When you can see for the first 34 years of your life and then become totally blind, your memories and imagination often kick in and serve up a visual landscape in your head.
Let’s be clear. I didn’t go to bed on April 9th and wake up on April 10th blind. When I was 17, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative disease of the retina. And when you’re 17 and told you are going blind, you ignore it. I was told that I would slowly lose my sight and it was questionable whether I would retain any usable vision long term. I didn’t. By my early 30s, everything was dark, save for a dim glimmer of light in my right eye.
It became all about getting stuff done by other means. Gradually I adjusted to my environment – I got some orientation and mobility tips from the Lighthouse for the Blind (why isn’t it the Darkhouse? Too dark?), acquired cooking skills from a blind girlfriend, and started traveling with a guide-dog so I could move through the world with a bit more zip in my step.
It’s all about adapting. Work arounds. Doing things differently. You actually get used to it; blindness just becomes part of you. It’s not a lack of sight that’s a problem, but a lack of access to visual information.
Nevertheless, I’m not a super-blink – I do miss being able to see.
Now it’s my memory and imagination that serve up sight.
After being totally blind for a while, I took delight in dreaming because I could see in my dreams. The images were sometimes familiar and sometimes fabrication, like a fictitious character in a novel. Even though going blind didn’t improve the plot lines of my dreams – they’re still obscure and opaque – it’s the visuals I focus on and so enjoy.
And there are times when I dream in color. Color is certainly a major part of the visual landscape and losing it is something more than just losing your sight. Color pricks the emotions, offering dimension and depth beyond the paint brushed onto a black and white image in front of you. So too, when people describe a scene in real time, I tend to rapidly imagine and fold in the people and the local environs being described, perhaps like sighted folks do when hearing a story on public radio or listening to an audio book. My imagination rolls like a film with images, actions, nuance…and technicolor!
Ah! To sleep: perchance to see!
The Blind Dude