Tag Archive for visually impaired

What is this all leading to ?

Yellow medal staring 50 miles walked

Lockdown has not been easy for me from a mental health point of view. As someone who holds multiply volunteer roles I work better when my schedule is full.

They say

If you want something done, ask a busy person.

And for me that is most definitely the case. When I have all the time in the world to do something it never gets done. To the point that my diary schedule now also includes specific days and times for mundane housework.

I also need to find something to get me working out, gaining strength and becoming fitter; rather than just sitting in front of Netflix’s.

Along came a Facebook advert for a virtual challenge called ‘Race At Your Pace.’ Ever skeptical about just adverts I asked a few friends and they confirmed it was a genuine company and that actually many of them were doing a running challenge with them.

Social distancing for me with a visual impairment means that I am unable to run or cycle; given that I need either a guide runner to run with me or a pilot to ride my tandem.

Which left me with walking.

Not a problem, as I needed to exercise my guide dog Fizz, and this was a mix between ‘working walks’ for her in harness and ‘sniffy walks’ where she was on a longer lead and able to just be a dog, sniffing at each post to catch up on all the ‘Pee-Mails’

So, April’s challenge was set, I set myself the target of 50 miles of walking workouts. Which I new was a MASSIVE challenge for me, however with both indoor walks and outdoor walks counting I felt it was achievable.

Oh how wrong was I?

In April I did walk 50 miles, however it saw me going right up to the last minute with a 4 mile walk on the 30th April. Having always measured my distance in Kilometres, it was a bit of a shock to the system to measure in Miles.

However when this beauty arrived in the post I felt proud that I had achieved it.

And having gone right to the wire for April I knew I needed to work harder. So not only did I re-enter for May, but upped the distance…. This time 65miles.

A target that I not only reached on the 29th May with 2 days to spare but I discovered that I had smashed through it as only looking a ‘walking workouts’ on my Apple Watch did not include the 6+miles I had recorded as ‘Hikes’.

So yes, you have probably guessed by now, I am going again in June, I am again increasing my distance…. increasing to 75 miles.

But why?

I hear you ask, we’ll Lockdown has been a time of planning, and for now let’s just say when the world reopens I will be walking much much further than 50, or 65 , or even 75 miles……

The only Corona I want is the ice-cold one that comes with a wedge of lime

Over the last week to ten-days there has been a real shift in how we all behave; And rightly so. Covid-19 is no joke and not something we should take lightly.

This is a strange time, unlike any other I have ever faced in my lifetime and actually many people have never faced since WW2.

It is a time when the vulnerable are simply facing greater vulnerability..

The simple things that many people (vulnerable or not) take for granted, like having your supermarket shop delivered to your door; even being able to buy toilet roll because your on your last roll.

For me, this time has been one of increased anxiety, and I would put much of that down to my disabilities.

My disabilities don’t place me in the group of ‘at risk’ thankfully, however many of the measures in place are much more difficult for me.

When at home, washing my hands and cleaning are easy for me. However when out and about, not so much.

In the last day or two WHO (World Health Organisation) have recommended social distancing. And this has been a major issue for me.

Made even more difficult because I have an incredibly sociable guide dog !!

Keeping a significant distance of two meters when you have no depth perception and a visual impairment that means if you put your arm out in-front of you, you can’t see your own hand; How do you actually know how close to someone you are standing?

All of my many volunteer roles have been put on hold. My social life (aka my coffee habit) has significantly decreased. However my walking and ‘escaping to the great outdoors’ has increased.

The biggest challenge for me at this time of uncertainty the most difficult thing for me is asking for help or accepting help when it is offered.

I am stubbornly independent, however I had a moment early this week when I had to swallow my pride and ask a friend to take me food shopping. Because no amount of independence would have made it possible for me to do a ‘usual’ fortnightly shop in person because no deliveries were available. That very same friend has been absolutely amazing in ensuring that both my physical and mental health are not being affected by all of this.

