S1: Episode 25 - Natalie Watkins - Part Two

Episode Information

Intro Music]

Narrator: Welcome to my heart is Not Blind, narrative histories about blindness and perception. A traveling exhibition and book published by Trinity University Press, supported by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, edited and hosted by Michael Nye. Stories are often found, resting along the edges of surprise and revelation. Every person, every place is a map to somewhere else. Episode 25, Natalie Watkins, part two. Michael spoke with Natalie again six years after the first initial interview.

Natalie: My life has definitely changed in the last six years. I had no way of anticipating how quickly I would lose my remaining vision. And, um, for me, for a long time, the story of blindness was one of tragedy of grief. And now that I live in blindness, I’m, I’m not depressed at all. I have more peace than I’ve ever had at any point in my life because that fear, that terror that gripped me and drove me to the point of personal breakdown is gone. Blindness is definitely not what people think it is. It’s definitely not what I thought it was. I thought it was a death sentence that you would have no quality of life. And really all it is, is the inability to use one of your senses. It’s nothing any more significant than that. But don’t get me wrong, I think being blind is a massive pain in the ass, and it’s been an ongoing, never ending, relentless lesson and adaptation, but it’s not a life of misery at all, and it doesn’t break you and it doesn’t define you, and it’s not the end of the world. I think one of the biggest problems that I’ve faced is not the actual physical loss of sight, but other people’s perceptions around my sight loss. And it’s usually well intended, but it’s comments like, if I were you, I would jump off a building. I don’t know how you do it. Comments like, if I were you, I would be crying in bed all the time. The fact that you even get up and try to make a pot roast is so admirable. There’s nothing admirable about making a pot roast.

I, I, it’s interesting because I was very marinated and if superficial world when I was in the fashion industry, when I was much younger in a model, and that identity would’ve fallen away based on age and just the passing of time. However, I can tell you that it’s irrelevant to me now. My first experience with this was going to the Chris Cole Rehabilitation Center for the Blind at Chris Cole. I met people for the first time as a totally blind person. I had no perception of what they looked like. I had no perception of race, what they wore, how they presented themselves, and it was the first time in my life that I was able to make just a soul to soul connection with people without being distracted by physical appearance. And it was so freeing.

I’ve been totally blind for nine months, which is a very different experience from someone who has been blind for a longer amount of time, and there’s just a lot to learn, and it really helps to be like Rain Man smart. Like it’s just 1,000,001 keyboard shortcuts. It’s . It’s just . It’s just a lot to learn. So I still have desires in my heart. I really wanna get my book out into the world, but man alive, it’s just like so freaking frustrating sometimes, and it just gets tiresome. And sometimes you just wanna eat a chocolate bar and have a glass of wine. Well, I think having been sighted and having been blind, I feel like I get the best of both worlds. Like the sighted experience is very textured and rich, and there’s just so much aesthetic beauty. So when one is sighted, things are very easy. Getting to where you need to go is simple. Being blind requires so much more cognition and planning and organization that I feel like my sight self was very lazy compared to my blind self. But strangely enough, now that I live in blindness, I found out that there’s an aspect of mindfulness for me that is far easier to experience listening to the goat that someone has, even though they’re zoning laws like I , I can perceive all of that in a, in a richer, deeper, more enjoyable way than I ever did when I was cited.

I believe I am aware of the world around me. Absolutely I do. I pick up on things that other people often miss. You know, I can pick up emotionality or a tone or inflections in voice. I think people confuse physical sight with observation. Like people are so mired in their own eyesight. They can’t even conceptualize the fact that you can learn non visually or you can function non visually. It’s just a different way of existing in the world.

[Outro Music]

Host: My conversations with Natalie in part two occurred six years after our initial conversations in Part One, episode 24. During those six years, Natalie transitioned from visual impairment to total blindness. She talks about the word hope. She said, I thought that hope was maintaining my eyesight, and now I realize hope is having connections with others. Natalie says, “Blindness is definitely not what the public thinks it is. It’s simply the inability to use one of your senses. It’s nothing any more significant than that. There are so many other ways to compensate. It doesn’t break you, and it’s not the end of the world.” Today. Natalie is engaged in writing full-time, including poetry, creative non-fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, and children’s literature. Natalie’s insights are powerful for all of us, blind or sighted, layered in deep personal experiences.

Join us next week. Two new episodes will be released. Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast for portraits and transcripts. Thank you for listening.