What is it like being Night blind?

I am night blind. Twilight is my worse time of day. This awkward in-between light is when my vision starts to pixelate, becoming more and more grainy as my funnel vision closes in. My eyes stop seeing as well as they can in full daylight, but my brain still thinks it can see enough to skip around normally. Twilight is when I am at my clumsiest and I feel my chest tightening as I realise my vision is fading with the sunset. Only when it becomes fully dark does my brain finally put the brakes on and make me more cautious.

First picture shows a twilight scene with a winding road and a house in distance. The second picture shows the same scene as it would be seen to a nightblind person. It is almost completely dark.
Even a twilight scene can look totally dark to a person who is nightblind (pixshark.com)

Stepping into a dimly lit room has the same effect on my blundering brain. It does not know what it can and cannot see. Shadows will be drawn across my vision and darkness will descend, even if the lighting is just subdued. Your eyes will adjust in seconds, mine will take minutes and probably will not adjust at all. A dimly lit restaurant looks properly dark to me. The detail and colours dwindle. All sources of light become intensified and flare in the darkness.

Some people with RP will suddenly be unable to read the menu and cannot see the food on their plate. I do not have this problem yet but I struggle to communicate so sometimes I bring along a portable light to help me illuminate people’s faces. I have discovered that I can see my companion more clearly via the camera of my mobile phone. On screen they suddenly grow a body, I can see their hands, the table, the condiments and the rosiness of the ambient light. I can pan the room and see everything at once. Everything seems so fresh and bright. Lifting my eyes to look into the gloom once again gives me a jolt as I realise my dining partner looks fragmented, incomplete and shadowy.

Street lights are beacons in a dark street. Imagine camping in a dark field and seeing only torch beams illuminated against total blackness and you will get a sense of the all or nothing that we see in the dark. Walking down the street, it is easy to see car headlights and street lamps, but I have to strain to make out the detail of anything else. The intensity of a light has to be strong to register on my eyes. I will not see the weak glow of a bike light unless I know where it is and look straight at it.

First picture shows a night scene with a car parked in a driveway and an empty road with streetlights. The second picture shows the same scene seen by a nightblind person. Only the lights and reflection in car window can be seen.
Normal vision and night blindness (pixshark.com)
Picture of town centre street scene in dark. Picture is divided into 3 panels. The middle panel shows what person with nightblindness sees. It is totally black apart from car and street lights. The side panels show what someone with normal vision can see- including shops, bollards and street signs.
Middle section of this picture is what someone with nightblindness would see (pixshark.com)
Very dark road scene only car headlights can be seen
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In the dark, I used to be able to see the outlines of furniture and my sleeping children. Now the diameter of my vision is so small that I can see only a tiny part of what I am trying to look at. It’s impossible to scan in a gloom-filled bedroom because I have to stare really intently to see anything at all. I keep losing my place on the scene and it disappears before I can stitch anything meaningful together. The light from the landing scarcely helps because it just makes the rest of the room look blacker.

I have to focus and squint for ages to pick out the brightest of stars in a star-filled sky. There may be thousands but I will see just one or two at a time. I quickly lose them again because I have no point of reference in the dark. There is nothing to anchor my sight to. My funnel of sight is simply too narrow at night.

Trips to the theatre or cinema mean arriving very early because the beam of tepid light from the Usherette’s torch is useless for finding my seat. I make sure my children have been to the toilet before the show so there is no risk of having to navigate the auditorium in, what to me looks like, pitch blackness. I bring my cane which gets me to me seat without problems.

Night blindness perplexes people because you see so much better from one moment to the next depending on the lighting. In the daytime, standing in the queue for a museum, I whip my cane out of my bag, anticipating the murkiness inside, and attract puzzled looks from people who just saw me walk across the street.

It snowing outside as I write this. I’ve always liked snow but since I lost my night vision I really dig those falling flakes. I see so much better when there is a blanket of white to bounce the light around at night. It’s like someone suddenly put the lights on.

4 thoughts on “What is it like being Night blind?”

  1. My father went for a walk one day in the afternoon. It was a very sunny day in the middle of the summer. He went for a couple of hours following the long seafront promenade not far away from our flat. He returned back few hours later, very late, say nothing. But he had a bandage around his head, several marks of blood on his shirt and a very serious face.

    He forgot the hour close to the sunset and didn’t see the stairs made of stone in the middle of the walk. He felt confident and happy. He was like that for a while, not realizing the effect of the dimming lights when the sun is reaching the horizon.

    We, the family, were very worried until such a strong man accepted his new condition. It wasn’t Usher but another very serious illness in his eyes. So far now he hasn’t got any new troubles but with 30% of sight in only one eye he still doesn’t accept any help and do everything by himself, as usual.

  2. Finally, a perfect description of what it’s like to be night blind.

    I’m night blind due to being near sighted, but I always had this problem, so I have no idea how things are for “normal” vision people.

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