What the **** happened to all the lights?!?!?!
April 1, 2009 2:46 AM   Subscribe

How do I rationalise the prospect of suddenly going completely (and permanently) blind?

I'm trying to lessen the fear I get when I think of losing my sight - because for me, my vision is the most important sense I have. I love reading, I love watching movies, basically most of what I love originates from sight. I can't imagine what life would become if I didn't have my sight. How would one prepare themselves so that if they ever did lose their sight, it wouldn't feel like the world has ended? How do you, I guess, lessen the shock factor?

And for anyone who has lost their sight completely, how did you adjust?
posted by parjanya to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I'm confused--is this an actual possibility for you--do you have a medical condition, or is this a random worry?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:02 AM on April 1, 2009

Wear a blindfold for a day. It probably won't be fun, but at least you'll know, instead of fearing it.
posted by Solomon at 3:07 AM on April 1, 2009

I deal with that prospect the same way I deal with my fear of death: denial. It's not gonna happen to me because the singularity will happen first and that will fix everything.

Blind (heh) faith in science and technology sounds stupid but if it means I don't have to spend any time pondering death or blindness, I'm happy to delude myself... for now.

Also, I recall seeing a TED video recently that seemed to suggest that progress is being made on digital retinal implants.
posted by crn at 3:28 AM on April 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

You would get used to it.
posted by mpls2 at 4:03 AM on April 1, 2009

Rationalising this is pretty straightforward. Unless you have some known genetic disorder or preexisting condition that means you're quite likely to lose your sight, the odds are significantly higher that you'll die from cancer, heart disease, accident or one of the many things that finish people off. If you do lose your sight, it's most likely to be a partial loss (and a gradual one).

Sudden, acute blindness is a relatively small subset of blindness as a whole, and is much less likely than sudden, acute death.

You just need to work on developing a healthy attitude to the fact that life (and sight with it) is probably in limited supply. Enjoy it while you have it, and learn to adapt to changes in your health as and when they happen. Think how dumb you'll feel if you worry for twenty years about losing your sight, then end up losing your arms instead.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:07 AM on April 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Well, I guess you could think about this:

Aristotle, when speaking about the form of man, had it right that a human is no less a human if she or he loses an arm, or a leg, or hair, or even sight. You are much more than vision; the ephemeral world of today puts a big premium on vision, but it is (quite literally) a superficial way to experience the world. And it is deceptive in its superficiality.

We are so used to the benefits of reading that we hardly stop anymore even to laud the invention of writing for allowing us to record so much information. But, from Plato to Hemingway, it has been pointed up that writing helps us forget as much as it helps us remember - and sometimes more. In Plato's dialogue called Phaedrus, Socrates describes the Egyptian priests as cursing writing for having brought down the curse of forgetfulness; and it is a commonplace amongst classical scholars to gloss this passage by referring to the rhetors of ancient Greece. They were men who, by profession, recited the great poems (chiefly the Iliad and the Odyssey) for wealthy benefactors and kings. The point is that these men, many of whom were totally illiterate (all of them probably were, in fact, at the beginning) could completely memorize tens of thousands of lines of poetry, actually memorize the entire Iliad and Odyssey (each about 15,000 lines long) and be prepared to recite any part of it on the benefactor's whim. Where are such feats today? Personally, I find I can remember less and less, and 'Wikipedia fatigue' ("what was that guy's name? ah, screw it, I'll just look on wikipedia...") means that I'm forgetting more every day. And I mentioned Hemingway; he describes men he knew during the Spanish civil war who were illiterate, men who remembered more than he about miniscule events that happened because they were forced to remember them as they were.

You would not be losing literacy, per se, but the ability to read; but I think the effect is the same. Remember, too, that Homer is said to have been blind; and one thing we know for certain is that John Milton was blind for much of his adult life. Milton wrote one of the greatest books in the English language, Paradise Lost, while he was totally blind - a work comprising 12 books and thousands upon thousands of lines! In fact, almost all of his major works (Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes among them) during his blindness. He even seems to hint in Paradise Lost that his blindness was a gift that allowed him a kind of deeper spiritual sight. However you may take that, I think it's certain that the blind often can have a better grasp of our language than those of us who are often thinking letters when we talk; English is truly a sonorous language, and it should be heard to be understood.

