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From denial to pride: appreciation and awareness for who I am

Karan Nagrani overcame denial to become a self-described “blind, gay mental health warrior” raising awareness for retinitis pigmentosa.

Karan Nagrani kneels on the grass holding his mobility cane in one hand and the leash for Henry, his small French bulldog, in the other.

Hi my name is Karan Nagrani. I’m from Perth, Western Australia. My whole life I’ve had to come out of two closets: “I’m gay” and “I’m blind.”

Believe it or not, the blind closet has been a lot more complicated. I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of eleven. It’s a genetic, degenerative eye disease that leads to blindness.

At the age of 36, I have less than three degrees of peripheral vision, very severe night blindness to point where I almost can’t function without assistance, and some hearing loss that makes it necessary to wear hearing aids.

Retinitis pigmentosa is a different journey for everyone, but, in my case, with how fast my vision is deteriorating, I’m preparing myself to be completely blind in a couple of years.

Coming out – and coming into my disability

Why the disability closet has been harder to come out of is because my vision has deteriorated over time. In my twenties, I managed to resist and, to an extent, get away with not using a cane. I was in denial. And being a part of the gay world, where there is so much emphasis on the way you look, I felt like a cane would make me look ugly. Also, at that time my hearing loss wasn’t as noticeable.

I grew up in a culture where we had to hide our flaws, especially when it came to a disability. From the time I was diagnosed to my late teens, I was told not to tell anyone
about my disability. So I grew up hiding my sexuality and my disability.

As you can imagine that takes a big toll on your mental health.

I lived in denial for so long. I chose to work in the creative field of marketing, graphic design and filmmaking. I put my heart and soul into my career and wanted to do something that no one thought I’d be able to do with my disability.

I worked on that field for almost 14 years and say with pride that I accomplished some amazing things. My work started to get noticed and that gave me a high – it made me push myself even more, even though seeing was getting harder and harder. Finally, two years ago I had no l choice but to retire from that field, though I still do it as a hobby now.

Where do I go from here?

My aim now is to raise awareness, but do it in a fun way. I’m using my graphics and filming skills to show traditionally sighted people what it’s like to live with RP.

I understand people have a lot of questions: my eyes look normal, but I have a cane. I’m blind, yet I manage to make eye contact sometimes. It confuses people – sometimes I get interrogated almost and I feel like I have to convince someone that I am genuinely blind. But what I don’t like is when people pity me and just assume that my life must be miserable.

I am married to David, the love of my life, and I have the most loving and supportive family. I have an amazing close-knit circle of friends and am fortunate to work in a place where people love and respect me.

It can be very scary living with RP, and I go through phases where life gets dark (pun intended), but this is my reality. There’s no cure, so I make the most of what I have, show gratitude for everything I have and have found a new passion to raise awareness.

About the author

Karan Nagrani is a self-described “blind, gay mental health warrior” raising awareness for retinitis pigmentosa. To keep up with him, follow him on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

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