Cara Boyce: Rainbow Connection

Growing up, I never really understood the fascination with rainbows. Yes, it was cool that there were different colours in the sky but my mum had explained the science behind rainbows and it made perfect sense to me. Light enters a water droplet, slows down, bends from air to dense water, light reflects inside the droplet separating into component wavelengths that form into colours. Simple enough to understand. So why was everyone so interested in them? It wasn’t until I was 13 in an S2 physics class that I found out that rainbows have more than two colours. That there was more to rainbows than just blue and yellow. Obviously I knew the colours of the rainbow, learning ROYGBIV in primary school of course, but I never really made the connection that rainbows were supposed to look like that. I was nine years old when I found out why I didn’t see rainbows the same as everyone else.

In Primary Five, my teacher noticed that I was struggling to read certain things. I was smart but was getting really low marks in the classes weekly spelling tests and I struggled sometimes when reading, despite the fact that I loved to read and did so frequently. So my teacher suggested that I be tested for a number of different learning disabilities including dyslexia and colour blindness. It turns out I have both of them. Two very simple diagnoses that changed the rest of my life. My big brother was also tested, as these things are often genetic, and it turns out he is colourblind as well. We found out that we both had inherited red-green colourblindness, deuteranopia, from our dad. Along with that I had also inherited my dad’s dyslexia. I found out that it was pretty common for men to be colourblind however it’s quite rare in girls. 1 in 12 men are colourblind which is around 8% of the population. However only 1 in 200 women are colourblind which is only 0.5% of the population. This means that my diagnosis is very rare. At the time of my diagnosis my optometrist told me he only knew one other woman in Britain who was colourblind. Since I was diagnosed in 2013 I’ve met countless men who were colourblind but to this day I don’t know any other women with the same deficiency as me. While I do have my brother and dad to relate to, I’m quite isolated when it comes to day to day life. It’s difficult to relate to my male family, when they simply don’t experience being colourblind the same way I do.

Although colour blindness has obviously been around since the beginning of time, the very first scientific research of colour blindness was conducted in 1803 by John Dalton. Dalton himself was the first documentation of colour blindness in 1764. Dalton’s research stemmed from him and his brother both being colour blind. His suggestion was that there was a shortage in the colour perception due to discolouration of the liquid in the eyeball called aqueous humour. Dalton believed that the aqueous humour was bluish and therefore filled out all the colours. When John Dalton was alive he became a respected physicist and chemist. In his will he stated that there was to be an autopsy of his eyes after his death to determine if there was bluish in the human eye. Unfortunately there wasn’t any bluish liquid found, disproving his theory. Despite this he has become somewhat the father of colourblind research. Sometime after his death it was discovered that in the eye there are three types of cone cells and each type has a different sensitivity to light wavelengths. One type of cone perceives blue light, another green and the third and final perceive red. When looking at a colourful object light enters your eye and stimulates the cone cells. Your brain then interrupts the singles from the cone cells allowing you to see the colour. The red, green and blue cones all work together to allow you to see the whole spectrum of colours. For example, when the red and blue cones are stimulated in a certain way you will see the colour purple. However someone is colour blind when you don’t have one of these types of cone cells or they don’t work properly. In my case they don’t work properly. 

2.7 million people all over the world are colourblind. The red-green colourblindness is usually passed down from the parents, the genre responsible for this is carried on the X chromosome. The vast majority of those that are colourblind inherited the condition from their mother who is normally a ‘carrier’ but not colour blind herself. However if a woman is red-green colourblind then all her sons will be as well. Which means all my sons will be colourblind. 

