I found the inner joy that I could not enjoy when I was sighted. I became non judgmental, and blindness taught me to be proud of what I had achieved.
By Azeem Bolar
Blindness? What does it really mean? What does it entail? These are some of the questions I had asked myself. To some, it is a sickness. To others, it sounds contagious. To many, it frightens them. To me, it has become a way of life, literally a blessing in disguise. The very thought of not being able to see can de-motivate almost anybody.
I remember the first day, when I became totally blind and couldn’t see anything. It was on September 15th 2004 at Manipal hospital, in Bangalore. I lay in bed having suffered a massive stroke, the result being hemi-pledgic and total blindness.
As I could not see anything, the first thought that came to my mind was to assess the situation, to start using my auditory senses and the mind to be able to overcome the deficiency. Surprisingly, I did not go under depression, on the contrary, I found myself with a challenging attitude to turn blindness into an asset.
I learnt to “see” without “seeing”. Spooky as it may sound, I used my internal resources and memories of the past to reconstruct images in the mind that would help me adapt to situations. My kinesthetic and auditory senses were the main saviors.
It was indeed frightening, for I couldn’t make out any one in the room, their facial expressions and first of all the emotions displayed by them. The fear of not having control over the situation gave me the creeps. I realized, I could neither see the time nor look at myself in the mirror or for that matter anything in the room. This was surely not easy to digest.
Any condition requires acceptance to move on, and that very acceptance was initiated by my dear brother. It was back in 1998, in Uganda, as I had just started the process of recovery from meningitis. At this point of time, I had lost almost 97% vision and was left with light perception only. I was proudly showing my brother the various hotels where I had developed contacts (being an ex hotelier). I was busy trying to fool myself and those around me that I could walk unaided. I stumbled numerous times and regained my gait wearing a stupid smile to mask the embarrassment of not being able to see. My brother patiently watched all of this and when we got home, the first statement he said was “You are blind. Don’t try to fool yourself and those around you, that you can see. Get a cane and start leading your life as a proud blind man.” This statement led to a mixture of emotions of which anger and denial were at its peak.
I had lost so much time waiting for my sight to come back, that my future was overlooked for a while. Instead of crying about the vision loss, I found myself taking up the challenges of gaining ground and bridging the gap between being sighted and facing blindness. I got myself a white cane, opted for mobility training, started learning Braille all overnight.
There was no step by step of learning to handle the situation. On the contrary, it was situation by situation. I was forced to relearn how to conduct myself without sight, allow those around me to give me assistance I needed and at the same time not interfere or prevent me from using my own ability.
Funny enough, there was no real difference. Despite being blind I was performing the same tasks I performed when being sighted. The only difference was that my eyes were not there to guide me. Amazingly, the other senses took over so beautifully, that I never realized the absence of vision.
During the earlier days, traveling by public transport was easily done by getting the help of people at stations, in buses, counting the stops, bends, signals between destinations. As I rummaged through my wardrobe, I realized that my choice of clothes to wear has a bit to do from the times of being sighted. Having learnt colors and contrasts, the trousers and shirts are arranged from dark to light, formals separated from informals, suits, ties and accessories in a separate section. Everything had a place of its own. Thus, dressing up was not a big ordeal.
Money has to be counted. But how ? Notex: a stencil that has the various denomination of notes in plastic plates is a method for the newcomers. We who are older in the cycle, judge each note by the dimensions, matching it with the imprint in the mind. With regard to coins, each coin has a distinct weight, thickness and size. Our fingers very quickly decipher the characteristics and in no time arrive at a conclusion.
Reading newspapers is easily done as the papers are on the net. The e-copy does indeed help. Books and magazines are read by a software called JAWS (Job Access With Speech) after the reading material is scanned. Watching movies is still done, but I listen to the conversation instead of following the visual cues. The news on television gives me information on the events happening around the world.
Amazingly, my other senses are very much involved in my living day to day activities. I tend to recognize people by the voice, tonality, dialect, grip of handshake and structure of the sound produced. The world is in our mind. All of the above make a walk in the dark bright and adventurous.
A simple message for the sighted is that if I can do it, so can you. Nothing is beyond our reach. If the mind can see it, the hands can reach it.
(The writer is a Counsellor and can be reached at [email protected])