Blind Mum Kept Sight Loss Secret for 38 YEARS?!!
Nov. 14, 2019
Zena, 42, a single mum of four with a master’s degree, who works as a school counsellor, lived so adeptly with sight loss — caused by the dislocation of the lenses in her eyes — for nearly four decades that even her parents didn’t know its severity.
She developed strategies for coping that fooled everyone, memorising familiar routes, honing her prodigiously retentive memory, learning where roads curved and pavements dipped.
‘When I was a girl, I didn’t realise I was different. I thought everyone saw people as vague blurs; that they, like me, identified food by smelling it and felt for seams in their clothes when they got dressed.
‘As the years go by, you feel like an impostor in a sighted world, but it’s too late to tell people you’re blind.
At what point do you admit to someone you’ve known most of your life that you’ve never really seen their face?
‘I was afraid of scepticism. Lots of people think the blind see only blackness, but 90 per cent of us do have some perception of light.
It is now four years since she came clean about her sight loss, prompted by an error at work, when she misidentified a pupil (mixing him up with another boy of the same height with a similar voice), who had come to her for counselling.
The mistake may seem insignificant, but to Zena, it felt momentous.
Practical help came in the form of a guide dog, Munch, an affectionate grey labradoodle.
Reactions to her news ranged from guilt to disbelief. ‘Mum felt awful,’ she says in her lyrical Welsh brogue. ‘She didn’t have a clue how bad my sight was as a child. I wore strong glasses so she thought I was fine.
As I got older, I didn’t tell my parents because I knew they’d worry — and there was nothing they could do about it.’
Zena when she was a child
Zena was born with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the body’s connective tissue, which can affect the heart, lungs, bones, joints and eyes, to varying degrees.
"I could smell when my babies were ill because there was a bitter scent on their skin"
She was prescribed glasses with lenses so thick she was nicknamed ‘triple-glazing’ at school; teasing she shrugged off with good humour.
But, at sixth form college, she thrived. She could read from handouts by holding the paper so close to her eyes she looked as if she was smelling it. She passed her General National Vocational Qualifications with distinction and became a psychiatric nurse.
© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited At sixth form college, Zena (pictured during her childhood) thrived. She could read from handouts by holding the paper so close to her eyes she looked as if she was smelling it
‘I wouldn’t want to have perfect vision,’ she says. ‘My sight loss is more of an ability. It makes me access parts of my brain that sighted people don’t use. I can sense people’s moods, feel their smiles. I’ve never seen my children’s faces and I cannot judge a person by their appearance, but I feel I can look into their hearts.’
When we hide a truth for long enough, there comes a point when blurting it out can seem arbitrary, incredible, even a bit bonkers.
This is one reason why author Zena Cooper failed to tell anyone she was blind until she was almost 40.
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