Like most things related to being a woman I face an insane amount of discrimination because of my colour blindness. Although it might seem surprising, several people have told me that I am faking it. I’ve been told that women can’t be colourblind. That I am simply lying to get attention. I’ve been told that I am pretending just so I can get more ‘attention’ from teachers in school or from boys. When I mentioned this to my brother he told me no one has ever questioned his deficiency. People just accept that he is what he is saying. That he isn’t lying for attention. It’s heartbreaking when you are told that you love attention simply by asking someone if they know what colour something is, when in actual fact you just want help. Asking for help has always been incredibly difficult for me, particularly when it comes to colours. Asking someone at 17 what colour a pencil is gets you some strange looks. People look at me like I’m an idiot when I ask if I’m using a blue or purple pencil. Being someone who wears makeup I find it nearly impossible to find the correct colour. As I am so pale I’m able to just use the lightest shade of foundation or concealer and it works perfectly fine. But when it comes to eyeshadow and nail polishes. Well, I am completely lost. If you’ve ever owned or even looked at a nail polish bottle the ‘names’ of the colours are on the bottle. And believe me, they are insane. I own a nail polish called “Pillow Talk”. I could not figure out what colour this is but this is obviously blue. Obviously. The only way I am able to tell this is my mum. If i want to buy makeup I have to force my mum, who is the only person in my household that isn’t colourblind, to come shopping with me and get her to follow me around the shop and let me ask her what colour certain makeup colours are as I hold them up. On more than one occasion I have turned round and am showing eye shadow thin air. I am then required to walk around aimlessly looking for her. It is so incredibly frustrating not being able to choose things without someone else’s help, it forces me to rely on people and even if it is my mum it is extremely discouraging. 

With three colour blinds under one roof there’s always something entertaining going on. We all loved to follow my mum around asking her what colour things are. However, when she leaves us home alone, we fall into a slight disorder. Three years ago my dad and I were left home alone and we made lunch. Just some simple schnitzel from Costco. After 30 minutes in the oven we checked to see if it was cooked. It seemed like it was fully cooked but we still don’t know if it was cooked or not. It seemed hot enough but we couldn’t quite tell, even when it was cut open we didn’t know. With mum being out and i being braver than my dad i tested it out. The texture seemed fine and it tasted fine and was hot enough. So we dug in. When my mum came home she saw the leftover chicken we hadn’t eaten and freaked out. Apparently it was pink. Almost entirely pink and raw. Miraculously we were not ill. There was only one other time when I ate somewhat raw (according to my mum) chicken and I was quite ill that time. This is so incredibly frustrating not being able to cook alone without fear of accidentally poisoning myself. My mum teased us about this for weeks. My dad and I are quite an iconic duo when it comes to being colourblind. When I was 15 I decided that I wanted to repaint my room all by myself so we went off to B&Q and came home with a yellow and paint called ‘cornfield white’. It wasn’t until i put it on my walls my mum realised that the colours were not yellow and white but in fact were yellow and BLUE. The cornfield ‘white’ was really cornfield blue. How stupid is that? So I’ve been relentlessly teased by my family and friends over our unfortunate colour mix up. Thankfully blue and yellow pair nicely together.

While being colourblind can seem like a source of entertainment and jokes, there are surprising difficulties, small things that in the grand scheme of things greatly affect me every single day. One thing that might not seem so serious is my difficulty distinguishing between red and brown. Unless it’s a bright bright red I can’t really tell the difference. One of the most frustrating things is not being able to tell what’s happening in my own body. On more than one occasion I’ve been brushing my teeth when I spit red or brown. I can never tell if it’s simply chocolate or coffee or blood. I know it doesn’t seem like a big thing but it’s terrifying to not know what’s going on in my own body, not being able to figure out if your gums are bleeding simply because of your eyesight. However, by far the worst thing about my colourblindness is my inability to read red. Mixed with my dyslexia I find it nearly impossible to focus on any letter in the colour red. My dad however does not have this, despite our colour blindness being almost identical there are still some differences in the way the cone in my eye is shaped. This means that red is completely off the table. Because of my dyslexia every word moves but in red it’s the worst thing in the world. Even if I try to focus on them I end up straining my eyes and getting a splitting headache for the rest of the day. School is especially hard, with teachers making almost entirely in red and writing on the board in red to spice up their work and make it more engaging for everyone else but me. So the easiest thing for me to do is just tell my teachers at the start of the year that I cannot read red. However, teachers teach plenty of classes a year so it makes sense that they might forget. But, for two years straight, every single day I had to tell my maths teacher that I couldn’t read red and every single day she would huff and puff as if it was my fault. To top it all off, at the end of the year she gave me a supposedly very nice card that I couldn’t read as she had written it in red. How thoughtful of her. Still this has made for some very fun birthday cards, my friends LOVE to write in red or dark pink pens. 