There is much in the world to be experienced. I've never been blind myself, and I've felt the fear you're speaking of - I like reading and movies, too, and it frightens me to think I'd lose them. But when it comes down, the things I like in films and books, the things that really matter to me, are present in different forms everywhere. Having thought about it, I'd rather go blind than deaf.

So I suppose my suggestions for you in order that you can learn to appreciate non-sighted life and comprehend it would be:

a. Listen to Stevie Wonder and late Beethoven.

b. Read (yes, reading can help, I think) Milton's Paradise Lost.

c. Learn to play a musical instrument by ear.
posted by koeselitz at 4:13 AM on April 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

If you suddenly went blind tomorrow, you would deal and move on with your life. You would be sad sometimes, and angry sometimes, and just plain frustrated sometimes, but overall you would learn ways to cope with the emotional issues in addition to learning to use technologies to enable you to function in the world.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:16 AM on April 1, 2009

Raptormeat: I suggest you act like an adult and accept that which you cannot change... This is pathetic in 2 ways: First, because it hasn't happened and because as far as I know you have no reason to believe it will. Second, because people who ARE blind lead what end up being totally normal and satisfying lives... Grow. Up.

I don't think it's 'pathetic' or childish to consider what losing something that you hold dear might mean. It doesn't matter that other people have lost their sight; none of the people I know who have lost their sight would sneer at a person who expresses fear at this possibility or find it insulting that they would be afraid of losing this sense.

Sometimes the contemplation of possible loss and of what is really central to human life is what makes us adults.
posted by koeselitz at 4:17 AM on April 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

I love reading, I love watching movies,

A huge number of audiobooks are available, many of them for free. I often see blind people at the cinema and at the theatre.

Losing your sight wouldn't be the end of the world.
posted by mattn at 4:34 AM on April 1, 2009

Seconding le morte de bea arthur. Sorry, but you're being ridiculous.

But, I guess your life must be so straightforward that the remote possibility of going blind really is your greatest worry right now. In which case, I will tell you about Henry.

Henry is blind; one of his eyes is made of glass and the other may as well be. He has told me, very honestly, that he never wishes he wasn't blind. He is the way he is. Through hard work, he has risen to the top of his profession and is well-respected in the community - not because he's blind but because he's brilliant and an expert in his field.

He reads voraciously using text-to-voice software, and he's become so good at it that he can understand speech at six times the regular speed. He has an array of brilliant gadgets which let him live almost completely independently. He doesn't use a guide dog, he just memorises wherever he needs to go.

His instincts are incredible. He can't see, but he makes flawless eye contact by hearing the location of your voice. He knows if you turn around or look at your watch, because your breathing shifts ever so slightly. He can tell when a new person enters the room, even if they're completely silent. He can even tell whether you're looking him in the eye, because your tone of voice will lift.

There are things that Henry experiences as a blind person which I will probably never notice as a sighted person. What does spring wind on your cheeks really feel like? Do you know the shape of every crease in your beloved's palm? What, exactly, does a sunny day smell like in your city? When you're watching your favourite movies, do you ever really listen to the soundtrack?

Sure, you'd be pissed if you suddenly went blind. Henry would be pissed if he suddenly went sighted. Neither of those things are even remotely likely to happen. Quit worrying, start living.
posted by [ixia] at 4:34 AM on April 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

You love reading eh? So did this guy called Borges who spent the last decades of his life blind. He was director of the National Library then. He had a small army of readers who read to him. He continued to write. He composed and revised in his head.

