by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
One of the hardest adjustments to vision loss is the reaction of friends and family. You are naturally frightened, frustrated and yes, even angry. The people around you don't know how to respond and may begin treating you as if you are a helpless small child. They may snatch tasks away from you or show their concern by smothering you with extra solicitude. Their desire to help can actually delay or make your adjustment harder. Even perfect strangers will sometimes react to your vision loss in surprising and irritating ways. It isn't easy learning to overcome your reluctance to make mistakes in front of others. When you are uncertain of your newly acquired skills, it's difficult to state firmly, "No thank you, I can do this." For hardheaded types like myself, the toughest thing is to overcome a reluctance to ask for help when you really need it. The interplay between yourself and others adds a layer of complexity to your adjustment to decreasing vision.
At first the new techniques you are learning will seem awkward and they will take more time to perform, but it is important to persist. Like any new skill, you will get better with practice. If you surrender to the pressure of loved ones to allow them to do things for you that you can do for yourself, you will only sink deeper into depression and a feeling of helplessness. With casual acquaintances, a smile and a "no thank you" are sufficient, but close friends and family are harder to convince. They too are feeling a sense of panic and a fear for your safety. The first step for you is to take charge of your life and vision loss. Find out as much as you can about what services and resources are available to you. Decide how much you want to deal with independently and find solutions that work for you. I might choose to walk a long way and catch a couple of buses to get to a meeting while you ask a friend for a lift or sign up for door-to-door paratransit service or take a cab. There is no right way to deal with our mutual inability to drive, only the way that works for us individually and allows us to live full, interesting, independent lives. It's OK to ask for help dealing with tasks that overwhelm you. Everyone needs help once in a while.
Here are a few points to use when dealing with family members. First of all, you will be safer and get more enjoyment out of life if you are allowed to learn and practice independent living skills. Loved ones won't always be there when you need to do something. You are still the same person you were before vision loss. Your eyes may not work as well as they used to, but your mind and character haven't changed. As you master each new skill, your sense of well-being and satisfaction will increase with your competence. If they truly care for you, your friends and family will want you to regain your independence. They can best show their love by helping you grow in proficiency even if it is hard for them to stand back and allow you to make mistakes. It may not seem possible in the beginning, but as you master each new task, you will come closer to the goal of accepting vision loss as just a small part of the package that represents who you are as a person and not the overwhelming disaster it seems at first. Forge ahead, because the quality of your life is in your hands. You will only get out of it what you put into living it.