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Appreciation (not MS) is always in my sight

By Dan Digmann

I no longer can see out of my right eye. All the vision is totally gone. 

No light. No shadows. Just blank emptiness, similar to the vision I have in my kneecap, top of my head, and back of my hand. Here’s the kicker: neither optic neuritis nor multiple sclerosis had anything to do with my right-side blindness. It was an unfortunate accident that happened when I was 11 months old. 

Let that sink in: I wasn’t even a year old, and I lost all the vision in my right eye.

I often have said I was blessed that, if anything such as that was ever to happen to me, it happened when I was too young to know the difference. Everything was so new to me, how was I to understand that I should be able to see out of both eyes?

Perhaps this was my first lesson as a child in building resilience and being adaptable. Better yet, maybe this was my first lesson in practicing gratitude and appreciation. No sight in my right eye? No problem. I still can see plenty with my left eye.

Again, maybe it helped that I was too young to know the difference. Because 26 years later, I was diagnosed with MS and became painfully aware of things I was losing during the next several years. The feeling in my hands and feet. A stable sense of balance. Ample supply of energy. Sustained control of my bladder

Adult levels of frustration and anger easily overtook any senses of childhood resilience and adaptability. Why? Because I knew exactly how things should be. How, without warning, this disease was slowly stripping away parts of me that once were standard functionalities.

Yes, there are days I still get sad and occasionally cry about the things I’ve lost because of MS. I imagine it’s potentially the same for you as you navigate through the realities of this disease. We need to do that. It is a lot.

But I am always reminded and uplifted by the lesson of gratitude I learned as a child who was blind in his right eye. Appreciating every sunset, storm clouds, blue skies, friend, family member, and everything else I still could see with my fully functioning left eye. 

I also hear in my mind lines from the 1986 basketball movie “Hoosiers” where actor Gene Hackman played Norman Dale, the new coach at a small high school in Indiana. As Coach Dale introduced the team at the pep rally before its first game, the fans started chanting for a player who refused to join the team. 

Interrupting the crowd, Coach Dale gave this short speech: “I would hope you support who we are, not who we are not. These six individuals have made a choice to work, a choice to sacrifice, to put themselves on the line 23 nights in the next four months to represent you, this high school. That kind of commitment and effort deserves and demands your respect. This is your team.”

There is a lot I have lost because of this disease, but there also is a lot I have gained and still have as part of me. So when I feel like mourning what I have lost, I flip the narrative and celebrate every facet of who I am and every person still with me since I was diagnosed with MS.

I see and appreciate them all.