To distract myself I try to be useful. I volunteer to help a PhD student with his research on the correlation between visual impairment and depression. He is a gangly, morose young man dressed in dark brown with some ghastly shiny tie. I smile brightly and the brightness is absorbed into the brown shirt like ink into blotting paper. No wonder this kid is an expert in depression.
First off I have a hangover so the obligatory eye tests are dazzling and make my head throb. The grim-faced young man is used to doing his research on the elderly and so puts me through a dementia test – ‘because it’s the rules.’
‘What day is it?’ he shouts. ‘What month? What year?’
‘Well. I know its spring.’ I twinkle, batting my eyelashes. Turns out he has no sense of humour and I nearly get my dementia box ticked.
An hour of daft and intrusive questions later and I stagger out. I have the impression that he has already decided on his thesis results even with a year still to go. He thinks that visually impaired people are usually depressed and therefore think they see less then they can. He gives the impression that we are all fakers and wasters of the precious time of optometrists. He has not taken into account the vagaries of different eye diseases, the effect of light and serotonin, the differences between degenerative, chronic and constant. How on earth is he allowed to be so blind?
Midweek and I head off to London to support my lovely photographic charity who are recruiting more blind and visually impaired people for a workshop. In my head I have a picture of myself and the other visual impaired facilitators, a cosy darkened room and a slide show but as it turns out there are no other VI facilitators; just myself and the photovoice organiser, M.
Upstairs 20 blind and VI people have crowded into a room that is too full of sunlight. I can’t do my talk in my sunglasses though and by the end of the near two hours my eyes feel stretched and swollen. But we win. Even though I think my off the cuff wittering is shouty and confusing, even though no one can see the slides because it too bright and they are too blind, it doesn’t matter. People are fascinated, enthusiastic, energised. Everyone wants to sign up. A great success! I want a hug, a bunch of flowers, applause, a check.
He writes this all down and strokes his beard.
‘Did I do this?’ I ask. ‘Am I making this happen – somehow making myself blind? Its all my fault isn’t it.’
I realise I sound ridiculous. I stop wailing and get the giggles.
He writes this down too nods, tuts and in a wizardly manner opens a heavy, leather bound tome and begins to expound on a potential remedy but actually I feel better already from just being allowed to howl.
I walk home in the glittering, spring light, noting the daffodils on the edge of Parkers Pieces, the shy wave from a toddler on the back of her mother’s bike. The looming lorry falls behind; its engine idling and I feel a weight has lifted.