“Too many words were happening” and sensory sensitivities

For many years, the people around me, and even I to some extent, put some of my quirky behaviour or reactions down to my blindness, or just my being a bit unusual. It was only when I started doing some research because I was working with a learner with autism that I began to discover things like sensory sensitivity, which I never knew were a thing, and really relate to them.

The thing was, I started reading articles to be a better teacher, but I think one of the reasons I seemed to have more success communicating with this particular learner than some of the others around me was that some of the things I was reading made sense on a level that was deeper than just understanding the text. I got it!

That didn’t mean I related to everything – I didn’t have the learner’s difficulties with social interactions that set me off on my quest for knowledge in the first place, But other things came up that automatically made sense before I read the explanations.

I’m not an expert on this, and other people have done a much better job at describing them such as in this post from the Musings of an Aspie blog on sensory sensitivities and atypical sensory processing. Read it if you want more information – I certainly identified with a lot of it and was glad to realise that other people have these issues, not just me.

I mentioned it briefly in my post about Lush products. the reason I hadn’t been able to use dissolvable bath products was a texture thing. I don’t like how they feel, particularly when they’re wet, and I don’t like the bits of them that are in the water. It’s not just an “I don’t like it reaction” but an “I physically pull away from this texture and don’t want to be where they are”, and it would stop me enjoying the bath, even if it smelled wonderful and had loads of great ingredients. I don’t like body scrubs either. Some things can’t be fixed and I just avoid the textures, but I found by putting the bar or bath bomb in a little cloth bag that floats on the water, I don’t have to touch it and no stray bits get out! That makes it ok.

However, there are some things that I can’t fix. I remember telling my mum, very definitely, with all the conviction of a grumpy 5-year-old, that I would NOT be having lace on my wedding dress when I grew up. I was going to be a bridesmaid and didn’t like the feeling of the lace on my skin. I didn’t just not like it – I was constantly aware of it, like the thread of cotton in the post I linked above. My school jumper was no better, and I wore long sleeved blouses, even in the summer, so that when I had to put the jumper on, it wouldn’t touch me. I’m still not good with wool now. It doesn’t freak me out like the thing I hate the most, but if I wore it next to my skin, it would take up too much brain space because I’d be thinking about it all the time, and how it was scratchy, and if I moved I would feel it, that maybe it wouldn’t bee too cold if I took it off and…what did you just say to me?

. There are some other textures that I can’t do, and I avoid them at all costs!

It applies to sounds too. It’s not the same, because I don’t feel the same urge to run away, but I am hypersensitive to noise. I can follow conversations in loud places, or people competing with each other and talking at the same time, but it saps my energy in the same way that your phone’s battery would run down faster if you streamed video content instead of reading articles. If the background music is too loud, it’s not background music, but a constant assault on my ears, demanding my attention, and making it harder for me to concentrate on what I’m supposed to be listening to. I have no filter to tell my brain that those sounds aren’t important and can be ignored!

Some things are definitely related to blindness – having a really loud drill going on makes it difficult for me to orientate myself. I don’t like loud bars because I can’t lip read or even figure out if someone is trying to talk to me. But it’s more than that, and I’ve discovered it’s not just blind people who are hypersensitive to noise, or particular sounds.

You don’t just hear things – you hear everything – and your brain is trying to tell you that all of these things need to be taken notice of. It could be the dog barking and traffic sounds that were mentioned in the Musings of an Aspie post. It could be something that other people don’t notice, like a neighbour’s wind chime, that you can hear even when the windows are shut. It could be someone driving you to distraction by tapping their pen to the point where you want to grab and make off with it just so it will stop! It could be the clock that has to be taken out of a friend’s spare room where I was staying in the middle of the night and put in the hallway because it WOULD NOT STOP TICKING! Yes I did that and yes the friends did ask about it!

It could be water dripping on something in the neighbour’s garden every single time it rains. When I pointed it out and S started listening for it, he could hear it too, but it wasn’t the same for him as the thing that was bugging me, like a constantly pulsating heart that would only stop when the rain did! I am so glad that the thing – whatever it was – has been taken away now!

