IBOS interview with Morten Bonde

“Actually it wasn’t my visual impairment that was my challenge. It was really my way of dealing with it”.

For many years Morten Bonde was hiding how bad his vision was, as he feared losing his identity and his job. He got stress and a depression. Today he is still in his full-time job as Senior Art Director at LEGO and he also gives talks and has a blog. IBOS has talked to Morten Bonde about how the eye disease Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) has affected his life.

Morten Bonde was diagnosed with the eye disease RP when he was 28 years old. The disease has had a slow progression. At the end of the 30’s, he experienced so many challenges in everyday life that he suffered from stress and depression. A long mental journey was waiting ahead.

”I DIDN’T THINK I NEEDED ANYTHING FROM ANYONE”

– Two years ago I took a course at IBOS. At the time I was in two minds about everything: I had been alone with RP for about 14 years and I didn’t I need anything from anyone. It was only in the summer two years ago, it dawned on me that I had lost so much vision that I only had four degrees left. Then it started to sink in: I needed help. The regional Blindness consultant offered me to start at a course at IBOS. It was a well-planned course in which I had meetings with occupational therapists, IT consultants and all sorts of advisers who helped me to make things a little easier and more manageable, says 44-year-old Morten Bonde, who lives in a small town called Almind – north of Kolding, is married, has two boys aged 12 and 14 and two small cocker Spanieles.

Stress and depression

Before Morten Bonde accepted that he needed help, he was through a long process:

Throughout four years of my working life, I suddenly felt very challenged. I got stress and was on sick leave because everything got confusing. I could not cope with the tasks that I could manage earlier. But I continued, continued and continued until I had no more energy. Then I got a major depression and did not work for five months. I came back quietly and started working again but when I got to my normal level of work, ‘boom’, I went down with stress again.

– After a vacation to Greece, my wife thought that my vision was worse off than previous vacations, and she said, “Morten, when was the last time you saw an ophthalmologist?” The truth was that I had not been to the ophthalmologist for seven years. Why should I do that? The only thing I was told every time was that I had lost more vision and that they couldn’t do anything about it, Morten Bonde explains.

The identity and the job were at stake

– I guess I was holding on to my identity. The Morten I had built up through a whole career. Having to face that maybe I could no longer keep my job and be the person I used to be – I tried to oust that. I was world champion, looking as if I could see everything. I used to spend a lot of energy when I was at work playing that role. There was a great risk in admitting that I had only four degrees vision, because that could mean that someone would say, ‘Now you can’t be an Art Director anymore. You have to understand that.” There was so much to lose, I think. It’s only when my wife said, “Could there be a connection between depression, stress and your vision?”.

’You are legally blind’

-Then I went to the ophthalmologist who examined me and said, ‘Morten you’re legally blind. I can understand if you are stressed out by everyday life, having so little vision left ‘, Morten remembers.

– The ophthalmologist thought it was incredible that I had lasted this long without getting help. The strange thing was that I was kind of aware of it – that my vison was this bad, but still there was something that kept me going: “I’ll make it just one more year. Or a year more ‘. But it was a surprise that I was legally blind. And actually, I was relieved. Because I had built what I call ‘the inner voice’.

The voice that speaks in your head when you decide something: It can say ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ Or ‘Be careful now. Don’t do something stupid ‘. The inner voice tries to make sure that you don’t make mistakes. Because it’s risk full making mistakes. When the eye doctor looked at me and said, “You’re legally blind,” I thought of the voice that kept me going by whispering, “Come on, the others can do this. Why can’t you?’. I was able to see that it is okay that I put down the barricades and get help. And in fact, I slowly realized that I’d been a fighter all these years, says Morten Bonde

Goodbye to the old voice

Morten Bonde went to the ophthalmologist in August 2016. Only in December 2016 he completely accepted that he needed help. He tells of a moment that made a difference:
“I was in the municipal office with a regional consultant, a job consultant and a social worker. We talked about how I could get ready for flexjob. A combination of the meeting’s agenda and the fact that everyone around me confirmed me in all the negative aspects of the illness made me think I could not work anymore. The social worker said that they needed to start an investigation process and job testing.

