Losing my sight meant that I found myself
At RNC (Royal National College for the Blind) our students all have their own stories of visual impairment; some are born blind or partially sighted, whilst some lose their sight later on in life. The reaction to sight loss can be similar to bereavement; there can be intense emotional feelings of loss, anger, frustration and even depression. During Mental Health Awareness Week we will be hearing from our students in a series and open and honest blogs where they talk about their experiences of visual impairment and mental health.
Today 19 year old Ibz shares his story; having been born fully sighted he started to experience sight deterioration at the age of 13. After a lengthy process he was diagnosed with three eye conditions; Keratoconus, Cone Dystrophy and Retinal Dystrophy. In his story he talks about the confusion and denial he experienced. He came to RNC and was able to open up to people who knew what he was going through. He finally reached his acceptance with sight loss and developed into a confident and independent teenager. Now he wants to be there for other people are going through the things that he did.
“As any child I loved hanging around with my mates and messing about. I enjoyed sports from a young age… I was doing really well at school, I made many good friends and was exceeding in my academic subjects… My teacher noticed I was not reading properly and I was squinting to see the board… So I was wearing glasses and as a young child I rebelled against wearing them…Plus I coped well without them; or so I thought.
Losing my sight
At the age of 13 I started to realise that my sight was getting worse and even if I did wear my glasses they made no difference at all… Anyone affected with any disability or illness will know how frustrating it is. I faced many days of uncertainty not knowing what was happening to the world around me. I went through a process of denial, refusing to accept my sight loss. At this point hiding my worries seemed like the best option. The last thing I wanted to do was stand out or to be treated differently. I wanted to continue life as normal, hoping the problem would go away.
In mid-2010 I finally asked my mum to arrange an appointment with the opticians… The optician was unsure why my vision was getting worse at the rate it was. I remember there being an uncomfortable silence in the room, I was eventually told that there was nothing anyone could do and I was referred to see a professional at the hospital. Despite everyone’s reassurances I was still anxious about it all.
I was stressing out as my sight kept on getting worse. I was trying to hide it as much as I could… I found it really hard to cope with this. And I never really told anyone how I was feeling, everyone assumed everything was okay. At the time I was so confused, the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was having my friends reading and writing for me but I couldn’t talk to them about what was happening because they didn’t understand, I didn’t even understand myself.
My transition to RNC
When I first came to RNC it was difficult adjusting, there were days when I was really down. I started losing my sight at 13 and lost the majority of it last year so it was all kind of new to me when I came to RNC. I had problems with sleeping because I had so many things going on and all these thoughts going through my head. College helped me with stress management and helping me with different methods of relaxing to help get things off my mind. Football was my escape, I got onto the pitch and that was all I thought about.
Last year I started volunteering for a charity called LOOK as part of a mentor scheme and they asked me to set up a blog. It wasn’t until I started writing and thinking back that I realised how dependent I was on other people then and how different I am now.
I knew that what I’d been through wasn’t easy and I wish there had been someone there to talk to; someone who had been in the same situation as me, who could understand what was happening to me. When I was going through my sight loss I just bottled it up because I had no one to really talk to about it. When people asked if I was okay I just said “yeah” even though I wasn’t.
I think it was about half way through my first year at RNC that I really found that I had accepted being VI (visually impaired). It certainly didn’t just happen overnight but making friends with people who have lost their sight and seeing how they have overcome things has helped me to overcome some of my issues. When I first lost my sight I thought I wouldn’t be able to do things, because I was trying to do them the same way as I had when I was sighted. Knowing that my friends have overcome things and seeing the way they adapted techniques to do things gave me motivation to do the same.
I feel so comfortable at RNC and in Hereford, in my mobility lessons I learned all the routes around campus and into town so I don’t need to rely on anyone. I can go into town and socialise with friends, I don’t need anyone to come with me. After I lost my sight I didn’t think this would have been possible.
Sometimes people’s attitudes towards disability still shocks me. The other day I was walking up the stairs in a shop and a woman stopped me to say ‘well done’ for walking up the stairs unaided! I used to get really annoyed when things like this happened but it’s got better over time as I’ve become more confident and now so I just thanked her and laughed it off.
My advice to someone losing their sight
It’s not going to be a walk in the park, it will be hard and it is a very scary process to go through, and the worst thing to do is to bottle it up and think you’ll be okay because eventually you will break. I know as I went through it all and still am. You need to let yourself have that grieving time, go through that depression stage but then you will overcome it, you will be a stronger person and live a happy normal life just like you used to.
How I maintain good mental health
It’s difficult sometimes and I do still get off days which bring my mood down and I just want to be on my own; listening to music really helps with that. Other times I will talk to friends and listen to their points of view and how they deal with things.
I like going to the park and just sitting there taking it all in. I really like nature, even though I can’t see it now, I remember what the trees and the grass look like. I can smell it and hearing the birds in a big open space gives me that element of freedom, it’s so peaceful.”
For more information about support available to people with visual impairment
If you would like to find out more about RNC, please call us on 01432 376 621 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Article written by Bik Lee, Digital Media Officer at RNC