The title of this post came from a blog post that I was reading, and I feel bad now because I can’t find it again. It wasn’t the heading or anything – just a phrase that was used “too many words were happening”. As an English teacher, this is an unusual use of language – words don’t usually happen. They’re spoken or said or yelled – but they don’t just randomly happen. And yet I knew what the author meant . Saying that they were happening sounds like they take on a life of their own and are not under control, and it does feel like that for me, too, when I’m in a room and too many words are happening – all loudly and at the same time! I love the expression!

So the words and sounds keep happening and bashing my ears. If it gets too much and becomes overwhelming, I withdraw in sensory self-defence. It’s like a way of shutting down till the thing has passed. People just think I’m a bit quiet, but I’m really the tortoise who’s gone back in his shell till it’s over because I can’t function properly with so many audio stimuli fighting for my attention!

I can see why people might think this is blindness-related. After all, people generally assume that blind people have super-powerful ears. I think the truth is that we learn to use our sense of hearing more and hear the things that other people miss, because those things could be really useful in the absence of all the visual clues. It’s true, I sometimes hear parts of friends’ conversations that weren’t meant for me (I guessed a friend was pregnant before she told us because of a quiet comment to her husband), and I try not to abuse that! I hear the conversation on the next table in the restaurant without trying to listen to it – really funny when they notice that a colleague tried to kiss me and I clearly wasn’t happy about it! Yay! It was all I could do not to start laughing and then have the embarrassment of explaining why. But I’m not intentionally listening to everyone else’s life happening alongside my own.

Still, not everything that has to do with hearing is necessarily blindness-related. Whether that’s sensory-related, behavioural, or to do with how people perceive and respond to the world around them.

It’s not just blind people who struggle with not being able to filter out background sounds, excessive noise, or repetitive noise. Sensory sensitivity or problems processing sensory information are not just me being weird. It feels good to know that and to find that other people identify with these things too, particularly when those people can see, or they can explain a bit more of the science behind them.

In the past I’ve just made myself get on with it – less so as I have got older and am not as willing to be in environments that I really don’t want to be in. But if sensory sensitivities and atypical sensory processing are real things that have been identified and acknowledged. No amount of just getting on with and putting up with it are going to make it ok. And that’s ok!

So why did I write this post? Maybe because I’m a teacher and I like to share what I’ve learned. Maybe to encourage parents of blind children that you shouldn’t attribute every behaviour to blindness-related things. Maybe to say if you have friends who have sensory sensitivities, don’t give them a hard time about it because it’s not something you can change. And if you identify with any of these things, you’re not the only one! Knowing this fact helps me.

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15 myths about blindness that I would like to get rid of

Not knowing something is not as bad as thinking you know something that turns out to be untrue. Or maybe it is true, just not in all situations. I’m here to debunk the 15 myths about blindness and blind people that annoy me the most.

If you have any questions, go ahead and write them in the comments. I usually answer – unless they are too way out, like the random guy who came up to me on a train to ask something really inappropriate. As a general rule, if the question would shock your grandma, it’s not appropriate to ask a complete stranger! In those cases, a stern “why do you feel that you need to know that” usually embarrasses people enough to get them scuttling away! But as I said, if people genuinely want to learn something, I don’t bite when they ask questions.

So here are the things that aren’t true, or aren’t always true…

1. All blind people touch people’s faces when they meet for the first time

Really, for me, that’s just weird. I hate the way that old films portray this as normal. I wouldn’t want anyone getting into my personal space like that. It’s an intimate gesture, and anyway I don’t want anyone ruining my make-up.

Also, it doesn’t give you that much information. I’d much rather focus on all the other information that many sighted people miss – what people actually say, when their tone of voice doesn’t match the message they want to give, the intonation, the hesitations, or the things they don’t say. That gives you much more information to work with than whether someone is wearing glasses or trying to hide a massive spot on their chin.

People who have asked to do this in my experience have tended to be a bit creepy anyway, and I would never say yes – so don’t feel obliged to either. Some people just use this as a way to get up close and personal with strangers, particularly those they might fancy.