And suddenly I thought that they could just take it all. I didn’t care. They could go ahead and take my job and my house. All of it! Suddenly I felt freedom – something I hadn’t felt in many years. I didn’t care about anything right there. I discovered that although I said goodbye to all that I called “my life”, I was still here breathing and feeling just fine. I was still alive. I think it was a separation from all the layers we build through our lives. Everything we go and tell ourselves that we are. I had said to myself so many times, that I could not do certain things and should avoid other things, otherwise I was exposed. It was the old inner voice. And that voice was intended to prevent people from finding out that I was challenged and limited. Realizing that with so much power made me see, that I can become anything I want if I decide to. The world is a playground for me to explore.

Eliminate limitations

“It has taken almost a year and a half. Last summer, I began an intense research on ‘How does our mind work?’, ‘Why do we have a voice in the head and where does it come from?’, ‘Why don’t I just do the things I wish to do? ‘. I was so curious about this. And then I decided that I had to become a self-taught expert on these subjects. So, I started to interest myself in meditation and mindfulness. And I read about Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Physics, philosophy and Biology. I was a magnet on everything I could use to find out, ‘How can I become the master of my body and my mind so I can go do the things I wish to do without a voice saying that I can’t.’.

It’s been quite a ride. And it ended with the fact that I am now giving talks on how to overcome bumps in life and move on victoriously. Often it is a choice we have. Among other things, I fell over a guy on YouTube who has no arms or legs. Nevertheless, he is swimming and surfing and giving talks to people all over the world. When I saw him, I thought, ‘He must have decided to get the most out of life’. That was a kick in my ass: If I decide that I want to continue to work full time at LEGO, I can do that. I just have to do it the right way. And get help and be open. I’m going to involve others in it, “says Morten Bonde

Mindfulness – Techniques in everyday life

LEGO got involved and he tells how he continued to work as an art director:
“LEGO have just been incredible. They have been great at accommodating the challenges I have. We have structured my work in a way so it fits my vision and the way I can contribute. Of course, I can meet challenges in my work day, e.g. in the canteen. To find the food or if they have moved the spoons. I then notice that the autopilot would like to complain ‘Ohh this is so annoying’. The inner dialogue becomes negative, criticizing and self-destructive. But I’m now able to turn it around and say, ‘I’m so lucky having this dream job’ and ‘I’m lucky I’m among all these people and I can just ask one of them if I need help’. I’ve taught myself to reverse negative situations and look at the positive side. It is a great help and it can eliminate many challenges. It’s a technique I’m using all the time. On everything actually.

The talk: sharing experiences with others

– Many of the things I set out for the last year has come true. It has been a learning process and now I would like to pass on that experience to others who are thinking, “I would really like to do this, but I don’t do it, because I think I can’t. If I can be an art director with only 4-degree vision, you can also make your wish come true” The talks give me something. When I give them and someone come and say they were ‘blown-away’ by what I said, then I feel I have given something, and I can feel I’m getting it back right after the talk, says Morten Bonde and tells about how the process has also made him stronger in his work:

“I have almost always had a phobia to speak in front of assemblies. Although it’s one of the primary functions of my work to give presentations. But I have always had discomfort, damp hands and palpitations. I discovered that the more I challenged the fear and the things my body said I couldn’t do – and when I could accept that it felt uncomfortable but did it anyway with love and compassion for myself – it has moved the limits of what I really can do. And it also helped me in my work to do many things, which I previously thought were unimaginable. I’ve found that obstacles are only as dangerous as I’m making them in my mind. And I also discovered that it was not my visual impairment that was my challenge. It was really my way of dealing with it. The way I looked at my inner self and my outside world. That was what I had to work on.

– Now I enter through any door that opens. So, if someone asks me to give a talk, I say ‘yes’. I’ve started this and then we have to see where the universe brings it. And it’s super exciting. A bit adventurous, Morten Bonde concludes.

The inner voice

In my talk “SENTENCED TO BLINDNESS – THEN WHAT?, I speak about our inner critical voice. The inner voice, which often seems to put an end to the ambitions and wishes we have for ourselves and our lives. One day we get a thought: “I want to be a speaker and give talks next to my LEGO job and inspire people to see their potential and worth.” It is a vision and it can be felt completely into the heart and we are lifted up by the thought, but as this is something we have never tried before, we do not know how to put this idea into practice. How to make it real ..
And then the inner voice starts to speak. The voice represents the person we have been through years of practice and repetition, and it can’t relate to such an airy thought. It wants a plan. It wants to be able to see the whole process in front of it, so it can be sure we don’t fail or do anything stupid.

