I Do It More Than Your Average Girl

 

There are a lot of frustrations in life. But let me tell you…. It goes to a whole ‘nother level when you have to adjust to an unexpected life.  A blind life. I got a list of frustrations going in my pretty little head. I should really write them down for blog ideas or therapy sessions! Shhhyeah, no… too hard to read…too frustrating. Never mind. 

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t do it. I do it a lot. Knocking over a glass, cup, jar, or bottle of something on a table or countertop is a daily occurrence! If it’s a clear or white/light colored object on a light colored surface.. it’s invisible.  If it’s a dark colored object on a darker surface… it’s invisible. That crystal wine glass or great–grandma’s white china tea cup, best stay out of my way!

Photo of a bowl in a China shopI was never the “clumsy” type. Never. Remember, I am the “control this shit” type!  Now, I’m a “bull in a china shop!” Watch out, here she comes! “Whoops, sorry!”…”Uhhhoooh shit!”…”Whoops, OMGawd…not again!”  I know it’s stupid that it gets to me mentally as much as it does.  It’s just not how I used to be. 

Knocking shit over happens. Spills happen. I know, I know. It’s the REASON it happens that’s so painful and frustrating to me. There is not enough paper towel in the world to clean up BLIND! 

So, Yeah…I do it more than your average girl! …Get your mind out of the gutter…Again! Ha ha!  Knocking over things is just something I accidentally do.  And paleeease don’t say… “Oh, I totally know what ‘cha mean! I knock things over all the time too! Ha ha ha ha” …No. No you don’t. You’re clumsy, I’m blind. Wanna trade? Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

Here’s my GGB tip: If someone who is visually impaired or blind knocks something over… Just show them some love by helping them pick it up or clean it up. Don’t add to the frustration of vision loss. I guarantee you, it will happen again when we least expect it.

Photo of a toddler holding a sippy cupMaybe I should purchase a cute “Sippy cup”…..to fill with water, coffee, juice concoction of the day, or maybe an expensive fine Cabernet. Annnd… If I was you, I would move grandmas china out of this “bull’s” way.  Crash! < sigh>  My life gets messy and I might pout…. it’s a process to figure all this stuff out!  I guess I’ll get used to doing it more! More as a…. Girl Gone Blind.

I could be the "Extra Credit"!

 

“Mom, you won’t believe what we talked about in psychology today.  The psychological effects of becoming blind!” …shuuut the front door…no way….for real?!?! Tell me more!

He told me the professor asked if anyone in class knew someone who was blind. He raised his hand and told my story. I think that’s pretty cool!

6a00d8341fd10e53ef01901bdf7d05970bShe discussed the psychological issues and adjustments of going blind. Different from being born blind. It’s a loss that causes the loss of many things. Giving up a driver’s license or driving is devastating. Asking for rides and help from others can be psychologically difficult.  … That professor is right on, Amen sister! Tell IT!  

Well, I launched right in: “Hey, she needs to read my blog!! Give her my GGB card! Better yet… maybe she would want me to come and speak?!? … I got experience…I’m super into that whole psychology thing…she really needs to read my blog… can you e-mail her… I’m the perfect guest speaker … right?  Don’t ‘cha think?!”

My son: “Ummm… we’ve kinda moved on. It’s only an 8 week semester, we move kinda fast through this stuff.”

Me:“C’mon… it could be my next GGB gig!” <crickets> “At least give her my card!!” <crickets>

EXTRACREDIT-2Well, there goes his “Extra Credit” Points!!  …ha ha!…Can’t blame a Girl Gone Blind for tryin’!

What a Difference!

A year ago…..I was on vacation with my family taking in the happy and fun of Disneyland. I had no idea I was losing my vision. I didn’t know what LHON was or that it even existed. What a difference a year can make.

I recently returned from participating in the annual LHON Symposium held with the UMDF Conference in Pittsburgh. It was a fantastic experience that gave me the opportunity to meet others just like me! Others unexpectedly affected by LHON. 