2. We have better senses

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “but all your other senses are heightened, aren’t they?” I think actually what’s happening is that we get used to using them more. So it’s not about being born with super-hearing or a sense of smell as good as the nearest Labrador, but if your hearing and sense of smell are what you have to work with, then you work with them.

If person A just notices the smell of the roses because it’s pleasant, and person B knows that smelling them means he’s nearly home – well Person B is probably more likely to tune into it.

If person A doesn’t hear the cyclist approaching from behind, and person B does – just because they know that some cyclists don’t care about pedestrians and the sound of the bike is the only clue to keeping out of their way, it’s not super-hearing that helped, but a trained sense of hearing – probably due to previous near-misses with cyclists!

3. We like loud things because we can hear them

It didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard of blind children that were terrified of their Christmas presents because everyone got them something loud! For example, Lego wasn’t loud, but I enjoyed it as much as my auditory toys. So if buying for a blind child, try to find out what he or she likes, rather than just assuming that they would like something because it makes a noise.

Far from liking noise, some blind people have noise sensitivity and don’t like to be in loud places with a lot going on. Apparently in the infant school I clamped my hands over my ears and yelled “let me out of here” because I wasn’t a fan of the volume of noise in the dinner hall. The adult Kirsty doesn’t do that any more and will find her own way out if it gets too much, but the temptation to do what the 5-year-old Kirsty did is still there sometimes!

4. We are all good at music

Just because there have been a couple of famous blind musicians, it doesn’t mean everyone will be good at music. Perhaps music is appealing to many blind people because you can fully appreciate the end result without sight. But there are other skills for which a good sense of hearing can also give you an advantage. At school, I was always good at languages because I really listened. I wasn’t expecting subtitles or visual clues in the listening test and I found it easy to memorise the sounds. But someone else might hate both music and languages, and it’s never good to generalise.

5. We all read Braille/large print

It’s cool if people offer me a Braille menu in a restaurant, but a large print one would be of no use. The energy company saying that they can’t email me my letter and insisting on sending all future correspondence in large print was not helpful. Some blind people read Braille. Others can read large print. Others only use audio. Assumptions don’t help because everyone has different skills, experience, and reading preferences.

6. We don’t care how we look

It’s true that there are some people who couldn’t care less about their physical appearance, and this attitude generally doesn’t serve them well at job interviews! We live in a world where most people can see us, and that’s a thing. Some people may try to rebel against this, but personally I don’t see what good it serves.

It’s the same with everyone else – take any group of sighted people and you’ll find some care more about their appearance, others less so. Blind people are no different.

But it’s not true that because I can’t see myself, I don’t care how I look. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a make-up article on my blog.
I can’t see the end result, but who doesn’t enjoy being told they look good after they’ve put some effort into getting ready for a night out? I like to try and make the best of my appearance – partly because people treat me better, but partly because if you feel good, you give off more confident vibes and really I want to make the best of what I have, whether that’s by using clothes, make-up, or accessories such as jewellery or my owl bag.

7. We can tell how old people are by hearing their voice

Just don’t. It’s not a cool game. I refuse to play, but if you insist, you had it coming if someone adds 20 years on to your age!

8. Everything needs to be huge

It took me ages to find a nice tactile watch that wasn’t the size of a saucer. It used to be better, and I guess demand has gone down because more people are using smart watches. The one I have now was from a friend in Germany, but if it breaks or stops working, I’m not sure what I’ll do because most of the other ones now are enormous.
I appreciate that some low-vision aids have to be larger so that people can see the large print, but we don’t all need telephones with huge buttons, clock faces as wide as our wrist or things that are big and clunky just because they’re for someone who is blind.

9. We all use the same tech

My phone and my laptop make life so much easier for me, and I couldn’t do anything with a magnifier.
Someone once commented on my kitchen that it looked normal. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to look like, but it turned out they meant it wasn’t full of talking gadgets or special things to make cooking easier.

I have tactile markers on the washing machine, dishwasher, and oven. I have a jug with raised measurements on the inside. But that’s about it. Other people have talking microwaves and all kinds of stuff from specialist shops – and that’s ok.

