She was drawn to the arts as a child, and her dream was to be a musician and film producer. But in her teenage years, it became difficult to read the blackboard in class. Then, the words on the pages of her books began to get fuzzy. Her vision progressively got worse, and one day, she received a diagnosis that would change her life forever.
Crystal Asige grew up in Mombasa, Kenya, and always loved the arts. She learned from a tender age that there was something very powerful about music.
“I used to come home from nursery school and instead of crying about the bullies, my mother said I would sing about it,” Crystal told The Weight She Carries. “I think that’s profound because every kind of music is about some sort of emotion. I was able to channel that at a very innocent and naïve time of my life.”
In high school, Crystal was active in theatre and production, but began to notice that it was getting harder to read her books. She sought medical attention, but due to negative experiences with doctors, she was reluctant to follow up on her health. Instead, she adapted to her visual challenges.
“I just continued to pretend. I began to memorize my scripts as soon as I got them so that when it came to rehearsals, I already had all the words in my head and I wouldn’t feel embarrassed reading in front of the entire cast,” she said.
She also made every effort to get to her classes early. As soon as the bell rang, she would hurry out of class and into the next classroom so she could find a seat close to the front. This way, nobody would notice she was struggling to read. And if she was asked to read out loud in class, she would find an excuse.
In 2007, when she completed high school, Crystal went to the UK to study film and theatre at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
With the lecture halls being significantly larger than the ones at her high school, she could no longer simply get by. She was forced to get examined by an optician.
“I went to the optician and he said to me, ‘Crystal, I don’t mean to raise any alarm, but you need to go to the eye hospital immediately. Right now. Don’t go shopping, you need to go now. There is something seriously wrong.’”
“I just walked over to the hospital and check myself in. After two months of tests, they told me that I had a disease called glaucoma. They told me that glaucoma has no cure and that it basically eats away at the retina, which sends images of what you’re seeing back to the brain. They told me that I wouldn’t be able to see for very much longer. They predicted that by 2013, I would be completely blind. I was 20 years old.” – Crystal Asige
The optometrist also told her that because she is black, the disease would be more aggressive due to the colour of her eyes. Black people have dark eyes, so less light enters into their eyes naturally, the doctor said.
“I just sat there, hearing all of this…blow by blow. I wondered if there was any good news,” Crystal said. “The only thing they could do for me was to give me some eye drops to reduce the pressure in my eyes because what eats away at the retina is high pressure in the eyes.”
Normally, intraocular pressure (IOP) is between 10 to 15, Crystal explained. Hers was about 40 to 45.
After a year of taking medication religiously there was still no improvement, so her doctor suggested surgery.
“I had my first eye surgery in 2010. It worked in a sense in that my intraocular pressure came down, but it didn’t work in the sense that I lost some vision on that operating table due to the trauma,” Crystal said. “It was my first major surgery and my body did not respond well to it.”
The doctors thought that her vision would return to way it was pre-surgery within a couple of months, but it didn’t.
It was particularly difficult for Crystal because she was away from her family. She had many appointments to keep up with and no solid support system in Bristol to help her emotionally.
“I was just inundated with all of these emotions. I thought I wasn’t good enough, and that I was never going to do this music thing or theater,” she said. “I tried to smile and be happy and be the person that I was expected to be. I don’t think I really got through it. I would just go out drinking and partying…anything to distract me.”
“When a doctor tells you you’re going to go blind in a few of years’ time, what are you supposed to do? Nobody hands you a book at the beginning of your life and says, ‘Here is the condition you are going to face in your life and here are the steps you need to follow to deal with it.’ So, I stayed in denial. I dealt with it the wrong way and it wasn’t healthy.” – Crystal Asige
After her first surgery, Crystal went back to Mombasa and fell into a depression for about 10 months. During this time, she had suicidal thoughts.
“I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life,” she said.
One night, she had a dream that proved to be the turning point for her.
“In the dream, there was this bright light. I was sitting cross-legged looking at this (illuminated figure), and it was shining back at me,” Crystal said. “I thought immediately that it was God. It was very bright, and I couldn’t see anything apart from the light. The dream felt like it went on for so long and it was so comforting and reassuring.”
