#HowISee

93% of people registered blind or partially sighted can see something, meaning that only a very small percentage of visually impaired people are completely blind. The RNIB’s #HowISee campaign aims to raise awareness of this fact and dispel the misconceptions that surround visual impairments such as using a guide dog or white cane means that you are totally blind, or that not using a mobility aid means that you are fully sighted.
Watch the #HowISee video here

 

I am one of the 93%. I have been registered blind since I was seven years old, but I have a limited amount of residual vision which I used to its full advantage.

 

I have a condition called Lebers Congenital Amaurosis (LCA) which means that my retinas don’t function properly causing my Visual impairment. I also have Nystagmas meaning an involuntary movement of the eyes as they try to focus.

 

My condition has meant that I have never been fully sighted, but when I was a child I did have a considerable amount of residual vision which meant that I could read, see colour and use magnification for a time.

 

The nature of my condition however means that my site has been gradually deteriorating since birth, culminating in a sudden deterioration in my teens. This left me with light perception in my right eye and a small amount of residual peripheral vision in my left. My site has stabilised since, though there is the possibility that it could deteriorate again.

 

I try to use my remaining vision as much as I possibly can, which is something I have had to learn to do. It was only when I received mobility training from a rehab worker who is actually also visually impaired herself two years ago that I was able to teach myself to utilise the remaining vision that I have.

 

With the peripheral vision in my left I, I can distinguish contrast and rarely I can make out a bright colour. This doesn’t sound like much, but you’d be surprised how useful even that is in daily life. It means that I can follow a building line by distinguishing a white building from a darker one; I can see distinctive road markings such as a zebra crossing; I can find the counter in a Starbucks by spotting the bright lights. All these things help immensely in my orientation and are things I use on a daily basis when getting around independently.

 

This is my experience of visual impairment, my experience of LCA. But that is not to mean that everyone’s experience is the same. Out of all the visually impaired people I know I don’t think I know two people who see the same thing. Not even people with the same condition as me. I know others with LCA who have enough residual vision to read print and yet others who are totally blind.

 

I am often asked if I am my guide dogs trainer because I apparently “don’t look blind”. I’m not entirely certain if this is because of how are use my residual vision to get around, or just because I am a reasonably confident young woman who doesn’t fit into the traditional stereotype of a plain old blind man with a white cane. Either way this always feels like a bit of a backhanded compliment to me, because besides the fact that I’m not totally blind so why would I look as such, what does blind look like anyway?

 

I have mentioned previously on this blog that the spectrum of visual impairment is huge, as is is the spectrum of ways that people live with their visual impairment. This is why it’s problematic to put people in boxes such as guide dog user must be totally blind, or symbol cane user must be able to read small print.

 

The important message that the #HowISee campaign is trying to convey is not to judge a book by its cover, or a blind person by their mobility aid (or lack there of). Everyone is an individual, even blind people 😉

 

Join in the campaign by explaining how you see the world and sharing your own stories of any awkward moments or misconceptions you’ve experienced using the #HowISee hashtag throughout August.

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#HighFiveForAnxiety

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to offend or upset anyone, neither am I a mental health expert or professional. I’m only speaking from my own experience. 
#HighFiveForAnxiety
 
Anxiety UK have recently launched a Twitter campaign to break the stigma surrounding mental health. The #HighFiveForAnxiety hashtag hopes to get people talking about anxiety and mental health; topics rarely discussed in day-to-day conversation. Thousands of people have tweeted sharing personal experiences and messages of support using the hashtag #HighFiveForAnxiety, including me.
I have struggled with Anxiety coupled with Depression for the last couple of years. I receive counselling and practice Mindfulness to manage it as best as I can. Very recently, my Anxiety peaked making me feel more vulnerable and helpless than I have in a long time. Yesterday I was feeling particularly low so took to Twitter to get my mind off things, where I found the #HighFiveForAnxiety trend.
Reading the tweets, I found myself identifying and relating to people I’d never met. I tweeted using the hashtag and felt relief that I’d gotten some feelings off my chest. Then my tweet was retweeted by @AnxietyUk and was favourited by a couple of people. Then my tweet was shared by others and favourited even more times. I was overwhelmed. At a time when Anxiety was making me feel especially lonely and isolated, the #HighFiveForAnxiety campaign made me feel supported in a way that I never expected.
 
