An eye away from true happiness

This story starts 2 years ago on the winter solstice. 21st of December 2020, COVID time.

I am at home in Switzerland in the apartment I share with my husband, at the time only boyfriend. 

I remember being nervous and overwhelmed, having to clean the apartment and prepare a Christmas dinner as my mother-in-law was coming for lunch. I also had only a couple of days to finish a report for my EPFL semester project: I was running late. While running around to get everything ready, I lay down a bottle of champagne in our fridge to cool it. A few moments later, I open the fridge to get some ingredients.  

This is when time stopped.

The only thing I perceive is the sound of something falling on our tiled flooring. I open-up my eyes, and I realize – I don’t see anything out of the left one. So, I close and open them several times, as if I had something in it that I was trying to remove. I close the fridge and turn towards the large mirror we have in our living room. 

And this is when it hits me. 

At the place where my left eye usually is, now there is only blood dripping onto the floor. At this moment, I remember no pain but only fear. I feel like my legs can’t hold the weight of my body anymore, I drop down, my hands now touch the tiles, but I don’t see any pieces of the bottle that had just exploded all around the apartment a few seconds before. I don’t realize it as well, but I am screaming, screaming to alert my husband that something has gone wrong.

What do you think about when something like that just happens? I remember thinking: “this must be a nightmare, it’s not actually happening”. And then you realize: “yes, it’s true, it is actually happening”. And then a second wave of thoughts arrive: “what am I going to look like with only one eye?”, “Ok now I will definitely not become an astronaut”. 

In my case, I was so lucky that my husband was there to call the emergencies and calm me down, because I was unable to take care of myself at this moment.

After the fear, denial comes. “It’s not that bad, the eye has to be still there right, it’s going to be okay”. I even called my husband in the ambulance so he wouldn’t forget to remove the duck from the oven.

This phase was the longest for me. I arrived at the hospital, the doctors announced that the first goal was to save the eye and then we could talk about seeing again. And yet, the first question I ask them about the procedure is: “will I have to wear glasses?” 

If only I knew – glasses were the least of my worries…

At the time, I was managing many projects on the side of my studies: the Asclepios mission, the association Space@yourService and was hosting the Galactic Chloé Show. So on the night of my operation, alone in my hospital bed, I texted everyone saying: “sorry, will probably not  be there for this event”, or “can you take on these tasks for the next week”. 

And this was my Christmas holiday. It was in the middle of the COVID pandemic, so I was technically not allowed to have visitors, even though my parents, husband and close friends came a couple of time in the lobby of the hospital to check up on me. 

I spent 4 days there, but to be honest I have very few memories of it: it’s like I had left temporarily my body to deal with the trauma that it was going through.

2 years later, my left eye is still there and I see about 30% with it – so no, glasses can’t fix it. But this trauma did not only leave physical testimonies, the true change is also beyond what can be perceived with our eyes.

Right after the accident, I felt like I didn’t have the time to deal with it: I passed my exams against medical recommendation and kept on leading the diverse projects I was managing. 

I learned to deal with my negative emotions with a psychiatrist and learned more about myself in the process. At first, I was always saying: “you know, I’m alright. It could have been worse.” I learnt to accept that what happened was a real trauma, that this was hard and unfair, and I was allowed to feel pain and injustice. But my life didn’t change as to say in a very radical way. In my case, it was more a series of incremental changes.

The first one I noticed was my will to spend more time with the people I love, doing things I love. Before, I was the type of person to sacrifice that for the sake of work, meaningful work, that took the form of projects and initiatives. So, I cut down on my side engagements to leave more room for “me time” and happy experiences.

It’s the moment I decided to take the next step with my husband. I’m 24 and married this August 2022. This usually comes as a surprise: “Why did you marry so young? You’re wasting your youth. Oh, maybe it’s because he is almost a decade older than you.”

But the truth is, I decided to propose. He was very surprised but said yes to this adventure. 

If I hadn’t had this accident, I’m pretty sure I would not have taken this step so early on. Because, when something like this happens, you realize that life can change from one day to the next, and the true constant are the people around you. And I knew that I had the right person by my side. So, I took the leap. And what an amazing decision.

Now the big dream that I had to grieve following my accident was the one to become an astronaut. It was actually the first thought that crossed my mind when I saw my face in the mirror on this day. Funny right? That a dream would take such a huge place in your life. After reflecting on it, I realized that the pain was not in not being able to become an astronaut, but the negative emotions that would come from not meeting expectations. I saw this dream as something that defined me in some way: the girl who wants to walk on the Moon. And it was becoming clear that the dream would now remain a dream, and not an achievement. Now I cannot say that it’s no longer my dream, it’s still really is. But if I don’t become an astronaut, it doesn’t matter. The real goal is only to be happy and do something meaningful with my life.

Thus, the real question comes now: what do I want to do with my life?

I have and still am dealing with this question. Because the only thing I know for sure is that I want to be happy: this means find a good work-life balance but also contribute to making the world a better place, aligned with my values: authenticity, transparency, and kindness.

My dream has been to work at the European Space Agency but I’m starting to realize that it is no longer the case. This may be a follow-up reflection piece…

After a lot (too much) of internal reflections, I believe I have found the right path for me in the next years. And I will share that with you soon.

While looking for my next challenge, I was always asked during my interviews: “where do you see yourself in # years?” And I always answered truthfully: “I have absolutely no idea”. Because the main thing I have understood from this journey is that you cannot plan life, life is full of surprises that will shape your path. My path is not and has never been straight. You walk through it, you feel and learn.

In the end, the purpose of it all is to be happy: and happiness is not in scale, reputation nor speed. Happiness is experimenting this journey welcoming the change it offers you.

So now after 2 years, I can convincingly say that: yes what happened to me was terrible, and yet I am so grateful because it changed my life and I feel much happier now that I was 2 years ago.

The story doesn’t end here, and will probably never end. Everyday is a new opportunity to learn more about myself.

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