I am frequently asked if I can visualize things, even though I can’t see them. And if I have a visual memory of what things look like from before I went blind. The answer is that yes, I do remember what most things that I have seen before look like. And yes, I can visualize my surroundings. That being said, I am not always correct in my visualization; and I do not by any means know what everything looks like. This gets me, as a blind person, and I imagine other blind people as well, into some hilarious, embarrassing, and slightly uncomfortable situations. So, let’s talk about what I think things look like, and some of the more memorable and interesting situations that I have found myself in.
First off: do not, I repeat DO NOT ask me what I think you look like if you do not want to hear the answer!!! This one has gotten me into sticky situations more than once. It’s gotten to the point where I just say, “Brown hair and brown eyes,” because those are the dominant hair and eye colors. Give more information than that, and you risk offense. Which, to my chagrin, I have learned the hard way?
A guy once asked me what I thought he looked like shortly after meeting me. I told him dark hair, dark eyes, and short-ish. He got really offended that I thought he was short. I should preface this by saying that a majority of men in my family are 6 foot and up, and I am not short either, not super tall, but not super short. So for me, a man being around my height or shorter, is kind of short in my mind. Well, this guy was not happy that I envisioned him as a short guy. He was after all, an inch taller than me. Lesson learned: do not tell people that I think of them as short-ish.
Another thing about me, is that I am really good at putting my foot in my mouth. It never fails, if I comment on any sort of physical characteristic, someone nearby always has that characteristic. For instance, when I first went blind and was about to go through chemotherapy, my doctors were explaining to me that I was going to lose my hair. Which of course, was the worst thing that could ever happen to me? So, I started yelling that I didn’t want to go bald, and that bald is ugly. Wouldn’t you know it? One of my doctors was in fact, completely bald! I have never and will never live that one down.
When things like this happen-when someone asks you what you think they look like, or you unknowingly comment on a characteristic someone around you has, there tends to be a lot of tittering. People might laugh and say that they do not look like that at all. Or maybe you are scolded in public for saying something that anyone might say. But because you didn’t see them standing there, or know that they are bald, you must be scolded. It can be shameful, and the intent of the rebuke was to make you feel ashamed, so that you don’t do it again. But honestly, everyone does it. You may be attempting to make us aware of the situation, and caution us to be careful what we say in public next time. But it really comes off as scolding a child. You wouldn’t say that about your sighted counterpart. You might laugh about it later, but you certainly wouldn’t rebuke them right then and there like you would a child.
Also, I know it is amusing what we might think you look like … but when you laugh at us, we may feel kind of embarrassed. This is also pretty subjective. For me personally, I tend to just laugh it off most of the time. But for others, it can be really embarrassing to be laughed at.
So, my advice to sighted people, is to just be more aware of how your blind friend/acquaintance might feel. And my advice to blind people is when faced with the question “what do you think I look like,” either keep it simple with brown hair and eyes, or say something completely ridiculous. Tell a woman you envision her as a giant hairy lumberjack who lugs around an ax everywhere she goes, or something equally preposterous.
I have also found myself in some extremely embarrassing situations that in hind sight, are absolutely hilarious. But at the time, were mortifying. For me, most of these incidents happen at museums. For example: when I was 15 My mom took me to a Body Worlds exhibit. Which is essentially an exhibit with bodies without skin on display. It shows what different organ systems look like on the inside, and what certain diseases can do to a body , etc. They display the people in different positions to show what the articulation looks like under the skin.
Anyway, this exhibit had just opened, and was extremely crowded. We had to wait in a line outside for 2-3 hours to get in. Inside, it was packed shoulder to shoulder and you could barely move between displays. One of the displays that we came to, had the people positioned in athletic stances-running, jumping , etc.
When my mom was describing them to me, she said: “there’s a guy jumping over the hurdles.” My immediate naive response was: “how do you know it’s a guy?” None too quietly, I might add. The room filled with people packed shoulder to shoulder got really quiet, and then erupted in stifled laughter.
This was by far one of the most mortifying moments of my life. I couldn’t see it, and I was curious, so I asked. Things like this happen to everyone, but because I couldn’t see, and I was in a jam packed room, it was more noticeable. So how do we as blind individuals deal with these situations, and the mortified feelings that follow?
Honestly, I don’t have a good answer, I think it is a very subjective thing. Everyone will react differently, and there is no one single correct way to respond. If I try to avoid all potentially embarrassing situations, and not ask the questions I have, then I will lack information. Which could lead to a different potentially more embarrassing situation? Also, if I try to avoid all potential embarrassments, then am I really living? If I can’t be open, and ask the questions I have, and explore my environment in the way I need to, then can I really enjoy myself?
This is no way to live for me. I would much rather be embarrassed, and expand upon my knowledge of the universe, than be ignorant and quiet because I was afraid of doing or saying something silly. And I have found that people accept, and love me for who I am, blindness included. By being so open and not worrying about embarrassing myself, I have learned so much more about my environment and the world. It has also taught my friends what information I may want or need. And they in turn tend to be proactive about telling me what I might want to know before I ask. Which actually sometimes avoids potentially embarrassing situations.
I have also found that people enjoy my open, not afraid of embarrassment, personality. I think it makes them more comfortable in asking me what I might need. It also seems to make them less afraid to ask me questions about my blindness; and makes them less afraid of embarrassment if they ask me a silly question. Which then helps them accept my blindness, see me for who I am, and appreciate that I am no different than their sighted peers.
So, I think the question then becomes, how do we deal with embarrassment? How do we deal with feeling embarrassed after we do or say something that does not necessarily conform to societal norms? Because that’s essentially all that embarrassment is: doing or saying something that is maybe not what you think is within the accepted norm, and feeling judged for it.
Personally, I just throw societal pressures out the window. But not everybody is comfortable with that. And it took me a long time to become comfortable ignoring convention myself. So, I think a good starting point is to define for yourself what embarrassment is to you. What makes you feel embarrassed? What do other people do that you think are embarrassing. And so on.
Once you can define your version of embarrassment, you can start to accept it. Maybe you realize that you didn’t need to be embarrassed in certain situations. Or, certain things aren’t embarrassing to you anymore. And if they are still embarrassing, then own that feeling. Once you can define it, then you can accept it. Once you can accept it, then you can move on.
Also, realize that you are your worst critic. No one is going to judge you harsher than you judge yourself. With this in mind, maybe people aren’t judging you as much as you think they are. Maybe others don’t think what you said or did was embarrassing; maybe they understood where you were coming from; and maybe you are just judging yourself too harshly. Don’t be afraid to give yourself some slack. Enjoy life, and don’t worry so much about the little things. Especially if they are helping you grow in your knowledge of the universe. Knowledge is power. And the more knowledge you attain, the more confident and capable you become.
This is me! Hope you enjoyed the read. I love questions, so if you
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