Nearly five years ago, during my first attack of MS, my eyesight began to get very blurry. There were times when all I could see were the outline of objects in near darkness. Sometimes this would occur during an attempt to drive, and in sheer terror I would pull over to the side of the road. Of course, one can imagine the feelings of helplessness that this caused me. Yes, it was scary not to see where I was at times, or to see what was around me; but above all, the most terrifying part of this was the inability to read and engage in nonverbal communication with others.
If I could not see who was approaching, I did not know how to react to this person. Do I smile, being considerate and friendly to a fellow human being, who I did not know? Is it an aquaintance that I say hello to? Or is it a friend that I should acknowledge with excitement and engage in conversation with? I was so afraid of being misinterpreted, that I often avoided being out in public, especially social gatherings. I knew that my confused behavior, like not acknowledging people I knew, was being misinterpretated, because others could not "see" that I could not see.
The only way I knew how to cope with this was to retreat farther into myself. I became isolated and lonely, and longed for the vision I had once had. During this retreat inward, I began to understand how crucial it is for a person to be understood and accepted by others. But how could I accomplish this with an invisible disability that few knew about or understood the implications of? I learned how much of our connection to other people relies on nonverbal subtleties. Reading, and being read by, others is crucial to social interaction, and I could do neither.
I was forced into being with myself completely, without the visual distractions of this world, both the beautiful and the ugly. Through this often painful journey, I discovered parts of myself that could have been left buried forever. I came to accept the parts of myself that I liked and disliked. I came to value myself as I am, without needing others to validate me in the many ways I had relied on previously. All in all, I gained a sight into myself that has become of most importance to me.
I have since gained much of my vision back, but the sight that I gained into myself has remained. I can now navigate through this world in deeper ways than I had ever thought possible. Because I know myself better, I can know others better. Because I can see the invisible and unspoken parts of myself, I can now see those parts of others. And finally, because I can now accept myself in more complete ways, I can give that same acceptance to the people in my life.