My guest today is author and life coach, Michelle Friedman. Welcome to OpEdNews, Michelle.
Joan Brunwasser: Your children's book, Close Your Eyes [Abbott Press, 2013], was recently published. Why did you write it?
Michelle Friedman: I wanted to demystify blindness and disability by portraying people with disabilities in a positive light since there are so few positive images in books, TV shows and movies of kids with disabilities.
I've presented to school age kids on blindness and talked with them about how I live my life and what I do - I explain how much I do and how little I can't do if I want to, even though I can't see. But I wanted to find a way to reach a larger number of kids than just the local schools where I usually make my presentations, and at younger ages, and a book can reach out much further than just one person can.
I also wanted the book to be a catalyst for conversations on differences in a kid-friendly way.
JB: Many of our readers are not familiar with you or your history and I think that it's an important component of this story. While you are now completely blind, you started life as a sighted child. Please tell us what happened.
MF: When I was five years old, I had the measles vaccine. They don't give that one any longer. The next morning, I woke up very sick with a high fever. About six months or so after that, at a routine eye doctor appointment for school, I was diagnosed with uveitis, an auto-immune disease of the eye. Shortly after that, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, also an auto-immune disease which tends to go hand in hand with uveitis.
Conventional wisdom at the time thought my condition was a reaction to the measles vaccine, but who really knows? And it really doesn't matter at this point.
My parents were told I would probably go blind. They had one real goal and that was to keep my vision through grammar school. As the years went on, By the time I was eight, I developed cataracts and later also glaucoma.
By my very early 30s, I had had about 15 surgeries . By the time I was 10, I had lost all the vision in my left eye and was considered legally blind. Gradually through my childhood and adolescence, I lost more and more vision. But, with the aid of surgeries, contact lenses, glasses, magnifiers and other adaptive aides, I was able to maintain minimal but functional vision until the age of 35. Even though I had no peripheral vision, couldn't see a darn thing at night and I couldn't drive, I still got around independently.
JB: You really haven't let these limitations slow you down though, Michelle, have you?
MF: Not all blind people are alike. I am amongst those who have absolutely no vision at all. I have no light or dark perception and I don't see shapes. I usually say I am blind as a bat but recently I was told that bats are not really blind. So, I'm not sure i can actually use that expression anymore which also means one of my best jokes just went out the window!
I not only got through grammar school but high school, college and graduate school and I had married and had two children. By the time I was 35, my cornea had begun to decompensate which simply put meant it was failing and I needed to have a cornea transplant. I went into the hospital for that surgery, in an attempt to save what little vision I had remaining. That surgery and the subsequent second attempt six months later both failed - probably because my eye had had so much trauma over the years that the cornea couldn't get the proper nourishment . I have been totally blind ever since, which was 21 years ago.
JB: You've mentioned the incredibly large number of surgeries in your childhood, each one involving yet another round of hospitalization, pain and recovery. Did you ever get tired of that routine and start to feel sorry for yourself?
MF: I did. There was a lot of trauma associated with having surgery back in those days. Hospitals and hospital procedures were very different and now seem even archaic.