...Borges was appointed Director of the National Library, the job of his dreams. By this time Borges was going completely blind; interestingly two of the previous directors of the National Library had also been blind. He took it as stoically and gently as possible: “I speak of God’s splendid irony in granting me at one time 800,000 books and darkness.” He took his job very seriously, and determined to make the library into a cultural center, he started a program of lectures and resurrected the library’s journal. In 1956 he was named to the professorship of English and American Literature at the University of Buenos Aires, a position he was to hold for twelve years; and later that same year, he unsurprisingly won the National Prize for literature. By the late fifties, he was astonished to find out that books were being written about his life and work, and he rapidly attracted a wide circle of dedicated students. It was around this time that he wrote one of his most intriguing pieces, “Borges and I.”
With the assistance of his students and of his mother, who had begun to translate English classics into Spanish, he continued his career. To compensate for his loss of vision, he turned again to poetry, a form of writing that he could more easily revise in his head than on paper. He also continued his pursuit of knowledge, acquiring a taste for the old Anglo Saxon language and Old Norse. In 1960 he published El hacedor or “The Maker,” which was later retitled in English as Dreamtigers. Essentially a collection of prose pieces, parables, and poems, Borges considered El hacedor to be his best, and most personal, work.

You're underestimating what we humans are capable of.
posted by vacapinta at 4:41 AM on April 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

[ixia]: Sure, you'd be pissed if you suddenly went blind. Henry would be pissed if he suddenly went sighted.

I don't like to respond to ask.metafilter answers, but I find this an extremely patronizing thing to say. Becoming blind is a loss; as George Carlin so memorably put it, have we become so afraid of loss that we can't even call blindness what it is, and instead have to call it "seeing impaired" or some such?

People lose things. They lose their limbs, they lose their sight, they lose their hearing. I have known few of the people who have met with true loss, but my brief experience in the world indicates to me that they don't exactly get through it by telling themselves that they're better off now that they can't see, or by forcing themselves to become sort of hero that proves to everybody that they're superhuman, thus making us all feel a little better.

I don't trust stories like this one about Henry. I don't trust stories that make the world seem like a rosy place with no pain or loss. I particularly don't trust stories that seem to be less about the blind or others who have met with great loss and more about mollifying the guilt that we 'capable people' feel when we think about them. Sure, it makes you and me feel nifty to think, "gee, isn't it nice that Henry can be just like me if he just tries hard enough?" It takes away that sort of sad feeling we get when we think about the fact that we can see and he can't. But the thing is, that sad feeling is real - and "Henry's better off never seeing again" just isn't.
posted by koeselitz at 4:49 AM on April 1, 2009 [10 favorites]

There are more important things to worry about than losing your sight. Sure, make sure you wear goggles when you're doing chemistry, and don't stick foreign objects in your eyes, and make sure your prescription for your glasses is correct, but you can still do a lot when you're blind.

You sound like you've got bigger problems than just being worried about your sight.
posted by kldickson at 5:12 AM on April 1, 2009

I've been severely vision impaired all of my life, so the idea that I would one day completely lose my vision has been hovering in the back of my head since childhood. Personally I'd prefer to lose my sight than my hearing, but both are manageable.

Here in Canada, there's an organization that supports all vision impaired and blind folks called CNIB that is AMAZING. They fight and lobby to make sure the world is friendlier to blind folks, and fund events, activities, camps, etc. for their constituents. My impression is that there is a separate but connected culture out there of blindness, with more support and help than there is in the sighted one. I met a group of kids who worked at the CNIB camp once, and some of their campers. I've honestly never met more self-confident, able, and fearless kids. That organization really supports their own very very well.

If you're going to suddenly get a disability, it certainly helps to get one where there are already existing organizations that are going to show you how to live a full and perfectly normal life, and help you to do it.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:15 AM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

[koeselitz] Yes, becoming blind is a loss. Henry has been blind for most of his life, which I suppose means he didn't have the trauma of adjusting to it. But my point is not that he's "can be just like me if he tries hard enough". My point is that he's not "just like us" and he doesn't see that as a loss - he's less capable in one way, more capable in many others. Not every blind person feels this way, but Henry does, and who are we to argue? I think he would be horrified if he knew people were feeling "mollifying guilt" about the fact that he can't see. My point, in telling his story, is that people are resilient and they do adjust - even to things which seem horribly unpleasant before they happen.