The symposium was great in so many ways! In fact, the whole trip was a really great experience! …. First time traveling blind….. Two words: airplane bathrooms. Holy blind girl! Those were fun!  Anyway…. I’m not going to give you every crazy detail of the trip.  I mean, I could….. but, we would be here all night! 

IMG_0817Speaking and moderating 2 panels at the symposium was awesome!! It went really well and all the panelists did a fabulous job sharing their LHON journeys. I  loved being a part of this day. Sharing my journey and talking about this blog was a THRILL! Being up in front of a group is very comfortable and fun for me. Surprised? C’mon… I do my “Live with Maria” thing every week as a fitness instructor! My friends know how I do!   

There were many other speakers, doctors, and scientists who spoke on topics important to the LHON community. From the latest research to psychology to fundraising. Funding is always needed for research…… and I plan to jump on the fundraising train real soon!  

me and mariaThe BEST part of the trip was meeting and connecting with all those who made it to Pittsburgh, whether you are affected, a carrier, or just someone who supports a loved one…. Pittsburg was the place to be! I had talked to many of you on the phone in prior weeks and meeting you in person was like finding a long lost sibling!  There was an immediate bond between everyone! We all spoke the same language and asked the same questions. We laughed and swapped stories every minute we could. It was amazing to be around people who really understood.

IMG_1585Getting involved and creating these new “unexpected” friendships is essential to my well-being. The LHON connections are priceless! Looking forward to Virginia/Washington DC in June 2015!  Get connected and plan to go!

 A year ago…..The last thing on my mind was “What would I do if I became blind?” Well…I guess I would write a blog called……. Girl Gone Blind.  What a difference a year can make.

IMG_1620 (1)Thank you Lissa Poincenot for giving me such a great opportunity and for all you do in the LHON community!

 

"B" is for…..?

 

photoI LOVE THIS! 

I just got a gift from a dear friend. It’s a beautiful silver bracelet with a charm that has a little letter “B” on it. What does that “B” stand for? … No…NOT the B word that rhymes with ”witch”!  Sheeesh!

She knew I was going to speak at the UMDF/ LHON Program & Symposium this week and thought I could wear it to remind myself to always be “Brave”! 

There will be other people speaking about their LHON journeys on several panels that I will be moderating throughout the day. Exciting! I have talked to all of them on the phone and I can’t wait to meet everyone! We come from different backgrounds, we come from different places, and we have different lives living with something we all share.  LHON.  When you or a loved one is given this unexpected life….”B” is for Brave. 

B is for brave. It’s about welcoming the blind turn and possibility that there’s no such thing as coincidence, and that empathy is incredibly sexy, and that its never too late to pick up a guitar or a paintbrush or make an amend or to make a new friend. Love this life, ‘cuz it could go away any second.” 

imagesThank you for your 14 years of friendship Julia Kitts! x0 I love the bracelet and the message that came with it. I appreciate my family & friend’s support in getting ready for this trip! … Okay, enough GGB blogging…. I gotta finish pack-a-lackin’ for Pittsburgh! Woo Hoo! 

 

 

I didn't want to Surrender

I never thought I would have one of these hanging blue handicap thingies. Well shit. I never thought I would be blind either!

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When the idea of getting a handicap placard came up… I wanted NOTHING to do with it! I’m not handicapped! I can get out of a car without help, I can walk (carefully), I don’t use a wheelchair, or a walker.  C’mon… I teach weekly group fitness classes, I’m healthy, I’m FINE!  I’m not handicapped!  I’m just kinda, sorta visually  impaired. Sounds like more “control” issues Maria! Helloooo …..You have LHON. You don’t see very well! It’s a disability. It’s a handicap. It sucks.

All those reasons weren’t reeeally why I didn’t want to apply for a handicap placard. The REAL reason was that I did not want to be told I had to surrender my driver’s license. Believe it or not, this GGB still has a valid drivers license!  If the DMV gets the application for a placard, they will know I am legally blind. If I am legally blind, why do I still have a DRIVERS license?  …..get where this is going?