At the end of the dream, the light reached out and put its hands on her cheeks and said the words, “Be still.”
Crystal woke up in the morning and was overcome with emotion. She desperately wanted to go back to the dream because her vision was perfect in the dream.
“I went to my mum and asked her what ‘be still’ means. We went to the Bible and looked up Psalm 46 verse 10. It says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God…’ I felt God reassuring me that He is God and that all I needed to do was be still,” she said. “That was a turning point for me. I knew that even though no one else understood what I had experienced, I knew what I had felt during that dream. And in that moment, I decided I was going to take charge of my situation.”
Crystal began to search online for doctors, assistive software and any associations dealing with vision loss in her area.
“I wanted to be proactive and get back to the Crystal that I knew. I started to write music again in my free time and got back to being me,” she said. “I even applied for my work visa back to the UK. I got that and went back to UK in 2011. I ended up working for BBC. It was that dream that propelled me forward.”
“Since 2010, I have had eight surgeries in six years, but nothing has worked. So, in 2016, I decided to stop having surgeries. I decided I wanted to take my life back because it was now a situation where I was either preparing for surgery, in surgery or recovering from surgery. I lost a lot of time, and emotionally and psychologically, it was a huge battle. I was in my twenties – at a time when other young people are saying life has just begun for them, yet here I was, going for surgeries.” – Crystal Asige
Crystal found a way to come to terms with her vision loss but still held on to the hope that God would turn things around for her.
“In 2017, I had to buy a white cane because I could not walk on my own any longer. I had to either walk holding someone’s arm or shoulder. But I decided I wanted to be independent. So, I decided to get myself a white cane and try to walk on my own,” she said.
“That, itself, was such a process emotionally. It was a public symbol, I felt, of me saying I’m not going to get better. Before, I would tell myself that I was at peace with it, but there was something about buying the white cane that made me really sad. I felt like I was giving up on God and His miracles.” – Crystal Asige
Gradually losing her sight has been difficult, but Crystal is determined to be as independent as possible. She lives on her own and has not let her vision loss keep her from her dreams.
She is a staple on the music scene in Kenya and abroad. She released her first album in 2014 titled ‘Karibia’ (‘get closer’) and received praise for her fresh and electric sound. Her single ‘Pulled Under’ from the album climbed to the number one spot on a UK-based chart in 2016.
She travels with her band ‘Chemi Chemi LIVE’, which is known for giving audiences a memorable performance, and writes songs for other artists as well.
In addition, Crystal is now speaker and VIP (visually impaired person) ambassador. She shares aspects of her daily life as a visually impaired person on her YouTube channel “Blind Girl Manenos”.
At this point, her vision is limited to light and shadows, but losing her eye sight has taught her some powerful lessons she is grateful for.
“I didn’t know that I was this strong. I didn’t know that I had it in me to overcome something like this,’ she said. “If someone had told me this ahead of time, I would have said, “No, thank you. Deal me another deck of cards. I cannot survive that.”
Crystal has also learned lessons about spirituality that she says she never would have learned if she hadn’t lost her vision.
“I feel like the Bible comes to life way more now than it did before,” she said. “For example, when the Bible says to walk by faith and not by sight… I am (literally) walking by faith because I have no sight.”
“I decided to call my white cane Faith. It reminds me that I’m walking by faith. So, when I’m about to go out, I will ask myself, ‘Where is Faith?’ Or I ask, ‘Can someone please bring me Faith?’ So, I never leave home without my Faith. And as I walk, she has to go ahead of me as I follow.” – Crystal Asige
When it comes to relationships, Crystal desires love like anyone else, and believes she has something unique and special to offer.
“Just because I have this limitation does not mean that I’m not able to love. I’m actually able to love in more creative ways,” she said. “I cannot compliment you on something you’re wearing, but maybe I can complement you on a scent you are wearing. My fingers have become my eyes, and that can actually be more romantic.”
Crystal is living proof that it is possible to rise above challenges and live a fulfilled life. She wanted to be a musician and producer, and she is doing just that. Her message is inspirational and profound, and her music soothes the soul.
To connect with Crystal, or to find out more about her music, reach out to her on the following platforms: