Monday, November 9, 2009

First outside lesson in O and M class

(thank you, Jim, for the photos)

Not only did I go out with my hubby on Halloween, I also traveled outside under blindfold for the first time in O and M class. The class met in the St Francis Woods neighborhood in San Francisco at 9 am with our lawn chairs and winter coats to learn how to walk down a sidewalk safely without sight, using our cane.

To celebrate the holiday, our teacher dressed up like a witch, complete with pointy hat and star-etched black tunic. Rather than dress up in costume, we students decided to decorate our canes. I made a large black spider out of pipe cleaners and attached it to the crook of my cane. Here's a picture, taken at the end of the day when my poor spider was looking worn out and squashed:

Another student decorated her cane like a mummy, wrapping it completely in toilet paper. There was a cane dressed in Christmas wrap, a cane made to look like an umbrella, and a "pun" cane with an image of Micheal Cane on the top and Tipper Gore on the bottom (or tip of the cane).

After we showed off our canes and listened to our instructor explain safe cane travel on a sidewalk, it was time to give it a go. I taught my partner first, supporting her with words and occasional contact on her shoulder as she traveled the block I had chosen for her. Overall she did very well. My partner is also in the guide-dog mobility program so has already spent a lot of time traveling under blindfold.

Then it was my turn. I put on my blindfold and began moving down the sidewalk using the touch technique and touch and drag for trailing the edge of the sidewalk. My line of travel was good, but I felt completely overwhelmed by the sensory input, all the smells, sounds, changing textures of the ground, the breeze on my face and the jab of my cane as it found someone's lawn or a crack in the sidewalk. My brain wanted to know what it was. Where is that sound coming from? What is that bumpy, damp feel of the ground that my cane is sweeping over? Where does that cement path just off the sidewalk lead? What type of bush is my cane tangled in?

I am a hyper-vigilant person, one of those people who always knows what time it is and where the bathroom is located. I can quickly sense what a person is feeling and needing and within one minute of entering a party I know who is sleeping with who, who's bored, who's drunk, and who's the person with the best stories. I can diffuse a fight before it starts and find a child when they've wandered off. My empathy and awareness is a gift that helped me survive a tumultuous childhood and makes me a good writer today.

This hyper-vigilance is a liability when traveling under blindfold, though. Trying to figure out what and where everything is makes traveling down a sidewalk without vision extremely difficult. My partner kept encouraging me to focus on my line of travel, but I couldn't seem to stop myself from being flooded with sensory input and questions. The moment my cane touched an odd bump in the sidewalk or brushed against the edge of a flower bed, my body reacted by slowing down and searching for the cause of the change in texture. I wasn't even aware I was doing it until my partner told me I was. She finally said in a firm voice, "I'll reward you by telling you what it is AFTER you get around it."

The reminder to let it go and keep moving helped. After I traveled two sides of the block, I began to tell myself, "It doesn't matter. Where are you going?" Slowly my need to UNDERSTAND my environment subsided, but didn't completely go away. This is going to be a challenge for me because it is completely opposite to my personality. Okay, I admit it, I'm a control nut. I need to know what's happening at all times. I may not be able to control everything around me, but if I'm aware of everything then I can anticipate and react to changes in the environment, especially in the people.

I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to let go of that need for control, but in time I hope it subsides enough to let me travel a straight line down the sidewalk.

1 comment:

Jim said...

This is great Terena, now I can forward a link to this post to give my friends and family a better sense of what I am up to at school!