A story of science fiction and self-discovery

Despite losing his sight, Garry has a great outlook.
Despite losing his sight, Garry has a great outlook.

Garry Dean was just 23 when he found out he was going to lose his sight.

Referred to an eye specialist after his optometrist spotted a small abnormality, he was told he had choroideremia - a rare genetic eye disorder - and would one day go blind.

Coming from nowhere, the news was devastating to the young man.

"I remember the trip home on the bus," Garry said.

"I was like a zombie."

Up until that point, all his most cherished past-times had been visually-orientated.

Given a telescope as a child by his older brother, Garry quickly discovered a love for peering out into the night sky, observing planets and globular clusters.

This, combined with the experience of seeing Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, ignited a lifetime passion for science fiction and all things space-related.

"It took me completely out of where I was," Garry remembered.

"It opened up my mind to space travel."

With his imagination being fed by the novels of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and other fantasy and sci-fi writers, Garry began drawing and painting other worlds - a pursuit he'd continue through his adolescence and into his 20s.

He also took his first tentative steps as a writer, again turning his attention to the outer reaches of our universe.

But all that stopped when he received his fateful diagnosis.

Not knowing when he was supposed to lose his sight, Garry pushed it to the back of his mind and decided it wasn't going to happen.

Aside from his parents, he also chose not to tell anyone.

It was the fear of the unknown.

Garry Dean

But it was always in the back of his mind, and reflecting on it now, Garry believed it sapped him of his creative desires.

Working in a busy camera store in Sydney, he had plenty of things to keep him occupied, but it was here where he discovered there was no escaping the specialist's diagnosis.

In his early 30s he found he could no longer read the fine print on the camera boxes.

Again, he kept the discovery to himself, until at 34 his eyesight declined to the point where he could no longer do the job.

Telling his friends and co-workers actually brought him an incredible sense of relief, and with his then partner, he decided to hit the road and see what he could of the world while it was still possible.

Together the pair spent the next few years travelling around Australia, Europe and the United States - a time Garry remembered fondly.

But it was after he returned, when he and his partner separated and his vision became increasingly impaired, that he began to struggle.

"There's a point where you have to give things up, and that starts to take its toll," he said.

At 40, after a number of years dealing with depression and the reality of going blind, Garry rediscovered his creativity.

Still obsessed with space and science fiction, he realised there was nothing stopping him accessing his imagination.

"I thought I still want to create, I can just write this stuff," he said.

Using voice-recognition software, Garry began to write fiction.

A slow and at times frustrating craft to learn, he nonetheless credited it as one of the things that helped lead him out of the dark place he was in.

The other thing that helped him was people.

Moving back to Forster, a place he'd first come years earlier, he joined two groups.

The first was the Forster Tuncurry Vision Impaired Support Group; the second was the Great Lakes Writers.

Both had a profound effect on his life.

Being around people going through the same challenges not only helped Garry come to terms with his own situation, it allowed him to help others.

That proved invaluable.

"Before that I was the only person in the world going blind," he said.

"But I ended up helping other people - there was no better therapy."

They know what you're going through. You're looking for your sunglasses and it takes you half an hour.

Garry Dean

Joining the writers group was similarly beneficial.

Once a slow, isolated pursuit, getting together regularly with fellow writers not only gave him an enjoyable social outlet, it provided him with a lot of motivation.

Still a self-professed 'space-nut', he's now had over a dozen stories published online, with his latest set to feature in an upcoming edition of respected science fiction journal Skywriters Anthology.

And he's got no plans to slow down.

"I won't stop now," he said.

"I get so much enjoyment out of it."

Reflecting on his journey, Garry sees it - like the character in a good novel - as one of self-discovery.

"People ask me, would I roll the dice again if there was a chance I wouldn't lose my sight? And the answer is of course I would, but would it make me a better person?" he said.

"I'm not sure it would.

"I have so much more compassion because of what I've gone through."