I have officially graduated from my lessons at the Braille Institute; Tamar came over to my house today and we have begun our lessons out in the (mostly) sighted world. Although I have been using Zelda when I am out alone, it is a whole new world with Tamar, who can guide me step by step – sometimes literally – and give me critique about how I am doing with Zelda. There is always a bit of performance anxiety when I am using Zelda in front of Tamar, but it is a good anxiety that gets me to understand the importance of and pay attention to the details I sometimes forget when I am on my own.
I have to admit that lack of practice is a huge obstacle that stands like a concrete wall between me and progress with Zelda. Having taken a week off and only been out once on my own when I actually used Z, I needed a good long therapy session before Tamar and I headed outside into the neighborhood. She is incredibly patient and intuitive about when I need a bit of time before beginning the practical part of the lesson. I have been pretty forthcoming about my anxiety in using Z in my neighborhood, so today we spent about half the time talking in my apartment.
I talked further about my fraud feelings and she told me that she sees this more in RPer’s than anyone else; she said it seems to take longer for us to get through the emotional barriers because, in many cases, those of us with RP have pretty good central vision. I felt relieved actually, to hear that I am not the only emotional basket case and that lots of other people with RP are victims to its total mind fuck. Tamar also reiterated that she believes I need the cane and that I am doing the right thing in getting the training now. If only I had her certainty about it.
Before we went out, Tamar suggested a sort of makeshift way to gage my field of vision, so both she and I could get a clearer picture of what I actually see. We got out some old- school, bright pink construction paper and Tamar cut out a triangle to tape to the wall. She asked me to focus on the triangle and then moved pink squares of paper in toward the center, from both sides and the bottom and top, until I could see them. She taped the squares to the wall at the spots where I said I could see them and this denoted my field of vision. Obviously, it isn’t exact, but it is a good reference to have. However, it also makes me question myself, just like a proper visual field test does.
I am not always sure what it means when asked if or when I see something in my peripheral field. Does seeing mean seeing clearly or thinking that maybe you have some visual awareness of something? If I am focusing on one spot, do I actually see what is coming in from the sides or am I concentrating on it so hard that I think I might see it? In the case of today’s experiment, the pink squares, and in a visual field test, the red lights. I often do little tests on myself; bringing my hands in from the sides or up from the ground, trying to gage when I can see them. I feel like it isn’t always the same. Some days I feel like I am seeing the whole word around me and some days, I feel like I am looking at the world through a tunnel. So, what’s real and how do I know it’s real? It all makes me feel crazy and it puts me in a position where I am still constantly questioning whether or not I actually need to be doing the cane training. I don’t know when this ends, or if it ever will; and I don’t know how to move beyond it so I can just use the goddamn cane regardless of how much vision I do or don’t have.
There is another bizarre phenomenon that occurs when you have RP. You can be walking down a hall or corridor and all of a sudden, you see something flying at you from the periphery, but there is nothing there. It feels so real, that I have almost fallen backwards to get away from the phantom flying thing. So, is what I think I might see in the visual field experiments a phantom or do I see it? I don’t think it helps that I question absolutely everything I do, think, say or feel in most circumstances that have nothing to do with vision or lack thereof, so when it comes to my vision loss, I feel as if I am in a constant state of unknowing.
I took a break from blogging and went to have dinner with my friend Patricia who, as always, listened patiently to my ranting and came up with a brilliant suggestion. She had the idea that I think of some ritual to mark this period of mourning in my RP journey; a tattoo, a ceremony , a burning of something; just something that acts as a tangible marker of this experience. She suggested that perhaps if I ritualized these losses in some way, it may give some sense of finality and help me move into the next phase of my life and of my disease. I love the idea.
After the therapy session with Tamar this morning, we did make it out of the apartment. It was to be my longest walk around my neighborhood and the most in-depth.
First, I used Z to go down the stairs from my apartment; something I hadn’t done yet. It all came back pretty easily and I got to the bottom unscathed. Then, we decided to walk down my street and around the block. I start walking, Tamar behind me to gage my stride and swing: it turns out that my formerly wider than necessary swing has now become too narrow.
We stopped just outside my building where Tamar asked me to look around and identify tangible landmarks that can tell me where I am when I have no use of vision. For example, just north of my driveway, there is a hedge that is taller than I am, and at the south end of my driveway is a tall and dented metal pole.
We walked down to the end of my block and spent a long time at the street crossing; the intersection at the south end of my block is a pretty basic four-way with traffic lights and no left turn arrows, but Tamar wanted me to tell locate my buddy cars, danger car and go over the flagging steps to make sure I was confident before crossing the street. I had told her earlier that I wasn’t warming to the flagging the cane thing, but she let me know that it is the most important part; it let’s people know that you are there and is the biggest safety precaution for blind people crossing the street. So, I flagged the hell out of Zelda.
We continued east and came to the next street crossing; a 3 way intersection with one stop sign. The only obstacle at this crossing was a large hedge that blocks the pedestrians from the right turning cars, so I had to step a bit into the street to make sure it was clear before I walked. Not to bad.
After the second crossing, we headed North and I could see a huge obstacle course on the sidewalk up ahead. Tamar was excited. We got to the rough terrain, and she asked me to close my eyes. I started tentatively. This wasn’t just a patch with a bit of raised sidewalk; there was also an orange traffic cone, a grassy hole in the middle of the course and loose slabs of concrete that had been placed there presumably to make the ground more even; it didn’t work. To the right of the monster obstacle was a patch of dried lawn, so I headed in that direction. Tamar asked me to go the hard way. Without any use of my eyes, I took one small slow step at a time, feeling first with Zelda, then with my left foot while keeping my right planted to steady me. When I hit the cone with Z, I anchored her in front of me for safety and felt with my hands to find the cone and whatever other obstacles may be around. I hesitated and teetered a bit, but I made it safely across. I felt as if I had scaled a mountain. I opened my eyes and gave Tamar a smile; ” Let’s do it again,” she said.
I made it across the obstacle in the other direction, but it felt like entirely new terrain. I found the cone, which was a great marker, but it wasn’t where I expected it to be. It may be common sense to some, but I didn’t have the time to flip the course in my head and without the use of my vision, it was entirely different. I do have some usable vision still, so I am lucky that I don’t have to rely on everything Tamar is teaching me now, but I will have the skills and the information if and when the time comes that I need them.
The three of us continued up the block and we came to another 3 way street crossing without much event except an enormous truck that pulled out of a driveway toward the intersection. I decided that I didn’t feel safe crossing, so we waited for the next light and walked back toward my street. During the last half block, I looked for landmarks and tried to keep my swing wide enough for Z to give me any necessary information about the ground in front of me. We stopped in my driveway to say goodbye and Tamar said, “next time I want you to do it blindfolded.” Holy crap. I was hoping we’d go grocery shopping.