Thankfully social distancing doesn’t have to be a adhered to when working my guide dog. She is and can continue to be my left hand lady. Our walks have been very different, but with more time for her to run around and she hasn’t seemed to mind too much.

My message to you all is to stay home, to stay safe and more importantly share with those who are not as fortunate as yourself. However if you do catch the Coronavirus, isolate, order in, and ASK FOR HELP.



Puzzling perceptions

Always one for challenging myself.

However, this challenge is on a totally different level than any other I have done before.

It’s not particularly physically challenging, rather mentally challenging and reliant heavily on a sensitive touch. (A skill I am working on improving)

What is this challeng? I hear you ask….

It’s a puzzle, not as in I am teasing you all; but rather an actual puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle that is.

With my lack of sight, the actual picture on the puzzle is redundant. So, for this reason I have chosen one made up of butterflies, in varying colours and shades, to give a finished puzzle that is almost a rainbow.

I will be honest, it’s been hard work. There has been tears and just to get to this stage has taken many a late night.

It all started with finding the edge pieces. Then out came my magnifier; so that I could separate the pieces by their main colour, which is easier said then done as several of the pieces morph into the next colour.

So, for now this is where I am.

Image of a white board with all the edges of the colourful jigsaw pieces on it.  Sat in the centre is a tray with the separated colours in.

London sans guide dog.

I am just heading home after an amazing evening at the theatre.

With my dear friend as my sighted guide I left my leading lady Fizz with a friend for a doggy-sleep-over. 

With work commitments it was literally up to London for the show and home again, not really ideal given the wintery weather. Also I would not be alone until on my own home territory; Fizz deserves to be able to put her paws up and relax.

There are few positives about me going out with my cane against going out with Fizz, however one of the biggest makes me act a bit like a kid in a sweatshop, which would be …………….. Travelling on escalators!!

No need to hunt for the stairs, or find the lift. I can literally get swept along with the crowd at London Victoria and (remembering to stand on the right hand side) travel up and down the series of moving stairs.

No walking out of the station; into the rain to find the obscurely placed lift that has only been an addition in recent years.

My friend was born and brought up in London, so she was a brilliant guide. However, London theatre district on a Friday evening is not a place for the faint hearted!

And I would be lying if I said I didn’t make the odd ‘deliberate’ cane tap with Mr and Mrs Arrogant. (Fellow long cane users will know where I am coming from on this)

However we both survived.

We enjoyed the comedy.

I succeeded in making my friend laugh with my ability to act as if I were Moses, parting the oncoming crowds as if they were the sea.

And all while not having to think of where the nearest patch of grass or earth around a tree was.

It isn’t often I would venture into the capital without my guiding girl Fizz, but given the times of the travel, not leaving London until just before midnight it was much more important to ensure Fizz’s needs were met….. While pleasing another of my friends as Fizz went to hers for a sleepover and a play date with her pet dog.

Time REALLY DOES Fly when you are having fun

Fizz sat in front of a Mini the Minx statue on the street in Dundee

As someone with sight loss, it can often be quite painful to look back.

This is because looking back is a time when there was more sight, less struggles.

However, in this instance I am looking back to actually be able to measure how far I have come.

This time five years ago I was in the midst of training with Fizz, my second guide dog.

Training with Fizz was different in many ways to when I trained with Vicky.

For starters, I didn’t have the nausea that I had had during training with Vicky (as I soon discovered I was actually pregnant with my son)

I also discovered very quickly, that although trained the same, personality played a big part in how a dog behaved and works…

Unlike Vicky, Fizz was not a licker; she was however a very tactile dog and loved to be close, preferably touching me at any opportunities.

I was also quick to learn that Vicky had actually worked on me and twisted me around her paw!

This became apparent as we trained within our local supermarket.

