Growing up, I had to learn to be singled out in certain things and be alright with it. Say, sports, for example. That was something I never knew I'd be awful at, but had to learn to accept that being picked last for the team would eventually become the norm someday. And, by accepting that, it could eventually be something I'd shrug off and laugh about in later years.
To put it short, I have an eye condition known as 'nystagmus'. Or, medically referred to as 'Congenital Idiopathic Motor Nystagmus'. But, we'll just stick to nystagmus for now, I think.
Nystagmus means struggling to focus on certain objects or anything at all. And, if under stress, it tends to react a whole lot more and cause you to enter a sort of literal blind panic. Say, you're entered into a spontaneous cricket match at school and you're first up to bat. You see the ball darting towards you at light speed, and suddenly, you have to FOCUS onto that object and swing for it whilst dozens of spectators judge your every move. It's moments like that, that cause nystagmus to tumble along and interfere the most.
It is almost impossible to see straight, and if you have the pressure of locating something quickly, you have little chance at catching it before it hits you square in the face. And the only way you can really put a temporary block on it is by slightly turning your head to the side. Seems strange, but that for some reason seems to work until the panic calms down.
Having nystagmus meant a lot of things whilst growing up, of course. Being incredibly short-sighted for one. But I guess that's a given. Then there's things like taking part in activities that involve flying objects of any sort or fast-paced action. Then on top of that, there's things like difficulties with driving at night, cycling in straight lines, etcetera etcetera.
To put it short, nystagmus is a total bitch. And, to be honest, it cares little if you're about to do something you actually want to do. Because when the time comes rolling in, you can full well expect it to make an appearance and cause you to look a fool when pretending to be just the same as any other kid in class.
I had to deal with it as the school years went on. But, to be fair, I sort of learnt to accept that I'd be picked last for the school teams in P.E lessons. And, over time, I just kind of settled for not giving much effort at all. But that was mainly because I shielded myself from others when it came to opening up about my eye condition.
Sure, I wanted to be like the other kids. I wanted to get stuck in to rugby and be the sporty kid that everyone looked to when discussing teams. But, I wasn't. I was picked last. Always. And that fluster of groans breaking out from the last team to pick as they slouched over me was always disheartening to hear. But, of course, I dealt with it because I had to.
Teachers never really questioned me or the fact I wasn't as involved as the other kids. But then again I was a pretty shy kid. And during those first six years at primary school, I wasn't able to discuss it with anyone, purely because I assumed they'd never listen.
Secondary school rolled in, and the lessons turned more to physical contact sports like rugby. And, being in a fairly rough school, students liked the idea of physically hammering down any kid who didn't hold their own. So, of course, I was screwed from the get-go.
So, when I did speak up to my year seven teacher about my eye condition and how it affected me, he just laughed and shoved me off like a bad smell.
"Yeah, alright. You're not getting out of it, Tury. Get your kit on!"
That was that. And so, for the first three years of secondary school, I just had to deal with it. I had to face the things I knew I'd never succeed in. I had to swing for the cricket ball when really I couldn't even see it coming. I had to shoot for the basket when I couldn't see if it was to my left, right, or directly behind me. I had to play. I had to endure the laughter. I had to deal with it again, and again, and again.
As my final year at school approached, I was used to the idea of being the class rag-doll when it came to sports. And, if anything, I just laughed it off when kids picked on me for never 'hitting it out of the park' or scoring a single goal in four years of football games. Because that was my part, and I learnt to become the thing these kids made me.
But, as the last year rolled in, I was rescued by a slightly concerned teacher. A teacher who obviously carried out a bit of research behind my years of torment, and from that, decided that I hadn't been making it up every single day at all. Only, I wished she'd have figured it out several years earlier. Or, I hoped that she'd have believed me the last four-thousand times I mentioned it. Because, by the last year, I just didn't care as much about being the odd kid in P.E classes.
Sports had messed me about a lot over the school years, and by the time I turned fourteen I learnt to hate them altogether. I had been rejected when searching for advice or a helping hand from anyone I spoke to. And every time I tried to overcome my condition and just knuckle down, I'd be knocked back and mocked for my failed attempts at swinging to begin with.
But that was school. And it didn't matter too much that the last six months of lessons I was able to just sit aside and take scores. Because, honestly, I didn't care much about taking part anymore. I was fine with being the weird kid with googly eyes. I was fine with just being my sucky self and just getting on with it.
School ended, and every student knew that I would NEVER become an athlete when I grew up. Just like every teacher knew not to judge a book by its cover after I left. And when a kid tends to speak up about something, they should just consider it, and maybe understand that not every kid is just trying to excuse themselves from something. Because sometimes some of us want to do something. Yet, we aren't able to for the stupidest reasons. That's life.
I'd love to tell you that I went on to become an Olympic gold medalist or a global superstar in MMA. Believe me, I would love nothing more that to tell you that. But, as you can probably gather, I'm neither of those things. I'm a writer. And I spend most of my time working as an editor or writing for various platforms. So, you'll notice how both of those roles don't involve soaring cricket balls or flying punches. Yeah, that suits me down to the ground alright.
Nystagmus has stopped me from doing tonnes of things in life. But one thing it never stopped me from doing was the things I actually cared for the most. Certain things like writing books or reciting poetry, snapping pictures with a camera that focuses for you, or telling a story through words rather than images. It's those things I live for, and it's those things I refuse to let my condition tear away from me.
So, as I move forward and accept the fact I'll never be the face of FIFA, I can learn to understand my condition and the boundaries of which I can attempt to break. By doing that, I am able to remove the bar the teachers raised for me so long ago and just throw it aside. And with that, I can achieve my own goals and be what I need to be rather than what I'm expected to be.
Sure, sports suck. I can say that with confidence. But school played the biggest part when showing me that due to never stopping and listening to my plea for help. So with the greatest respect for future educators, I can only ask that you listen to your students. Not every one of them want to be excused. Some of them, despite their fallbacks, just want to be accepted.
For anyone else struggling with nystagmus, I feel for you. It isn't great. It isn't quirky. It's awful. It's frustrating. But it's ours to own, anyway. It's ours to overcome.
Students, teachers, headmasters, parents, and anyone who finds themselves in the presence of a kid who looks a little out of place, I can only say this.
"Listen. Learn. Understand. Assume nothing."
You might just be surprised at what's an excuse and what's genuine.