Stories of Vision
Welcome to the first installment of Stories of Vision. We are fortunate to know and work with amazing people who have overcome what could have been debilitating vision loss. Stories of Vision will tell their stories in their own words. Our first story is from Christi Sobieski. We are honored to have Christi volunteer with our organization and share her talent. Here is her story….
Stories of Vision: Christi
Vision loss can happen to anyone and it can change your whole life. I have had poor vision most of my life. My eyesight began fluctuating very badly in my early 30’s. I had trouble driving at night. I saw halos and double images. That was my first indication that I had larger vision problems than I thought. My eye doctor discovered I had Keratoconus, which is the thinning of your corneas.
I tried using hard contact lenses to help re-shape my cornea, and attempt to correct my vision, but they were awful. It was impossible to keep those contacts in my eyes. Every time I turned my head they would pop out. This was twenty years ago, and they were not an ideal solution to correct my vision. The sclera lenses they have today are a million times better than what was available years ago.
There is no cure for Keratoconus, and at that time I opted to get corneal transplants. The first transplant went very well, but I wasn’t as fortunate with the second transplant. Our bodies are pretty amazing and I easily adapted to using one eye.
Fast forward six years, where I found myself with a nasty eye infection that started attacking my left corneal transplant. This was one of the scariest times in my life because everything changed overnight. I went to sleep one night seemingly fine, and the next morning my eye was clouded over, and I couldn’t see anything. This is why I cannot stress how important it is to seek medical help as soon as possible with any problems with your eyes. I have no vision on my right side, and I am now legally blind in my left eye.
I lost my vision in stages, but along the way I have found some really helpful agencies, and resources that helped me navigate life with low vision.
It is so important to have your eyes checked out as soon as you realize your vision is changing or deteriorating. The good news is that there are many ways to help people with low vision. You can continue to do all the things that are important to you. Losing vision does not mean giving up areas of your life, but it may mean learning new ways of doing things to continue living a full life.
There Is Help and Resources
I attended a Washington State Department of Services for the Blind Orientation and Training Center and graduated Spring 2020. They helped me with mobility, home skills, computer and phone training, Career Class. All of these classes were vital in building confidence, new skills, and preparing me to function successfully while still maintaining my own independence with low vision.
I rely on others for some things, but mostly I work hard at keeping my life organized. My smart phone and computer help me a great deal. I use them to enlarge print, use speech technology, and various apps and programs to make my life easier. New technology can be intimidating, but the time it takes to get a little training is well worth the benefits of making your day to day life easier.
I am under no illusions that my eyesight will ever be more than it is today, but knowing I can still take care of my own basic needs is what helps me sleep at night, and helps ease my mind about my future. Learning new strategies and finding new ways of doing things is key to becoming independent after vision loss.
I also found it really important to acknowledge how I was feeling throughout my vision loss. Learning new tools and ways to work through anger, frustration, and negative feelings will help you stay active and avoid depression.
You can live well with low vision, but you cannot live very well with depression. Counseling and education about low vision will help you realize that your value does not depend on your vision.
You are worth the effort it takes to learn how to make the most of the vision you have.
Don’t let your low vision stop you from doing anything. In the last year I have kayaked, hunted turkey, fished on the Columbia River, gone tandem biking, went on hikes, and I am returning to school after 30 years. Don’t isolate yourself. Keep your social groups, job, and outside activities. I rely heavily on my ZoomText program, large print, and I am never without a notebook and sharpie marker in my bag and purse. I have set up a pretty good support system for rides to the doctor, grocery store, events. etc. Not being able to drive anymore can be frustrating, but you would be surprised how easy it is to go where you need to go on public transit, or by using the local para-transit system. I use public/DART bus service all the time, and very successfully.
Set yourself up for success by reaching out for resources, being prepared in advance, and always keeping an open mind. You’ll have good days and bad days, but hopefully you’ll have more good days than bad if you are proactive about your vision loss.
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Christi Sobieski is a Hope Vision Foundation volunteer, traveler, camper and explorer.