Just because something was designed with blind people in mind, it doesn’t mean that all blind people will find it useful.

Imagine you brought out a skincare range for women in their 30s. Great, I might be interested. But then I discover it’s for people with oily skin and you’ve lost me right there, because I don’t.

10. We never watch tv or go to the cinema

This isn’t true. I don’t go to the cinema often, but when I do, I go to audio described performances, where the additional information about what’s going on is given through a headset.
I don’t watch a lot of tv, it’s true, but I do have Netflix and S and I sometimes watch films together. I’m more interested now that you can filter by programmes, so I only see the ones with audio description, but some blind people really enjoy tv.

11. The people with us must be our carers

“No, it’s not her girlfriend, it’s her mum!” My friend, only about 10 years older than me, was horrified. She was neither my girlfriend, nor my mum, nor my carer, which is what people often assume. She was just my friend and we were walking along, arm in arm, because she was guiding me.

Another friend was stopped when we were in the supermarket by someone who wanted to know about caring for disabled people. It’s kind of insulting to assume that the only reason someone would be hanging out with a disabled person is because you are their carer.

12. We all know each other

I was walking down the steps to my train platform, only to be told that my friend was “over there”. Apart from the fact that “over there” wasn’t massively helpful, it turned out the guy talking to me had just assumed I knew, or wanted to hang out with, another guy with a guide dog. I heard the other guy talking to his dog and had no idea who he was.

I understand that some people who have gone through the specialist school system and attended schools for the blind might know a lot of blind people, but I went to mainstream school.

It’s like if you meet someone of a certain nationality and are really surprised that they don’t know some obscure person from the other end of the country who happens to be of the same nationality.

And it’s not just sighted people that make this assumption – blind people do it too, which I find a bit bizarre!

I think that some of it comes down to the fact that some people socialise predominantly with other blind people – but some of us don’t, so don’t be surprised if we don’t know your aunt’s friend’s next door neighbour from 50 miles away who happens to be blind!

13. We all have guide dogs

I loved my golden guiding girl, but I know blind people who don’t even like dogs, and have met people who couldn’t take responsibility for looking after an animal. Guide dogs are fantastic, but they aren’t right for everyone. They’re a big commitment – totally worth it if you love dogs and can make that commitment, but not everyone’s character or lifestyle are suited to having a four-legged friend.

Also, as smart as they are, the doggies can’t read – so please don’t try to give directions to them or show them a map. Yes, it happened to us!

14. We all sit in the dark

I can function as well in the dark as I can with the light on, but I don’t sit in the dark because I can see the difference. The light doesn’t help me to see anything else, such as shapes or colours, but it looks nicer than darkness. I love to sea the sun streaming in through my window, and it’s handy that I can see when a bulb needs changing. Also, when I lived on my own with my dog, I wouldn’t have wanted her to sit in the dark all the time!
I guess it may be different for people who don’t see light at all, but still I think they should make sure they’re not inviting sighted friends into a house of darkness because even for me, it was a bit strange when someone did that!

If I want something quickly from another room, I don’t bother turning lights on and off as I go, but if I’m going to be anywhere for a period of time, I’d rather put the light on.

15. When we’ve finished eating, it looks like feeding time at the zoo

I have a real issue with the dining in the dark experience, but that’s a post for another day.

I’m not denying that some blind people have more difficulty eating. Some people have dexterity issues. Others lose their sight suddenly or later in life, which means they have to gain a whole new set of eating skills and learn to do things differently. A bunch of fully-sighted people plunged into darkness probably wouldn’t make a very good job of their first meal … but it’s not fair to assume that someone who’d been eating without sight for the last 30 years would have the same problems.

Of course anyone can drop something or spill something – nobody is perfect. That has nothing to do with whether you can see or not.

S and I go for meals out as a fun thing to do. We go out for dinner with friends. On average I don’t tend to drop, spill or knock things over as much as other people, partly because I am very mindful about where things are and don’t make sweeping hand gestures, and because I have a thing about not wanting to look clumsy. I’m also a bit more relaxed than I was in my 20s – if the food comes out in a dish in the middle of the table and someone offers to serve me, that’s fine. I know I could do it myself, but don’t need to prove it on every occasion!

