Buzzing in the background of Megan Crannick's Jefferson City apartment was a rerun of the Maury Show on the hazy screen of her TV.
To the 24-year-old, the characters on the screen are just colorful waves of blurry movements, not unlike me. I'm sitting a few feet away from her, but I'm a faceless figure.
"I can see you're sitting there," she said, peering at me through thick, black-framed glasses. "I can see you're a person and you're a woman, but I can't make out what color hair you have or what color blouse you have on. I can see you're wearing a light-colored shirt and a dark-colored skirt. But I can't tell if your skirt is black or dark blue or purple."
Crannick's world has been devoid of details for nearly six years. In high school, her vision started to fail, and the headaches were so excruciating she couldn't focus in class.
She made it through the first two weeks of her senior year and dropped out. The anxiety of losing her vision became unbearable. She started skipping school and got to a point where she stopped caring at all.
In 2012, Crannick was diagnosed with psuedotumor cerebri, a rare condition that tricks her brain into believing it has a tumor when she doesn't. Extra fluid builds up in her skull, putting pressure on her optic nerves, which is what caused the headaches and the blindness she's learning to overcome.
The first few years
After dropping out of high school, Crannick slipped into a depression and subsisted for a year inside her bedroom at her family's Washington, Missouri, home.
In the meantime, Crannick's family was also trying to cope with news that came as an utter shock.
"She didn't tell anyone," said Christine Howard, Crannick's mother. "No one really knew she was losing her vision. Her vision was getting worse, and no one knew. We thought she was going through normal teenage life not wanting to go to school, but no one knew she was losing her vision."
Doctors can't pinpoint when the condition started to affect her brain or if she'll eventually lose her sight completely, although they're doing everthing possible to avoid that.
In 2013, Crannick underwent a surgery to save what remained of her blighted vision, but it left her with sight that was worse than before.
"I was in a dark place," she said. "I'm the type of person when I get into that mode, I'm very to myself. I'll stay in my house, in my room where I feel safe. When I get depressed, I want to be in my safe place. So for a long time, I wasn't doing anything. Finally, I was like, I need to do something."
Crannick got connected with Melanie Schmidt, a literacy tutor at the YMCA in Washington, and started working toward her GED.
But the hours of studying came to no avail. The small textbook print was nearly impossible to read, and getting transportation to her study sessions was even more difficult. Her only option was for family members to drive her everywhere each day.
For nine months, Crannick struggled.
She upped her studying to three hours some days and even then wasn't making any progress.
Earning her high school diploma was a necessity that seemed out of reach with her impaired vision, until she was referred to the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
The correspondence school, Hadley Institute, was Crannick's next beacon of hope.
Similar to high school, Hadley requires students to take a certain number of core classes and electives. Upon graduating the high school program, students earn the equivalent of a high school diploma.
A liaison for the Rehab Services for the Blind found the institute after months of searching for options. The service agency connects people with disabilities to jobs and other resources. But until Crannick earned her diploma, they couldn't help her find work.
Hadley shipped all of Crannick's books to her in large-print form, and for two years, she studied with the aid of her YMCA tutor.
Debbie Worman got to know Crannick while she was taking her personality psychology class. The two corresponded over phone for all of her assignments.
"Megan was one of those students I love to work with," Worman said. "Megan started off really tentative about the whole process, and that's very understandable for someone who's taking on a challenge. It can be a very scary thing for students to do. My first interactions with Megan, well, they weren't even sometimes with Megan. Her tutor would call me, and I would tell Melanie we need to have Megan call me. We need to have her be her own self-advocate.
"What was neat is Megan jumped on that," she said. "I think she was hesitant at first to make those calls. It was something new for her. She was kind of shy. One of the things that I'm most proud of is she was able to challenge herself to be a good self-advocate. That really shows she can transfer those skills into other areas."
Crannick slowly made her way through each class, but heavy self-doubt that she couldn't finish the program hung over her.
"There were times that I didn't show up for my tutoring," she said. "There were times that I was like, 'I'm done. I give up.' My tutor Melanie was really my savior. She never gave up on me."
Taking a Spanish course reinvigorated her aspirations to travel abroad and taking "Selfless people coping with blindness" taught her no matter her goals, she can accomplish them.
Her perception of herself started to brighten. Even on days when her degrading vision would hospitalize her once more, Crannick pushed forward.
In October 2015, Crannick beat her insecurities and self-doubts, and she graduated Hadley with a newly minted diploma.
A brighter future
Crannick's apartment, just a few blocks from the Capitol, is a work in progress.
The muted white walls are bare and the furniture she's collected are only the basic pieces. They don't at all reflect her colorful personality, but she plans to put a few more things up as she settles in.
The apartment is a symbol of the next chapter in her life and her independence. She moved to Jefferson City at the beginning of 2016, after she was accepted into public housing for people with disabilities.
She's been working with the Rehab Services for the Blind to improve her use of the cane, and she'll eventually work up to learning braille, enrolling in school and finding a job.
For the time being, Crannick is still heavily reliant on her mom and brother, who moved to Jefferson City three years prior to her.
"I see her every day," Howard said. "Every day she comes over here. I cook dinner, pack her some stuff and take her to her house. She's using her cane a lot more, and that's the first thing on her agenda."
The whole experience is still difficult for them as well, said her 19-year-old brother, Nathan Crannick.
"I knew her for 15 years before she went blind," he said. "Sometimes I forget that she can't see. Ever since she's become blind, I feel like I need to always be there. Even if I'm at a friend's house, I feel like I need to be there in case she falls or in case she sets the house on fire. I always make sure I'm right by her."
Crannick's condition strengthened the siblings' bond, and now they spend every day together.
On Wednesday, it was a cool afternoon. The trio were sitting on Howard's porch where Crannick likes to spend a lot of her time. The aging duplex is shaded by lush green trees, and it's away from the main hustle of downtown.
"Why didn't you ever tell us you were going blind?" Nathan Crannick blurts out. "I've wanted to ask all these years, and I just never did."
"It was scary for myself to go through it," Megan Crannick said. "I didn't know how you guys would react to it. It's still hard for you guys to react sometimes. And I understand because you're not in my shoes."
But the process is getting easier, she said.
At some point soon, Crannick plans to attend community college and earn her associate's degree in psychology to be a drug counselor, and then, she wants to move on to law school.
Lincoln University is an option she's been considering, especially because of the college's closeness, but Crannick is keeping her options open.
Her desire to become an attorney no longer hangs with a question mark. Her tone is certain. It's not a question of 'if' she'll become an attorney, it's a matter of 'when.' While she hasn't outlined a specific plan, Crannick wants to start her journey toward law school by the time she's 30.
Moving to Jefferson City has opened up a lot of opportunities that weren't available in her small hometown, including housing, transportation, school and work, she said.
"(My condition) taught me not to worry and downplay myself as much as I did," she said. "In regular high school, I didn't apply myself, and taking classes at Hadley made me apply myself and made me realize I am really smart. And I can do what I put my mind to. It just made me realize to have more faith in myself, believe in what I want to do. I hope I inspire some people."
Her only advice to people who encounter a blind person is to treat them exactly as they are: a person. While she doesn't have sharp eyesight, Crannick said she's just as intelligent as everyone else and wants to be treated like "she has sense in her head."
A lot of people approach her and say they don't think they could handle being blind, but she ascertains they could.
"You just adapt."