The thought first says, “Let’s be a speaker – let’s jump into it and inspire people.” It’s a feeling and we have it 24 hours a day. The feeling is a glimpse into the future. Imagine if we actually listened to it and experienced the vision that appeared to our inner eyes.

But the inner voice is concerned and finds all possible ridiculous reasons why we should NOT be a speaker and give talks in our spare time. “Yes, yes, it’s a good idea, but it’s huge and you’re just going to make a fool of yourself. Nobody will listen to your ridiculous ideas or so called visions, and it will all turn into a failure – believe me. “. “You must be a comedian or charismatic in order to do it and you are none of these things”. And there died the vision! Beaten by the inner voice.

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of giving my talk for the first time in front of a public audience, and although it went really well and people seemed genuinely inspired, I was still sitting in the back seat on my way home from Odense and listened to the inner voice saying. “Hmmm you could have done better!”. “You spoke too slowly”. “You have to redo the hole script, cause

people were bored”. The longer time I let the voice speak, the more I began to believe it, so all Wednesday and Thursday smashed myself over my “failure”. I thought about how I could do it all different and if I should tell more jokes, and I was wondering if I should just drop it all. “It’s a ridiculous idea to think that I could ever be a good speaker – DROP IT”.

Fortunately, something quite astonishing then happened. When I had almost lost belief and confidence in the project. Was it the energy of the universe? Destiny? I don’t know, but a person contacted me and wanted to discuss an idea of how we could work together on my message – a message that I obviously share with the person. After an hour on the phone, I had turned the whole situation around again – in my head.

I had just completed my first public talk, and I had done what I set out to do half a year ago: to speak publicly about my vision challenge and how we can all live the life we want to live, if we choose to see the opportunities that present themselves rather than the limitations we face. WELL DONE MORTEN – YOU ROCK !! I forgot to say that to myself just after the debut!

The autopilot won again. For some days. Once again I let the inner voice take control, but I was able to regain control, with a little help from a friend.

We are all unique creatures and can accomplish amazing things if we dare listen to the inner voice that first time whispers a new vision or ambition in our inner ear. If we dare listen to it first time we hear it and manage to calm the inner critical voice who constantly tries to keep us away from dangers and the unknown – yes – then there are actually no limits to what we can accomplish.

Now I’m back on track after some thoughtful days, and I celebrate that I once again let the light win over the dark. I have learned a lot from my first public performance and I will use that to make my talk sharper and more relevant.

To you who asked me to call the other day – thank you for helping lifting me out of the dark and back into the sunshine.

What I think, I become

In August of 2017, I started my project “Challenge Limitations”. It had dawned on me that I the last 14 years had lived my life in the shadow of an eye disease that slowly robs me sight. The downturn came slowly creeping over the years, and culminated in December 2016, when I simply gave up. I didn’t care about anything anymore. “Take my job. Take my car Take my life”. I was done! I could not fall deeper. And in the depths, I suddenly got a glimpse of something new. I suddenly saw a different life for me.

“A life where I no longer worry about losing sight. A life where I take chances and play with the opportunities that present themselves. A life in freedom “.

The glimpse of a different future than the one I was heading for, was what was needed to pry me loose from the grip of ice cold hopelessness. I was inspired by the possibility to live a life other than what I had been living for the last 14 years since the doctor said “you are going to lose your sight Morten”. Not so much a new life on the outer plane, but on the inside.

I decided that in my new life I wanted to be able to see opportunities where I before only saw limitations. I started an intense self-study in psychology, philosophy, neurology, meditation and – yes, almost anything I could get my hands on that could bring me on. And, of course, I did not understand all that I absorbed, I understood enough to move on. The two most important things I learned were:

  1. What I think and focus on, I become, and if I think and focus on all the things I think I can’t do, and keep telling myself that I’m limited by my eye disease – then that’s what I am!
  2. The subconscious mind controls our lives! If I don’t teach myself to bring enough consciousness into everyday life, I will continue to be my old self.

Thus, inspired by an inner fire – a strong intension to change my perspective on life, I gave myself four challenges that would lead me from hopelessness and into the path of possibilities. That story I tell in my talk “SENTENCED TO BLINDNESS – THEN WHAT?”. To give talks about my journey was my challenge number four and the challenge continues.

We are what we tell ourselves we are, and we are the story we tell ourselves and others – about ourselves. Change the story and you change your life. I discovered that the only limitations I have are those I create in my mind. I was sentenced blind – and so what! I needed blindness to learn how to see.