Some things are easier to eat than others. But I don’t approach the task with a sense of dread or leave a trail of food, broken glass and food on my clothes. I’ve learned how to use a knife not only to cut, but to measure how big chunks of food are. I’ve learned how to guess how much food is on my fork by how much weight is on there. Occasionally I underestimate, but that’s better than overestimating and approaching your mouth with something that won’t fit!

Anyway back to what I was saying. It doesn’t mean I’ll never make a mistake, but I’ve had years of learning to develop strategies for eating without looking, so I don’t have the same problems as someone who suddenly tried to eat in total darkness. It’s not accurate for someone who’s eaten without the lights on to think they know how it is for me.

Are there any more myths you think we should explore?

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The best posts of 2017 and plans for 2018

I’ve got quite a few new followers this month, so I wanted to show you what else I write apart from Blogmas posts! I also wanted to look back over the first year of Unseen Beauty. So, here are the most popular posts from 2017!

10. Holly’s story – from a puppy farm to a loving home The story of Holly the Labrador – I want people to know that buying puppies from puppy farms means there will always be work for mothers like Holly, and that’s not fair.
9. In celebration of grandparents and what we have learned from them This was a collaboration that I did with a group of other bloggers. I wanted to tell all my readers how much I’d learned from my grandparents, and I thought it would be fun to open it up to others too so that we could all share our grandparent memories!
8. Christmas 2016 This was my first proper post apart from my introduction, so I guess people wanted to check out my new blog!
7. L’Occitane review – bringing Braille labels to blind customers This was the first post that I did with a brand. I was interested in the idea of Braille labels and can’t tell you how excited I was about my first PR samples. That doesn’t mean I’ll chase any PR samples, but when you like a brand and they want to work with you, that feels really good.
6. My friend Cindy, the golden guiding girl This is probably the most open I’ve been in a post, and I think a lot of my Facebook friends read it because they knew and loved Cindy too. But I also wanted to give any readers who didn’t meet her the chance to find out about the golden retriever in my blog image.
5. 10 of my favourite youtubers I guess people were just interested in this one and looking for new Youtubers to follow!
4. Walking with wolves I really enjoyed writing this post because it was such an amazing experience to get close to two wonderful wolves. I really wanted to share this with my readers because it’s something that had been on my bucket list for ages.
3. Keeping fit when you can’t see I would get bored if my site were primarily about blindness, but it seems that people do enjoy these articles!
2. Make-up without sight – how one blind woman does it

I guess the thing here is write about something that nobody else is writing about, or that not many people know. That makes it interesting. Of course you need to make sure that people actually want to know about it and it’s not something that just interests you, but if you have an interesting or different perspective on a more general topic, it sets your content apart.
1. How do you apply eye make-up if you can’t see?

This was one of my first posts. I’ve tried out so many more products since I wrote this, but the general advice is the same. I think this one got a lot of hits because it was shared in several Facebook groups, which meant a lot more traffic.

Top favourites post – October – was it the pumpkin art?!

Top empties post – February!

Top Blogmas post – Christmas for dog lovers!

Plans for 2018

I’m going to keep some things the same in 2018 and also add in some new sections. I want to build on the things that people are already enjoying, so there will be some more animal posts, as well as others that focus on life as a blind adult, as people seem to want that. My favourite type of posts to write are about the products that I’m enjoying, and they do tend to get a number of comments, so I’ll keep up with the empties and favourites posts.

I’ve recently added a virtual coffee widget to my sidebar, so anyone who wants to support the site by buying a virtual coffee can do so. I saw this on the Emma Edit blog and thought it was a nice idea.

I have some new ideas about interviews that I’d like to bring you, brands that I’d like to work with, and a new feature on the accessibility of online shopping sites. You may think the reason I post a lot of Amazon links is that I’m just an Amazon affiliate. I am an Amazon affiliate, but the truth is that I do a lot of my shopping on there. Partly because having Prime makes things so quick and easy, but partly because there are a lot of badly written sites out there that I can’t use unless I ask for help from someone who can see because the people who designed the site couldn’t be bothered to label the graphics on their page controls properly. I want to highlight good practice and raise awareness when companies aren’t getting it right.

