By Elin Williams
I’m Elin, the writer behind the blog, My Blurred World. I’ve been living with a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa since I was three years old. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to regularly share my experiences with you on the VICTA Parent Portal. I know my parents would have found a platform like this incredibly beneficial when I was younger. I hope that, by sharing my story, I can help to shed some light on important topics as you and your children navigate through life with a vision impairment.
The 3rd of February marks the start of Children’s Mental Health Week. As someone who’s very passionate about highlighting the importance of the connection between sight loss and mental health, I felt like it was only right that I wrote a little something about the topic.
Sight Loss and Mental Health
Despite the positives that can come from living with a vision impairment, the experience can be challenging. Amongst the relentless battle for access and equality, I think it can be easy to lose focus on the emotional impacts of living with sight loss.
I’ve personally experienced a fair share of ups and downs when it comes to my own mental health with anxiety and loneliness being constant fixtures in my life.
As a child, I tended to brush these feelings under the carpet, thinking they were insignificant. I didn’t understand the importance of being honest about it all with others but most importantly, myself.
This is why I think it’s so important to normalise the conversation about mental health. I think that letting children know it’s important to talk about their feelings can be such a positive thing. I know that it can be a sensitive topic for many but you don’t have to dive straight in. A few tentative steps towards opening a safe space to talk can be all you need to begin with.
My parents always reassured me that they were there for me if I ever wanted to talk about how living with a deteriorating eye condition made me feel. I have to admit that I wasn’t the most open in terms of expressing how I felt (it’s still a work in progress). But knowing that they were there provided me with invaluable reassurance.
Mental health can be such a unique and profound experience and maybe even more so when certain feelings stem from living with a vision impairment. As someone who used to be very reluctant to talk about my own feelings, I thought I’d share a few reassurances that I could have benefited from hearing when growing up. Perhaps your child can too.
It’s OK not to be OK
I think there’s almost this expectation amongst children that they should be happy and positive 24/7. And so, when they don’t feel that way, it can leave them feeling confused. But providing that reassurance and stressing the fact that it truly is OK not to be OK can make such a positive difference.
Encourage them to ask questions
I didn’t ask many questions about my vision impairment when I was growing up and I certainly strayed away from asking about anything that was affecting how I felt.
Children are naturally quizzical and it’s important that they know it’s okay to ask questions about vision impairment and all the emotions that can come hand in hand with it. You might not always have the answers but that’s okay. Sometimes the most powerful thing is when you navigate this confusing world of vision impairment together and figure things out one step at a time.
Make regular time to talk
With our lives seemingly only getting busier, I think it’s easy to dismiss the opportunity to sit down and have a good old heart-to-heart, but I think it’s more important than ever that we set aside some time to do just that.
It’s so easy to tip-toe around the topic of vision impairment and how that might be affecting someone in terms of their mental health. But the topics deserve to be out in the open.
When I was navigating my childhood and early teenage years, I often felt intimidated by a lot of questioning about my eye condition and how I felt towards it but I definitely needed that time to talk. However, talking and opening up felt much more natural when I was given the opportunity to lead the conversation. That might be something that your child finds beneficial too. Sometimes they might need that little nudge like I did when I was younger but having that freedom to talk about it all openly after that made all the difference.
Continuing the conversation
Initiatives such as Children’s Mental Health Week and Mental Health Awareness Week which takes place later in the year are really powerful. They prove to encourage people to share their stories and realise that they’re not alone. However, conversations shouldn’t be reserved for this week alone. Let it be the beginning of the discussion. Let it be the catalyst to a much broader and very much needed conversation that we all need to have more of.
There are so many different layers to life with sight loss, it’s not all black and white. I believe that the best way of filling in that grey space is by talking about our experiences, our struggles and what we might be going through.
By talking, we help each other realise that we’re not alone and we spark a conversation that might otherwise go unheard of. The affects that a vision impairment can have on someone’s mental health is a discussion we need to have more of and, by talking a little more about my own journey, I hope others realise the importance of reaching out too.
Mental Health Week
You can read our other Children’s Mental Health Week blogs in our Stories Section
Find out more about Children’s Mental Health Week here.