Eyes closed — Doug Wheller

How becoming blind made me see clearer

I’ve always been passionate about computers. I could spend ages just rearranging my folders and trying out .html pages without even owning an internet connection. I loved video games, I cannot recall the number of hours I spent wandering the streets of Liberty City. Then I got connected, online. And I spent my entire high school playing counter-strike, chatting on Quakenet. This was my outlet, my second home. I really felt connected, like I belonged. The more I would sit in front of an interactive screen (I always hated TV), the happier I would get. In 2011, I was starting my 2nd startup, it was almost natural. Being a hardcore connected human, I always boiled with ideas, and the urge to act that comes with it.


Last year, a game-changing thing happened. I was diagnosed with a rare cornea dystrophia, basically meaning that one of my eye would almost get useless in a decade, and that the same would probably happen to my other eye. I knew all about it, it’s a genetic disorder. My grandfather had it, my mother too. It was a coin flip. Losing that coin flip made the future I envisioned for myself fade away. Like that, in a fraction of a second, with an embarrassed ‘Oh, you have it’ from the ophthalmologist. Because I knew what would happen from then.

I was pissed. At that time, we had just raised $100k with oocto.com and we were starting to get some results. I was pissed because I felt like I didn’t have enough time to do all the hustling we needed to do already. I remember saying ‘I don’t have time for this bullshit eye-stuff’ to my mother.


And a couple of months later, it happened. My first cornea ulcer. What you need to know about Lattice Corneal Dystrophy, is that it continuously scratches your cornea, getting you to slowly but steadily see blurrier. It also makes your eye weaker, so these ulcers happen regularly. Basically a hole in your eye. At first, you just feel like you have dust in your eye, the next morning you can’t bear light anymore and it feels like you are shoved a needle in the eye.

What happens next is really interesting. As you can’t bear light anymore, you have to stay in the dark for 4 or 5 days. Yes, that means you can’t stare at a screen, neither smartphone nor computer, and you surely can’t read in the dark. You basically have to face your (deepest) thoughts all day long. Alone. You might think that’s torture, and to a certain extent that could be. But I learned something the hard way, the getting-thrown-into-a-pool way:

One of the most accurate measurement of happiness is how you handle your own company without distractions.

How you handle being alone with yourself with no way of escaping. Suddenly, there’re no conditions to your happiness but yourself. The famous ‘Know thyself’ Delphi quote takes on its full meaning, and during this week in the dark, you start practicing and learn this skill. Think about it like an intense workout program, where you train your inner self.

I’ve had 5 ulcers since 2012, and they got me to settle my mind on things I would never have confronted. Moreover, ulcers tend to arise when I’m deeply tensed, stressed, not at peace. It feels like it’s my body that triggers this alone time like a fuse so I can settle things down. Slowly going blind from one eye got me to rethink some of my assumptions, some of the things I use to take for granted.


I’m grateful for the lessons that came along the way :

  1. I can see: Believe me, after spending a week in the dark, every little detail of the world (a smile, a cloud, a candle) is a piece of art.
  2. I get to spend quality time with myself: These ulcers kind of act like updates of what’s deep down in my heart. It feels like a privilege in this busy world where every alone time needs to be eradicated.
  3. I hear the world calling: The sooner I travel the clearer I’ll see the world. But don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t come with a feeling of urgency, it comes with a feeling of clarity about my priorities.
  4. I value offline more: Using screens (phones, PC, tablets) is getting more difficult for me everyday. It helps me remember to put real-life, offline & uninterrupted interactions at the core of my values & my future. I’d rather see the world through life than pixels when I still can.
  5. I am vulnerable: Since I’ve wrote this article, countless people share with me their own health issues. Believe me, everyone’s got shit going on. Being vulnerable enough to share that story helped a few people to know they’re not alone & that their weakness can become a strength.
  6. My heart doesn’t need glasses: A quote from The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

It got me to appreciate every little things in a more mindful way, so yes, becoming blind made me see clearer :)

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Hugo Amsellem’s story.