(With Vicky) If I had forgotten to pick something up in the aisle we would walk up-to the end of the aisle, around to the next and complete a loop to get back to the beginning. As she (Vicky) would never just turn around and go back on herself.

I just thought that this was the way this was how things were done….. How wrong I was !!!

When going to do this same move with Fizz in the supermarket my GDMI (guide dog mobility instructor) asked what I was doing, so I explained to be told in a firm (but fair) tone

You turn your dog around. Right where you are!

My GDMI referred to my previous guide dog as a ‘double diva retriever’ as she was both a flatcoat retriever and golden retriever. Which only became more clear as my training with Fizz progressed. As I worked backwards from some of the ‘habits’ Vicky had me doing to suit HER.

Fizz was also different in that she was walking at the pace I SHOULD be walking at; I say should because I hadn’t realised that as Vicky had slowed in her older age, I had simply adjusted to that too. When actually my preferred walking pace was considerably faster. However to begin with, this made it feel like I was running to keep pace. Just 10 days in to training I was already finding each day a little easier and enjoying the long walks more and more.

If I am honest, I found it much harder to train with Fizz than I did with Vicky, however my life was so different from when I started training with Vicky back in 2009.

And a massive chunk of that was actually down to Vicky; down to the freedom and independence she had given me.

I was no longer the woman who relied on others to take me places, if I wanted to do something or go somewhere, with Vicky beside me I was able to achieve this.

Home life had changed to, when I trained with Fizz I was no longer working, but instead I filled my time with volunteer roles, climbing, socialising, walking and of course caring for my children.

And now I also had the time to be able to spend time taking Vicky out each day for a (non working) walk and play at the park so that she could enjoy her retirement at home with me and the children as part of our family.

Which is where she stayed with us until she passed away at the very beginning of 2018.

Fizz picked up on my hearing loss sooner than I did; she stepped up and kept me safe when I missed the odd bike or electric car.

She has been my rock.

She has taken the independence Vicky gave me and enabled me to expand on it, we have had some amazing and sometimes crazy adventures.

It’s hard to believe that Fizz has been my leading lady for five years now, however on the other side it is also becoming clearer that at eight and a half years old, Fizz is starting to behave in ways that show me that she is starting to slow down, isn’t as keen on some situations.

And that maybe; just maybe. It may be time to think about her happiness above my own and if it’s time to look into her retirement plan.

Changing Perceptions

I am in the midst of working on my 2020 challenge, but in a bid to let Fizz work and for me to get a change of scenery we popped into town.

But not before I packed a book I am reading at the moment. An actual hard covered book with pages as not all books are produced equal and come with an audio version.

There was nothing to tempt me in the sales, so off to Caffè Nero we headed. (Other coffee shops are available)

Coffee ordered, seat located and Fizz happily hoovering crumbs; I reached for my book. Realising that in my eagerness to get out I had forgotten to pack my magnifier. No problem though, I could always just use the magnifier on my phone.

My book is fascinating, but all the will in the world I can’t hold it, my phone and my coffee cup all at the same time. So I pop my book and phone down to enjoy some coffee and give my eyes a brief break.

When I hear

“Dad, I didn’t realise blind people could read?”

From a young girl and as the saying goes ‘out of the mouths of babes’ I was not expecting to hear what came next.

In fact it was such a shock I actually found myself fighting back tears. But not in the way you may think.

“Blind people can do ANYTHING, they just have to tweak how a little. That lady is using her phone to magnify the words so they are big enough for her to read, it’s not the reading that’s the issue, it is just the seeing bit.”

His reply to his daughter was perfect. All too often parents and adults shush children when they comment on someone or something that is different. But in my experience it is simply because they do not know or understand, so rightfully they have questions. And they aren’t saying it to be embarrassing or rude.

I personally am happy to answer questions, especially from children as they are raw and genuine.

Yet on this occasion I don’t think I could have added anything to what the dad said; which was just as well because his explanation brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat.

