Rhea and her dog, MyloRhea Sarawgi

In my lifetime I have encountered two persistent barriers in my endeavour towards finding peace: visual snow and tinnitus. These are two chronic conditions that I have experienced for almost half my life.

Visual snow is a rare neurological sensory condition that is not well-understood in the medical discipline. Without getting into the details of my symptoms, I essentially experience a permanent layer of TV static over my field of vision, static that is somewhat reminiscent of falling “snow”. It also comes with photophobia, which means that my eyes struggle in bright (and ironically, even not-so-bright) lighting conditions, and I have a hard time viewing most light surfaces. Visual snow is also commonly associated with a much more well-known condition, tinnitus, which is the constant perception of a high-pitched ringing sound — like the kind that you may experience after a loud concert. But for me, it never goes away.

“For me, finding peace isn’t always a situational pursuit”

When I think too hard about my conditions, they induce a unique mixture of fear and desperation within me. Yes, I’ve been to doctors about it, and no, there’s nothing they can do. So, for the bulk of my teenage years, I’ve had to refocus my energy on finding my peace, rather than some magical cure (although I will never lose hope that one day this may materialise).

For me, finding peace isn’t always a situational pursuit. Yes, I can stay inside on a sunnier day, and yes, I can play music in a quiet room. But sometimes my symptoms deprive me of peace in a deeper sense, when my thoughts can’t help but run to the most woeful extremes. Sometimes a sad thought takes root, as they do for us all from time to time. But this one is stubborn and refuses to shrivel. Instead, it grows, and grows, until my brain is a hazy nest of dread, and the way forward becomes shrouded.

“I prefer to dwell on my resilience rather than my struggle”

But I am fortunate, because I have the people and the places that hold my hand and guide me through these difficult times. Because sometimes, when the very thought of going outside on a gloriously sunny day makes my heart sink, my mum asks me which of my sunglasses I would like that day, and the path becomes clearer again. And sometimes, when the idea of sitting in a dimly lit silent room makes my brain scream even louder than its resting scream, my dog nuzzles into my lap as I become enveloped by his heavy warmth and soft button nose.

So, for me, peace looks like a room with soft yellow lighting, spotlights in just the right places, and the glaring warmth of my bright orange tinted glasses.

For me, peace looks like garish patterns, devices in dark mode, and walls postered so heavily you can barely spot the licks of paint underneath.

For me, peace sounds like the commotion of a coffee shop, the gentle hum of my kitchen fridge, and the beautifully noisy pipes in my room with bad plumbing.


Mountain View

The myth of manifestation, exposed at a hospital bed

For me, peace is when I become so engrossed in a storybook that my racing thoughts overwhelm my senses, when the laughter of my friend rings louder than that sound, and when I manage to find myself gently drifting to sleep, night after night, despite it all.

I have written this at the risk of painting my life out as a dramatic tragedy. It’s been particularly difficult to write because of the reactions I anticipate from those who know me as someone “normal”, unaware of the hidden conditions that constitute such a major part of everyday experience. I’m usually wary of explaining my condition to those who don’t know me as well. The sense of overwhelming pity it can generate from them is enough to make me reconsider my quality of life anew. But through this process of reflection, I have realised that I prefer to dwell on my resilience rather than my struggle.

For me, peace will always be hard to find, maybe harder than it is for some others.

But that means, for me, peace is all the more sweet when I do eventually find it within my grasp. And for that reason, I will keep looking.