By Anna Lyndsey
In this memoir, the author shares her experiences with severe photo sensitivity. It started in May of 2005. While sitting in front of her computer screen in her London office, her face suddenly felt painfully hot, as if someone were blow-torching it, she says. A fan next to her computer helped but didn’t totally eliminate the problem. Weeks later, she experienced the same thing during a meeting, perhaps as a result of the fluorescent lights in the conference room.
It got to the point where even sunlight caused her pain, and she was forced to quit her job. She asked her boyfriend Pete if she could move in to his home in Hampshire with him, and he agreed. Despite her condition, he proposed to her, and she accepted. They planned a wedding but had to postpone it because she got to the point where she needed to be in darkness most of the time in order to get any relief.
She describes how she made one room of her house completely dark and spent hours on end there, listening to audio books and the radio, venturing out only for meals and sometimes having to eat in the dark room. During the summer months, the room was unbearable, but not being in the room would have been worse.
Over the years, there were times when she was able to take walks outside between dusk and dawn. She describes how she and Pete fashioned a contraption they called a puppy cage, which allowed her to travel without being exposed to light, but because of her severe sensitivity, traveling during the day was difficult. As a result, she rarely saw a doctor and could only consult with a dermatologist about her condition by phone once in a while. She tried homeopathic and other remedies, but nothing worked for long.
She and Pete were finally able to have a wedding during one of her remission periods. This gives the book a somewhat happy ending, but Anna Lyndsey will probably have this condition for the rest of her life.
I like the way she tells her story in present tense so that it reads like fiction. I was with her the whole time, feeling her pain and frustration at being confined in the dark and her joy of spending time outdoors, appreciating nature.
A couple of weeks ago, I read an article in The New Yorker about this book. The article’s author (I’ll call him Kevin.) consulted dermatology experts in the U.S. not familiar with Anna Lyndsey’s case, who said that sensitivity that severe wasn’t possible. He then questioned the validity of her story, especially since she wrote the book under a pen name and changed people and place names to protect privacy. Intrigued, I wondered if Girl in the Dark was one of those memoirs that would turn out not to be true.
As I read the book, though, it occurred to me that Kevin may not have even picked it up, although he wrote that he had a copy with him when he went to England to interview her. If he read the book, he wouldn’t have even considered asking if he could use his digital recorder during the interview because even the light from that device might have caused her pain for hours.
I can understand why Anna Lyndsey used a pen name and changed people and place names. On the rare occasions she was able to travel during the day before her condition got too bad, she wore a mask and hat to protect her face. This elicited stares and avoidance from others on trains and in other public places. It’s way too bad that people all over the world will not open their minds and hearts to others who are different.
Girl in the Dark was one of those books that helped me put my life in perspective. Caring for my late husband who was paralyzed by two strokes for seven years is nothing compared to spending days and hours on end in the dark or bearing painful consequences otherwise. I’m so thankful each day I can sit at my computer and write and not be affected by the glow from the screen or sunlight streaming through the windows.