I’m fed up with the effort of living with my lack of sight. Anyone might think it’s a new condition, which requires my constant adjustment and, in part, that’s true. Every day I seem to see less. Yet my gripe is far deeper. I’ve had this eye condition from birth, so over sixty years. It’s only now that I’m allowing my self the time to observe the many adjustments demanded of my concentration and forbearance within a single hour.
To provide myself with a breakfast, a meal I love, requires that I venture to the kitchen on the floor below. I know the layout of my house and so should be easy enough to walk down sixteen stairs, move through a reception room and down another couple of steps into the kitchen. Once it was easy, or rather I didn’t give the many snares a thought. These days my reflexes are slower. My brain’s ability to compute seems compromised, with the weariness making me more conscious of the effort both physically and mentally to find and enjoy the delicious bowl of cereal and the big pot of tea.
The day starts with my fumbling for the slippers, which were placed neatly the night before, but a foot away from where I thought I’d put them. The bend and scrabble with hands traversing the carpet finds the old friends without too much difficulty. The extra effort needed, begins the catalogue of energy spent. Then there’s the door. Forget to reach with my hand and I’ll hit my brow on it’s open edge. My old friend muscle memory kicks in and I feel the distance from the bed to the door, the door along the landing, the turn for the eleven steps downwards. I’m not just striding into space. My left arm reaches for the doorjamb and then the wall along the hall. The left hand is also feeling for the change in the wall shape, because there’s four sneaky steps down to another landing. The left arm hasn’t finished yet. The hand must fall to find the edge of a piece of furniture which can give a nasty bruise on the hip, if it lets its guard down. Here’s where the right hand takes over and finds the doorjamb above the dangerous flight of stairs to the ground floor. My shoulder and upper arm still have work to do. The handrail is on the right, but there’s about a metre before it appears. Here’s where they take responsibility for my balance and safety until the right hand can find and grab the rail. Automatically I’m counting the steps so that my ankle doesn’t get a nasty jolt if my weight is still levelled at the next step. Eleven steps down and I must make a sharp right to get out of the hall and into the middle room. But it’s not quite a right angle. The door is a little further to the right. Arms must go out again to clear both door jams so that my passage through is collision free. The middle room is easy to traverse because there’s a mat that gives me a sense of distance and there’s also the arm of a sofa that bruises nicely if my direction is four centre metres out. All the time I’m heading for the back of the house. But there are two more steps to navigate before I’m safely in the kitchen. My feet take over because I must feel for a change in floor surface, if I’m not to topple down the steps.
Once down, then there’s a table and a desk to avoid, not forgetting the building peer which is really a hard mass to encounter. Hands and arms are feeling all the time and finally there’s the open space to lead me to the kettle, the tea, the cereal bowl, the cereal and the tray. When tired I seem to leak across to the right, where a bench top is just waiting to inflict yet another bruise.
If everything goes well then I can return upstairs with a laden tray and a sense of delight with my full teapot and a generous bowl of goodies including fruit, yoghurt and a couple of different cereals.
It takes me about a half an hour to prepare the tray for the return journey. With both hands occupied, the return is trickier. By using my shoulders rather than hands, I manage. I’m exhausted by the time I set my tray near the rocking chair placed to capture the morning sun. I could stay downstairs and eat my breakfast, but eating it in the sun with my radio tuned to Radio 4, offers a ritual, I’m unwilling to alter.
Let’s not forget the counting which I mentioned when descending the steps. I’m counting all the time, ten steps through the middle room, eight to take me through the table and the desk avoiding the peer and another ten to make it to the kettle. It’s not just the counting the pivot me forward. Somehow I’m using sound shadows, wall and furniture electrical fields which allow me to feel the direction.
That’s what happens if everything goes the way it should. If my concentration is foggy, things seem to jump up and bite me. Sharing the house with sighted family who are usually aware and considerate, can add to the challenges. Sometimes a chair is left out, or a pair of shoes is forgotten too near the bottom of the stairs which causes a stagger. The ability to process information begins to flag and tension soars when I’m flustered and fatigued. The subtle choreograph through space becomes clumsy and my hands over surfaces become less controlled. Mini disasters then occur. I’ll reach for the edge of the table, overshoot, send someone’s glass of water flying. Before this little shock, I’ve encountered others, such as tripping over a bag left near the couch. The broken glass and the spilled water can be the last straw. I cry as I fumble for broken glass. My family demands to know why I didn’t call one of them. This is a reasonable query.
I’m an early riser and don’t want to bother anyone. In these situations, I feel stupid and dependent, my sense of my own value drops away. Maybe the need to prove that I can still cope with life though I’m aging is stronger than the support offered by a sighted person.
Even on a good day, my hours are littered with obstacles to be overcome or frustrations to be resolved. Most of the time, like other blind souls, I just get on with the ups and downs of daily life. Sighted people have frustrations and obstacles to traverse. The gifts of blindness, I tell myself, usually outweigh the difficulties. Yet recently, I’ve found the challenges too much. Unwellness, fatigue, and a change in circumstance has rocked my usual willingness to accept my lot.
My eye condition won’t change in the foreseeable future so my attitudes and responses are what I have the power to change. These negative outpourings only make my life harder. There is a genuine place for outpourings and maybe this is the time.
I was harassing myself about being brave enough, like the conscientious objectors in the first world war, who faced death for their belief. I was ashamed to admit that I didn’t have that courage. Like an angel’s gentle wing caress, I had a balm-laden thought. Perhaps that kind of courage I might lack, but I know I’ve lived a faithful life within my lack of sight. Many times it’s a noble struggle and certainly not without courage.
Ellen Bassani, Summer 2016