There's something very important you need to know about me. I am an eternal optimist. I see the world through sunshine and rose colored glasses. I always believe that everything will be alright, even if it looks terrible at the time. I think this is a great way to live my life and it has served me well…for the most part.
When I was initially losing my sight, I was doing so with this optimistic attitude. At first, I was convinced that I would regain my sight. This was just a temporary set back. When it appeared that getting my sight back was not an option, I simply switched gears and proclaimed that everything was going to be fine. I would not let blindness stop me from living my life. Now, that sounds great on the surface. And, in some ways, it is great. But, I had an underlying issue.
Let me explain…
At the time of my sight loss, I was working at a theme park in entertainment. I did the live shows during the day; singing, dancing and putting on a show for the guests. I loved my job. I enjoyed getting paid for something that brought me pleasure. I couldn't let something as trivial as sight loss slow me down. So, I kept on working.
Because of the nature of how I lost my sight, it was important that I share this news. You see, I had a hereditary disease. This means that my family was carrying it as well. But, as I've mentioned before, I am adopted. This means that my birth family was carrying the mutation as well. I wanted to find them to see if they knew and if they had any more information.
Since I worked at a place with a PR department, we were able to get newspapers and TV news crews to come in and do some stories. I won't lie, it was pretty cool. They talked about my entertaining, my sight loss, and so on. Some of the reporters even interviewed some of my coworkers to get their opinion.
One of these coworkers was a great friend of mine. In fact, he was the best man in my wedding. He knew me pretty well at this time. He was giving his answers to questions they were asking. As I watched it back, one of his answers really struck me. He said the following: (this is slightly paraphrased, as it has been quite a while since I watched these clips)
“At first, I just thought he wasn't dealing with it. But, that's just Derek.”
Now, that seems like a pretty nice compliment. And, at the time, that is how I took it. I thought he viewed me as very strong. I had the ability to overcome this and he saw it. It wasn't until many years later that I realized he was actually right.
You see, I wasn't dealing with it. I was ignoring it, hoping it would go away. I was, as many mental health professionals would probably have said, in denial. I was focusing on anything else in my life at this time, doing my best to avoid the thing that was staring me in the face. The thing that was causing too much pain to deal with.
Denial can manifest in a variety of ways. Often, when people are super positive like me, we assume they are just being strong and moving forward. And, in reality, that can be true. But, it can also be a great mask they don't even realize they are wearing. And, no one can tell them otherwise, until that mask falls off.
Denial can happen early on after a loss and even later as well. We so badly want to return to the time before our lives changed that we will do anything, even if it means avoiding the reality of the situation. But, trust me, that never works. And, it causes pain in the end.
Now, that is not to suggest that you can avoid denial. That would just be denying the denial and that is a paradox in and of itself. I'm just suggesting that denial can look different than you might realize. And, you may truly think things are great when in reality, they are not. It doesn't mean they won't be again. It just means in that moment, there is something you need to address.
I wish I could go back and tell my friend he was right. Actually, I wish I could go back and tell myself he was right. But, knowing me, I wouldn't have believed it.