Muse-ing over a few things.

This weekend was set to be AMAZING. When you have tickets to see the group Muse live you know it will be a show, unlike any other gig.

Following on from seeing them at the O2 in London back in April 2016 where they put together a pure theatre experience; … expectations for this tour were high.

This time it was hosted at London Stadium, home to the 2012 Olympics’ and a venue I have previously been to when I saw Guns’N’Roses in 2017. A very different venue from the O2, being that it is partly open air is probably the biggest challenge.

And that is just what the band had to deal with.

For me, knowing my sight and hearing were so much more progressive and had greater deteriorated from 2016 I was a little nervous to say the least.

Then came the biggest challenge ….. Weather reports set to see London temperatures reach in excess of 22 degrees for the weekend. In the city, 22 degrees feels more like 27-29 degrees and meant just one thing … Fizz my guiding girl; who loves London so much wouldn’t actually be coming.

This was what was best for her and as I was trailing and staying with a good friend who knew my issues I wasn’t overly concerned about spending a weekend with my (not so faithful or intelligent) cane. On the plus side, this meant that I could take full advantage of all the escalators on the tube network and within Stratford’s Westfields shopping centre.

Although in a funny twist this meant that I actually got lost at London Waterloo for the Jubilee line as I wasn’t sure which set of escalators it was! But once that was sorted, I made my friend laugh at my ‘childish giggle’ of being able to use the escalators…. She also got to watch first hand how people paid very little attention to my cane and often found themselves jumping out of my way.

The weather was hotter than expected, so I know that I made the right decision leaving Fizz home….. Even though I discovered that our seating within the stadium would have afforded her plenty of room to lay by my feet.

This time on visiting the stadium we took advantage of the accessible shuttle bus that ran from the end of The Jubilee Line station directly to Bridge Three at the stadium. That just so happened to be quite close to our actual seats.

This tour was called ‘Simulation Theory’ so I knew it would follow the similar robotic theme of the videos that had been released with the album, the colours were set with a mix of blues and pinks and the slight ‘stranger things’ theme that Muse had insinuated upon would all be included.

Our seats were to the right hand side of the stage, the stage this time was at the far end of the stadium, not in the middle as it had been with ‘Drones’.

But my friend that was with me said we had a good unrestricted view of the whole stage (or rather she did because with my sight I could only just about make out the large screen)

The support acts were good, but visually very minimal as I can only assume that was because it was being saved for the main event……

When Muse came on the natural light was beginning to fade and the screens were being used fully.

I took photos and even the odd video of my favourite songs. However, I left the gig feeling totally under-whelmed.

We met up with other friends who had been there too. They were sat further away, but directly face on to the stage. As it would happen, one of the party was actually my friend that had attended the 2016 Drones tour with me. He was in absolute awe of the gig, saying that they did not disappoint and they even improved upon the showmanship of the previous show. So I realised then I had clearly missed something….

Then the NME review came out …..

And I realised that I had missed the most magical parts of the show, which left me feeling quite upset and frustrated with myself because this seemed to mean that my time of enjoying ‘a show’ for more than the music was over.

I watched the videos that I took, and was able to zoom in on the visuals that I had missed. Although this wasn’t quite the same….. I am still undecided as to how I am feeling by all of this.

Maybe I need to see among my friends if any of them took videos that I can watch?

Maybe Muse will release a film of Simulation Theory as they did with Drones? But then, that may be another 2 years to wait.

I’m adventurous …. But not stupid!

Since I got my tandem my daughter (she’s 13) has been desperate to see if she can ride with me.

Now the nicer weather is on its way (I’m not jinxing it by saying it’s already here) I felt today was a good day to try it out.

Given the nature of my tandem and I believe all tandems the pilots up front is set on a taller post than the stoker on the back.

What ensues is pure comedy!

