“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.
“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.