Maybe the story irked you because it's vague - and to be honest, I did that deliberately because it seems a bit cheap to haul out precise details of a real person's life to comfort someone who is worrying about something that is very, very unlikely to happen. If the OP had just learnt they had macular degeneration? Sure, I'd be full of sympathy. If they're just worrying for the sake of it? Sorry, Henry has bigger problems than you and he's doing just fine.
posted by [ixia] at 5:17 AM on April 1, 2009

What would you do if one of your legs suddenly and spontaneously fell off?

This is a stupid thing to worry about. Really stupid.
Unless you have some sort of impending illness, I think you should cross that bridge when you come to it.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:28 AM on April 1, 2009

I think you're using "rationalize" in a way people here were not expecting. I think you mean "how do I get over the irrational fear of..."

Not really the same thing.
posted by rokusan at 5:29 AM on April 1, 2009

please ignore the "grow up, you're stupid" crowd - nothing quite so arrogant as making light of other people's fears...

How would one prepare themselves so that if they ever did lose their sight, it wouldn't feel like the world has ended? How do you, I guess, lessen the shock factor?

i would start with beginning to appreciate my other senses - it's great that you get so much pleasure and meaning from what your eyes give you but what about the things your ears give you (music, a friend's voice, trees in the wind, the ocean in a seashell), or your nose (freshly baked bread! freshly cut grass!), your tongue (dark chocolate! single malt scotch! chili sauce!), and hell your whole body (floating on water, the warm solidity of an embrace, the ecstatic abandon of dancing til you drop)?

you don't have to wait to lose one of your senses to start consciously enjoying them all now - and i think if you do know that your other senses can be their own sources of pleasure and meaning you'll be better equipped to deal with the loss of any of them
posted by jammy at 5:32 AM on April 1, 2009

Rather than trying to prepare for something that most likely won't happen (unless you've got some family medical history you didn't tell us about), I think you should focus instead on NOT worrying about it at all. I write this because I have a similar anxiety around getting paralyzed, and I've learned that worrying about it is nothing but a time-waster and a huge energy drain. In reality, anything can happen to you (including nothing at all). If anything, just work on your ability to accept change in all areas of your life - this will prepare you for whatever curve balls you may get thrown down the road.
posted by smalls at 5:48 AM on April 1, 2009

Every time I go to the eye doctor, he checks to see if today is the the day my retina finally start pulling away from the back of my eye, retinal detachment.

According to that article, the chance of it happening goes up as my myopia progresses, increasing my lifetime risk to 1 in 20. Not exactly great odds, compared the the normal population risk of 1 in 300.

It certainly concerns me that someday, I might loose the ability to see. I don't dwell on the fear. I don't change my life around the chance of disease. I'm not learning how to read braille yet, for example. I love music, and that wouldn't change.

There is enough to think about that is already on our plates; the future will come as it comes, no matter how much we wish, or worry, about it.
posted by nomisxid at 6:18 AM on April 1, 2009

Ignore everyone who hasn't treated your question without compassion. Changes like losing one's sight are major and often traumatic. It is hard to lose an ability that gives you pleasure. Sometimes people think they don't want to live. But it is possible to be happy after you lose something major like this.

People who are happy tend to accept that their lives are going to be drastically different. You must understand that you are more than your love of reading (in the manner you currently do) and your ability to see. You will still be you and you will be able to find other things that make you happy. But like any loss, it may be sad and regretful. When you lose someone you love, it is horrible; nothing can replace that person. But you can be happy again, you can move on.

Basically, it may be a shock, but you can get over it. Don't waste your life worrying about it now, just know that you have the strength to deal with what life throws at you.
posted by Gor-ella at 6:46 AM on April 1, 2009

I had to wear a blindfold for a week. It is pretty amazing how quickly one adapts.
posted by caddis at 7:06 AM on April 1, 2009

One trick that I continue to try to master is to stop worrying about things I have no control over.