My colour blindness has always been and always will be a big part of who I am. It is how I see the world and how I communicate with those around me. Not only that but it connects me to my brother and dad in a biological way but it has also brought me closer to the both of them as we relate; with the issues we’ve navigated, silly things people say to us when we tell then we’re colourblind and knowing that the three of us see the world the exact same way. Because of this minor disability we all have a strong connection with each other and with the world around us. Being colourblind can be a challenge. But I am glad I have my brother and dad to help me through it even if they can’t help me choose the right paint colour.

Olivia Ritchie: Talking to Someone: A Cliché That Works

When reflecting on our lives to better know who we are, we see the moment, or moments, that changed or shaped us; and the people who had the biggest effect on us whether that be for the better or the worse.

I was chosen to be a leader for a school retreat and doing this has been the most rewarding thing in my life as it enabled me to break through my barriers and talk to someone. As a leader, you have to give a talk to everyone about a certain topic. As I stood in front of a room, of relative strangers and told them things my best friend and my mum don’t even know, I was the most nervous I had ever been. Those who know me, know I like to talk a lot, but I don’t like talking about myself. Why would I dare to openly tell a sea of younger pupils things about me – things I had never said out loud before? Because in a few words: this experience saved my life. 

From a young age, I bottled up what I felt. I bottled up everything that was going on in my life, and my mind, and told no one. Until recently. It’s a long story as to how that happened and the journey, to me bettering myself through opening up to people I trust, is a long one. I’m going to tell you my story of how simply talking to a teacher that I trusted, not only made me feel more comfortable giving my retreat talk, but impacted me immensely, and I assume, will do for the rest of my life.

The things I’ve been through have shaped and affected me my whole life. There are numerous moments that all contributed to me not talking to people about what I was going through. So to fully understand why, sitting across from Mr Ferrie, in a surprisingly comfortable seat, in an office that wasn’t his, talking to him about my life, about things I’ve never told anyone and him listening, was such an impactful moment in my life. You need to first know the moments leading up to that. There is a moment in everyone’s life, most likely a few, where their spirituality has been shaken; where they’ve begun to question the world.

This moment for me didn’t come when, at 5 years old, my nan died but rather a few months later when my dad left me and my mum. Or I guess it’s more accurate to say that my mum kicked him out. I don’t remember much leading up to the day my dad left in a lot of detail. I remember my mum and dad fighting and looking back I must have known something was wrong because I remember on the day he left I wasn’t surprised. It felt like the day I had been dreading for months had finally come.

No matter how much time passed, or how unlikely it was, there was always a little part of me that hoped that they would make up and I could have that picture-perfect family that I had always seen in the movies and TV shows. But that’s unrealistic. Now that I’m older, I know that you don’t need two parents to be happy, you don’t need a dad or a father figure in your life to be complete or to be normal. But when I was a little girl, I didn’t know that. All I wanted was to have my dad. I simply wanted to have what all my friends had.

I know it’s a cliché, and people say all the time that when parents leave it’s not the kids’ fault, but when my dad left I felt like it was my fault. For the next two years, I hardly saw him and to this day I don’t know how much of that was my mum pushing him away or how much was him staying away. All I knew was that he was never there.

Society tells you that your parents are supposed to love you unconditionally and I couldn’t understand why my dad didn’t love me enough to stay. I concluded that it was because I wasn’t good enough. That thought, that I wasn’t good enough, followed me for the next ten years. My dad leaving hasn’t only affected my spirituality but it has affected every other relationship I have ever had. My dad then started a whole other family and I felt left behind. It was like if we were characters in A Christmas Carol he was Marley and I was the shackle weighing him down. On so many sleepless nights the same thought ran through my mind: if my dad can stay with his other family; if he can love and not leave his other kids, why couldn’t he do that for me? I spent every day after he left wondering what I did wrong because he was capable of staying, so it must’ve been me. The only logical explanation was that I must’ve been the problem.

When my dad got married I was around 8 and I wasn’t invited to the wedding, He never even told me they had gotten married. The way that I found out was that I saw their wedding photo on the mantelpiece in my nan’s house. I don’t know why I wasn’t invited. I don’t know if he was trying to protect me, or if it was easier for him, but whatever the reason was it will never be justification enough. He never once addressed it. I was eight years old. I wasn’t invited to my own dad’s wedding. So, no matter how logical the reason might have been, he never told me and at that age, all I was going to comprehend was the hurt.

