Growing up, I never really understood the fascination with rainbows. Yes, it was cool that there were different colours in the sky but my mum had explained the science behind rainbows and it made perfect sense to me. Light enters a water droplet, slows down, bends from air to dense water, light reflects inside the droplet separating into component wavelengths that form into colours. Simple enough to understand. So why was everyone so interested in them? It wasn’t until I was 13 in an S2 physics class that I found out that rainbows have more than two colours. That there was more to rainbows than just blue and yellow. Obviously I knew the colours of the rainbow, learning ROYGBIV in primary school of course, but I never really made the connection that rainbows were supposed to look like that. I was nine years old when I found out why I didn’t see rainbows the same as everyone else.
In Primary Five, my teacher noticed that I was struggling to read certain things. I was smart but was getting really low marks in the classes weekly spelling tests and I struggled sometimes when reading, despite the fact that I loved to read and did so frequently. So my teacher suggested that I be tested for a number of different learning disabilities including dyslexia and colour blindness. It turns out I have both of them. Two very simple diagnoses that changed the rest of my life. My big brother was also tested, as these things are often genetic, and it turns out he is colourblind as well. We found out that we both had inherited red-green colourblindness, deuteranopia, from our dad. Along with that I had also inherited my dad’s dyslexia. I found out that it was pretty common for men to be colourblind however it’s quite rare in girls. 1 in 12 men are colourblind which is around 8% of the population. However only 1 in 200 women are colourblind which is only 0.5% of the population. This means that my diagnosis is very rare. At the time of my diagnosis my optometrist told me he only knew one other woman in Britain who was colourblind. Since I was diagnosed in 2013 I’ve met countless men who were colourblind but to this day I don’t know any other women with the same deficiency as me. While I do have my brother and dad to relate to, I’m quite isolated when it comes to day to day life. It’s difficult to relate to my male family, when they simply don’t experience being colourblind the same way I do.
Although colour blindness has obviously been around since the beginning of time, the very first scientific research of colour blindness was conducted in 1803 by John Dalton. Dalton himself was the first documentation of colour blindness in 1764. Dalton’s research stemmed from him and his brother both being colour blind. His suggestion was that there was a shortage in the colour perception due to discolouration of the liquid in the eyeball called aqueous humour. Dalton believed that the aqueous humour was bluish and therefore filled out all the colours. When John Dalton was alive he became a respected physicist and chemist. In his will he stated that there was to be an autopsy of his eyes after his death to determine if there was bluish in the human eye. Unfortunately there wasn’t any bluish liquid found, disproving his theory. Despite this he has become somewhat the father of colourblind research. Sometime after his death it was discovered that in the eye there are three types of cone cells and each type has a different sensitivity to light wavelengths. One type of cone perceives blue light, another green and the third and final perceive red. When looking at a colourful object light enters your eye and stimulates the cone cells. Your brain then interrupts the singles from the cone cells allowing you to see the colour. The red, green and blue cones all work together to allow you to see the whole spectrum of colours. For example, when the red and blue cones are stimulated in a certain way you will see the colour purple. However someone is colour blind when you don’t have one of these types of cone cells or they don’t work properly. In my case they don’t work properly.
2.7 million people all over the world are colourblind. The red-green colourblindness is usually passed down from the parents, the genre responsible for this is carried on the X chromosome. The vast majority of those that are colourblind inherited the condition from their mother who is normally a ‘carrier’ but not colour blind herself. However if a woman is red-green colourblind then all her sons will be as well. Which means all my sons will be colourblind.
Like most things related to being a woman I face an insane amount of discrimination because of my colour blindness. Although it might seem surprising, several people have told me that I am faking it. I’ve been told that women can’t be colourblind. That I am simply lying to get attention. I’ve been told that I am pretending just so I can get more ‘attention’ from teachers in school or from boys. When I mentioned this to my brother he told me no one has ever questioned his deficiency. People just accept that he is what he is saying. That he isn’t lying for attention. It’s heartbreaking when you are told that you love attention simply by asking someone if they know what colour something is, when in actual fact you just want help. Asking for help has always been incredibly difficult for me, particularly when it comes to colours. Asking someone at 17 what colour a pencil is gets you some strange looks. People look at me like I’m an idiot when I ask if I’m using a blue or purple pencil. Being someone who wears makeup I find it nearly impossible to find the correct colour. As I am so pale I’m able to just use the lightest shade of foundation or concealer and it works perfectly fine. But when it comes to eyeshadow and nail polishes. Well, I am completely lost. If you’ve ever owned or even looked at a nail polish bottle the ‘names’ of the colours are on the bottle. And believe me, they are insane. I own a nail polish called “Pillow Talk”. I could not figure out what colour this is but this is obviously blue. Obviously. The only way I am able to tell this is my mum. If i want to buy makeup I have to force my mum, who is the only person in my household that isn’t colourblind, to come shopping with me and get her to follow me around the shop and let me ask her what colour certain makeup colours are as I hold them up. On more than one occasion I have turned round and am showing eye shadow thin air. I am then required to walk around aimlessly looking for her. It is so incredibly frustrating not being able to choose things without someone else’s help, it forces me to rely on people and even if it is my mum it is extremely discouraging.
