The Hidden Blessings of Dry Eye
Anyone who has suffered from dry eye might read the above title and scoff, and I wouldn’t blame you. I have aqueous deficient dry eye, so I know all too well the havoc that it can bring to our lives. The words dry eye and blessing are paradoxical. In fact, sometimes the condition even feels like a curse.
However, just as with any difficulty in our lives, the mindset we have in thinking about this disease is vital to our well-being. It can make our suffering bearable, and we can even find joy in the hardship if we know that our struggle is not wasted – it can be for a purpose.
Obstacles that can help us grow
As a middle and high school English teacher, I’ve read several texts with my students that illuminate the idea of a positive attitude or an altered perspective in the face of difficulty. Take Malcolm Gladwell’s social science book "David and Goliath" that my high schoolers read. Gladwell highlights the idea of "desirable difficulty," in which people overcome huge obstacles that turn out to be springboards for success.
The thing that makes the difficulty desirable is that it produces growth in an area that would otherwise lay dormant. He gives the example of dyslexics who grow up to become extraordinary business people. They have to learn how to adapt to overcome their reading deficiencies by honing other skills.
One year I had my students write “desirable difficulty” essays of their own, because there is something very healthy about reflecting over the experiences of our lives and identifying how those experiences grow us personally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Reflecting on some positives
Dry eye is one such experience. At first, I just wanted to get rid of it and solve the problem. And still, what I wouldn’t give to just wake up one day and have eyes that feel normal! But as I’ve lived with it, stewed in it, I’ve had time to reflect about the hidden blessings that this disease has brought me: improved overall health, increased compassion, and personal growth.
For years I’ve wanted to get healthier and become more purposeful about what I put into my body. But I lacked motivation and knowledge about what exactly to do; so many different diet plans exist that it is hard to know which is best. Well, my dry eyes gave me the motivation I needed to look into fighting systemic inflammation, a huge contributing factor.
Overhauling my diet
I did my research and began a complete overhaul of my diet. I cut out inflammatory foods such as those that are sugary, processed, or fried, and replaced them with ones that fight inflammation, like leafy greens and fatty fish. Slowly but surely, I changed the way that I ate, and my palette began to change so that healthy foods are the ones that I crave. And not only have I noticed improvement in my dry eye symptoms, but I’ve also seen improvement in other areas.
First, I’ve lost over ten pounds of unwanted weight from my midsection. I also have more energy, and my body just feels better. Beforehand, sometimes after a big meal, my stomach would hurt, and I would just ignore it. Now I’m learning to listen to what my body is telling me. I haven’t had any stomach issues since I’ve changed my diet. I have less pain in my joints as well, particularly my hips, which would ache mildly for weeks at a time. They have not hurt at all.
And finally, my skin has been clearer than it has been in years. Had I not had a reason to get serious about my health, I probably would have kept living and eating as I was. I can’t help but think about the many diseases that result from silent inflammation, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, that I am now possibly avoiding because of my diet change.
Being more in tune with others in pain
Before battling dry eye, I had never had any kind of serious chronic health condition, so I really couldn’t empathize with people who hurt all day every day. Dry eye has opened my eyes to hurting people around me, and I am more in tune to their needs than I was before, because I know how terrible living in constant pain can be.
My heart truly hurts for others who are hurting, especially because of chronic physical conditions. Whenever my eyes hurt, it reminds me to pray for or check on my hurting friends and family. This may be the greatest gift that my dry eye disease has given me: increased compassion.
Shaping our character
Challenges like dry eye help shape our character, but the determining factor is our perspective. Our personal growth depends on how we are willing to see this disease. I know it’s hard, believe me. But it doesn’t have to be in vain if we are willing to look for the hidden blessings.
In short, dry eye disease can take so much from us, but we have to flip the coin and think: what can we take from it?
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