I was beyond upset and angry at him, not only because of the wedding but for all the days he wasn’t there, all the times he didn’t show up. I struggled with self-worth issues and still do. They stem from my Dad and him leaving. So even though I was upset and angry with my dad, as I had a right to be, the main thing I felt was that it must’ve been my fault.

I spent about six years of my life desperately wanting and waiting for my dad to show up. Be the dad that I always wanted him to be. I spent so long watching the door to see if he’d come walking back through it and a little part of me always thought he’d come back, but he never did. After a while, I stopped waiting for my dad to show up and I started wanting anyone to. I had a hole in my life that my dad created which resulted in me searching for a father figure relentlessly. Like I said before after my dad left I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough and that affected everything in my life after that. It affected my relationships with others and my relationship with myself. For most of my life, I’ve been so concerned with everyone liking me because I’m so paranoid that one day they will realise that they don’t like me and leave. Those abandonment issues clearly stem from my dad, but because I was desperate for everyone to like me, I would change who I was to become the version of myself I thought they’d like the best. I wore masks around everyone and different ones around different people. I had probably 10 distinct, different personalities that I would rotate between and after a while I didn’t know where the masks ended and I began. I didn’t know who I was anymore and I blamed what my dad did and what he didn’t do.

 At this point in my life, I didn’t believe in people anymore and I had no faith in the world or the future. I lost faith in other people when my dad left and over the next couple of years after that, I lost faith in myself. However, despite that, I still had faith that there was a higher power somewhere. I believed that God had a plan and eventually the scales would even out and all of the hard times would count towards something; it would all balance out and the good times were sure to come soon.

There come moments that make it hard to believe in a greater power, that makes it hard to be hopeful, to not be selfish and sometimes hard to forgive.

When I was 11, I came home one day and there was a letter from my nan saying to call her right away. So my mum did. At that moment I got that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, where you just know, you don’t know how you know or really what it is that you know, but you just know something is wrong. I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach as my mum was on the phone with my nan. My mum then came in and told me that my dad had died.

The first thing I did was laugh because I thought it was a joke. In hindsight, if it was a joke, it’s a pretty bad one and to give my mum some credit she’s a little funnier than that. But in that first second, I laughed, because it didn’t feel real, but then the next second came and it hit me. It was real. I remember running out of the living room and into my bedroom. I sat on my bed. I was frozen for about 5 seconds and then I just burst into tears. My dad had been away on a business trip to Africa and he suffocated in his sleep. That was on Saturday. I found out on Sunday; the 19th of June 2016 – Father’s Day. My dad wasn’t sick, I didn’t have any kind of pre-warning, and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

The main thing I remember during that summer after my dad died was not that he was gone but that everyone around me changed; they changed how they treated me, what they said around me. They treated me like I was made of glass and because of that I felt isolated by the grief I was going through. That summer I was treated like a fragile Christmas decoration and shut away in my very own terrarium of grief. Left to grow but isolated from the rest of the world; made to watch everyone else through the thick pane of glass whilst they never even saw me. I was made to feel that grief is only supposed to be sadness and it’s not, because if it was there wouldn’t be another word for it. Grief is different for every single person. I was sad, I was distraught, but I wasn’t just sad. I was confused; I didn’t understand how, if there was a God, why he would take my dad when he was so young.

I was also angry. I had hated my dad for 6 years and that didn’t just go away because he died. In the last few months before he passed away, he had started to step up more, he had started beginning to be the dad I wanted him to be. He came to my primary 7 school show; he came to my interview for St Aloysius; they were moving house and he told me how I was going to get my own room. Things started to look like he might actually start finally being a Dad.