Pouting-GirlIT’S MINE! <arms crossed – pouty face> The drivers license I’ve had for 34 years. The license that has a halfway decent picture on it! We have all had that one picture that looks like you just saw your grandma naked!  Oh snap!  The license that I show when I get carded!  ….Carded. Really Maria? Shhhhyahh…that happens all the time! Ok…. sometimes!  Ha ha!  THAT license is mine. <more pouty face> I just wasn’t ready.

Giving up driving to LHON was hard enough, and the thought of surrendering my license was like giving up a piece of  me. A piece of my old life. I don’t want an “ID card”. I want a license like everyone else my age!!  But, I’m not like everyone else anymore.……  I’m affected by LHON. Total game changer!

WAIT…HOLD UP! IYou know what?  I may not be like all my friends & family anymore….. But, I am still a “Front Row Diva!” My fitness friends know what that means! If I’m not teaching in front of the class, I’m in the front f*cking row!!  Shocking, I know! Can you say “EXTROVERT”! 

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So, I finally realized that having the hanging blue handicap thingy would help the wonderful people who drive me all over town. We can park closer to the store or gym…. front row, front row….. with less worry about helping me walk around parking lots and cars. Better for everyone!

I received my blue handicap placard in the mail this week. I also STILL have my drivers license!  I didn’t have to surrender it! The DMV never notified me about it. Maybe my record now states “If this blind bitch is ever caught driving, she is in a shit load of trouble!”  

It takes time for me to acknowledge the realities of my unexpected life.  Not everyone is going to understand how hard that is.  You probably won’t know…. unless you are visually impaired or legally blind. It’s beyond hard! When I am ready to handle it…I am ready. No sooner. Sooooo, let’s be safe and park it in the front row!

Now that I have it, don’t be fightin’ over who’s gonna be drivin’ with the….Girl Gone Blind!

It's Not About The Game

714043011199_bigFor the last 10 years, I have gotten together with a group of gals once a month. We eat, drink, and roll. We play Bunco.  Not to be confused with “Stop, drop, and roll” ‘cuz your ass is on fi-yah!  OK, that might describe a few of the nights we have played! More margaritas ladies? Shhhure! Hey, it happens to the best of us! Ha ha!

Anywhoooo…. We all look forward to that night…but, it’s really not to play the game anymore. It’s a night for laughter, catching up, and friendship.

Through the stages of my vision loss, I will admit there were times that I did not want to go. Sure I can eat and drink, but it was hard for me to play, hard to see the dice, and to keep up the laughter. I was uncomfortable trying to be “me” for the sake of the party.

It was Bunco night the evening I got the call from my doctor and was told I tested positive for LHON. The call came just minutes before I was picked up to go. I went…maybe a little in shock. I knew nothing about LHON, except that there was no cure.  I didn’t tell my friends that I just got a diagnosis on my vision loss that night. The diagnosis that took 7 months to figure out. I did tell them that I could not read the dice anymore. Little did I know that reading dice was the LEAST of my LHON worries…Little did I know about the unexpected Life I had ahead of me.

I didn’t know if I would stay in the group. I felt like I was playing, but I was not participating. I felt like a Bunco burden.

Glowy-DiceWell, my fabulous friends did not leave me by the wayside! Every effort is made to help me participate in a different way. They surprised me with new visually impaired dice…. which unfortunately only worked for a short time. When we play, someone at the table reads the dice for me. They tell me to keep rolling, stop, if I got 3 of a kind, snake eyes, or a BUNCO!! They mark my scorecard and I never have to keep the table score! …I was never very good at scorekeeping. You have to pay attention and crap like that!  I’m usually too busy talking… surprise, surprise…HA!  Anyway, it all works!

