BY: BIZIBRAINS OKPEH
Several years ago, I was deathly afraid of posting my pictures on social media. I was photophobic (I still am) and suffered greatly from picture-phobia (a trait that I am still struggling with). In fact, I hated a reflection of myself and couldn’t bear to see me in a mirror. Then, sometime in 2010, after several struggles, I posted a picture of my big eyes on Facebook for the first time. But I deleted it even faster than I posted it because the very first comment the picture received was a great exclamation that thundered several miles into my very existence and exponentially multiplied my fears of the wider world.
I became even more afraid of the world that was afraid of me. So much so that it took me almost ten years later to post a similar picture on my Facebook wall. But this time, I found my voice, no my fingers. I was ready to defend myself. In fact, I did block this guy who threatened to block me, if I don’t pull down the picture. I couldn’t believe what gave him the temerity. Can you? I mean, what the hell!
But why was I afraid of myself? Why was/is the world afraid of me? There is only one answer. We tend to be suspicious and afraid of what we don’t understand. And it is in this context that most people without disabilities see people with disabilities. In my case, some even see my condition as contagious. This lack of understanding of one another and the unwillingness to engage and communicate with one another in order to understand is perhaps the single most important contributor to an increasingly unequal and non-inclusive world.
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Therefore, let me take this time to briefly engage you on proptosis or exophthalmos or big eyes. Dorland's Medical Dictionary defines exophthalmos as an "abnormal protrusion of the eyeballs; also labeled as proptosis." It can be unilateral, that is affecting only one eye, or bilateral, that is affecting both eyes, as is the case with me. In adults, the most common cause of both unilateral and bilateral proptosis is thyroid ophthalmopathy related to Graves’ disease, whereas the most common cause of unilateral proptosis in children is orbital cellulitis.
The symptoms include red eye, ocular pain or discomfort, foreign body sensation, excessive tearing, binocular diplopia, dyschromatopsia, and decreased visual acuity (Blake Fortes). It is a medical condition that may be congenital (as in my case) with a lot of negative side effects. However, it is NOT contagious or infectious (you do not contract it by associating with someone who has it). In fact, in my family, including my extended family, ancestors, and generations as far back as my mother could remember, I am the only one that has big eyes. It is treatable, especially in infancy, with decompression and/or complex decompression surgery (in adults).
As we mark the International Youth Day today, we are yet reminded that persons with disabilities can be understood and engaged in the scheme of global affairs. I, therefore, call on you to take positive action today. Reach out to persons with disabilities, understand their disabilities, then you would realise that they have so much more to offer for a more progressive world. We are one and the earth belongs to us. Let’s make it equal. Let’s make it inclusive. My name is Bizibrains. And I have big eyes.
BIZIBRAINS OKPEH is a writer, a disability rights advocate and a legal practioner. You can reach him on [email protected] or 07061096037