Then he died. He never got the chance to do the work for me to forgive him. I’ll never know if the months before my Dad died were just filled with the same empty promises he had given me all my life. What I do know is that I still was angry with him, but now he wasn’t here, and the only person I was hurting was myself. Despite the number of times he let me down, the number of promises he broke, no matter how many times he broke my heart, I still loved him. I wouldn’t show it because I felt like he didn’t love me. Not only do I not remember the last time I told my dad I loved him, but I can’t remember a single time. Likewise, I can’t remember a single time he told me. I remember that after my dad died people treated me like they were thinking, ‘She must be so sad because she doesn’t have a dad anymore’, but the truth is, I never felt like I had one. I had always gotten uncomfortable when a conversation switched to the topic of people’s dads; I had always only written Mum when writing school Christmas cards home; I had always only had one parental signature on consent forms. I never had a dad. So when he died I grieved, not just him, but more the possibility of what I could’ve had. I’ll never have a dad or a real father figure, and it took me a long time to come to terms with that and realise that it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. I thought that everyone would judge me if they knew I was still angry with him but I was just self-projecting because I felt guilty about still being angry. I’ve forgiven my dad now, not for him but for me. I had to let go of that hate and anger I had held in my heart since I was 5. He didn’t, and doesn’t, deserve it but I do.

Most of my problems opening up to people, and asking for help when I need it, are all tangled up in my Dad. I’ve had to go through a lot of self-reflection to be at this point. The point where I can identify the moments and people in my life that affect the way I am today.

I struggled with, and still do, self-loathing. I don’t know when it started but I know for definite that from 1st to 5th year, I hated myself. Everything there was about me that you could have an opinion on, I hated it. I hated how I looked, what I did, what I said, what I didn’t do, what I didn’t say. I wouldn’t get any sleep at night because I would be up all night overthinking every little thing that I did. I had a compulsive and addictive need for everyone to like me, so much so that I wore metaphorical masks around everyone. For a few years, I was simultaneously overcome with emotion and at the same time completely numb. Looking back, I can see that I was most likely struggling with some form of depression. Around the beginning of 4th year, I don’t know how or why, but I realised that how I was living wasn’t healthy and I needed to make a change. So I actively tried to get better and slowly but surely I was getting there.

Then COVID happened. We went into the first of many lockdowns and I was isolated from everyone. It wrecked me. I had, what I guess I could most accurately call, a relapse. I fell straight back into my self-hating ways, but this time it was worse. Not only because I was aware of my problem now, so my self-hating tendencies were just another thing for me to dislike about myself, but also because I didn’t see other people that much anymore. I realised that I might’ve been getting better but I was getting better in the wrong way. I was getting all my self-worth from other people and their opinions of me and that shouldn’t be where you get that from. You should like yourself because you do, not because other people do.

At one point during the second lockdown in 5th year, I hit rock bottom. I hit the lowest low ever in my life. For a long time before that, I had been having the same thought every day, that I didn’t want to not be alive anymore. I just didn’t want to be me anymore. Getting out of bed every morning felt like tearing my skin off. However, no matter how bad it got, I never told anyone. I would drag myself out of those dark moments.

I have never talked about any of this to anyone before. My sixth year so far has been pretty stressful and at times I didn’t think I would make it through, carrying on the way I was. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have been able to have the experience leading the retreat that changed the trajectory of my life, without a teacher who I trusted and who was willing to listen. It wouldn’t be apt to owe all my self-improvement to Mr Ferrie and my retreat experience, but I now can see that I owe a lot to myself.

My role as retreat leader didn’t just make me talk about things I had never before, but it made me think and confront things I had long since buried. It made me realise my self-worth and how much I am capable of. It sounds cheesy to say that this experience has enabled to follow my dreams, but it has. All my life I’ve been so scared that I’ll fail, that I’d never try. I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to or good enough to do what I wanted. I want to be a film director but for so long I wouldn’t let myself think I was capable of doing it, and right up until my leadership role I wasn’t going to because I didn’t think I could.  My friends and family have always been there for me and I now realise despite all that I’ve been through, all that I don’t have and all that I’ve lost, how much I do have and the privilege that I have.

Talking to someone. A cliché that’s been used time and time again, but that doesn’t undermine its importance. There are people in your life that you know you’ll always remember. I will never forget Mr Ferrie and the group of people I was with on retreat for helping me break away from being that girl helplessly tapping on the glass of her own grief terrarium, waiting for someone to come and save her.  They helped me become this version of myself, where I can hold my head up high, and be proud of who I am.