I played Bunco last week. I ate, drank, and rolled. I laughed, caught up, and shared some GGB humor. Oh, and get this… I WON the big money! ME! The girl who can’t see the dice finishes with the most “buncos”! Well, that’s what they told me…BOOM! Starbucks is back in business! Ha ha!

dice-lady_mediumThese women have been a big support to me in many ways. When I was unsure about my place in the group, they said “You’re stayin’ and playin’!” My girls didn’t leave me behind. Good friends stay by your side and with some help, I’m still rollin’ as a…Girl Gone Blind.

*This blog is dedicated to my beautiful Bunco ladies…also known as”The Real Housewives of Mira Mesa”! Thank you for your friendships XO

Blind Girls can Rock Heels!

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 10.02.44 AM I wanted to share my friend Jessica’s blog. She is a sweet & sassy girl who also lives an unexpected life. We live in different states. We are different ages. I’m just slightly older than her. Slightly…Ha ha!  After our first phone call last October, we were instant friends. We are girls with LHON… living life the BEST that we can! I can’t wait to meet her soon!!

Check out her blog: Blind Girls Can Rock Heels

The Plot Twist I Never Saw Coming

I stumbled across these thoughts from a mother of a disabled child. Her words describe, in great detail, the unforeseen plot twist in her motherhood fairytale. I did not have a disabled child come into my life. I did however, have a disabled adult come into my life. That adult was me. In September 2013, I became disabled. I became legally blind without knowing why – until a diagnosis was confirmed by a mitochondrial DNA test. I was totally unprepared for this real life plot twist. It feels something like this…

Welcome to Holland | by Emily Perl Kingsley

Pink tulips ImageI am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…… When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Colosseum, Michelangelo’s David, the gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills…. and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts. But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss. But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland. ~ via LHON.org

GGB NOTE: Like the author, I was “planning to go to Italy”. It was going to be fabulous! On September 24, 2013, I was diagnosed with LHON. In other Words, I landed in Holland. What?….No, No, No! How could I end up in Holland? I don’t want to be in Holland. I don’t know what to do here. THIS was not on my lif itinerary. People tell me I’ll be okay, and I’ll make new friends. I’ll do lots of things in Holland, I’ll just do them in a different way. No! I want to go back home. I don’t want to be in a place I can’t see.

 

She Doesn't Look Blind – She Must Be Drunk

What would you think if you saw a girl slowly walking down a dimly lit flight of stairs, assisted by a friend, as she was leaving a crowded bar – at 1 AM?

What would you think if you saw a girl being helped around a busy pool and lounge chairs after hanging out poolside all afternoon with friends? 

What would you think if you saw a girl being escorted down the steps of a restaurant? Then stops at the curb so she can slide her foot over the edge and continue to walk, still hanging onto someone’s arm?

What would you think? C’mon…Would you be secretly judging her? She looks like your average girl. Cute outfit & shoes, hair curled, lip gloss and lashes on…. She looks like she’s having a good time. Hmmmm. Well, she must be drunk. She probably had one too many chocolate martinis, and now her friends have to help her!

Guess what? THAT girl is not drunk. THAT girl has an invisible disability. THAT girl is me!

The situations I described above are real experiences – my experiences living with sight loss from LHON – Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.

Sure, I may have a nice glass of wine… but, I don’t get drunk. I’m not saying I have never gotten drunk…because I have. Maybe once or twice, or something like that. A long time ago. In a land far far away. Maybe a few times. What. Ever! Anyway, now, since my sight loss, I just don’t. I mean, let’s think about that. Legally blind + too much alcohol = A HOT MESS!! OMG! That’s way too out of control for me. No thanks! Plus, we know that too much alcohol and/or binge drinking is not the best idea for people who are LHON carriers or already affected. (Note: I’m not telling anyone they can or can’t drink. Drinking alcohol Is a personal choice.)

Why do I need assistance from friends, or a white cane, with stairs, steps, or curbs, when I can walk down a sidewalk quite easily and unassisted?  It’s because I have lost my depth perception. All surfaces are blurry and flat. I can’t see the edges of stairs or steps. Unless it is painted on the edges. Have you ever paid any attention to those painted lines? I never used to. Now…. I think they are fantastic! If I’m not using my white cane, I can’t tell the height of the curb, or if there is a crack or a hole in the parking lot. Put me in front of an escalator… you’ve gotta be kidding me…Holy Sh*t!  I think you get the idea!

