I would imagine that even more than for most people, those who write and those who love to read would find the prospect of going blind absolutely terrifying. And what do we do with things we fear? Ignore them as long as possible. Pretend they aren’t happening. Avoid facing up to the truth. But some stories are too important to ignore. This is one of them.
In Focus, Ingrid Ricks writes her experience of having to come to terms with a rare eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa and it is enough to give every reader pause for thought. The title Focus has an immense power beyond the obvious in this work. It reaches out as advice and a caution to us all. Focussing is important. For us all.
Focus is told in such a straightforward, honest and simple way that you cannot help but feel empathy with and anger on behalf of Ricks. I was both astonished and humbled and the helplessness of her situation mirrored the helplessness I felt with her situation. I do not suggest she portrays herself as a ‘victim’ in any way, I simply mean that – yes – the book made me Focus. On life and how it’s not always a happy place to be. Bad things happen.
America and UK are different in many ways and this book got me thinking of some of the differences. One of the observations I made while reading this book (which I LITERALLY couldn’t put down and I warn you, once you start it you will not be able to stop till the end it is that powerful!) was that in UK I’m sure as soon as she had the diagnosis ‘legally blind’ she would have had her licence withdrawn. But in US it doesn’t seem to be the case. I found that quite shocking but equally I didn’t want her to have to stop driving. It would have such a devastating impact on her life. That little fact helped me to focus once again on the consequences one is forced to deal with as a byproduct of a medical condition. The other thought I had was that I hated to think what it must have cost to have this diagnosis (I mean in financial terms) in America. I know that the NHS has much not to be proud of and that ALL treatment for eyes is not free anymore, but I’m convinced that if I was diagnosed with this condition in the UK among my many worries would not be how I was going to pay for the diagnosis and ongoing treatment costs. Although in the case of this condition it doesn’t seem there’s much than can be done and so that may not be a huge issue of itself. Of course, again, in this country it might be a condition which falls between two stools and she might have been ineligible for all kinds of ‘benefits’ to which she ought to be entitled. It reminds you – life’s a lottery. Focus.
But one does have to deal with consequences even if one is in denial. Ingrid Ricks had to take that personal journey. And she bravely and honestly shares it with the reader. She did and does the best she could do. She re-focussed. Faith wasn’t enough, and she refocused towards pragmatism. Generally speaking we all place such faith in the medical profession and it’s only when (if) we get diagnosed with a condition for which there is no ‘cure’ that we realise that conventional medicine does not have all the answers. For those of us (like me) sceptical about alternative therapies that can prove a hard time. However, for Ricks (as for me) over time one comes to terms with the fact that it’s YOUR life and you have to find what will help you live with your condition because when it’s your life the knowledge that you can’t be ‘cured’ isn’t the end of the story. You just have to re-focus. Time and again.
And often in such a journey the silver linings appear. For Ingrid Ricks therapy opened some doors. I know we Brits are often dismissive of therapy but the therapeutic path does have value and especially in conditions which the standard medical model cannot handle. For Ricks therapy opened doors to how and why she may have been ‘blighted’ with RP but more importantly helped her find ways to ‘deal’ with it and to adjust her life to her new reality. In the process of this is the nub of another story – Hippie Boy – which I rushed straight away to read after Focus. I wanted to know so much more about Ingrid Ricks life and ‘backstory’ and I was not disappointed. I will review Hippie Boy early next year. Over the years, Ricks found out things about herself and was able to change her life and her priorities. This takes some strength of character and a great deal of personal insight. Her achievement is one which should be recognised and her story is one which we should all read – and use the message it gives us to apply some focus to our own lives. Real life is less about happy endings and more about dealing with the cards you are given, even when the deck is horribly stacked against you for no good reason. I salute Ingrid Ricks for showing the courage to do this and for having the skill and desire to write about it so that others may learn not just about the eye condition but something vital about life itself.