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Visually impaired, but a shining crystal

Crystal Asige had her life figured out—to be a filmmaker and a musician. And as she charted her path, she was diagnosed with glaucoma, rendering her visually impaired. Now she’s rewriting her life as as a singer, speaker, vlogger and an activist 

Going through any loss is not easy. And Crystal Asige knows this too well. Born 29 years ago, Crystal lived a normal life and had dreams of being a filmmaker and a musician.

However, eight years ago, while she was studying film and theatre in the UK, she received news that changed her life forever. At the age of  21, she was diagnosed with glaucoma, an eye disease often linked with elevated intraocular pressure that leads to loss of vision and even blindness. This incident left her devastated.

“I went through a nine-month period of depression after my surgery in 2010. I remember I came home from Britain for Christmas and wanted to be alone.

I stayed in my room for 10 months, not knowing what to do next, crying all the time, praying, fighting with God, asking him why he allowed me to go to England to study film, which requires my eyesight and then make me blind. I even contemplated suicide at some point,” recalls Crystal.

Since her teenage years, Crystal admits that she had trouble with her eyesight, but ignored it as her father too wore spectacles. When the pain persisted, she went to an optician who recommended she wears spectacles and she saw this as just a normal thing.

However, when she was around 14 or 15 years, this outgoing woman noticed something strange with her eyesight. She couldn’t see the black board and this occurrence only got worse as the years went by.

“Things were getting worse and I told my mum to take me to an eye specialist. So, we visited one in Mombasa, and I was prescribed some eye drops and glasses. I was to use the drops for a month,” says Crystal.

But it didn’t help as much. As she furthered her studies in the UK, she decided to visit an optician who noticed that her eye pressure was abnormally high.

A normal person’s eye pressure is around 10 to 15, but hers was thrice as high the amount. She had to undergo a surgery and  orientation and mobility training (O&M training) to get adaptive skills, which could assist her cope with her new condition.

Gradual blindness

“There are no symptoms to glaucoma, nothing irritates your eyes, it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t itch, and it’s just literally how conscious you are of your vision. You can either stop it or slow it down through treatments and eye drops, but there is no cure.

Your vision cannot be regained. So, whatever vision you are left with at the point of your surgeries and treatments, that’s the vision you’ll remain with for the rest of your life that is if the glaucoma in your eyes doesn’t increase,” she cautions. 

But after wallowing herself in self-pity, Crystal decided to pick her pieces and live her life to the fullest. This talented songwriter shares her experiences through music, a talent that has its roots way back in her childhood.

“My mother says that I began to sing at the age of three years. I used to sing about being bullied instead of just letting her know what had happened. It’s quite profound that a three-year-old would come and express herself through singing. That was what consoled me then and even now that I have glaucoma,” she says. 

Soldering on

But the challenges faced by a visually impaired person are just the same as other musicians and Crystal hasn’t been spared either. For instance, getting gigs that are of a lower budget, not being paid or appreciated and even getting transport to the venue of the gigs are some of the issues that she battles with as a musician. 

She attests that currently, she has learnt how to live with this condition, which at one time made her down casted and hate being referred to as a blind person.

She has even began a vlog series dubbed, Blind Girl Manenos, to answer questions related to visual impairment and also help others take care of their loved ones with the same condition.

“My campaign is definitely not about glaucoma. Though it’s where it started, I desire it to be about visually impaired persons. Trying to demystify visually impaired persons in general in the eyes of people who have sight,” she reveals.

“The society looks at people who are visually impaired as people who are needy and incomplete when actually, I think the whole point in life is to stand out and to follow your purpose and not to blend it to the crowd,” she says.

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