What is Anxiety?
 
Anxiety makes me feel alone. I feel ashamed of my weakness and embarrassed of my vulnerability. I feel suffocated, claustrophobic and like I’m trapped in my own head. Irrational thoughts crowd my mind space, but despite knowing that their irrational I can’t rationalise them. I can’t understand how everyone else can go about their lives seemingly care free, when leaving my room or answering the phone are monumental challenges for me. I shake and find it difficult to talk or stay still. I don’t know how to tell anyone because I doubt they’d understand, mainly because I don’t know how to explain.
Before I understood that what I experience is Anxiety and Depression, the worst thing I did was not tell anyone. I find it incredibly difficult to admit my own weakness or make myself vulnerable. The fact that I had stopped bothering to take care of myself and sometimes wouldn’t leave my room for days at a time wasn’t as concerning to me as the thought of actually admitting these facts to someone. Because what if I did and they said that there was something wrong with me? What if they assessed me and put me in the box of ‘mentally ill’? What if confessing my feelings to someone lead them to confirm that I was broken, defective, crazy?
 
Physical health/mental health
 
Imagine that you wake up one morning feeling nauseous. You can’t keep down your breakfast and you feel weak, clammy and all round crappy. What do you do?
You’d probably try to get something from the chemist to relieve your symptoms. You might make an appointment with your GP. You could tell work/school/college that you’ve got a stomach bug and won’t be in today.
Now imagine that you wake up one morning feeling completely unmotivated to get out of bed. You’ve had a terrible night sleep because you were up half the night worrying about anything and everything. The thought of leaving your bed and facing the world makes you panicky because you can’t stop imagining all sorts of horrific scenarios in your head. What do you do?
It’s unlikely that you could get anything over the counter that would stop you feeling anxious or depressed. It’s unlikely that you’d think to ring your GP or call work/school/college to tell them how you’re feeling. It’s likely that you’d try to force yourself to carry on as normal, or you’d stay in bed and burry your head under the pillow trying to ignore that anything is wrong.
 
Why should we talk about mental health?
 
According to the Mind website, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. It’s more common than you think. Chances are that at least one person you’ve interacted with today have experienced struggles with their mental health. But you don’t realise it, because we don’t talk about it.
When I have my guide dog or my cane with me it’s perfectly obvious to anyone that I am visually impaired. This often prompts comments or questions, it usually makes people more understanding and more willing to help. But there is nothing physical about me that would indicate to you that I experience Anxiety and Depression. You wouldn’t know, unless I told you. And if I told you, what would you think? If I turned to you and said, “This situation is making me really anxious”, what would you say? Would you be shocked? Would you know how to help me? Would you understand what I might need?
When I was at my lowest with Anxiety and Depression, one of my friends was going through very similar feelings. We would talk for hours about our feelings, but we never thought that how we felt might have a name or might not be, for want of a better word, normal. We confessed how we felt to each other, but thought it impossible to admit it to anyone else. Simultaneously, another of my friends was experiencing similar feelings, but neither of us ever discussed it. It was only much later, when we were both able to open up about our experiences and share what was really going on that we realised how much support we could’ve gleaned from each other if we’d only confided in each other.
I’ve learned that one of the most important steps I can take to ensuring that I never return to my lowest point again is by trusting others with my thoughts and feelings. That includes professionals, family and friends and my University. If I’d never spoken up about how I was feeling, I would never have been able to access the support that I needed to improve.
 
If I had come across #HighFiveForAnxiety when I was at my lowest, I know that being able to relate to hundreds of people online and being able to identify with their experiences would’ve made me feel much more secure about admitting my feelings. It would’ve reassured me that I wasn’t alone, that there wasn’t anything wrong with me and that there are things and people that can help. I might’ve told my friend going through the same thing and we could’ve supported each other. I might have felt able to confide in my other friend and could’ve supported them as well. It would’ve given me the courage to talk.
 
Please check out the #HighFiveForAnxiety hashtag and join in by tweeting your thoughts about Anxiety. If you feel that you might be struggling with your mental health, check out the websites below for tips and support.
 
Thank you for reading and remember to comment or tweet me @seemyway15 with any questions about my experience of Anxiety and Depression.
 
Anxiety UK: http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk
 
Mind: http://www.mind.org.uk