How I see it … or don’t

This week I was reminded just how changeable my vision is in a day. I will tell a story to illustrate.

One of the catchphrases in the blind community is that blindness is a spectrum, which is accurate. What is usually even more unexpected is the changeability in that spectrum on any one day. I had sometimes forget myself.

Earlier this week, I walked with my Guide Dog, Sienna, into our staff room at work. I saw two people about a metre, maybe two away, that I didn’t recognise but wanted to sit next to them. I couldn’t hear them talking as there was chatter from people behind me. I approached the sofa with my coffee and asked, “do you mind if I sit here, you aren’t afraid of dogs?”

There was silence. No one answered. I am even unsure if they heard me speak. Someone behind me said Sally sit down they are OK.

What I then realised a few minutes later was that the people on the sofa were colleagues I had known for many years and considered friends. Earlier I had spoken to someone else in that spot and identified others at the same distance perfectly.

This reminded me of the many influencing factors to how I recognise people. Firstly it is primarily by their voice. Suppose that isn’t possible, several other factors, height, hair colour, clothing style and colour are available. On further reflection, I do ask people “is that …” if they walk by fast talking and I am unable to see them.

In this instance, one of my colleagues was wearing her hair up, which she rarely does at work and wearing a clothing colour and style I had never seen her wear before. The other colleague I hadn’t seen for a while and had a haircut.

I was also reminded just how changeable my vision is over a day and consider the pathophysiology that causes this. I have normal tension glaucoma and need an eye pressure below 16 mmHg to slow optic nerve death and a pressure of at least 7 mmhg for my eye to maintain its shape (there are other conditions and considerations which make this higher than the usual 5 or 6 mmhg for others. During any one day, my pressure is between 4 and 14 mmHg. Lately, I have noticed more variability and have symptoms of pressure below optimum far more often than not. The pressure is a delicate balance and any treatment to raise my pressure runs the risk of causing more harm than good in the long term.

The most noticeable symptom is blurred and distorted vision that changes with the pressure over a day. It means that my prescription glasses may be perfect one moment and make my vision worse later. As a result, I think I keep my bank balance near zero and my optician in business. The variability has become too frequent to warrant continually changing glasses.

Many believe blindness means total blindness or is consistent for all people all the time. I had forgotten the extent of the changeability and impact this had until I didn’t recognise my friends in the staff room.

What I have noticed since I got Guide Dog Sienna 9 months ago is that this is a trigger for most of the occupational therapy staff with offices near me to state who it is when they approach, for which I am becoming more and more grateful as time goes on. Often it is “hi sally it is …” The next step in this journey is for me to become more accepting of this need and comfortable to ask people who they are without feeling I am interrupting them or being a burden.

The other timely reminder for me is that constantly changing vision over a day causes such as increased cognitive load and fatigue. With this in mind, my lesson is to be more forgiving and less hard on myself if I am not able to continue with vision-heavy tasks at that time and those around me can continue or I can’t finish things in the same timeframe as my colleagues.

I hope what I have shared here can assist others in some way.

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