Last night, my wife overheard people talking about me.

I still get nervous in crowded or unfamiliar places. Things are happening very fast and everyone is in their own little world – so I’m very aware that I can’t see the ground in front of me. Why am I more nervous now that I have half my vision back than when I had none? Because I can see people staring. I see them staring and I don’t know how to behave.

When I’m not carrying the cane, I do everything in my power to keep from looking like I can’t see. (I know, I know! I’m vain. I’m stupid. That’s a discussion for another day.) But when I DO carry the cane, I feel like I should act like how society tells me blind people act. I feel like I should ignore the vision I have left and just feel around and wait for people to read things to me because if they see me using my eyes at all then they’ll judge me and declare me a faker.

Then I get angry that I feel that way and defiantly try to use my eyes in as dramatic a fashion as possible. If they’re going to stare, let’s give them something to stare at. I’ll pick up a bag of chips and start reading the label. I’ll peruse the magazine aisle. I’ll stare at signs.

I’m an ass. It’s my coping mechanism.

This isn’t happening to just me.
Last night my wife and I went to pick up a few groceries. This was our first trip to the large Fred Meyer in Fremont since I re-discovered my ear. Out of habit, she grabbed my hand and put it on her elbow as we walked into the store. I tagged along for a while, but then we came to a crowded aisle.

I didn’t want to navigate it, so I told her I’d meet her one aisle over. She said “two aisles”. OK, two aisles over.

I looked at the ground – but then stopped.

I told myself Trust the tip, and looked straight forward.

It was like I was swimming. The whole world existed from my nose up, and my body is merely floating beneath it. I wanted to paddle my hands and drift toward my destination but instead just walked normally, feeling with my cane.

Two aisles over, I killed a minute looking at labels and then my wife was there. We did this twice more but by the time we were halfway finished shopping the place was less crowded and I wasn’t nervous anymore. I started looking around at stuff and wandering off alone. That’s when I started drawing attention to myself.

I passed my wife in the drink aisle, we exchanged hellos and I continued on. That’s when she heard it.

“Do you think that guy is really blind?”

“I don’t know, he looked like he was looking at stuff to me.”

My wife interjected. “That’s my husband. And, yes, he’s blind. He can’t see anything from his nose down,” and gave the busybodies a go to hell stare.

Shoulder Chips
I hate that she had to hear people talking about me. That bothers me ten times as much as the stares and whispers I hear. It takes me back to when we were dating and were spit on at the mall.

I think that’s why I’m so afraid to be viewed as different. In my experience different equals bad – and when I’m labeled bad, she catches shit too.

I know insensitive ignorance isn’t the same thing as bigoted hatred, but in the heat of the moment it’s all too familiar of a feeling of being singled out and the attention is unwanted.

I want to hide in my shell
I’ve given a couple of radio interviews on my adventure this year and have been asked to give a print interview with VisionAware – but I don’t know if I can do it. VisionAware is for real blind people. I don’t know if I qualify anymore. I feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m too blind for normal people, but not blind enough to actually be considered blind by the blind community.

I feel like I’m letting my blind friends down by being able to see again. I feel like all the worrying and crying I did this summer was for nothing and I’m just a big baby.

I feel like I don’t belong in the club.

I feel trapped between worlds.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. At least from my point of view, you have nothing to be ashamed of. If I ever get my vision back, I think I’m still going to identify with the blind community because I’ve spent most of my life not having usable vision. When I was younger I had people question my blindness too since my disease was only starting so I could still do things like read. If you still use your cane, and only have half your vision then you’re visually impaired. I’m sorry you have to deal with ignorant people.

    Reply

  2. I have exactly the same experiences. I have uveitis and whole pack of other crap wrong with my eyes so I fluctuate between blind and really low vision. People expect you be a stereotype and if your not they get very abusive. Sighted people dont believe it, but I know it to be true. Now, WE BOTH know it to be true. Go to my blog, if you like, and read “tthe drunk train” post. It’s all about that. I can see just enough to watch people act like total assh*les to the blind guy. And, yes, you’re blind. Blind enough. People who are also visually impaired are not endowed with sensitvity or intelligence or lacking the need to wield power over another just because of a disease. If they want to make distinctions mirroring the ignorance of society at large they are much worse, because they should know better. They just dont want to.

    Reply

  3. Just the term “low vision” is uncommon to those who don’t HAVE low vision. Imagine people trying to make sense of the nuances between sighted and non sighted. People just don’t know, but hopefully they will become more and more alert and educated the more people like your wife ‘teach’ them. We shouldn’t have to teach though and therein lies the problem.

    Meanwhile your “I’m an ass” coping mechanism may need apply 😉

    Oh also, you’ve just described what I could not until now: the walking through clouds with nothing below you. I get this in low lighting recently. It’s a relatively new affliction when I go out at night, and leave the adequately lit environment of my own home. Unfortunately, the strip I live on means manoeuvring from a subway station that’s currently under construction (so terrain is uneven and changeable), through a stark contrast of dark alleys vs. oncoming traffic lights from cars. Boo.

    Reply

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