James didn’t need perfect sight to see a world philosophy that would set him up for life.
As his vision diminished, James’ love for himself grew, and holding the wise perspective that our own perception of ourselves can sometimes be the biggest hurdle to overcome has left him determined to live life to the full…
To those who read this, my name is James Laird, and this is my tale. Across my lifetime I have combated and thrived through a sight loss condition known as Retinitus Pigmentosa (RP). This condition means that my sight slowly deteriorates across my lifetime to an unknown end point. Despite this, I’ve endeavoured to live my life to its fullest capacity. If I had to have a life motto it would be that I aim to live a life without regrets. I have often found – in literature, pop culture and from the voices of others – that it isn’t the choices we make we regret, it’s the choices we don’t. Thus, I have taken every opportunity, seized upon every chance and tried to make the most from whatever has been put in front of me.
At an early age I was told that my sight would be temporary. At the time I was unable to fully grasp what this meant; though I do remember one event that brought some sobriety to my pre-teen mind. It was the moment I asked my mother if this meant my dream to become a racing driver was over. While she hid it well, the emotional backlash from my words was not lost upon me. I knew things were going to change, I just didn’t realise in what way. Over the coming years I thought deeply on my feelings, and I concluded I had a choice. I could succumb to the situation, allow my impairment to dictate to me what I would and wouldn’t do, how I would and wouldn’t live and what I would and wouldn’t experience – or I could make the most of the time I had.
When put in such a fashion the choice was easy to make, and from then until now I have never looked back. So, what are my experiences with sight loss? That is harder to answer than first thought. My life is a life experienced through the lens of sight loss. My perceptions, opinions and attitudes have all formed around this diminishing sense. It then becomes a matter of which experiences in a life full of adventure I wish to share – a ‘top moments’ if you will.
I could talk about my experiences travelling the world; visiting places like China, California, Thailand and Egypt. I could mention my time swimming at the sixth best beach in the world, scuba-diving with dolphins and whale sharks or even riding – crashing – a quad bike in the desert. I could even enlighten you all to my plight of surviving homelessness, persecution, starvation and being hunted by the authorities while attempting to live in one of the twenty-three nations I was lucky enough to travel too… but I think I will be saving those stories for another time. Instead I want to talk about my experiences coming to terms with the notion that I am worthy of love.
I am the first to admit that for a long time I struggled reconciling the idea that someone wouldn’t be ‘settling’ for me. I saw my impairment as something hideous, as a horrible deterrent that would push others away so only those who were willing to settle would accept me. I felt pitiable, that I was somehow… lesser than those around me. I combatted against this for a long time, even so far as refusing to accept a date with a woman I had ‘taken a fancy to’ out of the belief that I was unworthy of her. Self-sacrificial male that I was, I had somehow convinced myself this was a noble act. By the time I was sixteen I had yet to realise that I was more than a single aspect, that if someone else were to refuse me for who I am then I was better off without them. As I pondered the meaning of the universe – which if you ask any teenager is centred around themselves – I steadily concluded that I had more to offer a partner than my ‘lack of vision.’ I was smart, funny, stubborn – though I prefer to say determined or tenacious – and if given the right assistance from a rather talented family member, handsome in my own right.
While I perhaps couldn’t offer to drive my potential date to the movies after getting a bite to eat, I could still provide them with happiness. The world now, in my own opinion, is fantastic at sapping the joy from experiences. The youthful ignorance fades away to reveal a world that if given half a chance would take away your stolen moments of happiness. I learned that I had to ‘make’ my own happiness. That in the same way I would regret letting choices, chances and opportunities slip by; I could not rely on happiness finding me. I would go out and find it, and it was up to me to make of it what I could.
I realised that I was a person with faults, with merits and that my opinion mattered as much as anyone else’s – simply because it was my opinion. I had equal standing in the world, I had a more visceral ‘imperfection’ than others – but at least mine was on the outside. Others may have theirs hidden away, but we all have them; just so happens that mine is more – rather ironically if you think about it – visible.
Love came to me in many shapes, styles and formats. I have a family that love me, faults and all. Friends who would stand at my back in a fight, pick me up when I’m down, ask for my advice and who would trust me with their infant child. I am loved. I just needed to look beyond my own prejudice to see it. I may be blind, but I have a world view I would never change. I am who I am because I have lived my life through my experiences with sight loss. My attitudes, opinions, thoughts, behaviours are sculpted by the life that I’ve lived. I am sight loss. I am me.