This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Skin Stories. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

I Live With Blindness, But It Is Not The Hardest Thing I Have To Deal With

More from Skin Stories

By Nidhi Goyal:

While in Uttarakhand on a research trip, I drank water that had not been filtered or boiled. This is not something I usually do, but if I had said no, the family I was visiting would have felt hurt. The following day — which happened to be a Sunday — I was getting intimate with the pot and basin of my hotel in ways that I could not have imagined.

What a day to fall ill in a city like Dehradun, with no doctors to answer my calls and most pharmacies either closed or under-stocked. Fortunately, I am a walking pharmacy, a habit that I have picked up from my mum who always has food, water and medicines on hand, and my sister, a doctor who considers caring for others her constant duty.

With medicines pumped into my system from my now depleted medicine pouch, I decided to fly out as I had planned, if only to get some reliable medical help.

Upon landing in Delhi, I asked for a wheelchair in addition to the assistance that I am anyway entitled to receive because of my visual impairment. I don’t generally ask the ground staff to push me on a wheelchair, but this time I needed to rush to the emergency health clinic at the airport and meet with the doctor.

My rapid exchange with the doctor, based on my confidence and knowledge of the treatment that I needed was not just a façade based on having Googled my symptoms. It was the result of years of dealing with my tummy and my body. Knowing what would help, I calmly allowed the nurses to insert the cannula into my hand and start the fluid medicines.

To distract myself, I did the thing that helps me — I called a friend who can usually tell when something is wrong, and he didn’t let me down. As a way to deal with things and force myself to believe what’s happening is not a big deal, I narrate incidents to my friends in a matter of fact manner. This helps me cope, one step at a time. But I was taken aback by the frustration and unhappiness in my friend’s voice.

He argued that I had fixed my tummy with an operation I’d had two years ago. I reluctantly forced my mind to return to that period. I had to remind my friend that the operation addressed a different illness, a cyclical vomiting syndrome. It didn’t change the fact that I had a sensitive tummy.

This conversation pushed me to come to terms with something that has been a sore point with me for a long time.

My friend’s disbelief isn’t unfamiliar to me. A weak tummy and a weak constitution, particularly when you look healthy and have the unstoppable spirit and energy of a child is, literally and figuratively, a pain in the ass. ‘You don’t look ill,’ is a phrase I have heard even when I’ve just been in hospital. This is the kind of thing I also regularly hear about my visual impairment.

I want to shout, ‘Yes, I don’t look blind, I don’t look ill, but what if you just trusted me instead of trusting your own estimation?’

I have always felt out of place among people my age, not just because of matters of maturity or sensitivity, and not so much because of my blindness, but because I look at my peers and wonder to myself, ‘If I got drunk at clubs and house parties all weekend, every weekend, if I ate rajma more than six times a year, or a block of cheese every week, would I really survive the impact?’

There are days when I wake up and all my plans go for a toss. All I can do is mumble an apology and hit the toilet or the bed. There are days when I can get lots of work done and others when I can’t because the food from the previous day’s meeting didn’t suit me.

As I spend nearly half of each month traveling for work trips, hotel rooms are temporary homes for me. I know people are surprised, shocked, and sometimes judgmental when they walk into one of my hotel rooms and find the desk covered with roasted snacks, nuts, ready-to-cook khichdi, homemade upma, and my famous electric rice cooker.

I smile proudly and show off my means of survival. Ingesting familiar, safe food into my system at least once a day is the way I am able to travel for work.

Description: This photograph shows a mural of a woman with dark hair painted on a wall. She looks confidently and almost directly in the direction of the camera. She has several large dark pink roses in her hair and vicinity. Credit: Maureen Barlin via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Description: This photograph shows a mural of a woman with dark hair painted on a wall. She looks confidently and almost directly in the direction of the camera. She has several large dark pink roses in her hair and vicinity. Credit: Maureen Barlin via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

If I push myself too much or don’t sleep enough, my digestive system collapses. It’s not just my stomach that’s affected — this leads to back and shoulder pain, and impacts how much nourishment I can absorb. It dulls my brain, worsens my memory, and shortens my attention span. It is challenging when you especially depend on these faculties as a visually impaired person.

But when you’re disabled, people assume that disability is the bane of your existence, that nothing can worry you more. In my case, since my disability was acquired later in life, people often assume that it is a constant challenge.

I am not saying that acquiring a disability and learning to live with it has been an easy journey. But people don’t understand that having a sensitive stomach can give someone an equal amount of anxiety. And it is far more difficult to talk about these difficulties with my body than it is about my blindness. People find it hard to both understand the issue (talking about it elicits discomfort and laughter) and to let it be (they get offended if I don’t eat or drink much at their parties, for example).

Sometimes my condition will be used as a reason not to invite me out, or to ask me about it in sombre tones, as though my health is constantly deteriorating. It is these reactions that have forced me to either out my condition even when I don’t want to talk about it, or in some cases prevented me from talking about it even when I want to.

I can comfortably say that I am absolutely fine with my visual impairment. I know my limits, and I know how far I can push them. What has been far more frustrating to deal with has been my stomach.

My digestive system has an impairment, which flares up depending on my circumstances. I don’t know if this will ever get better, but what this means to me is that I own my body as mine, support it as much as I can and invest time in it, even if it means missing a fun trip in order to detox at a health centre, or saying no to a sumptuous meal.

I know that sometimes my body will hurt and be uncomfortable because of its condition but I’m also acutely aware of the fact that my organs and I are a family, a collective. If one member is suffering, or has a deficiency, then the entire family steps up to shoulder the stress together. A single impairment impacts the entire collective, ageing it, forcing others into roles that they may not like, or pushing them to simply endure it.

I thought of all of this the evening I was on a flight back home after the visit to the emergency medical health clinic in Delhi. My head was resting on the aircraft seat, my tummy still hurt, and there was a slight soreness on the back of my palm because of the IV drips.

I knew that just an hour ago, my heart rate was 124, my blood sugar was 80, I had less than one litre of water in me, and no food in over 28 hours. But my brain was still remarkably clear. Or was it my heart? I felt like I’d had an epiphany. I realised that my body is neither better nor worse than other bodies, or even its own past and future forms, but simply that bodies are diverse.

As far as I’m concerned, my blindness and having a body that sometimes needs more attention than usual are both parts of who I am. I would not like to label my condition either a disability or a chronic illness, because I feel that doing this would flatten the fluidity and diversity our bodies are capable of.

It took me many years to come to terms with having the body I have because we simply don’t talk enough about the diversity of our bodies — disabled or otherwise. Instead, we pretend there should be a ‘normal’ and are quick to comment, judge, and discriminate when people don’t match this ideal.

This is something I learned twice over — once because of my disability and again because of my condition.


Nidhi Goyal is an activist working on disability rights and gender justice. Being disabled herself, she works at the intersection of disability and gender through research, training, advocacy, and art. She is the Program Director of Sexuality and Disability at Point of View and is the co-author of www.sexualityanddisability.org. Follow her @saysnidhigoyal.

This post was originally published on Skin Stories.

You must be to comment.

More from Skin Stories

Similar Posts

By Aziz Minat

By Ankita Rath

By Javed Abidi Foundation

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below