I have a lot of new products from my advent calendars, so expect some reviews on those!

I’d like to finish by wishing all my readers a happy 2018. I hope it will be a good year for you, full of happy memories. Thank you for supporting Unseen Beauty throughout the year. It just started as an idea in the bath and now I’m happy to see what it has grown into after the first year!

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Is visiting your blog an enjoyable experience for blind visitors?

I share my own experiences and a list of tips that bloggers can follow to make sure that they create an accessible experience for blind visitors to their blogs.

Are you doing any of these things that might be making it harder for blind visitors to enjoy your blog?

Find out in this guest post that I wrote for the Blog Herald website.

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Make-up without sight – how one blind woman does it

If you can’t see how you look, there is a certain degree of trust needed when you go shopping. Some shop assistants are great. Others just want to sell you stuff. Even well-meaning friends can get it wrong when they pick out things that would look really good on them, or don’t pick out things because they wouldn’t dare to wear them.

Clothes shopping is slightly easier because I know what I definitely wouldn’t wear – if I don’t like the material, the length or the cut, it goes back on the rack, even if it would have looked “amaaazing”!

Make-up is different. I have to find people to trust when it comes to what looks good on me. I make choices about the type of products I want, but I can’t say what colours I like because I have never seen them and therefore have no framework of reference. I understand the concept of light and dark because I can see whether the light is on, but I have no concept of colours, and therefore it’s sometimes hard to decide which ones I want to wear.

Good friends are important – if you can’t look in the mirror, you do sometimes need someone who will tell you that you don’t look your best or that something doesn’t suit you. That goes for make-up too – you need people that you can trust.

So, that’s why I decided to go shopping with Amy!

First of all I showed her my make-up collection so that she could see what I already had and we could make a list of what we wanted to get.

We went to Superdrug and Boots a couple of weeks ago and this is what we got!

Face

First we went on the hunt for a new foundation. I made the quest harder by saying I wanted a foundation with a pump, but eventually we came up with the Max Factor Face Finity All Day Flawless. It has the same consistency as my L’Oréal one and applies well. The pump makes sure you get the same amount each time and I can usually cover my face with one squirt, so there is no wastage.

Amy persuaded me that I really did need to bother with powder on top of my foundation, so I got the Max Factor X Creme Puff Pressed Powder. This is something that I haven’t bothered with in the past, but if it keeps the foundation in place, I guess it’s worth it!

Cheeks

I don’t like powder blushers, so I was after something creamy. We found the MUA LUXE Whipped Velvet Blush This is much easier for me to apply and to get it where I want it!

I have a liquid highlighter, but I wanted to see whether there was a cream version of that as well – because creams are cool and there is no fall-out or spillage! We found the Maybelline New York Master Strobing Stick Illuminating Highlighter which is good because you can just draw the line on where you want it and blend it in afterwards.

Lips

A girl can never have too many lipsticks, can she? So I got a couple more! Firstly the Maybelline Colour Sensational Lipstick – 740 Coffee Craze, it wasn’t just because of the name that this coffee-lover had to have it, and also my first Make-up Revolution lipstick, “you’re a star”, which seems to be out of stock everywhere, so I can’t share the link with you.

Eyes

My mascara was running out, so I got another one. I’m a bit fussy with mascara, so if I find one that I like, I tend to repurchase rather than look for something else to try. So I picked up the L’Oréal volume million lashes mascara again.

Also, as I was so impressed with the Max Factor XS Shimmer cream shadow that I had already bought, I got another one in crystal.

If you want to find out more about these eye products, I talked about them more in my post about how I do my eye make-up as someone who can’t see.

So, that’s what we got! Virtually a whole face of make-up, so it was definitely a successful trip. Have you tried any of these products? Let me know what you think in the comments!

If you want to see all of the make-up that has been featured on Unseen Beauty, visit the Make-up product page.

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