Like many of the most important things in life, it's very difficult to master, and it's not something that you can really 'work up to'. You just have to start doing it the best you can. You will fail, but then you will try again, and then you will get better.
posted by sid at 7:18 AM on April 1, 2009

And for anyone who has lost their sight completely, how did you adjust?

Not me, but I enjoyed both these memoirs about losing one's eyesight:

Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel
Cockeyed by Ryan Knighton

Amazon's "customers also bought" page for Knighton lists many, many books about blindness.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:26 AM on April 1, 2009

If it is a possibility then you should prepare for the possibility. If you don't prepare and it does happen then the depression will be that much more acute. As has been said, it wouldn't be the end of the world.

Why not volunteer with the Council of the Blind so you can start to get a feel for what they need to go through?
posted by JJ86 at 7:28 AM on April 1, 2009

I'm not sure what you mean by rationalise. That makes a difference in advising you. Perhaps you could clarify this, and also how likely is the prospect of losing your sight.

My partner is a Type 1 diabetic. In the past, he lost his sight temporarily due to diabetic retinopathy. If his blood glucose levels run high, his vision becomes quite blurry. He is also legally blind due to scars from past laser vision procedures.

In the last couple years of her life, my mother also became legally blind due to advanced macular degeneration. She had extremely blurry vision, and saw most things in shades of gray.

For both them, they adjusted by adopting various measures that suited their particular situation. My partner has curtailed driving. He was never much of a reader, and he uses larger-point fonts on his computer. My mother's great passion was reading. With advice from the local center for the blind, she bought a VideoEye device which she loved. When she passed away, we donated it to the senior community where she had lived so they could use it in their library.

Whatever adjustments you will make, if you should lose your vision, really will depend on your own special needs and situation. If it's a realistic short-term prospect for you, seek help and advice now from your local center for the blind. If it's just something you're worrying about without specific basis, let it go.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:02 AM on April 1, 2009

what is this fear based on? I can't imagine someone really worrying about this (as more than just a passing thought) with no basis - if you are, you have bigger problems, like anxiety/neurosis.

But if you are actually suffering from diabetes or some other condition that has a potential to eventually cause blindness, what others say about taking it one day at a time is sensible. I have also read about blind people not wanting to gain sight, and I remember one story of a man who was blind and got surgery to become sighted who was overwhelmed and unhappy with the "loudness" of visual perception - that it was so glaring and uncomfortable. I remember that the only sight he enjoyed was being able to see the moon. But other than that he still preferred to live by the more subtle senses.

In any event, whatever happens, it isn't worth being upset over it in advance, but you can prepare yourself somewhat for the possibilities, and most of all, you can become the sort of person who will deal with whatever life throws their way. Being alive is more interesting than not being alive, and if you become blind, it will be a different experience, but still more interesting than no experience at all - it could be more interesting than being sighted in some ways, for all you know. Sometimes limitations really do cause us to expand the potential of other capacities, and go further than we thought we could in unexpected ways.

We rely heavily on sight but we do have four other senses, and if sight is taken away, you will become far more aware of all the information you receive through taste, touch, smell and sound. Additionally there are all the internal/bodily "senses" like proprioception and balance and so on, which you would become more aware of as well. It really could be understood as an opportunity to learn, and you live in a time when technology and society are both reasonably friendly toward the disabled, so although perhaps not something one would wish for, if it is does happen, something that can be accepted and lived with (though certainly some period of anger/mourning/etc would be normal enough, I'm sure).
posted by mdn at 8:36 AM on April 1, 2009

Note to nomisxid: Retinal detachment does not immediately lead to blindness, or I'd have gone blind three times since I was 13. It is an emergency and it can, if ignored, lead to blindness. But several type of surgeries exist to repair or reattach a torn or detached retina. I hope that, if you're really at risk of RD, that you know of what signs to be aware.
posted by girlbowler at 10:06 AM on April 1, 2009

