My name is Ana Cristina and I’m a deafblind jewelry designer. I am 40 years old and I haven’t ever felt as blessed and complete as I do now. But it took me some time to get here, and this is my story.
The long road to diagnosis
It was 2 p.m., our calculus professor wrote an equation on the board for us to compute mentally: no papers, no calculators. Just our eager young competitive brains crunching out numbers, because whoever won this round got extra credit plus pizza.
I squinted my eyes to see what was on the board and asked for permission to stand to see better. She said no, so I sat down.
“Time is up,” she said. Then she asked me what my answer was. When I told her, she looked at me like I did something so terribly wrong, and asked me how I came up with that answer.
I have an IQ of 160. I learn differently and I process maths differently. But today, I somewhat disappointed my professor. I wrote out my process on the board. After explaining my answer, most of my classmates looked confused, and the professor said “Have you had your eyes checked? Do your glasses still work for you?”
That’s when I realized that something was happening. I had read a completely different equation on the board! I had found it odd that the professor left a huge space in between some numbers… but I didn’t think it was my eyes deceiving me. I was only 14.
This went on for years. Optometrists diagnosed it as a lazy eye. Others gave me a higher grade for lenses. Others declared that it was teenage anxiety. It took a car accident (I was driving of course), that happened 15 years after the calculus incident for me to get a proper diagnosis of Stargardt’s.
Now, I am from the Philippines. Nobody knows anything about this disease, so there isn’t enough empathy and understanding about blindness except for what they see in the movies. Blindness for them means an old person losing sight, someone born blind or becoming blind due to an accident.
Feeling cheated and hopeless
I struggled internally. I was then working in the corporate world which meant lots of travel, lots of late nights, lots of activities that relied on observation. I was excellent with my job for a long time, up until I lost almost 50% of my vision. I tendered my resignation, and then my life just nose-dived after that.
A few months after being diagnosed with Stargardt’s, I was also diagnosed with Behcets Disease, a rare form of vasculitis which has caused deafness to my right ear.
It took me nearly a decade to go through the stages of grief. I was so angry, bitter, withdrawn and hopeless. Two diseases that have no cure and no proven treatment is a lot of accepting to do. And the possibility of any of my four children inheriting is what bothered me most.
I felt cheated out of life. What purpose would a blind and deaf person have? What and how can I ever contribute to society? Why can’t I just die and be done with it?
Love saved me from myself
But lo and behold, in between those years of misery, I met my soulmate. And that changed everything.
Being with the right person really changes everything, the person who understands, who opens doors that i have never considered, who in his own way has fueled the spark in me again.
This is the most important part of my story because love saved me from myself. Not technology, not wealth but love: real unconditional love that moves you, that challenges you to be better. He made me want to be better.
We are married (two years this May) and we live with four dogs and two birds. I am a jewelry designer – yes with a vision loss of 70%! With the help and the support of my husband and my parents, I have come to terms with my disabilities and channeled it all to creating unique art jewelry pieces. I have found a sweet spot in life that allows me to work on my own time, be with my family and earn money.
I hope you enjoyed my story. It is lengthy, I know. But there aren’t any shortcuts to make beautiful things.