By TANIA WITHERS
Everyone has a story, and every story is different, so here is mine!
My name is Tania and I just turned 40. Twenty nine years ago, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I found this really difficult as I was just about to leave primary school for high school, and I just wanted to be like everyone else.
So to be like everyone else, I would pretend that I didn’t have diabetes, eat badly, not take my insulin or do regular blood tests. This did immense damage to my body. Skip forward thirteen years to then find that this damage was irreversible to my eyes.
I was 24, had my life ahead of me and the world at my feet, should have been going out enjoying myself with my friends, but constantly found myself in doctor’s waiting rooms. I had many bouts of laser treatment on my right eye, many surgeries, to then have this all fail and become totally blind in that eye because I had not acted soon enough.
Three months later the same thing happened to my left eye and I was thrown into a world of total blackness. In that one year I had eleven surgeries on my eyes, one gall bladder removed, had to give up my two jobs, my licence, and my independence.
The last sixteen years I have been on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, trying to piece my life back together. In the beginning I was helpless, hopeless and could not see a way forward, until I realised that I couldn’t listen to daytime television for the rest of my life. I got in touch with Vision Australia and RVIB at the time, and started to regain some form of confidence and independence, through learning how to use a cane to get myself around, then computer lessons, using a computer that has talking software, to finally getting a guide dog to then gaining some part-time employment.
Since then I have become totally blind, all I see is black, no light, no shadows, no shapes, not the faces of the people I love – just black!
Had I not been so busy being a social butterfly doing nothing important in my late teens, early twenties and had regular eye tests, the doctors may have been able to save my sight, but I left it all too late. Perhaps I would be married, have children, a job and been a lot happier person.
My life has been great and my life has been terrible. I won’t lie to you, I HATE being blind, and every day I learn something new, and it’s hard. Being blind I have had to face many demons and look within, it has given me a new perspective on life, and I think that I have found strength that people didn’t think I had, including myself.
Three years ago, due to poor diabetic control early on, I had to have a kidney/pancreas transplant, my transplanted pancreas didn’t survive, so I still have type 1 diabetes, but three years on my kidney is doing well.
I would not be here today if it wasn’t for the support of my mum, my sister and a few very special friends. These people have been my backbone and have held me up when I was ready to fall. Love can get you through anything. I’m still learning, I’m still moving forward, and hopefully one day I will find my purpose for being on this earth. Maybe it is to help educate people about eye health and diabetes, to be the best aunt and person that I can be, and to tell my story.
World Sight Day is an annual day of awareness to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment. It is a good reminder to get your eyes tested if you haven’t done so recently. You could be experiencing vision loss without realising. Regular eye tests can pick up early signs of eye disease so it can be diagnosed and treated. For more information head to www.worldsightday.org.au or follow @vision2020aus
Tania Withers is a Melbourne woman. She lives with her mum and her guide dog Zelia. She spends some of her time telling her story in the hope that people look after their sight.