The 1st training day quickly arrived. She picked me up and we headed to a neighborhood close to her work and she explained what the day's lesson would be. She even showed me where we were going to walk so I could study the ‘course’. I’m a very visual person. I have a good memory. I’m an Architect. I’m have a good sense of direction. All of these things should be assets for this training but not being able to see could reduce all of those strengths. The 1st day ended up being fine. Penny made sure I would not be killed by cars. I walked like a man who was very intoxicated weaving my way down the sidewalk. Do you know how hard it is to walk straight when you can’t see? She took me to a low traffic intersection and had me try and figure out if it had a light and how many ways I could travel. During my session some Landscapers were near by using leaf blowers and I learned the valuable lesson of Sound Masking. The loudest sound will always drown out all other sounds. That can be a serious problem for blind people navigating around. The leaf blowers in this case basically made it impossible to really tell how much traffic was near me and which direction they were going. We ended the day with Penny explaining to me the basics of crossing an intersection. It was overwhelming. So much information thrown at me. How would I remember all this? We didn’t cross an intersection and I was happy about that.
Penny giving me the low down.
The sessions continued and Penny continued to challenge me. I was crossing intersections in neighborhoods and she was taking me to areas I didn’t know very well. Cars would be blocking the sidewalks. Sidewalks would suddenly end and then 2 houses down, start up again. I would hit the bumper of cars with my cane as they were pulling out of driveways. I would hit people with my cane and not always know it. People would jump out of the way to avoid me and I wouldn't know that either. Penny and I would chuckle when some people treated me like I had some contagious disease. My hearing was proving to be a great asset to my training. I could hear and place where objects were pretty well. I learned that hearing depth perception was not as accurate as visual depth perception. Simply not as reliable. I could hear when walls or overhead objects were around me (called sound shadows). I was getting better at detecting changes in surfaces (textures and elevation changes) with my cane but I was a long ways away from not getting myself killed by a car. Cars were loud. Penny would assure me the cars were a safe distance from me while waiting to cross when I felt like they were going to run me over. Small trucks with no mufflers sounded like logging trucks. Trying to decipher the sounds I was hearing sometimes was crazy making. I would cross streets crooked. I would have trouble lining myself up straight at crosswalks. Heck, I would even have trouble finding the crosswalk from where the crossing signal button was located. Of course every intersection was different. All of these tasks are simple if you are sighted but not having standardization at crosswalks always made it interesting. Penny was patient with me. She praised me when I did well and gave me helpful insights on how to correct my errors. I hated making mistakes. I don’t like not being good at something. Especially as I grow older. I knew I was improving but still had so much to learn before I could navigate in an urban environment by myself.
It ain't easy walking straight sometimes. : )
These sessions tended to run me through the whole gamut of emotions. I was always excited for our next session but I was equally as nervous. It was hard for me to really relax during the sessions, which I know didn’t help me. I was intensely focused on the task at hand. I enjoyed the successes like crossing a 4 lane road straight as an arrow but my jaw seemed to be clinched the whole time. My body was tense. My heart raced. My blood pumped so hard i could feel my heart beat push against my skin. My hands sweat. It was draining to feel all these emotions over the 2 hour sessions. I realized why I was excited to do the sessions. I was getting what I wanted. I was getting independence. Even if you take away all of my vision, I was starting to see (ha!) that I could still be independent. That was a euphoric feeling. I could feel the fear I carried for years being lifted from me. The fear that my life would suck and be terrible if I was totally blind. I also got reassurance that my life would be ok if I was totally blind while I was doing the training. I realized I was still creating memories that were distinct and enjoyable without vision. I wasn’t creating the same visual memory I was used too but I was making up what things looked like and I had more emphasis on sounds, textures and smells. Penny would always take me back through the area she trained me on and I was blown away at what I thought things looked like in my head versus what I saw afterwards. I couldn’t say my experience of these places were worse without vision. They were different. That was very soothing to have this realization.
Here is an example of crossing the street crooked.
Even the Bus had to yield for me.
Another mishap. I actually walked off the sidewalk and now I’m
correcting it. Penny did a great job of letting me figure stuff out but kept me safe.
You cross a street and then there is a parking lot directly to your left. Not walking straight led me into the parking lot and to this wall. Better to stray left when traffic is to my right. Once I hit the wall with my cane, I corrected my error and got back on course!
I still have more to learn before I can be trusted to get around by myself completely blind but I’ve come a long way. Our last session involved Penny picking me up and me putting on my blind glasses right away. She drove me somewhere and I had to figure out where we were. I guessed correctly, but Penny would not verify if I was correct or not. It was the toughest, biggest and busiest intersection I had been too. This intersection is considered the congested intersection in our county and one that is close to my work. I jump off the bus at this location all the time in the winter. After Penny didn't tell me where we were, I never imagined I was at this particular intersection. In a way I think that was good. I had no preconceived notion of what this spot. I treated this area like I had never been there because that is what I really thought. It was crazy loud. At times it felt like I was standing in the 1st row at at the Daytona 500. It was crazy scary. I got to a point where I couldn’t line myself up correctly to cross the street. I felt helpless. I was pissed. I through out a couple of F-bombs. That hadn't happened before with our training. I wanted to break my cane into tiny pieces. I wanted to yell at the loud pick-up trucks. I wanted to chew out the City Planner who designed this nasty intersection. They obviously didn't spend one second thinking about a visually impaired person crossing the street. The cross walk signal button was so far away from the actual cross walk that I could barely hear it signal it was ok to cross (the traffic noise didn't help). Penny just listened and suggested we not try and cross the street today, but I would not leave without trying. With help from her to line up (she gave me some hints on what information I was misinterpreting) correctly I crossed the 1st 4 lane intersection like I was tied to a taut rope. Yes! Penny even gave me a fist bump! Damn, that felt good. Adrenaline was effortlessly coursing through my body at this point. I was jacked up. By no means was I relaxed or confident. 1 intersection down, 3 to go! I then drifted a bit on the next 2 crossings but finished with another straight crossing. It was so nerve racking but I did it and I soaked in the accomplishment. I walked the 300 yards back to the car with more confidence than when I started the session. I have more sessions like this to come and Penny is constantly trying to challenge me. Having confidence that my cane will keep me safe in my everyday life has been wonderful. I walked home in the dark from a friend's house recently and I can’t remember feeling that confident in the dark. As you now know, I have never had good night vision. I have stumbled in the dark. Fallen in the dark. Cracked my shins. Cut myself on objects. Walked into huge puddles. Walked into things and cracked my head open. I have often thought safety glasses and a helmet would be smart to wear when getting around. How attractive is that? If I use my cane I can avoid all of that (Well, everything except overhead objects like unpruned bushes sticking out over sidewalks). What a wonderful gift.
‘Shorelining’ means I used the ‘edge’ of the sidewalk to guide me or find an entrance or new sidewalk to walk down. It also keeps me away from traffic.
If you know me, I try my best to go towards the things that scare me. It’s hard as hell to do but each time I do it I get the reinforcement that it’s never as scary as I made it out to be. I truly believe that going to the scary places inside and outside of us allows us to live a more relaxed happy life. The line in the song 'Don't' that I wrote says, “I won’t be held hostage by myself from what I wanna do”. I keep trying to live those words. It's a process. It can be a grind. It can be hard. It can also be wonderful and amazing and fulfilling. There ain't no finish line. I just keep getting up when knocked down and appreciate all the greatness that has come my way.
A ‘straight’ crossing. : )