The Perils Of Being Polite And Partially Sighted

50 Shades of Grey’ is my response when asked what I see on a colour chart.

You’ve probably pondered what it is like to go/be blind, possibly sparked by a school yard debate of which sense you’d least like to lose, or trying to wrap your head around the fact that some people don’t even know what colour is.

What do you think would frustrate you the most? Not seeing your family, friends or take a selfie? Never being able to binge watch Netflix again? The more you start to consider the loss of your vision, the more the miseries pile up.

I am partially-sighted. That being said, I’ve been to the extreme ends of the sight-loss spectrum, going down to about 3% vision in each eye, to having my sight saved, or at the very least salvaged.

Two cataracts removed, and four retina-tinkering operations brought my sight back from the pitch-black brink of the blindness cavern. Alongside these operations, ophthalmologists zapped away with lasers as if they were playing a space invaders game at the back of my eyes.

The net result is this: I see in mainly grey. I do see blue-grey, red-grey, yellow-grey… all the colours really, but just tinged with grey. ‘50 Shades of Grey’ is my response when asked what I see on a colour chart.

My peripheral vision is non-existent, I have no idea of what is going on around me on so many levels, but the ‘is there a car coming?’ level is normally the most pressing. As for distance, if you are beyond three metres from the end of my nose then, in certain lights, your face looks just the same as the person’s standing by your side.

I can list a steady stream of frustrations, including such trivialities as not knowing when an art-house movie flicks between black ‘n’ white to colour to convey an emotion, but the glorious reality is, I can see well enough to sit at a computer and type.

And so I am unquestionably lucky to have a job, a job which brings me into contact with many people. I also live in a small and friendly apartment block. Everyone I work with and live among seem jolly, approachable and chatty.

But here’s the thing: I probably (don’t) see these people in the supermarket, in the streets, even in the elevators at work. Frequently, I am sure, (not) seeing people I’ve had many a pleasant exchange with.

For all intents and purposes, I am ignoring them. I am blanking them. I am avoiding eye contact. Because the frustrations you list when considering sight loss rarely include embarrassment.

Currently, 360,000 people in the UK are registered partially sighted or blind. Inevitably many will have overlapping ‘top frustration’, but the nuances of sight loss are many and may not be as apparent or as obvious as you would consider.

As someone who has a job and doesn’t require a white stick, I know I am, relatively, more blessed than cursed, but I am sure in my wake I’ve unwittingly caused offence as I snub acquaintances. It pains the inherent polite nature at my core knowing that I have no idea of how many people I have caused mild-mannered offence to.

I now find myself paralysed by the prospect of saying hello to a complete stranger because my optical nerves are telling my brain they are my closest colleague. I stare at the floor as I shuffle around stores in fear I’ll lock eyes with the chap who may or may not be the neighbour who only that morning I had held the communal door open for.

As it stands: two women I work with look like my mother-in-law, three guys who live in my block look like they were separated at birth, I have to second-glance every time I see my brother in the work elevator (he doesn’t even live in this country), and one woman who has worked in my office for two weeks looks the absolute spit of another woman who has been there for two years.

Beyond those three metres, I identify people by situation, by voice, by gait, by fashion statements, but there are times I quite genuinely do not approach people in fear I make a fool of myself.

Such a disability naturally brings with it a sense of vulnerability. Combine that with the fact that my limited vision forces me to behave in a way that contradicts my true polite and gregarious nature, and you can perhaps start to understand the further frustrations of the partially sighted.