So, if you see someone being escorted down the stairs, steps, or around a busy poolside…. Don’t be so quick to judge. It could be a different situation than what you have conjured up in your mind. She, or he, might be  blind, and blindness is just one of many invisible disabilities. xx

That four letter word… C. A. N. E!

So, THAT four letter word has come up.

I had the “CANE” chat at my last doctor’s appointment. Of course, my mind started the fight immediately …. Hold UP! I don’t need a cane, I don’t want to carry a cane, I’m not THAT blind!  or am I?  To me, a white cane screams “Holy Shit…Maria must be really blind! Look, she’s got a (let’s whisper) C-A-N-E!” …Geeez…no thanks.

Before I became legally blind, my perception of  a blind person was just like many others. The blind have dark sunglasses, guide dogs, and white canes! They walk around with that cane, swinging it back and forth… whacking away at everything in front of them! No offense to the blind community, but that is the mental “picture” when you do not know anything about blind mobility. Just being honest here.

Now, I will rock a cute pair of sunglasses…. But, I just don’t know if I could bring myself to carry… a cane. I’m NOT supposed to have a white cane. I’m not ready for it. I’m ready to come out of denial about it, but I’m not ready to accept it either… Its a really weird place to be. Really. Weird.

At my appointment, my doctor turned my thinking around. He said, “Maria, the cane is not only for you. It’s also for other people.”. What the hell is he talking about, I thought.  He continued, “It’s a way to let other people know that they need to move around YOU. People will see they need to give you space because you have – the cane.”

Let me get this straight. The white cane = Watch out and be kind, because this girl is blind – Oh. Okay.

Hmmm. I didn’t look at it that way. Maybe I only have to carry it in certain situations for now. Baby steps right? Hmmm… I suppose it would take some of the stress off of family and friends who help me around. I’m sure there have been plenty of people who have given me the look of “WTH? Can’t you SEE I want to get by you?”  Good thing I can’t see that “look”… ‘cuz there would be some words & finger wagging going on!! Oh Gurrrl, hold my earrings, hold my cell phone!! Ha ha! 

After thinking about it for a couple weeks, I made the call. It wasn’t easy to talk about, but I did get the process started. O & M training will start soon. Yeah. Cane Training 101.

By helping myself, I am helping others to help me. Does that make sense?? I hope so. Trying to make sense of this unexpected life is all I can do, as a new….. Girl Gone Blind.

Welcome To The Storm… Holding On Tight As I Lose My Sight

Storms can be big or small. Storms can last for hours or days. I’m not talking about the weather here. I’m talking about emotional storms. The storms that occur in your mind.

In the eye of an emotional storm, there is no happiness or light. None. You never knew such a horrible place existed. A storm can begin and end at any time, and will totally screw with what was once a sane mind. I suspect some of you may relate to these stormy moments in your own way.

There is a place that runs deep. A place that is filled with fear, despair, anger, grief, turmoil, and tears. A place I don’t want to go, but, I become so weak in it’s grip. I feel mentally helpless as I move into that storm. It waits for me with open arms and says “Welcome back… I’ve been expecting you.” Do you know of this place? Have you ever been to this place? 

Some storms can be almost debilitating. It can make you feel physically ill as you wonder if you will have the strength you need to come out of it. Again. One more time.

I was on “storm watch” last week. I had an appt. with my Neuro-Ophthalmologist, Dr. Ken Kubis. I knew what he was going to tell me. I thought I was mentally prepared. Yeah….. Not so much. The routine tests, along with the Visual Field test (Ugh…every visually impaired person’s nightmare!) confirmed that my vision had declined quite dramatically since my last visit in December. I took a deep breath trying to shut up the frightened girl screaming inside my head.

