I’m not even sure where to start. I went half-blind last week. I don’t mean that I went blind in one eye — although that happened (twice). I mean I mostly lost my ability to see for several hours-long stretches at a time, once for about a day and a half total.
It was hard. I was alone for much of the worst of it, while my wife was away on a business trip. It was frightening, even after I figured out that, if I kept my eyes completely closed, and tried to relax and let the pain take over for a while, I would be “rewarded” with the ability to open them back up and see well enough for a literal second while I felt my way around. It was especially frightening, though, when I had to go out and walk my dog. I can’t imagine how the truly visually-impaired do it.
The first walk in this state was tough. I took almost twice as much time as normal to get through it, taking my time and spacing out my intervals of rest to get the most out of the brief moments of sightedness. Still, I worried for myself and for my dog at points because it truly was very difficult to know if or when a car or a bike was crossing our path.
But you know what? I figured it out. I braved through it. And then I adapted.
The next time I had to take the dog out, I realized I could just choose a direction, left of right, and repeat it block by block. If I ended up walking in circles (something I usually loathe), so be it. A little bit of circling, to ease the fear and probability of injury, isn’t actually that bad at all. In fact, it’s preferable.
I got sick about a week and a half ago and I didn’t do a good enough job of resting. I took a few days off but should have taken a few more. Then there was a work obligation I couldn’t put off. Then I got carried away trying to force myself to complete some of my own work with Multiverse because I was in denial of the fact that I was quickly getting worse, instead of better.
Well, I write this now having been humbled. Illness will do that to you. You’d think I would have learned this lesson by now.
In the end, what started as a mildly sore throat turned into a violent cold that knocked me onto my ass and then spread first to one eye and then the other. That’s where the temporary blindness came from, a bad case of double pink-eye that left my vision blurry at best, and pretty much absent at worst.
Strangely, in retrospect of course, I’m fine with what happened. I have learned, a bit, over the years. I would never have been able to accept something like temporary blindness before now. It would have put me into a rage.
Keeping calm was almost as hard as dealing with being sick. At many points, I felt compelled to fight the facts of what was happening to me. I couldn’t possibly be actually blind. And in truth I wasn’t. I had the benefit of those stretches of sightedness that the actually-blind don’t get. This even made me feel guilty, occasionally, because I didn’t feel it was right for me to say that I couldn’t see. But I had to push back against the guilt, too, especially for that bad stretch, because I really couldn’t keep my eyes open.
And it didn’t matter. My anger, my fear, my guilt — none of it could or would change the fact that I was dealing with a natural course of events that was going to work out in time. The only power I could have exerted would have been negatively charged. I could have only made things worse for myself.
Even sleep was difficult, for most of last week. I spent the majority of my days and nights wiping my eyes, blowing my nose, washing my face and hands.
I took refuge in audio. I listened to podcasts in the dark. I listened to music. When I started to get better, I watched a little TV through one open eye, because reading and writing was too difficult and I could deal with the blurriness and just close my eyes and listen when it got to be too much.
In short, I made the best of a bad situation that could have been worse and which I knew with reasonable certainty would eventually resolve itself — especially if I didn’t fight.
So why am I sharing all this? Partially, out of compulsion. It was still a difficult experience, and it feels good to write about it. But I also wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the advantages of approaching the ordeal (mostly) in terms of its own reality rather than through the prism of my impossibly idealized default mindset.
My default mode is set to fight. That shouldn’t be a surprise to regular readers. My “instinctual” reaction is to try to actively fight a viral infection that I can’t do anything about, past following doctor’s orders and letting my body do the real work of getting things back to zero.
I don’t know how alone I am in this default. I feel as if many of us try to barrel through difficulty, rather than temporarily alter course until the difficulty has passed.
Sometimes, it can be an advantage to fight, to barrel through. I won’t deny these responses and won’t completely forsake the benefits of knowing they can be leaned on — both abilities have served me too well in the past to do that.
At the same time, though, I’m here to suggest that perhaps there’s much more merit, sometimes, in relegating fight and bull-headed perseverance to the background. I’m starting to believe that their benefits only exist in the realm of rare use.
Ours has become in many ways a cutthroat culture of survival of the fittest, in terms of attitude if not in truth. Bold individualism reigns. We must always push forward, in order to not only keep up but to better our chances for success — whatever that may mean.
But what if we’ve come to a point where this compulsion towards pushing has outlasted its usefulness? Where do we end up, if we push forward for the sake of it, without taking the time to survey the terrain and choose a direction — if we don’t take the time when we need it to rest and recharge and to recall the reasons for pushing in the first place? Quite apart from my personal experience, I think there’s plenty of evidence out there of how and especially where this sort of approach to life has long been failing us as a society and as individual people.
How fit are we “survivors”, really? Physically, on average, not very, if we’re talking about Americans. Mentally and spiritually — again I have to say that evidence proves we’re deficient. Even the healthiness we do have, I’d argue that much of it is performed or engineered more than it is actually felt and lived.
I don’t want to do it anymore. I guess that’s where all of the above was leading. I’m working to switch out my default. I’m not going to say that we and I don’t still have plenty of fights on our hands, as we work to build a better future. I’m not going to say we don’t and won’t have to continue barreling through, when things get difficult, when we find ourselves weakened or momentarily defeated. But if and when we are temporarily blinded, it helps nothing to defy the darkness. We really can only feel our way through it, can only listen and wait, so that we’re ready to do as much as we can when sight returns.
I’ve been thrown off for much of this month, so far, for obvious reasons. But I’m back now. I’m feeling good. I’m charged by regained healthiness, and refocused by the gracious perspective afforded by a comparatively tame — if still difficult to me — experience of powerlessness.
So, again, I remind myself — and you, if you’ll allow it — to fight smart. Play the long game. Let’s take care of ourselves. Let’s pause, at those moments when we know in our hearts that a time for pausing has arrived.
I think, if we get better at this, more good things will follow. Perhaps we’ll suddenly look around and realize that we aren’t alone, that we’re surrounded by other bewildered soldiers who have also taken a moment to pause, to try to make some sense of this crazy world.
Thanks for reading, and I wish you well.
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