Nov 30, 2013

Youth Space Spotlight: Cathy

1. Can you share with us what retinal eye disease you have and when you were diagnosed?

When I was 15, I was diagnosed with cataracts. I woke up one morning with persistent blurry vision. My mother immediately brought me to my optometrist, who made the diagnosis. Several complications accompanied my cataracts, including numerous retinal detachments. Despite undergoing nine operations, I was left with almost a complete loss of vision.

2. Did vision loss have any impact on your education choices?

Due to the many operations I had during high school, I was excused from Physical Education classes. I readjusted my way of learning and adapted to the challenges of vision loss, but I have not let it affect my education choices to this day. For the rest of high school, I took all the courses that I wanted and needed to fulfill post-secondary requirements. With the help of the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Access & Diversity resources, I have been able to study without issue; never have I considered dropping or dropped a course based on my vision. Naturally some plans have been put on hold, some eliminated, but many new paths have been added. My vision loss is an obstacle to overcome, not a barrier to my education.

3. What do you do for a living? How have you adapted your career to your vision loss?

I am currently a student at the University of British Columbia with a prospective major in Political Science and a minor in History. I have a few career options in mind and am excited to explore them. With faith, perseverance, patience, and adaptation, my mindset is not “it’s impossible,” but more “I’m possible.” Resting my eyes and taking good care of them while considering their overall health are all important factors in choosing a career, but they will not be a deterrent to what I wish to pursue. Of course, let’s be real here, I will not be a pilot or an astronaut – but that’s ok!

4. Can you share with us how vision loss has impacted your relationships?

Since my vision loss, my friends have been completely supportive. I always remind my friends not to pity me and to never make excuses for me just because I have low vision. I do feel bad when, because of my impaired vision, I unintentionally walk right past an acquaintance without greeting them. Other times, because my right eye shifts to the side occasionally, I am unable to make eye contact with the person I am speaking to, which may be perceived as being rude. When I go on dates and the lighting is too dim, my date would have to read the menu to me. Despite these moments, my vision loss has not significantly impacted my relationships thus far.

5. It’s no secret that vision loss can lead to anxiety and depression. How do you maintain emotional balance?

I was shocked and in disbelief in the beginning, but I came to terms with reality and accepted what was happening to me. I am a firm believer in the idea that we cannot control situations, but we can control our reactions. I have chosen to focus on the positive outlook instead of the negative for countless reasons. Most people would consider vision loss as disadvantageous for their future and overall well-being, but I focus on its benefits. I do not grieve for myself because life goes on and I am intrepid. My life may still be a little harder, a tad different, a considerable bit more blurred, but it is not impossible. My eyesight does not define me. My experience has taught me how to handle many unexpected and onerous encounters and strangely enough, I am rather grateful this has happened. Call it a blessing in a strange disguise.

6. What accessibility aids can you not live without?

I require my magnifying glasses when reading small prints and labels; my Samsung Galaxy S4 and my MacBook air are set on the brightest setting and allow me to readjust the size of an image or text with the swipe of my fingers.  Last but not least, my sunglasses- they keep me protected and I have a weakness for stylish shades.

7. Our 2012 Toronto Vision Quest Youth Panel agreed that we all ‘hate’ 3D movies, revolving doors and garbage days. What’s your pet peeve?

It frustrates me that 3D movies do not work with my vision because I enjoy visuals and colours and not being able to enjoy the full movie experience irks me. Another peeve is how my vision loss affects my wearing of heels. I love to wear heels all the time, but my lack of depth perception results in various dangerous situations. Another bother is how I always spill when pouring water into a clear glass cup and how it sometimes overflows without me realizing it. Dark restaurants with small print menus drive me crazy.

8. If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self about vision loss, what would you say?

The most valuable lesson I have come to realize is to have an appreciation for all the little things in life. When I was young, the possibility of vision loss, low vision or a significant change of vision never occurred to me; I never imagined that it would happen to me. I would tell my younger self that it may sound and be scary, but we all adapt and persevere. There is nothing to be afraid of. Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Do not give up or avoid starting something because someone else thinks it might be too difficult for you – that is not an option.

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