For most of us who are able-bodied, it is very hard to imagine what it’s like to not have one of the 5 basic senses a normal person has. The 5 senses, if you haven’t thought about it for a while, are the sense of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste.
Most of us reading this will have all 5 senses intact. But I’m sure that there are more than a few of you, who have problems with at least one – sight. Most of us struggle with some sort of issues with our sight.
Last week, I spent one of the longest hours of my life in an environment alien to me. I was deprived of sight – and to sum it up in one word, it was unnerving.
Some of you may remember that I have undergone Lasik laser eye surgery. Before Lasik, I had very high-powered myopia (short-sightedness). Without my thick glasses, I could only see shapes, shadows and light.
Post-Lasik, my sight improved dramatically by comparison, albeit I always had a residual power. But it has been over 10 years since my Lasik procedure, and with age and a general deterioration of the body, my eyesight has deteriorated a little further.
When I finally had my sight tested recently, I was told I needed to wear glasses. I knew it would be a matter of time but I am still functional – I just don’t have 20/20 sight even in hindsight 😛 But what if even that bit of light is removed?
I’d always read that when we lose one sense, the other senses are heightened to compensate. So, when I stepped into a pitch-black dining room, about to eat my meal in darkness among strangers, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
What happened however, was stranger than I imagined.
My sense of touch was heightened
We were eating in pitch darkness, so I was unable to see anything at all in front of me. The only way I could eat, was to hold the bowls of food right up to my mouth, and quickly shovel the pieces of food in, hoping I didn’t spill anything.
I soon realised that my fingers felt more sensitive. I had to be careful to feel around the table for my cutlery, and then for my water. I had to remember where to put my glass down, so I could find it again later.
I had to carefully feel around the tray to identify the bowls of food, and then feel to see if the bowls were hot or cold, so I knew what to expect. I had to carefully push around the bits of food in the bowl, to figure out how big or small each chunk of food was, so I knew if I could get it into my mouth at one go.
I had to slow down
I understood why the visually impaired move so carefully. Quick and sudden movements are too fleeting and you won’t be able to properly feel and identify objects.
You must slow down. You must carefully feel for your cutlery. You must carefully and slowly lift your bowls to your mouth, or you might miss and cause a mess.
You just had to do things a little more slowly. Even getting food into my mouth was a challenge. I couldn’t spear bits of food with my fork, and lift it to my mouth. I might miss. So I literally shoveled food in. That way, I wouldn’t create a mess.
People become less inhibited
We were dining among strangers, and I noticed that because it was so dark and we could not see our dining partners, people became less inhibited.
Voices were less modulated. Laughter was louder, people were more obnoxious than they might otherwise have been if they were seen.
This isn’t to say of course, that the visually impaired are any of these things. I was observing the behaviour and demeanor of people who had their sense of sight deprived for just a little while, and in some ways, they descended to rather base behavior. It was quite eye-opening. No pun intended 😛
My sense of hearing was heightened
I exited the room with a ringing in my ears. For some reason, people felt uninhibited enough to shout across the room at their dining mates – something they might not otherwise do.
Voices were louder for some reason. It was almost as if people felt they had to compensate for not being able to see. Perhaps it was because you couldn’t see the person you were talking to, so you didn’t know how near or far they were and you weren’t sure how to properly pitch your voice.
I was accused of being too quiet. In truth, I was having a sensorial overload in the darkness. My ears were ringing, my tastebuds were struggling to identify the food I was eating, and I was feeling disoriented from the noise.
My sense of taste was confused
We often joke at meals, when the phone cameras come out, that “The camera eats first” but in actual fact, it isn’t too far from the truth. We begin our meal with our eyes.
Food presentation is more than just a pretty plate of food. When we see a plate of food, our eyes take in the ingredients on the plate and it sends a message to our brain and tastebuds so we know what to expect. If we see specs of chilli flakes, we know it might be spicy and we brace ourselves. If we see green bits we know it is a vegetable, and what sort.
But when you cannot see what you’re eating, and do not know what to expect, each mouthful of food you put in your mouth is less of an adventure and more of a mystery. Because you cannot see what you’re eating, you cannot mix your food to your preference. You are dependent solely on what is put before you. When each dish before you is so different, your tastebuds are confused, unsure of what to expect next.
I honestly cannot say I enjoyed my meal, because it was so confusing for me. If I felt this way, having a more worldly experience of food, imagine how much more confusing it must be for the visually impaired who may not have as wide an experience.
When you can’t see where you are or anything around you, it is disorienting. You can’t tell how far anything is from you. Or how near. You can’t tell distance or perspective, because that is something your eyes tell you, and you can’t see. You can barely tell top from bottom, if not for gravity holding you in place!
When someone talks to you, you automatically angle your ear to listen, not to face them, because you can only depend on your sense of hearing, not your sight.
When you walk, you shuffle, because you can’t tell where your feet are going. You are fully dependent on the person you are holding to guide you, because there is no other way forward. When you stand without support, you can’t even tell what direction you’re facing, or if you are standing upright.
I have been told that a similar experience has left people feeling variously, claustrophobic, fearful, anxious and afraid. I did not feel any of those things, but I did feel unnerved because it was so different.
Protect your sight
It is unnerving to lose your sight. It made me realize just how important something we take for granted is, both for our well-being and sense of self-confidence.
We learn so much from what we see. It is the only way we can quickly assess and observe our surroundings, even from a distance. It is the quickest way to learn. The one hour I spent deprived of my sight, was one of the longest hours I’ve ever spent. It’s made me value my sight so much more.
It’s also helped me understand better what the blind or visually impaired go through. Granted, it was just a short experience and only of one aspect, dining, but it allowed me a glimpse into the world of the visually impaired and helped me understand it a little better.Some may be born that way, but for many, blindness is avoidable.
Take care of your eyes
Regular eye check-ups are as important as medical check-ups, and wearing corrective glasses and undergoing treatments help prevent a person from being thrust into pitch darkness.
Be careful when wearing non-prescription contact lenses for vanity purposes. More than one person has had their sight impaired as a result. It’s unnecessary to change your eye colour, unless you are evading the law 😛
Rest your eyes often when using gadgets like your computer or your phone. Your eye is a muscle and focusing on the screen for a long time is tiring. Allow it to rest.
Above all, protect your sight, because it will affect your quality of life and you don’t appreciate what you have till it’s gone.
Have you experienced a similar dining experience? How was it for you?
If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be “Interesting” because it was. It was also eye-opening, pun unintended 🙂
My experience was made possible thanks to L’Occitane Malaysia as part of their on-going ‘L’Occitane Cares about Sight’ campaign carried out under Fondation L’Occitane. Now in its 10th year, L’Occitane Malaysia conducts eye-screening in schools and for the needy, raise money for spectacles and treatments for the poor and needy and raises awareness about avoidable blindness among the public. All opinions and observations are my own based on my experience at Dining in the Dark. I was not asked to write about my experience or the campaign, but it was interesting enough an experience that I felt moved to write about it.