I started to notice my vision going when I was an undergraduate student at the age of 19. I didn’t really know how to deal with it and didn’t know what support was out there, so I tried to ignore it and keep moving on with my life.
I was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy, a degenerative condition that I was assured there was no treatment for and it was unknown how it would affect my vision loss going forward.
When I was 28, I went into a depression, becoming convinced I could not have a successful career and live independently and had given up on playing my favorite sports and socializing.
After a few months of depression and being prescribed a few antidepressants that were not working, the anxiety had gotten so bad I was rarely leaving the house. I decided that there had to be more to life than this.
So I went online and found out that my local blind association, the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind, had a counselor for the visually impaired. I quickly called up and was very promptly contacted back by the counselor, Judith Wood. The fact that she had also lost her vision made me comfortable enough to share all the anguish and fear that had been building up for almost a decade.
After a few sessions with Judith, I began to see my confidence grow and the real me started to come back out. This is the point where my life took an incredibly positive turn and I began to own my disability. I got myself a job in fundraising at the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind and began to get mobility training.
Coming Back to Life: Blind Hockey, Back to School and Burger King
My whole life since then has been an ironically crazy blur. I started dating a girl who had been a friend for years – and she didn’t think that vision loss was a good enough reason to quit playing ice hockey.
We found out that they play it in Canada and the USA, adapted for the blind. Suddenly I was booking flights and have now been the first European to two tournaments and one training camp in the last year. I’m interested in bringing blind ice hockey to the UK, and I’m always looking for new blind ice hockey players in the UK and around Europe to come and join me!
I also enrolled in an online masters degree, which is going very well – I’m achieving very high grades.
I then got my guide dog Maisie in April and could not be happier and more confident. To boot I started working as a client advice officer at the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind, which enables me to share my experiences with other people with vision loss and we can learn from each other.
This role has led me into public speaking, sharing my story and anecdotes with anyone and everyone who will listen.
These days, my disability has become part of my identity and I am inherently more confident and happy than I have ever been. In fact, I am usually the first one to participate in something and tell the first terrible joke.
Overall, I feel well equipped to deal with my vision loss no matter what happens.
Nathan Tree lives in Oxford, UK with his partner Ginny and his guide dog Maisie. He works as a client advice officer at the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind and, in his spare time, plays ice hockey, goes to the gym and studies for his masters degree in business and management. His ambitions are to develop his management as well as public speaking careers.