Today, we are delighted to have the lovely Aoife Doherty pen a guest post for us! This is a gorgeous piece ties in with the fact July is Disability Pride Month, and we know you’ll just love it! Take it away Aoife…
As avid travel lovers, my boyfriend and I had always wanted to see as much of the world as we could. We are an outdoorsy couple so it felt only natural to buy and convert a van into a tiny home. We are now driving around Europe for 10 months, trying to see as much as we possibly can during that time. We’re both in our early 30’s and live in North Dublin, where we grew up.
I was born with oculocutaneous albinism which is a genetic condition that affects the pigmentation of my skin, hair and eyes and also kindly gave me a visual impairment. My vision is 6/36, so anything a fully sighted person can see at 36 metres, I have to be at 6 metres to see it. I’ll never be able to drive and I use magnification software on all my devices. Albinism has also given me photophobia which is sensitivity to light. Therefore I find bright light hard to deal with, which leads to headaches and fatigue. Essentially the brighter it gets, the more impaired my vision gets!
I’ve been documenting vanlife with a visual impairment through my blog and Instagram, Life in the Blurry Lane which sets out to show the world that even with a visual impairment (i.e a disability), my life is as full, well rounded and diverse as someone who is fully sighted. I am also highlighting the good and bad accessibility practices that I come across along the way.
We’ve been on the road for about 2 months now and have travelled through France to Italy. Despite having done a lot of camping and boat trips previously, vanlife is not as easy as it looks on Instagram. For me, it is difficult in ways I hadn’t imagined it to be. I thought that because I’ve lived with Albinism for 30 years, it wouldn’t throw me any curve balls – I was wrong!
Mainland Europe is sunny and very bright. This seems obvious now but it was a shock to the system when I’m used to the grey Irish weather. I can wholeheartedly say I really struggled during the first four weeks or so. Headaches and fatigue hit me hard and the self-doubt started to creep in. Would I be able for this trip? Will my visual impairment stop me from doing something that I love?
I was deep in the mind spiral of doom and at one point even considered just going home (homesickness was real that day). It was super hard to pull myself out of that. In some ways, it felt safe to be there in my pit of overwhelm and sadness. I soon realised that wallowing wasn’t going to get me back on track or keep me on track for the rest of our once-in-a-lifetime trip.
This was one of those times when I was thankful for having a visual impairment and all that it has taught me. It has given me superpowers that are now part of who I am. I am resilient as I have to work that little bit harder and keep going when the basics are difficult. I was taught that despite my wonky eyes, I could do anything I put my mind to (within reason! I’ll never drive). I’m organised because I have to be, I need to have my sh*t together so I can get from A to B. Lastly, I have a good ability to think outside the box to get stuff done because a world that is built for fully sighted people demands this of me.
I may not be agile like Catwoman or have the super strength of Wonder Woman but I have carved out my own superpowers based on my life experiences. I have relied on these time and time again to get through the day-to-day and some other sticky situations. So it felt right to look to them again to help with my recent vanlife challenges. It took me a few days, lots of chats, a call out to Instagram followers, and some chocolate but I got there. I made a plan, I did my research and I did a Tigger-style bounce back into vanlife.
Superpowers can come from any life experience. Reflecting on your success and challenges, identifying what you did, the skills you used, and what you learned from each of them enables you to build your own arsenal of superpowers that you can use again and again. Can you influence others like the Scarlet Witch? Do you sense risks like Spiderman? Or maybe you have Daredevils detective skills? Fun fact, Daredevils is also the first blind superhero.
Creating your arsenal might take a bit of time and some introspection, but it will serve you time and time again as you come up against life’s many challenges and opportunities.
We’d like to say a massive thank you to Aoife for sharing her story! You can keep up to date with all of her vanlife adventures over on her Instagram here.
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