by Ernie Jones
Depression often strikes when a person finds he can not see well enough to do activities like he used to do. To be told “your vision is growing worse,” or “you are legally blind” will send a stab of fear into the person’s heart, for most people fear blindness more than any other physical problem.
I remember such a day. Even though I had an idea my eyesight was failing, still I refused to really believe. Unless a doctor checked my vision and told me, I could pretend there was nothing wrong. Then, after another “warning” I made the appointment.
It is hard to actually put into words the fear that shot through me when the eye specialist told me, “you are not to drive a car any more nor should you operate any machinery such as saws, tillers or mowers. Your work as a nurse is over.” Although he assured me I would get Social Security early, his words did not comfort me.
Fortunately, today there are rehab training programs that help pay for further education for those with fading eyesight that were not available when I needed it. That was long ago, and for the most part, my life is full.
I continued to mow the lawn until my mowing looked more like a corn maze than a smooth clipped lawn. I used my rear tine tiller and chain saw for many years, and I still use my skill saw. I find using my battery operated drill/screw-driver easier than pounding in a nail. Also it saves my fingers!
In the early days of blindness, depression can lead to self-pity, anger and maybe even to blaming someone or some thing. The newly diagnosed blind may feel that he did something wrong that he is being punished for. He may start pulling away from other people, staying shut up in his house, for going outside brings fear. Invitations to go shopping or visiting meet with a refusal and maybe bitter words.
Fortunately for most blind, this depression/anger does not last long. Like a person suffering any other setback, whether loss of job, serious illness, divorce, or other traumatic situation, he will bounce back to again enjoy life and be a joy to those around him.
How can you help? There is no simple answer, for in blindness like in all other aspects of life, each person reacts differently. But one thing is for sure, he needs friends more now than ever. Friendly visits are helpful and often just being there helps like a ray of spring sunshine after a cloudy day. But never tell him how he should do activities, especially if he doesn’t ask. Do not treat the blind any differently than before the eyesight dimmed. Do not baby them, but do not look down on them either. Making the blind feel their blindness has made them a less valuable person, or has made them to be a lower class is one of the worse slaps one can hand out.
I have found that work, exercise, or other such activities are good tools for fighting depression. The sooner the newly diagnosed person with fading eyesight gets mobility training, the better his life will be. Mastering the use of the long white cane can open a whole new world to him. I understand the fear many show against using the white cane, for this shows the world that we are really blind; usually we want to hide this fact.
I think this fear comes from the age-old theory that the blind are helpless and useless. This theory, what I call from the “dark ages,” still lives today and it is not easy to admit to the neighborhood our blindness. But once we do and we get back out, whether we walk miles or just a couple blocks, will greatly improve our outlook on life.
Encourage the blind to continue reading. Today one can get almost any book on cassette from the Library for the Blind, Christian Record Services, Reader’s Digest and other places on a loan basis. One can find a lot of books on cassette in the bookstores. Blindness may open up new doors to activities there was no time for in the 40-hour workweek. Now there is more time to just enjoy life, whether with the computer, reading, gardening, or visiting others. Life can still be great. So if you are having trouble seeing, or if you have a loved one who is going blind, encourage him to keep going. Recently I have been in contact with people who are scared because of fading eyesight. We must let them know that there are ways that even they can still enjoy life.
Ernie Jones has been legally blind for more than twenty years. He lives in Walla Walla, WA, and writes a regular column called “Different Views” for the Walla Walla Union Bulletin.