High School Confidential

I started using a cane regularly when I was 23-years-old, after attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind. But I wasn’t 23 when I became blind, in fact, I have been blind my whole life. I was diagnosed with spasmus nutens, cone-rod dystrophy and nystagmus at 9 months old, a bunch of fancy words that basically meant I was blind and that wouldn’t likely change.

Why do I bring this up now? Perhaps it’s to appease myself but one of the things I’ve struggled with the most, since beginning to use a cane, has been how I handle seeing people I knew growing up. What are they thinking? “What happened to Deja, she wasn’t blind in high school?”
A few of my childhood, junior high and high school friends knew I was blind, or at least that I had “vision problems” but those friends were the minority. Most of my life my parents and I were told I had “enough vision” that I didn’t need braille and I didn’t need a cane and I was lucky because you could hardly tell I was blind, this is what I lived by. My whole goal through school was to get by with as few people as possible knowing I was blind. I wanted to fit in and be like everybody else and hiding my blindness was the “easiest/best” way to do so.

I have always felt like I was walking this tight wire, this fine line, am I blind or am I sighted? I never quite felt like I fit into either catagory and it was confusing at a time when I was already trying to figure out who I was. I was active in high school cheerleading, newspaper staff, drama club, school theatre, concert choir, etc. I loved being active in school and loved being busy, all in all I was happy.

But I made things so incredibly hard on myself, trying to hide something as significant as blindness was taxing physically and emotionally. I don’t say this so others will feel sorry for me, I was fairly popular and life was good, but there was a hidden side to my life that very few knew about.
While we all struggle to fit in, in our teenage years, I had this thing in my pocket, blindness that added a whole other layer to my identity crisis. I was very much emotional and concerned that I didn’t have close friends, a click, a group that I fit into, this is something so normal for any teenager and on top of that I couldn’t figure out if I was blind or sighted, it was very difficult and taxing to try to be both.

However, I was fighting a whole other battle that few knew about. I wasn’t sighted enough to do things normally, I often tried to hide the fact that I couldn’t see the board in class, that the text books were far too small for me to read and I rarely actually did my school work in class but instead waiting until I could go home and press my face very close to the page, in the comfort on my own house.  I struggled walking through the halls without running into people, or finding my spot during a cheerleading halftime show. I often made myself physically sick figuring out how to keep my blindness as discrete as possible.
My battle continued into college and I event went through a period of time where I used my cane one week and the next week wouldn’t.  My poor classmates must have been so confused it was just as confusing and draining for me too. However, high school is when I remember struggling the most…

I needed such a high prescription in glasses that in elementary and Jr. High school my glasses barely stayed on my face, were heavy, and incredibly thick so I begged my mom for contacts. My mom always understood my struggle and always did her best to support me in my decisions. The problem was, my contacts were thick, incredibly, incredibly thick, so thick that they began to cause ulcers and severe infections in my corneas. However, I was so determined to keep my blindness at bay and I refused to give up my contacts. I would some days be in so much pain; my eyes would actually bleed and I couldn’t go to school.  It’s crazy for me to think now that I’d rather be in all that pain than use any tools that made me different. But at the time it was my lack of self esteem and my need to fit in that made me feel the pain was worth it.

My high school years were good, I am not regretful of that time in my life but I know now that things could have been so much easier for me had I had the confidence to be myself, use tools that would help me and be accepting of my blindness. It is, in some ways, very painful for me to remember that time in my life and how difficult it was for me to hide something that was so, so much a part of my life.  
Today I am back in Utah, where I grew up and where I went to school and I find myself running into, finding people on social media and re-connecting with friends again. I often wonder if they wonder what happened to Deja?

Now I’m confident in saying I’m blind. I am now secure in my own skin, cane and all, but there are still moments when my insecurities sneak in. It’s tough to walk up confidently to someone you knew so well in high school, who had no idea you were blind, with a long white cane. It’s something that might always be hard for me, facing my past, but it gets a little easier each passing day.
To those of you who are trying to find your identity whether with blindness, another disability or just going through that time in your life where it’s hard as heck to figure out, know it gets easier that it’s a process and that one day you’ll figure it out.

To any of my high school friends who may be reading this, maybe a few questions have been answered for you, too. But if they haven’t don’t be afraid to ask!
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Here are a few Deja in HIgh School pics for fun...

varsity cheerleading 2001

varsity cheer

playing the queen in high school musical Cinderella

junior prom

senior ball


Tori said...

You hid it well, I could never tell you couldn't see. :) I was just wondering, how old were you when you got glasses? How were you diagnosed with your vision problems?

Erin J said...

This post could be about my life too. I'm still really struggling with my identity and whether to use a cane and how to handle the inevitable awkward "WHAT HAPPENED?!?!" "Uhm, nothing. It's been like this forever..."

It's tough to be on the "Borderlands of Blindness" isn't it?