The moment I realized my life had changed was like the day I first tried on my new glasses. I was in 7th grade. I knew I had some vision problems, but I had no idea how severe they were until I slipped those glasses on over my nose for the first time and looked out the window.
I gasped and saw a sight I’ll never forget. It was a tree. There was nothing particularly special about the tree except that this tree had individual leaves that I could see. Until that moment, I thought that no one could see individual leaves on trees. Drawings of trees looked like green scribbles on top of brown trunks because that’s what they looked like, or so I thought. I knew that individual leaves existed because I had seen them on the ground. I’d held them in my hand. Off the tree they were individuals, but on the tree they were an indistinguishable collective. That’s what I thought until I tried on those glasses that day when I was 13.
All the way home that afternoon, I stared at every tree I could find, amazed that individual leaves were visible on them all. I knew that my view of the world would never be the same. If leaves really could be seen on trees, what else would I see that I had never seen before? And how could I every trust my eyes again? I had proof now that just because I couldn’t see something didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
The day I realized my life had changed most recently was much like that day. It was an awakening, an epiphany. I saw something I had never seen before, something I had sworn for decades wasn’t there, only this time it wasn’t outside, but it was in me. It was also a bit different because I had felt this awakening coming for several years. The terra firma of my life had been shaking and moving and I was holding on to my old life with a death grip until it was wrestled away from me.
The harder I struggled to get it back, the more it drifted away, until I finally just stopped. More accurately, I was stopped. It was as if the universe were shouting, “Well, if you won’t let it go, I can make you unable to chase it anymore!” And so it did.
I became ill. Small wounds turned into infected gaping lesions that grew large and deep, down to the bone. Occasional pain became chronic. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t write. I could barely walk, and not very much at that. My memory left me and I couldn’t even read much because by the time I got to the bottom of a page I’d forgotten what I’d read at the beginning. I didn’t talk to people much because I’d forget the conversation as soon as it was over and it was embarrassing to see them again and have no memory of our encounter of a day or even an hour before. And I slept. A lot.
The doctors were confounded. Over a period of months, several specialists ran tests and tried to figure it out. They never succeeded. Oh, they came up with some ideas, but nothing that could be objectively proven or disproven, so I hobbled home and went back to sleep, assuming that maybe I should start thinking about accepting that this would be my life from that point on.
I was afraid, but I had no choice. I couldn’t think well enough to plan a detailed scheme to fight it. All I knew for sure was that my old life – with my old job and my old lifestyle – was gone. Now all I could do was let go. Once and for all. For good.
It’s a confusing and frightening place to be – a writer who can’t read or write anymore. I’d always assumed that I’d always be able to work. Any disability I’d experience, if I was so unfortunate, would surely be a physical one, and I could still write. It never occurred to me that I’d be facing a future without words. But I was.
I finally surrendered and accepted it.
I shut the door on the way things used to be and I started to look for what would be my new normal. And that’s what the miracle started happening. Wounds healed. My memory improved. Energy came back. I wasn’t like I was before, but I was significantly better.
I started looking for other ways to earn a living. I rediscovered creative writing and I started sending stories and poems out to be published. I joined a couple writer’s groups. I spent more time with my family. I didn’t completely give up the kind of writing I’d be doing before, but I refused to overdo it.
Then one day that moment of clarity hit me and I knew my life would never be like it was ever again. I realized I was happy – genuinely happy – for the first time in years. I was finally living a life of my own choosing.
Everything was clear. I had to make some big sacrifices to get here, but it was worth it. I look at my life now and it’s like that moment when I saw leaves on trees for the first time in 7th grade. I know I’ll never be the same.