With three colour blinds under one roof there’s always something entertaining going on. We all loved to follow my mum around asking her what colour things are. However, when she leaves us home alone, we fall into a slight disorder. Three years ago my dad and I were left home alone and we made lunch. Just some simple schnitzel from Costco. After 30 minutes in the oven we checked to see if it was cooked. It seemed like it was fully cooked but we still don’t know if it was cooked or not. It seemed hot enough but we couldn’t quite tell, even when it was cut open we didn’t know. With mum being out and i being braver than my dad i tested it out. The texture seemed fine and it tasted fine and was hot enough. So we dug in. When my mum came home she saw the leftover chicken we hadn’t eaten and freaked out. Apparently it was pink. Almost entirely pink and raw. Miraculously we were not ill. There was only one other time when I ate somewhat raw (according to my mum) chicken and I was quite ill that time. This is so incredibly frustrating not being able to cook alone without fear of accidentally poisoning myself. My mum teased us about this for weeks. My dad and I are quite an iconic duo when it comes to being colourblind. When I was 15 I decided that I wanted to repaint my room all by myself so we went off to B&Q and came home with a yellow and paint called ‘cornfield white’. It wasn’t until i put it on my walls my mum realised that the colours were not yellow and white but in fact were yellow and BLUE. The cornfield ‘white’ was really cornfield blue. How stupid is that? So I’ve been relentlessly teased by my family and friends over our unfortunate colour mix up. Thankfully blue and yellow pair nicely together.
While being colourblind can seem like a source of entertainment and jokes, there are surprising difficulties, small things that in the grand scheme of things greatly affect me every single day. One thing that might not seem so serious is my difficulty distinguishing between red and brown. Unless it’s a bright bright red I can’t really tell the difference. One of the most frustrating things is not being able to tell what’s happening in my own body. On more than one occasion I’ve been brushing my teeth when I spit red or brown. I can never tell if it’s simply chocolate or coffee or blood. I know it doesn’t seem like a big thing but it’s terrifying to not know what’s going on in my own body, not being able to figure out if your gums are bleeding simply because of your eyesight. However, by far the worst thing about my colourblindness is my inability to read red. Mixed with my dyslexia I find it nearly impossible to focus on any letter in the colour red. My dad however does not have this, despite our colour blindness being almost identical there are still some differences in the way the cone in my eye is shaped. This means that red is completely off the table. Because of my dyslexia every word moves but in red it’s the worst thing in the world. Even if I try to focus on them I end up straining my eyes and getting a splitting headache for the rest of the day. School is especially hard, with teachers making almost entirely in red and writing on the board in red to spice up their work and make it more engaging for everyone else but me. So the easiest thing for me to do is just tell my teachers at the start of the year that I cannot read red. However, teachers teach plenty of classes a year so it makes sense that they might forget. But, for two years straight, every single day I had to tell my maths teacher that I couldn’t read red and every single day she would huff and puff as if it was my fault. To top it all off, at the end of the year she gave me a supposedly very nice card that I couldn’t read as she had written it in red. How thoughtful of her. Still this has made for some very fun birthday cards, my friends LOVE to write in red or dark pink pens.
My colour blindness has always been and always will be a big part of who I am. It is how I see the world and how I communicate with those around me. Not only that but it connects me to my brother and dad in a biological way but it has also brought me closer to the both of them as we relate; with the issues we’ve navigated, silly things people say to us when we tell then we’re colourblind and knowing that the three of us see the world the exact same way. Because of this minor disability we all have a strong connection with each other and with the world around us. Being colourblind can be a challenge. But I am glad I have my brother and dad to help me through it even if they can’t help me choose the right paint colour.