Low Vision. My perspective; heartache, helpful hints, humor.
(Published in issue 18 of the Canadian Blind Monitor, Fall 2004.)
Everyone understands the term ‘blind’. Low vision is a much less understood concept, and the human relations aspect of coping with an amount of blindness which is not obvious, adds to the difficulties of the blindness itself.
I know from personal experience that some people to whom you mention your low vision will question you. It’s hard for them to comprehend the fact that you “seem fine” but you’re saying you can’t see well. “Don’t you wear glasses? Can you see me? Most people are polite and just want to understand. There are though, folks who seem to be skeptical, and may even test you; “Well you saw that!” Don’t knock yourself out with such encounters.
Some people may grasp your statement of low vision more readily if you are carrying a white I.D. cane, or wearing a checkered eye. However, the I.D. cane sometimes creates more misunderstanding than it alleviates since many of the general public think a white cane is only for severely blind people to use as a mobility tool. The checkered eye still has limited effects also since it’s not widely known yet, but pointing to it can help, as well as providing an information pamphlet, supplies of which are easily available and free.
You may also find that your family and friends forget that you can’t see as well as they can. My Mom for example used to point out things like the cute little lambs across a field we were driving past. While I could enjoy the thought of such a view, she’d forget I couldn’t see it.
I’ve had low vision since I was a kid and have had lots of time to encounter these situations and develop my own ways to deal with them. Low vision which takes place in late adulthood creates a very different experience to that of someone who’s never had average sight. I know when I speak to adults who have lost some eyesight recently; I am reminded of the emotional pain that comes with losing some abilities and independence. I can only imagine the blow to the heart that comes with giving up a drivers license. What I have learned in recent years, that helps me with this kind of upset, is to go ahead and feel it. I’m not recommending that anyone wallows on and on in their sorrows, but to go ahead and experience all emotions. Of course there are moments that are more appropriate than others, for having one’s feelings. Not for example, while a little old lady helps with crossing the street, but perhaps later, alone or with a trusted friend.
It’s been my experience that these emotions are easier to manage when they come up unexpectedly, if I haven’t been choking them down in every other instance.
People who have newly acquired low vision are often reluctant to acknowledge their difficulties or seek advice or assistance. Many such folks probably come up with some simple solutions like magnifiers, ‘following the sheep’ at traffic lights, saying hi to everyone in case it’s someone they know. I suspect however, that they will find that they’ve been doing some things the hard way, and that there is a wealth of helpful hints and support if they are interested in accessing it through organizations of people with blindness and service providers for us.
I’m sure there are folks like me who can attest to some of the advantages of having low vision. Things like the ignorant bliss I lived in before a close friend told me that there’s hair on my toes which also needs to be shaved! Or how, as long as I don’t lean in close to the mirror, I always look flawless.
Of course this is a tongue in cheek perspective, but let’s face it; humor can be a wonderful coping tool. There are things I can laugh at in the moment, like getting a handful of sticky goo when I tried to open an already opened jam jar. Things I may laugh at later like when I asked an old boyfriend who said hello, “how do I know you?” And my kids and I still laugh at photos of the giant, brightly colored hats I made them wear when I took them to the beach, and how I used to make them sing at the top of their lungs so I knew they were still there if they were playing a distance away from me.
Humor is something that you don’t have to be blind to know is one useful mechanism for coping with difficulties.
It can also be helpful to decide not to resist or deny the new or different ways you do things if you have any measure of blindness. And realize that you have no power over how someone else will respond to the way you do things. We can only do what we can do, and trust ourselves to handle the results.
In the words of someone close to me: “Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with the world.”