Did I already know that my vision had gotten worse? Yes. Did I want to hear it from my doctor? No. Did I try to blame the testing equipment? Hell YES, I did!  …Just like you blame the dryer for your jeans being too tight! It’s called DENIAL!

After more discussion about the life & times of Maria’s vision… my doctor decided to repeat the MRIs and some blood tests to be sure there is nothing else causing my vision loss besides LHON. He has always told me “You are allowed to have more than one thing.” If I do… I trust he will find it. I have completely trusted Dr. Kubis from the day I first met him on September 2, 2013. The day he went to battle to save my vision and he has never stopped. Dr. Kubis is definitely one of the most outstanding and caring doctors I have ever had. The BEST!

When my appointments are over… I always thank my doctor a million times holding back the emotional tears. This time, as I stood there, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I could not “see” this amazing doctor as I did a few months ago. He has disappeared from my vision and I can’t see that reassuring smile anymore. My tears were the beginning of my next storm on the horizon. Dr. Kubis gave me a hug with some reassuring words. He didn’t have to but, THAT’S the kind of doctor he is. The BEST. I turned around and headed straight toward my storm. …Oh God … was this all really happening?

I used to fight off the storms with everything that I had. I was keeping control!! They were not going to bring me down! In reality, it was unhealthy and exhausting for me to act this way. I’m human, not a superhero.

I’m learning it’s okay to walk through these storms no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. Everyone should learn this lesson. Although they drag me into the darkness, I look for the light in the storm’s final hours. I hold on tight and I move forward in my life blinded by LHON. That is until….I hear the words “Welcome to the storm…” and lose my griponce again.

 

 

Tell Me Who You Are

Can you imagine walking around and not being able to see anyone’s face? Sounds a little bit like an episode of the Twilight Zone, right?  Well…as much as I wish it was a TV show… It’s not. It’s my reality. I can’t see people’s faces.

Wait… WHAT???  You don’t see people’s beautiful (or not so beautiful) faces??  No, I don’t. As I’ve lost my central vision, I’ve lost my ability to see people’s faces. Hey…That could be to your advantage if you look like total crap one day! I will never know!

Growing up we are taught to look people in the eyes when they are speaking to us or greeting them. It’s good social etiquette! If you don’t do it, people may think you’re rude, or Just don’t give a sh*t About the conversation. You need to get that social etiquette thing figured out!  When you focus in on someone’s face… You use your central vision. When I use my central vision to look at someone’s face, all I see is a cloudy gray area, not the face.  If someone is further away, they just disappear into that cloud of gray.

So, guess what? If I can’t see your beautiful face… I won’t recognize you! Even if I met you an hour ago, six months ago, or years ago, I will not recognize you. I can’t recognize my own family in a crowd. That’s the sad & scary truth.

Okay… Let me add in something right here. There are a couple of ways I can see your face. I can look at a super blown up picture on my computer. The other way is if you come very, very close to me and I look above your head… I can see you through my peripheral vision. I can map out your face. Eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s really blurry, but it’s better than nothing. So, if I look up while I’m talking to you, just go with it.  It’s what people with LHON need to do.

What can you do to help me feel more at ease? Come to me and tell me who you are. Use your words before you hug me, jump on me, or slap me on the ass, I, I, I mean, my back. And if I don’t know you, and you know I’m blind, please introduce yourself. Then I have an idea about who is around me. That keeps my anxiety from rearing its ugly head! And for the love of God… Don’t say “Hey, remember me?” OR “Guess who?” OR stand next to me and say nothing. Nope. Nope. Nope. I’m blind. You’re not. Just help a mutha out!!

So, if I don’t stop and say “Hello!”… Please don’t think I’m a bitch who’s totally rude. I’m just a blind girl trying to keep a positive attitude.

I wish I could see… the sparkle in your eyes, the warmth of your smile, and your facial expression that light and up the conversation.

I wish I could see… the smiles on my friends & family when they are standing next to me. 🙂  Do me a favor and just keep smiling for me. I want to feel your happy vibe as a… Girl Gone Blind. xx