Since I was about 8, I have worn glasses. My vision got progressively worse as I got older, but I never really thought much of it because there are a lot of people in my family that wear glasses and they’re doing just fine. Due to a sports injury, I ended up in the hospital with a moderate concussion and a corneal abrasion. My insurance wouldn’t pay to send me to my regular eye doctor for some odd reason, so they sent me to one of the ones the ER had on their list. Whatever, as long as I got the help I needed. I went to this doctor and they did the usual screenings. The doctor left the room with a puzzled look on his face and said they were going to do some more screenings, just to be sure. I thought they were talking about my corneal abrasion. 2 weeks later, this doctor calls me to tell me I have glaucoma, at 20 years old. My world came crashing down and I thought it was a death sentence.
6 years later, my vision is still slowly declining, but my pressures are fine and there are no “holes” in my optic nerve. I went back to my regular eye doctor and he explained that I am a “glaucoma suspect”, which means my optic nerves look a lot different than the normal person’s eye. He said my records have shown this since my very first eye exam and they have not changed since. I am more likely to develop glaucoma in the future, or I might just have ugly optic nerves. It’s all up in the air at this point. My vision just sucks, and I can deal with that.
I also get migraines due to the multiple concussions I’ve had over the years from playing sports. I have to take medication to manage them. While the medication works like a charm, the side effect is severe chest tightness and shortness of breath. It feels like I got hit in the chest with a soccer ball and got the wind knocked out of me. This usually lasts 15-30 minutes. It’s a pain in the ass, so I try to avoid things that likely to trigger a migraine. Trying to squint to read the church bulletin or any small print is a hassle for me and usually causes a migraine, so I just grab one of the ones our church prints off for the elderly members of our congregation, which are about 3-4 times the size of the regular ones. This has never been a problem before.
I got to church early this morning because I was lector (the person who reads the scriptures). I like to get a big bulletin and sit somewhere in the back and practice before I read. I went to the spot where they are placed and went to pick one up. The usher said, “Honey, you can have this one, these are for the old people.” She went to hand me one of the smaller bulletins.
“Ma’am, I would prefer to use one of the bigger ones today. I am lectoring and it is easier for me to see.”
“But we don’t have very many of the larger ones today. You’ll have to make due with the ones we have. Some people in this church have a hard time seeing, you know.” I could tell she was getting annoyed with me.
“Ma’am, I am one of the people in this church that has a hard time seeing. I have vision problems and if I have to try to read something small, I get migraines. I would really prefer to use a larger one today.”
“You’re too young to have vision problems. There are some people in this congregation that have it far worse than you.” She pushed the bulletin in my hands. At that point I just grabbed the big bulletin and walked in the church before she could say another word. Here I go again, being the topic of the hot gossip among the old ladies at church.
We all have a bad habit of assuming that just because we can’t see a problem or the problem does not fit the mold we are used to seeing, it doesn’t exist. There is a lot of talk in the news lately about mental illness and how we need to be accepting of it even though we can’t see it. I fully support this, but we also need to think about the other disabilities and issues that the naked eye cannot see. We need to not assume or force our opinions on others.
Would this lady have given me a hard time if I was using a cane that people with visual impairments typically use? Probably not. She probably would have helped me to my seat.
The kid at the grocery store who is throwing himself on the floor at the supermarket? He might have autism and is overstimulated by all of the lights, the buzzing of the lights, the smells of all the food, and the change in temperature as he goes into the freezer section. Would his mom be looked at with disdain if he were in a wheelchair and nonverbal? No. She would most likely be looked on with pity.
Your friend who won’t go out with you on weekends? It turns out that she has clinical depression and is thinking of committing suicide. She doesn’t want to go out with you because she doesn’t want to be a burden on you and she wants to make it easier on you when she is gone. Would you be angry with her for cancelling plans if she had fallen and broken both of her legs? Probably not. You might even find a way for her to participate. But why can’t you try to find a way for her to participate and accommodate her depression?
I am not knocking physical disabilities and physical ailments. They all suck. It just makes me sad that we assume that just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t real or that it is less than a physical disability. We need to be more aware that those around us are all fighting battles, some physical and some invisible. We need to be respectful and not assume. Especially, we need to not be judgmental when someone does come forward about their issues. We need to look out for each other.