Sight Loss and Wanderlust: Part 1
Halfway through my master’s degree I found out I was “going blind.” I put it in quotes because it’s a super dramatic way of describing my retinal detachments. But, when I put my mom on the phone with the eye specialist, it’s what he told her. And, I might be, no one knows right now.
I’m the perfect storm of lattice degeneration. It’s a self-assigned title, but I have a pretty aggressive form of the disease. Basically, it causes a lattice pattern on your retinas that makes them weak and while most people don’t have many complications from it, my retinas went all in. Both of them required intense surgery that caused me to drop out of school to lay on my face for extended periods of time (to keep the retinas flat while they healed). The surgeon and his team did an amazing job. I went from two weeks of vision left in both eyes (rough estimate) to years of bonus sight.
We can’t really predict when they’ll decide to detach again or how bad it’ll be when/if it happens. Right now, I’m blind close up in my right eye, I see double permanently (one partly blurry image overlapping the clear one), I don’t have depth perception, I don’t see 3D, and I have flashes and floaters in both eyes. Anyway, that’s the abridged history of how I became a pirate. I don’t always wear an eye patch to stop the double vision, but when I do you better believe it’s a skull and crossbones patch with glitter.
Once my surgical complications were fixed about three years ago, my surgeon cleared me to travel. Over the next few weeks I applied to jobs in a different country every night. I’ve always traveled so being grounded was tough for me. Lots of people ask me if I’m completing some sort of a vision bucket list. I’m not, I’m just living my life the way I did before, with a little bit of an extra incentive to see things while I can.
Pre-vision loss, I’d seen a bunch of the US and Europe. So it was nice when a job in Japan opened up. I moved a few months later, and I’ve been wandering around Asia ever since. Right now I’m in Thailand for a month, then I’ll spend some time in Cambodia. I’ve backpacked around Myanmar and done short trips to a bunch of other countries while using Japan as a home base.
I really didn’t have a plan when I moved to Japan, but it turned out that going to live in a different country was a huge confidence builder. It seems counter-intuitive, but taking yourself away from everything you know shows you how much you really can do. I had my surgeries in Pittsburgh where I grew up, so I had my support system to rely on, which was great for a while. But eventually I needed to figure things out for myself. I was focusing so much on how I used to live and how simple things were before my eyesight decided to check out. Moving to Japan meant I had no baseline to compare how things “should be” anymore. Everything was new, everything was hard, and most of it didn’t have anything to do with my eyesight.
Learning to adapt to an entirely new culture and way of life helped me stop focusing on what I’d lost. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with it sometimes. It’s not easy to get around and there are some days where my eyes just won’t cooperate and I get frustrated. Still, learning to live a vastly different life gave me the shove I needed to get over most of the pity party I had been having for myself when everything first happened. I’ve gotten to see things I didn’t know existed and figured out a lot of tricks to keep myself sane when the fear of impending blindness gets a bit overwhelming. Being a visually impaired wanderer has just become a part of my personality at this point, and while it’s a quirk I never really expected to have, I’m getting used to it.
-Written by World Adventurer Alexa Huth
About the Author: Since transforming into a pirate in late 2009, Alexa has been wandering around the world searching for new sights and seeking out what many would call “unhealthy and frankly terrible” food. She finances these expeditions through freelance writing and communications management.
Some images of her travels in the orient: