OSer Ingrid Ricks’ new memoir FOCUS starts out like a nightmare: During a routine eye exam, she’s told the slight vision problems she’s been having might be more than just a side effect of getting older. Another examination reveals that she has retinitis pigmentosa (RP), an incurable disease that means her field of vision will gradually get smaller and smaller, until it disappears.
FOCUS is a brutally honest book. Ingrid takes us through the days following her diagnosis, which were a fog of despair and isolation. When some people get bad news, they crumple and stay that way. But as Ingrid’s first memoir, Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story showed, she can take a lot and still rise up with a smile. Then, it was a childhood plagued by a restrictive religion, an often-absent but beloved father, and a cruel stepfather. But what, I found myself thinking, could make someone not only accept a condition like RP, but even come to find a bright side to it?
I feel bad for doubting Ingrid. In FOCUS, she takes us to Africa, where, on a trip to write an article about an AIDS charity, the heartbreaking scenes of suffering that she witnesses give her a new perspective on her diagnosis. Back home in the US, she goes on a new journey: to accept and understand RP, and to do what she can to manage it and slow its progress. In the process, she’ll come to terms with her past, change her relationship with her husband, find out how much her family loves her, and find freedom in being open about her condition. Ultimately, this degenerative eye disease makes her see the world differently, but not in the way she expected.
FOCUS is one of those books that’s simultaneously one person’s story, and everyone’s story. As I read, I rooted for Ingrid, hoping she’d find happiness and health – and at the same time, there were so many things that made me think about my own life, my own actions and reactions. Something I found especially moving was a scene where Ingrid, who’d been keeping her RP secret from most people, drops her cell phone on the floor of her gym changing room. A woman next to her keeps telling her it’s right in front of her, and starts to get frustrated that Ingrid can’t see it. Though my condition is very different from Ingrid’s, the whole situation made me think of things I experienced before openly telling people I have IBS – or even now, when someone just doesn’t or won’t understand or accept my illness.
I think FOCUS can bring so much comfort to so many people – not just in the way I’ve described, but as a beacon of hope, an example of what the human spirit is capable of. As Ingrid tries to find new treatment options, you find yourself cheering her on, and relating in some deep-down way. It’s the triumph of hope over fear, of knowledge over ignorance.
FOCUS could have been a bleak account of one woman’s descent into darkness. Instead, it radiates light and hope. Finishing it, I didn’t feel sad or somber – instead, I felt a sort of peace, the same peace that Ingrid has found. I’d recommend this book to so many people, for so many reasons. It’s about being sick, it’s about being human, it’s about being strong, it’s about loving and being loved. It’s about looking at the world and seeing it for what it is, even when you didn’t think you’d see much at all.
You can read the first chapter of FOCUS on Ingrid’s OS blog. The book is available for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo e-readers, as well as in physical form as a paperback.