We all, at some point, have faced or will face challenges, obstacles and failures that can lead to very stressful moments in our life. For many of us, these moments are no laughing matter. Mainly because we associate laughter with happy moments. What if, we gave ourselves permission to laugh at ourselves when we ‘mess up’ or at our imperfections and the silly, bizarre situations we sometimes get ourselves into?
To answer this question, I have asked my friend, Daniel Gelinas to share his challenges of living with a visual impairment since birth.
Meet Daniel Gelinas:
If ever you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend that you try becoming blind or at least, visually impaired.
You’re probably thinking, “This is the worst recommendation ever!” But, before dismissing it, let me explain.
I have a visual impairment since birth. At least, this is what doctors assume. Apparently, all newborns can only see blurry shapes because they are extremely nearsighted.
When I was about one year old, my parents realized that my situation was probably permanent. I had a tendency to stand a foot away from the TV. Yeah sure, it was the 70’s and my parents’ black and white TV was hardly bigger than today’s iPad. Regardless, they took me to a specialist and I was diagnosed with a nystagmus (rhythmic, oscillating motions of the eyes), which results in rapid involuntary movements of my eyes – several times per second.
Although, my diagnosis was permanent and I would be visually impaired for the rest of my life, I immediately benefitted from the advantages of my handicap early in life. Remember the days of pay TV? If you were not subscribed, the images were ‘blurred’ with fuzzy, snowy lines in constant movement. I on the other hand got into the habit of watching TV while lying down on the carpet floor and of course, with my feet up on the sofa. No one knew, especially not my parents, that my rapid eye movements made it possible to watch movies with a clear image! At least, this is what I like to believe and tell myself.
As I got older, my parents were great in teaching me to see humor in my handicap. I have to say, they didn’t really have to work very hard at it. I learned pretty soon how much fun I was able to experience in day to day life. I’ll share with you a few bizarre situations that a person with ‘normal’ eyesight does not have the privilege to experience. Particularly, in a social context, a context where I need someone’s help and a context where I become slightly schizophrenic. I warn you, you’ll probably want to go out blind folded after I tell you about them!
I remember when I was six years old, I was in the car with mom and we were talking about my handicap. She said, “You know Daniel, the official terminology for your handicap is ‘Legally Blind’. Have you ever seen a six year old think about a new concept so hard, you could see the hamsters running in the imaginary wheel inside their head? Well, my hamster was training for the Olympics! After a few minutes, I look at my mom and very seriously I ask, “Mom, if I’m legally blind, does that mean there are people who are illegally blind?” I still imagine a black market street vendor for the illegally blind. “Hey man, how about a hummm… a 5X magnifying lens?”
The funniest is just everyday life, especially at work. Let’s be very clear, if you are one of my colleagues, I will definitely see you from a far distance, as far a distance as anyone else. However, I will only RECOGNIZE and KNOW who you are once you are within 2 feet from me. So, as I walk the hallways everyday and from a distance hear someone say, “Hello Daniel,” my response is, “Hellooooo CAROL!” I’ll only know who you are, as I get closer to you. If you really want to help me recognize you sooner, please, don’t change your hairstyle or hair color and always wear the same clothes – that would help me a great deal.
The side effect for not recognizing faces is that I have developed a great ability for remembering numbers. So, I often find myself in situations where I don’t want the person to feel that the long silence before saying their name is because I don’t remember them. It sounds something like this, “AHHHH Carol! Born on November 7, 1968, phone number 555 2872!” This is when I come off as a psychopath.
I also have the tendency to smile and say hello to everyone, even people I don’t know. It happens very often that I approach a total stranger and say, “Hey, how are you?” Only to realize, as I get closer to the person, that the particular hair style is not attached to the face I know, it belongs to a complete stranger.
My bizarre situations become more evident when I need someone’s help. Without my wife’s help, I always end up ordering a #2 in a restaurant, where menus are written in fancy fonts that are difficult to decipher for me. One thing that’s for certain is that no matter the restaurant, there’s ALWAYS a #2. Of course I love surprises, but in a restaurant, I prefer avoiding them.
One thing I appreciate the most about my wife’s help is when there’s subtitles in movies. With all the practice, she’s reads them to me in a dramatic voice. When we get together to watch a movie with friends, they have a debate over which one will be the dramatic reader. So much so, that I can hand them out scripts and have them audition for the part.
Finally, the most bizarre of all, is not the fact that I can’t see very well. It’s the things I do see which are not even there. Because my eyes are constantly in movement, I can never focus on details. When you see a drawing of a big circle with two smaller circles and a rounded line just below, you recognize a drawing of a face. Imagine going through life, seeing incomplete drawings.
At three years old, I had an unexplainable, horrifying fear of our backyard balcony. One day, my parents realized that I thought a black ribbon wrapped around a piece of wood on the balcony, was a huge dangerous wasp!
Still today as an adult, it gets weird. I love taking walks outside when it’s dark. Sometimes, I don’t realize the presence of someone until two seconds before passing them by on the sidewalk which sends me jumping in terror in front of them.
Better yet, bumping into someone, apologizing with all my heart, only to realize that I’m apologizing to a garbage can!
Yes, it’s not easy being ‘legally blind’. I face many challenges and struggles. However, through them, all the bizarre situations continue to multiply EVERYDAY. And, I continue to enjoy every single moment of the day. I began by recommending that you try it for yourself. Now, I still do. More importantly, I shared all this with you in hopes that you may embrace any other handicap, scar, failures, mistakes or struggles which may make you feel alienated from the world and from life. I am proof that although we may have obstacles we need to overcome, giving yourself permission to laugh at yourself is a big step in freeing yourself. Everything around you comes to life and you feel ALIVE! Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. Don’t hide behind your imperfections or uniqueness. They are all part of who you are. Now, I know you all probably want to go out and try being blind for a while, sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Start by having fun with your own situations. Enjoy them and LAUGH!
What are your thoughts on Daniel’s perspective with facing challenges? Do you believe it can have a positive impact towards confronting our challenges?