Life can be all about perception and what we choose to focus on. After a loss, we can choose to focus only on that loss moving forwards or, like Christopher, learn to use our story for our purpose and set new goals to accomplish. Christopher knows that this can make life not only meaningful, but even fun!
My name is Christopher Warner and I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I was born with a condition called hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. To relieve the pressure from the fluid build up around my brain, a shunt consisting of two catheters and a small back-flow reservoir valve was installed in my body when I was three-months old. The shunt drains fluid from the ventricles of my brain to another part of my body where it can be better absorbed.
Despite having to go in for annual revisions to the shunt as I grew, I had a pretty normal childhood. I went to regular public schools, got good grades, and participated in everything my classmates did, with the exception of some physical education classes. There was always a risk of damage to the shunt, so any activity where the teachers believed I might get hurt, I had to either sit out or wear a hockey helmet, and I was never allowed to play any contact sports.
The shunt revisions stopped at age 10 because the surgeon told me he put in some extra catheter for me to “grow into” as he put it. His plan worked really well for the next 21 years.
Fast forward to 2005. I was living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, had been married for nine years, and had a great job working in my chosen career at a television station. One day in October of that year, I wasn’t feeling well and needed to be taken to hospital. I had emergency surgery to replace my shunt because it had failed. In fact, there were two surgeries within a 24-hour period because the first one didn’t work.
When I woke up from that second surgery, all I could see was light and shadow.
Upon investigation, it was discovered I had experienced a stroke sometime between the two surgeries. The part of my brain that processes eyesight had been starved for blood due to the pressure put on it by the fluid around my brain. My eyes were fine, but my brain was not processing the signals from my eyes. The neurosurgeon told me I would likely recover some of my sight, but he couldn’t tell me how much. He said to give it a year and see what happened.
Seven months later, on a return visit to the neurosurgeon, he said I had likely recovered as much as I was going to, a sentiment that was echoed by the neuro-ophthalmologist at the hospital. By that point, I had recovered some sight, but was still considered legally blind.
In the two to three years that followed the stroke, I went through all five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance while I grieved the person I had been before my sight loss. Family and friends, along with the doctors and staff from CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, were very helpful in my recovery. I was provided with helpful tools and assistance in regaining my abilities and self confidence.
In the time after the stroke, while I was recovering at home, my wife suggested I keep a journal of my experiences, thoughts, and feelings while I recovered. Some friends and family members said they would like to read the journal some day, which inspired me to write my first book, a memoir called ‘Life’s not Over, It Just Looks Different.’
I self-published the book, meaning I was in charge of everything from hiring someone to edit it, to marketing and promoting it. Since its release in 2016, the book has sold in five countries, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The book was released in print and e-book, which is my preferred way to read now, because my smart phone reads the book to me.
I thought the memoir would be my one and only book release, but I really liked the process of writing, editing, and everything involved in the marketing and promoting of it, so I decided that if another book idea came along, I would love to do it again.
In 2018, I was doing a presentation on behalf of CNIB for a class of Grade one students, and during the presentation I was asked about guide dogs. Another child raised her hand and asked why there aren’t any guide cats, and we had some fun talking about the behaviour of cats and why they would not make a good guide.
Back at the CNIB office, I was talking to a colleague about the presentation and the conversation about guide cats. He thought it was funny and asked if I had ever thought of writing a children’s book. That gave me an idea, and I set to work thinking of other animals a person would have misadventures with if they were used as guides.
With the help of a friend who is a very talented artist, we created Tommy Wants a Guide Dog, the story of a young boy with sight loss and a big imagination. Since its release in April, 2020, it has sold in three countries.
Prior to losing my sight, I had adopted the philosophy that I am on this planet for fun, and although my sight loss definitely tested that thinking, it did not break me. Over the past 15 years I have travelled more places, met amazing people, and accomplished things I had never imagined when I was fully sighted.
These days, I’m still doing presentations on behalf of CNIB, as well as speaking about my books. There are many ideas on the go in my computer, so I don’t know what my next book will be about or when it will be released, but I’ve learned to never say never and just keep having fun.