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Ten Steps to Stay Sane While Losing Sight

As you know if you are blind or going blind, and could probably surmise if you are neither, the loss of vision is a difficult process to endure without leaving behind at least a few marbles. I have retinitis pigmentosa and I am considered blind though a speck of retina in my left eye still works most of the time, offering just enough sight to drive me, and everyone around me, bonkers.

If vision loss makes you, too, feel as if you're losing your mind, try these ten steps. They won't improve your vision or bring you inner peace like, say, bionic retinas and mood stabilizers might, but they may offer some symptomatic relief.

  1. Have faith in something. Have faith in God; have faith in the law of gravity; have faith in nasal spray to clear your sinus passages. Whether you worship idols or Dr. Atkins for letting you smear butter on your T-bone, it can't hurt to have faith.

  2. Stop cringing and squinting; tell people you're going blind. Some people just won't get it. Like my neighbour who asked why I don't drive. When I told him I couldn't see, he said, "So? Plenty of people drive who can't see." He was serious.

Still, it's better to be up front. Recently, I dropped a few quarters at the airport. I heard them bounce on the carpet and quickly decided that not revealing my blindness by kneeling down to feel around for them was worth considerably more than 75 cents. I started to walk away.

"You dropped some change," a flight attendant said.

"That's okay," I answered with a wave.

"I think there might be some over there," she gestured to my right.

"Ah, no big deal," I said.

"It sounded like a lot fell," she persisted.

"Really, it's fine," I said, waving my hand again, this time with a tilt, a royal wave to convey the utter insignificance of the money.

She shook her head and made a sound that implied a disgusted "whatever" as I walked away.

I would not admit that I couldn't see. Why? It's not like my retinas were revoked for misconduct. If I had simply explained that I couldn't see the coins, she would have picked them up for me. If nothing else, I'd be 75 cents richer today.

  1. Chop up your driver's license and accept your pedestrian status. I refused to stop driving until, after six accidents, my insurance company cancelled my coverage (go figure). Still, I continued to renew my license, once even cheating on the vision test. Eventually, I misplaced the license and sobbed pitifully over its loss because, even unused, it represented my independence. But it's time to embrace the walk. Walking burns calories, strengthens muscles and it gets you from here to there, gratis.

  2. Give and take. Volunteer for a cause, any cause. Choose one out of self-interest like, I don't know, the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Ask people to donate money. People love when they're asked to unload cash. And when someone volunteers to offer you a hand or an elbow or, in my daughter's case, a ponytail and, in my son's case, the back of his t-shirt, take it. Don't say, "No thank you," and then walk into a pole. You'll feel like an idiot; the person who offered assistance will feel guilty; and you may need stitches (I received seven).

  3. Take the loose twist-ties and rubber bands out of the utensil drawer and get organized. Being about as organized as a plate of spaghetti, I spend most of my time looking for things and not finding them. It drives me crazy. If you, too, engage in maddeningly futile searches for a range of items from the trivial to the essential, you may benefit from some orderliness.

  4. Be thankful for the little things. I am thankful when, for example, I can find the newspaper on my front lawn block of grass roughly the size of an index card. I know it is there, but I rarely see it. I have learned that a proven method for locating my newspaper is giving up, heading back toward my house slumped and defeated, and tripping over it. Ah, there it is, I say triumphantly as I fan the scrape on my knee. And I am thankful that I don't need stitches, this time.

  5. Adjust your dreams. If you've always dreamed of playing shortstop for the New York Yankees and you're losing your vision, choose another sport (or at least another team, please). Become an umpire. Professional umpires can't really see either; they just yell out the calls with unswerving authority. Or you can play amateur ball and listen to games. If you're a Red Sox fan, the Yankees have already driven you batty and your failing vision may be a handy excuse to stop watching the Sox choke. If you're like me and never dreamed of being Derek Jeter, just marry him, then you don't have to alter your dream. Let's just call it a fantasy, shall we?

  6. Consider the possibility that you're gifted. Some people are clearly gifted, but you may have to find your gift. I never had even a token gift--you know, like a pleasant singing voice or the ability to catch a fly ball, neither one of which would have been so much a gift as a nice gesture on my Creator's part. My husband, in his enduring effort to boost my ego (you can't even imagine how sarcastic that is), once mentioned that I might have great hair. But even on its greatest day, hair is more of a nice accessory than a talent. Yet, I know we all have our strengths and we must exploit them.

  7. Try not to bite the heads off your parents, kids, siblings and friends; be grateful for the big things. I know how those well-meaning loved ones can push you headlong over the edge. Perhaps you have a father who gasps every time you take a step. Your heart stops at the sound of his shrill gasp, but you soon realize he is holding his chest because you just moved one foot forward and came within 25 yards of a lamppost. Or your mother watches blankly as you collide with a lamppost and then, as you're swearing like you've never sworn before under your breath of course because your mother is present, she says, "Oh dear. I thought you saw that." They mean well, really.

  8. Take a dose of life's happy drug (I mean laughter, not Prozac). When you found out you were losing your vision, the last thing you wanted to do was laugh. But now, it's time to laugh at yourself and, preferably, at others. Laugh uproariously when people show you something that is, apparently, hilarious and expect you to have seen it. Laugh at your doctor or therapist. If yours aren't funny, and most of them are not moonlighting on Comedy Central, then laugh at mine. One therapist claimed to know how I feel, losing my vision, because she suffers from, get this, back pain. Sometimes, comedy is the only response to tragedy.

The above article was first published in DIALOGUE, Winter 2004. For a free sample issue of DIALOGUE or information about other publications, contact Blindskills, Inc., P.O. Box 5181, Salem, OR 97304-0181; Phone: 800-860-4224; Email: ; Website: (opens in a new window)


Really enjoyed your blog. My brother is blind and I think he will enjoy this.

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