My life took an unexpected change a year and a half ago, on my 38th birthday. That sounds dramatic. No one came close to death, and life went on as usual the next day. But I received an unexpected gift that day – the gift of perspective.
Here’s how it all came down:
About 8:00 that morning, I began having some trouble with my left eye. It was like I had looked at the sun or a light for too long, and I had a dark spot that wouldn’t let me focus. That blurriness grew rapidly in intensity, and I had to stop getting the kids ready for school to lie down on the couch. When I closed my eyes, I could see a bright, fiery spot that was pulsing and spinning. Because I had no headache, I dismissed the possibility of a migraine (something I have never had, although I’m aware that they can affect vision.) The eye condition continued to get worse rapidly, and suddenly we worried that we were dealing with something serious. My husband called a doctor who is a family friend, and he advised that we get in to be seen immediately.
In an instant, my world began to turn upside down. My girls brought me cards they had made me for my birthday, and I couldn’t read them. I couldn’t see my husband’s face when he was talking to me. I couldn’t drive my kids to school, I couldn’t see to do my daughter’s hair. As I lay on the couch, I could feel fear begin to creep into my body. I felt tense, panicky. My mind began considering possibilities I had never thought of before. What if I had injured my eye in some irreparable way? What if the rest of my life would be filled with challenges because of my vision? Suddenly I realized what a loss it would be in my life to not be able to fully see my computer screen as I wrote, to be able to drive myself places, to be able to see my children clearly.
And then, as suddenly as it came, the symptoms began to recede. The bright pulsing light faded; my focus was restored. I was still sensitive to the light, but my vision was stabilizing. The panic subsided. A quick phone call to my sister assured me that this was the way she experiences migraines, and although I never developed a headache, we concluded that we were not in a dire medical emergency. By early afternoon, I was back to my normal, productive self. Normal – but with a few new insights due to the experience.
First insight – It’s interesting to me to see how quickly you can shift from caring about things that ultimately have little bearing on life when you have bigger fish to fry. Suddenly, my vision was a gift that I prized above almost everything else. It was something that I had been thankful for only in token gratitude – probably because it had never been threatened before. In an instant I recognized that I had taken this incredible gift for granted, and I began to wonder about other under-appreciated gifts in my life.
Second insight – that forty-minute experience was fascinating to me, aside from my growing fear. As I work with women and coach them through difficulties, we talk often about transcending emotions, looking at things logically, and not believing wild thoughts. I knew such rationale was the way to respond to what I was experiencing, but the power and intensity of my emotions wanted desperately to override all reasoning. It was a good reminder of how convincing those emotions can be, and why faith needs to be the foundation of my thinking – regardless of the situation.
Another important insight that has continued to benefit me: the cause of this migraine was insufficient sleep. That’s a tough one. I’m busy, just like you, and many times sleep was not making it to the top of my priority list. Being tired, irritable, and getting sick frequently was the price I paid – because I didn’t think I had a choice. Things have to get done, right? But this migraine was a wake up call. It turns out that your health is more important than almost everything on your to do list.
So I made a decision that day that I would always get my required amount of sleep. If I can’t make it to bed on time, I don’t get up early to exercise. If I have a lot left to do on my list, sometimes I go to bed anyway. While I don’t like skipping exercise or leaving things undone, there have been some huge hidden perks. Getting enough sleep has forced me to prioritize. I’ve also had more quality time at night with my husband, instead of pulling out my laptop. And here’s another bonus – I’m actually well-rested and have better energy during the day. So this whole getting-enough-sleep thing has been a huge blessing in my life.
So my 38th birthday isn’t going to go down as “the most fun birthday” in the books, but I do treasure the wisdom I gained from the day. Today, I am grateful for my vision, for the ability to take care of my family and my home, and that I can see my computer screen as I write this for you. I am grateful for the opportunity to be more aware of my feelings amid a “crisis.” And I’m certainly glad for more sleep!
This has also caused me to wonder, what else besides my vision am I taking for granted? My health, my family, my safety…I have a feeling I am enormously inadequate in my gratitude.
So take this moment to ask yourself what you might be taking for granted. Take the time to remember what makes life so good. I think we cheat ourselves out of a lot of happiness by forgetting about all of the simple things that we are blessed with every day.