Last night, I was cross-stitching. This year, I’ve read more than ever – fiction and non-fiction. And it’s a huge thing, because a few years ago I couldn’t see well enough to do either of those things.
I used to love cross-stitch. I don’t remember exactly when I started but I remember going to lunchtime clubs with Mrs Wilding, so it must have been year 4 or 5 at Gorse Ride Infant school. I think I’d done bits before that; my mum and grandma are crafty, either sewing, embroidering, knitting or crocheting, so it was definitely around. As I got into my teens, I just loved it, actually. There’s something amazingly therapeutic about it – sorting the thread, following the pattern, the lovely moment when you add the backstitch at the end and the borders bring everything to life.
I made loads over the years, both from kits and my own designs. I have a sampler, which is hung next to my great grandma’s from when she was a similar age. I bought cross-stitch magazines and made things. I bought a computer programme to design my own. I’ve always embraced the full-on geek!
I kept it up through uni, too, and into my early teaching years but it sort of fell away – a little when I met my hsuband and developed some other hobbies, plus a demanding planning and marking schedule. but also, my eye sight was deteriorating and it was getting really difficult to do. I was just finishing my PGCE when I was diagnosed with keratoconus, which progressively thins and misshapes the cornea. It’s a bit of a mystery as to what causes it, and it seems difficult to diagnose – it took me going in crying to my home opticians with the six prescriptions I’d been given in a little over six months and saying not only could I still not see, but I couldn’t afford the constant changes and lenses. Luckily, he took the time to have a proper look, told me to go to my GP and ask for a referral.
It kept progressing, as it would. Over the years between about 2012 and 2016, I ended up at times not legally allowed to drive because my sight would waver in and out of the limit. It made work difficult – looking back, I’m not quite sure how I managed to keep my job and I think in some schools I would have struggled even more! As it was the prevalence of laptops at my place meant girls could submit their work online and I could change the sizing then change it back to return. I photocopied essays to A3 then shrunk them back down again for students’ books. I started using ‘read aloud’ functions on Word. And I stopped reading or sewing at home at all, because it was too hard. Even with a kindle, when I had pretty much 3-4 words per line, it was exhausting after a day’s teaching, reading, trying to identify students at the back of the room, to try to read fiction. My eyes would just give up. The eye strain and headaches were unreal. There were many nights when I came home with a pile of marking, sitting nose to desk so my back ached as well, and cried about the fact it was just so damn hard to read it all. To be honest – which has given me a lot of empathy for students – I gave up on a lot of things. CPD was fine if people would talk, but I couldn’t read powerpoints even in the front – most people use a font far too small for that. I asked for them to be emailed, but people are busy and often forget that kind of thing. Or think you’re just being difficult, if you don’t go into medical ereasons, and to do that always seemed like I was being difficult. So I muddled along, mostly. I couldn’t read the screen in assemblies, so a lot of meaning was lost. Learning students’ names is hard when they look the same at 12 feet away, headscarves in particular – I hadn’t thought before how much hair was a defining feature in my perception of a face.
I’ve had five surgeries since diagnosis of various kinds. At the end of February 2016, I had a corneal graft in one eye. It’s probably the most major surgery, but actually not the most painful – that was reserved for the ‘corneal scraping’ which was every bit as pleasant as it sounds. That, and an addition of collagen into my left eye to strengthen and thicken the cornea, have been amazing. My vision has not only stayed the same – which was the ultimate goal, to stop progression – but improved dramatically. I can see better than I have in ten years or more. I wear glasses for distance, but up close I don’t even need them. I can read. And I can sew.
My eyes still ache regularly, and when I’m stressed, the right eye is the first place it physically shows. I guess it’s like the old line about having a break that hurts in damp weather. But it’s a little barometer, actually, reminding me to slow down from time to time, so I can’t be upset about that.
So yesterday, I spent an hour or two reading, and in the evening, I picked up some cross-stitch for the first time in years. And I really enjoyed it. I am so grateful to those who made it possible, the education and medical systems in this country and, more than anything, whoever was generous enough to donate their organs so that I could benefit. I think of them regularly, and if anyone reading this has had relatives who’ve donated – thank you, so much, for honouring their chocies and know that even though we can’t thank you directly, it makes an immeasurable difference.