December 13, 2013

I’m looking out the window at a wind blown world not knowing where to start this. Candles flicker on the windowsill next me but they’re only little battery things I bought on sale at the supermarket during the summer when nobody wanted candles.  And writing about that I know I'm just procrastinating...

Attending a Sight Service event as a Champion

The Time to Change Regional Coordinator for the North East, Angela, invited me to write a piece on a meeting with another organization, Sight Service that I attended as a Time to Change Champion.  I said yes but I always do and it’s scary to write for an audience, especially when you don’t really know what the scope of the piece should be. So I look out the window for inspiration but all that comes to mind is ‘change’.

I have a favourite song.  It’s by Abba but unless you bought a particular album or lived in Europe when it was a hit there you probably don’t know it.  It puts forth the idea that ‘like a roller on the ocean, life is motion’, really corny but a nice sentiment if you listen to the whole song.  I don’t think they are right though.  I’ve always had a feeling that a more real description would be ‘change’.  Life is just change.

My life changed

I once woke up to find I was almost blind in my left eye. That was a change. Not a nice one, I would rather have woken up to find a nice big fat gas bill on the door mat. So I went to the specialist eye hospital and over a number of months underwent a battery of tests. The big obscurity in my eye dissolved somewhat, came back, dissolved, came back several times over and each time added permanent scaring and permanent sight loss.  The shocking change changed itself into a slow creeping change. 

I got over the shock with the help of my wonderfully supportive wife, the only thing in my life that doesn’t change. I got over it  until the specialist give his diagnosis and final advice.  He gave the condition its medical name and said ‘If there is anything you want to see, go and see it in the next two years.’ He started passing me leaflets about the RNIB and sight aids and local charities and what I can do to prepare.

Within a few weeks I was experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to be a burden to my family and could only see one way to manage this change in my life.

Nine years later my right eye is still good and I’m still able to support my family.  The thoughts of killing myself are still in the back of my mind too.  A permanent change in my outlook on the world, a scar on my mind brought about by the scares in my vision, despite CBT et al. 

Time to Change and Sight Service

Sight Service is the leading local provider of services and support for people who are visually impaired and live in the Gateshead or South Tyneside area.  Most search engines will bring up their website if you’d like to look them up after this.  Their management team recognise that visually imparted people suffer mental health issues just as surely as the rest of the population. From this came a wish to understand mental health issues, how they might impact on people, what difficulties they cause and how visually impaired people with mental health issues might be supported. This led to Time to Change being invited to meet with Sight Service’s managers and clients to share about mental health issues. 

On February 22nd November Sight Service hosted Time to Change’s regional coordinator, Angela Slater and 6 champions at their premises on the Bensham Hospital site to share experience and begin the conversation about mental health in the visually impaired community.

Sharing stories

The meeting began with introductions then the sharing of lived experience stories from Time to Change champions and Sight Service users.  From these, common threads were drawn relating to the treatment of disabled minorities; stigma, prejudice, discrimination and the difficulty in overcoming these. We particularly talked about the situation of visually impaired people and how some people become isolated, echoing mental health service user experience, or how some do not accept their situation or won’t ask for help for other reasons.  Again, reflecting the experience of mental health service users where some wish to remain anonymous because of the stigma attached to this. It’s important to note too that it was recognised that nobody should be pushed into accepting help and this is usually counter productive anyway. 

By the conclusion of the meeting both Sight Service and Time to Change could see a continuing relationship and perhaps joint campaign work would be worth while.

I wanted to be at this meeting because of my own situation. The dual interests of mental health issues and visual impairment, perhaps future blindness. I didn’t realise how much hurt being in a place so overtly related to visual impairment would bring back. I was late for the start and if I’m honest with myself, was extremely reluctant to turn up. Walking into the foyer where aids for the visually impaired were on sale, then into the meeting room with its posters and other material, pulled me up short. Emotionally, I was back in the consultant’s office at the moment he was handing me leaflets. Not so much had changed since then after all, just a lot of buried emotion. I always liked this one, ‘Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt’.

I think what CBT and talking therapies have done for me is made me more self aware, given me the ability to choose how I respond and how I change.  Coming out of the meeting the support of the other champions reminded me that change is my choice and maybe it was time for me to change with regards to by vision.  ‘Acceptance isn’t just…’  Never could find an ending to that one.  Maybe ‘Acceptance isn’t just something we find on our own.’

I sincerely hope this link-up is fruitful for both sides.  

It’s time to change.


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