Monday, October 24, 2011

The Right Thing

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Pride gets in the way sometimes or it is more that we are weak and want to ignore what is right for whatever reason. It is in our nature. And while it is in our nature, we can fight it, but just choose not to.

I knew I had retinitis pigmentosa (20) in my twenties. I should have given up driving then. But I didn’t. I wanted to keep driving. It was a convenience I did not want to give up.

As my vision worsened, I limited my driving, telling myself that it was okay. So I was becoming nightblind. Okay. I’ll avoid driving in the dark. I could still see in the daytime. I’ll drive then.

By the time I was 30, I asked co-workers who lived in the same town I did if I could ride with them so I didn’t have to drive. It was dark at 5 or 6 in the morning late September to early April. I had a half-hour commute on country roads with no street lights. When the roads were freshly painted with yellow lines, I’d be able to follow that, but when it faded, it was too dark to see the road. On days when it just rained and the roads were blackened with rain, it was hard to see the yellow lines. There was too much glare.

So for the next six years, I rode with various co-workers and paid them for gas.

I still drove in the daytime, but during the week, it was limited by the shorter days. I’d get dropped off from work, hop in the car, and rush to pick up the kids and head home as soon as I cold before it got dark.

Then there was a merger at work. I faced relocating to the other factory in the next town or take the severance pay and go back to school. By this time, I had two co-workers who could drive me to work and they were both taking the severance pay. How was I to get to work? I took the severance pay. It was a good thing, too, because a year later, I’d have been permanently laid-off anyway and have no severance pay.

So I attended school. My vision worsened some more. I’d like to say it was due to stress of schoolwork and demands of home life, but it could also be just the progression of RP.

People who knew me worried about my driving. I got to the point that I prayed for my safety, my kids’ safety as I drove them around and for other people around me who would be in my path. I scanned the roads constantly, but it was very stressful. (It's amazing how much the brain "sees" and makes you think you see more than you really do. My mom calls it "angels working overtime". They are watching for me.

I started to avoid certain things, like left turns. It was a lot of work for me to make sure there was no traffic going both ways for me to make my turn. I only made left turns at streetlights and four way stop signs. Other times, I made a lot of right turns. I may have gone out of my way at times, but it was “safer”.

There were many tree-lined streets in our town. In the late afternoon, the branches of trees hovered above the streets and it cast shadows on the streets. I felt like I was driving in the dark. And, with RP, my light-to-dark adaptation did not help. It was a stressful situation to be in. I needed time to adjust to the changes in light/darkness and that did not help when I was driving. It also bothered me in the early mornings. I’d take the oldest to school and make a turn into the bright sun. It was blinding. I needed more time to adjust. It was the same when the sun set.

I also drove along the outer edges of parking lots of stores. I didn’t trust myself to drive along the front where pedestrians would be coming in and out of the store entrance. I parked at the farthest lane so I wouldn’t have to worry about pedestrians, too. I’d look for a spot so that I’d be able to drive straight out instead of backing up.

My driving days were numbered. Daytime driving wasn’t as safe as I thought. It was stressful. Was it worth all that just to drive? Could I live with the guilt if I were to hit someone, fatally or injure him/her so badly that it changed his/her life? What about a potential lawsuit? No.

The day I gave up driving was a big relief. I felt like my shoulders were lifted of a heavy burden. I knew it was the right thing to do. For everyone’s safety.

But, it was hard. It was a convenience that I had to give up. I couldn’t go anywhere whenever I wanted to. I had to ask for a ride. I had to find rides. I had to wait for rides. It was a lot harder than I thought. I was pretty depressed. I was going to quit school, but was talked out of it. I could get taxi rides, walk, or take a bus. I had options. I took more online classes so I didn't have to leave the house and arrange/plan for rides.

Soon my vision took another dip. My depth perception was not good. I’d walk up to a curb and “forget” it was there. I’d misstep and jar my backbone as I stepped down. I’d grab a railing every time I’d use the stairs. Going up stairs was easier than going down. As I went up, I could see where the top was as I went up. Going down, however, I couldn’t see the edges of the steps unless there was a contrasting line across the edge.

When standing in line, I'd think there's a space in front of me and I'd realize someone was still in front of me. It was hard to see how close someone was. I've always had this 'personal space" thing where I found I was too close to someone because I wanted to hear them, but also because I didn't realize how close they were. I had this malfunctioning radar that did not warn me that "objects are closer than they appear". I tried my best to watch for that when I was in line anywhere. At a bank, at the library, and even at church, especially during communion. I refused to take communion unless someone was guiding me and stood in front of me so if I crashed into her, she'd know why. (I know this is wrong. It's pride, wanting to keep from embarrassing myself, not only the fear of walking into the person ahead of me in line, but the trek back to the pew. I found myself walking back to the wrong pews. Again, here, I should just ask an usher or someone to help. I am going to work on that. And hopefully soon, I'll have a guide dog that will help in this situation. I need to let go of this self-consciousness and pride.)

I’d be walking into people, strollers, ‘slippery when wet” signs in stores, and trip over a lot of things.

Getting the cane was a “face it” moment for me. I knew it would help me, but at the same token, I didn’t want people to pity me or announce myself as a person who had vision problems. But I got used to it and I wished I did this a long time ago. It’s funny how hindsight is 20/20 in situations like these. I guess I had to be ready.

Doing the right thing is hard sometimes, but it can be the best thing you do for yourself, your consciousness, and for those around you.