She can just about get on the front, but with her feet both on tiptoes she barely clears the frame. With me holding up the bike she manages to get onto the seat; yet her feet struggle to get to the peddles… When she says

“It’s okay mum, I can ride on the back and just do an audio description commentary of where we are!”

Let’s think ???? How about “NO!”

For fun I did ride with her on the back in the carpark area behind our house and we both nearly fell off from laughing so much.

So for now, much to her disappointment my tandem is off limits for my daughter. But at the rate she insists on growing I am thinking come next summer she will be all set.

Isolation

This is likely to be one of those posts that will be void of humour, but one I feel I wish to share with you. I have eluded to it in the past, but never been so upfront; however now I feel it is important to share.

As someone who is called ‘inspirational’ and ‘stubborn’ and wildly independent I am not the sort of person people would think could face isolation.

But I am.

Maybe it is because I am fiercely independent. Maybe it is because others see me as strong. And yes; I am both of these things, I am also many other things too.

Isolation doesn’t mean someone is alone. It doesn’t mean someone isn’t surrounded by others.

To me; isolation is what it is to be in my own mind because of my sight and hearing loss; and in a way because of how these affect my mental health.

Sight loss is such a complex condition and so very individual that you will rarely find anyone who experiences it in the same way. This also makes it tricky to explain to those who are sighted.

And for me, isolation is only something that I feel will increase as my disability changes. This in itself is a very fearful time for me as I learn to adjust to this and put in place coping strategies to minimise the impact to myself and those close to me.

I find myself thinking of how with my sight and hearing loss I will also loose my independence, the very same independence that I fight so hard to keep, for as long as I can.

However loosing my independence feels as if I would loose myself. The life I have built, the relationships I have created.

And that in itself is isolating !

I already hold certain limitations in my life because of my sight. Having never been able to drive I have always felt limited by not having the freedom to just get in a car to take myself to the beach…. If I wish to go to the beach I either have to wait for a friend to take me or go at a time when I can get there myself on public transport.

However the thought of more limitations being placed on me, as my independence dwindles is what fills me with this feeling of isolation.

I have thought and rethought (I have even over-thought) this post. However I needed to write it as much for myself than for anyone who is reading this.

Although maybe, just maybe one of you reading this will find it helpful to you too.

Do you like being Blind?

Sounds like a rude or harsh question; yet it was asked without any malice intent. It came from a little girl while I was visiting her school and doing and giving a talk about living with sight loss.

The teachers within the room took a sharp intake of breathe (I think it worried them slightly) However as this hadn’t been the first ‘curveball question’ I had received from the group I was already half prepareD for it. I started by thanking her for her question (while buying myself a little time to answer it)

“I wouldn’t say I like it….. But I wouldn’t say I hate it either. Because with my sight the way it is I have had the opportunity to do so many things that I am not sure I would have done had I been fully sighted.

But when I did I gave this answer (in a round about way-not sure I used these exact words)

I only took on the challenge of climbing because without being able to see my feet on the ground I knew that being high on a wall or mountain wouldn’t be an issue, as one of the ‘blind perks’ that lead to me trying it was that a fear of heights wasn’t an issue. The chance to pre-plan a route wasn’t there either. I climb mainly by feeling my way up the wall. And my feet often follow where my hands have already lead the way.

As my working life reduced. I began to work with different charities; through which I have gained so much, so much more than I could have achieved in my working life. I have also been fortunate to be there for my children more, and although I can’t see them as clearly in their school productions. We have had much more time together than I would have had had were my sight not decreased.

Yes there are times when I have dark moments. But anyone with or without sight loss has those, so I don’t think I am any different.

I have gained so much more enrichment to my life as my sight and now hearing has demisnished.

Being blind and hard of hearing is who I am and I just have to make the most of it.”

Maybe this was much more detailed and deep than I expected to share, but as I sat there with the class of children before me; I had a moment of reflection on my life and all the good things that have come from the small fact that I am loosing my sight and hearing.

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