents an opportunity for me to learn how to overcome it. I’m not equal. Being blind makes me different, and it’s a fact I’m not denying. But it doesn’t make me less of a person. It has taught me to think more, feel more. I think more about how to solve a problem, say, how can I organize my kitchen in such a way that allows me to cook an entire meal independently? What tools can I acquire that will help me roast a rack of lamb (which I did last night)? And I feel more because I’ve become much more understanding of other people’s shortcomings whether physical or mental. Everyone’s got problems. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Kim Cardashian or someone with NMO. If it’s not marital problems or health issues, it’s something else.
I’m not much of one for adventure. I wanted to puke (literally from the motion sickness) when I went skydiving. No matter how much I love traveling, I am always homesick by the end of the trip. But new things, new experiences, are necessary in life. Challenges are necessary. How else will we grow?
Writers are often seeking out the new. We chock it up to a need for material. We say we’re searching for our muse. This generally goes against the grain of my inherent personality, but next week, I’m both a little nervous and a little excited to go on my first solo flight as a blind person. If I survive, I can feel good about myself: “Here is another thing I’ve overcome.” And if I don’t, well, it’ll make for a good story.
All three of us ladies behind NMO Diaries will be at Patient Day. For those attending, we hope to meet you. For those who will be watching from home, we say hello and hope for a next time.