I think you are approaching this in very much the wrong manner. Quit justifying this fear by trying to rationalize it. No amount of thinking about it would ever ameliorate the profound effect and adjustment that would be required if this were to actually happen. By fixating on the particulars (even in an ostensibly trying to be positive way) all you are doing is justifying and amplifying this as something it is sensible to be dwelling on. Getting mired in fearful thinking over unlikely scenarios to which there is little pragmatic response in the hear and now is a foolish expenditure in your time. I've said this a bunch of times but when I am plagued by persistent thoughts of negative possibilities I just keep firmly reminding myself that this is not actually happening now and does not need to be dealt with or thought about. And then I move on.
posted by nanojath at 10:46 AM on April 1, 2009

I'm also not clear if this is a fear because there's a more pronounced possibility of this happening because of an already existing condition or if it's just a random fear that isn't very likely to happen beyond allowing that anything can happen to anyone at anytime. How to handle this fear differs based on its origins.

Assuming you have a health condition which predisposes you to blindness, I think suggestions about learning how people cope & adapt, especially when you are not in the throes of trying to adapt & cope yourself, are right on the money. Hearing about other people's experiences whether through biographies or personal anecdotes could also be helpful. For example, my mother always had poor vision and eventually went blind, and yes, it was a profound loss for her, but she also has a very full & happy life. Unlike the above mentioned Henry, my Mom would jump at the chance to have her sight back, but she does not sit around mourning her blindness every day. Some things are harder for her than other people. Some things are not. She listens to books on tape, she uses JAWS software to use her computer & the internet, she takes writing & pottery classes, she volunteers, and so on. She was a newly widowed, as well as a recently blinded, public school teacher, who raised a teenage daughter and continued to teach for about 12 years or so. She is enjoying her retirement, and while sometimes things can be quite difficult or complicated, she enjoys life.

You might also look at ways to minimize your chances of losing your vision. In addition to regular checkups and traditional medicine, there are definitely some alternative medicine and nutritional approaches that some people have found helpful. Perhaps being proactive might ease your mind. Lastly, since you are already sighted, you might feel better knowing that you have a visual framework to reference when encountering things you can no longer see. For example, my mom is a very visual person who loves fashion, decorating, & colors. When we shop for clothes or home goods, I describe things to her. Since she knows what navy vs. turquoise vs. royal blue is, we have a lexicon that enables her to picture things so she can make a decision. I can't imagine how I would describe blue to someone who has never seen it or any color, for that matter.

If this is a more random fear, then while I think the above is also helpful, ultimately, you are better served by putting your energies elsewhere. After all, as many have already mentioned, there are a number of ways we can become injured, disabled, or ill. To expend time & energy worrying about those things when they aren't even an issue seems a tremendous waste to me. Maybe looking at the statistical possibilities of you suddenly becoming blind would help assuage your fears. Also, depending on how severe your trepidations are, you may want to see a therapist who might give you some tools for switching your focus and combating your concerns.

If you have any questions about blindness and some solutions people can use to navigate their world easier, please feel free to email me. Everyone is scared of something, sometimes its a more understandable concern than others. Regardless, I think the only way to feel better about such things is information. It is the unknown that is most likely the scariest part.
posted by katemcd at 10:56 AM on April 1, 2009

The worst sense to lose is touch.
Not sight.
Make sure to hug people more.

You will be depressed for a long time.
You will sleep away most of the day.
This might go on for a year or 2 after
you lose your sight.

You'll learn to cope with it.
You'll even learn to use the internet,
though you won't need a monitor.
Just a keyboard and a speaker,
if you can believe that.

You will miss just going out
and going, without having to count
streets, making sure you're not
walking into anything. You will miss
riding a bike, but even that can be
solved if you find a flat field and
someone willing to ride in front of you
calling out your name constantly.

It will be heartbreakingly hard,
but it's actually not the end of the world.

Do your level best to find
someone to make love to.

Good luck.
posted by Sully at 11:39 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

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