The Things We Take For Granted

by Gurpreet Sihat

Apparently doing things the ‘normal’ way doesn’t come naturally to me. Stress ulcers are normally located in the mouth or stomach but in mid-March, I was told I had developed one in my eye. Yep. You read that right. My eye!

– cue eye roll –

It’s not the first time I’ve had a scare with my eyesight – a specialist at the Western Eye Hospital, London, found damaged tissue in my right eye about two years ago – but it was the scare that made me realise just how much we put our bodies through without thinking about the consequences. 

At the time, it wasn’t my sight that I was worried about. My priorities were elsewhere: I was three weeks out from my first holiday in over a year – non-refundable tickets, a friend I would let down, an opportunity I may never have gotten again; I had writing and editing deadlines to meet, and clients to deal with; and I had countless personal commitments to fulfil, including the number of tasks I use to keep my mental health in as great a shape as I possibly can now that I’ve come off my medication. The last thing I was thinking about was what would happen to my sight. 

After a tedious course of medication, I returned to the specialist. The ulcer, he told me, was caused by a combination of tears developing beneath my contact lenses, pressure build up from behind the eye (likely caused by stress and holding in anger – who would have known!), and corneal drying. Five millimetres to the left and it could have caused permanent damage to my sight.

Five millimetres. 

In Liège, on the holiday I was so scared of missing out on, I stood in front of Le Génie Du Mal by Guillaume Geefs (more commonly known as Lucifer of Liège). Standing there for forty minutes, taking in every inch of white marble, I was brought to tears. Not only was I finally standing before the sculpture that had inspired me for so many years, but I could see it. That was the moment those five millimetres suddenly became so real. 

We all take our senses for granted: smell, taste, our hearing. It’s natural. It’s human. But it really shouldn’t take a near-miss to make us aware of it. 

I’ve been cleared by both my optometrist and specialist now. My ulcer has healed nicely and the scar in my left iris is fading. The consequences, however, are very much part of my life now. They seem small in the grand scheme of things – a better balance between using my contacts and glasses, the regular use of eye drops, and less screen time – but it doesn’t stop it from being difficult. 

Wearing glasses is, by far, the easiest of the three. Any more than the recommended eight hours in my lenses and my eyes begin to burn. Remembering to use my eye drops regularly is more difficult, even when they’re sitting right in front of me. But the worst of them all is the limited screen time. Between my writing and clients, I work six jobs, all dependent on one screen or another, and when I’ve had a long day and the words swim around on the page when I try to read a book, binge watching a TV show or watching the latest Netflix movie always seems to be the answer.  

As I write this, I’m staring out of my bedroom window. I’m watching the raindrops hitting the glass. I’m admiring the numerous shades of green that make up all the trees, speckled with the white of the flowers growing on them. I’m laughing at the pigeon and the parakeet who are trying to scare each other off of the ivy-covered fence. (Thanks Mum, for teaching me to touch type!) But that isn’t enough, is it? A few minutes staring out of the window before turning back to my screen and realising that I can’t spell ‘admiring’ properly if I’m not looking at my laptop. Before I’ll have to read over this post to edit it. Before I’ll have to move on to the next task on my to-do list. Before one domino knocks down another which’ll knock down another. I need to step away. But stepping away causes guilt. 

And that, naturally, begins a whole new problem: taking time out for yourself. I’ve recently binged watched Netflix’s Queer Eye from start to finish (I highly recommend it to everyone, by the way) and the lesson for every episode is that we all need to take time for ourselves. We all need to look after ourselves. To love ourselves. For me, not working, even if it’s just for a day, fills me with unease. Those pesky voices that enjoy telling me I’m useless whisper horrible things in my ears. So what happens? I start working. I return to the computer screen. I pick up my phone and start checking client’s social media accounts. I switch on the latest episode of a TV show, striking the inspiration match, and then spend hours writing. And there I am again. Caught in the same old loop of screen-screen-screen. 

So what is the answer?

There’s an art piece on my wall my sister bought me. It’s a fox, eyes closed, basking in sunlight. It reads: There is nothing to do. Just be.

That’s the answer.

To be. To let go of everything that makes us busy and look after ourselves – mind, body and soul. To be grateful. For the things around us, for the sounds we hear, the scents we smell. To put down the laptop and phone, to switch off the television, and to just… relax. To remember that taking care of ourselves – especially those aspects of ourselves that we take for granted, our eyesight, our skin, our hair and nails, our teeth – is just as important as everything else we deem important in our lives. 

And all that guilt we feel for not working, well that can just go jump!

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