There’s been a lot of talk about mental health in the news lately. From celebrity deaths to kids who take guns to school with no plans to come out alive. You can’t help but wonder what was going through their minds. How did they get to the point of wanting to end it all? Was life totally unbearable behind closed doors? Did they believe they weren’t good enough and never will be? Were they abused? Were they not able to cope with some sort of chronic illness or unexpected diagnosis? Were they angry? Were they sad? Were they depressed? Were they mad? Perhaps they were so emotionally drained, they felt nothing at all. I suspect no one can truly answer these questions, except for the ones who carry out the act. Unfortunately, suicidal thoughts are out there, we just don’t know about them. And I would bet you don’t know about mine.
Sight loss came into my life when I thought I had my life in order. I was 50 years old, a mother of a 14-year-old and a 19-year-old, super fit, and teaching group fitness classes 5 days a week when my life was turned upside down by Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON). I became legally blind in a matter of 8 months. I spiraled into an emotional mess and struggled over a life that no longer felt like mine.
I was beyond devastated. I was angry because it was so unfair. I was sad because I was losing a life I was happy with. I was frustrated because I had trouble with almost everything I used to do. I felt hopeless because there was nothing, nothing that I could think of, to hope for. Well, wait, I did have one hope. I hoped my children would be okay without me. Yes, I went there. I went to thoughts of suicide several times in the first year after my diagnosis. I was in such disbelief and I cried more tears In that first year, than I’ve cried in my entire life. Then there was that little voice. My voice in my own head that started rationalizing and debating about my future. I would say, “I could take a bunch of pills, that would be easy. Maybe I’ll get diagnosed with some incurable illness that would end this life and I wouldn’t have to do it myself. Maybe I should wait until the kids are older. They’ll be okay without me, right? right??? How can I be a good mom like this? My eyesight just keeps getting worse. When is it going to stop. Why the hell is this happening to me? Why? Why! I want to know why. I really don’t think I can do this. I don’t want to live this way… I’m not strong enough. This isn’t how life was supposed to go….”.
Like many people who contemplate suicide, I didn’t tell anyone. I stayed on autopilot and kept the secret under lock and key. I didn’t want anyone freaking out over my thoughts. I’d probably deny it all anyway. Would anyone understand how I felt? Would I ever stop feeling this way?
Yep, there were some really f’d up days. And there might be more. What is important, however, is that I recognize those days when I’m struggling and stay in the fight. I can’t let my emotions negatively affect how I deal with my disability. If you experience sadness, anger, hopelessness, or any negative emotion about your sight loss more than you would like, then keep reading. I’m going to share some ways to help relieve some of the emotional chaos that comes with a life-changing diagnosis. *GGB Note: These are based on my own personal experience.
Talking about my overwhelming emotions and thoughts with neutral parties provided relief and prevented me from making what would have been a bad decision.
Support groups can be incredibly helpful. Support groups are a place to feel accepted and understood. When I first started attending a local support group, my attitude was “I don’t belong here!”. I was the youngest one in the group, and they were all, well, old blind people with walkers and white canes. No, this is not for me. Well, what I needed was to find the right group to feel comfortable in, and I eventually did. I don’t attend that same group anymore, but I’m still friends with a few people I met there. I have also found camaraderie in online groups for people living with LHON and various other forms of sight loss. Talking and listening to others has helped me understand more of what I’m going through and that I am not alone.
Individual counseling is another option that can help too. I am all the stronger for working with a therapist because ultimately I just want to be the best version of myself. Therapy helped me to overcome emotional challenges that were weighing me down and holding me back. If you’re feeling hesitant, there is no shame in getting professional help. We all could use some help every now and then. Look for a therapist who specializes in working with people with vision loss or disabilities if possible. You might have to try out more than one therapist. It’s kind of like dating, you may not match with the first person you go out with. Going to counseling on a weekly basis was one of the best things I decided to do for myself after my diagnosis. Reach out or tell someone you think you might need counseling. Chances are, it will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
Sometimes I miss the old me. The one who was totally independent. The one who had her, (and everyone else’s), shit together. The one who was 30 lbs. thinner. The one who was fully sighted. Oh sure, I can be constantly upset about not being as organized, not being able to drive, not being a fully sighted mom, and so much more. But where’s that gonna get me? Probably a penthouse suite at the psych hospital! I have put the past in a nice little box, with a ribbon, and put it away. Do I look Inside that little box every so often? Sure. Who doesn’t like to reminisce about the good ‘ol sighted days? I just don’t dwell on it. I’ve learned that It’s in my best interest to focus on making the most of the here and now.
Living with sight loss has made me feel lonely and lost at times. But I know that shouldn’t prevent me from enjoying all that life has to offer. There have been many occasions where I have struggled to participate. Putting away my disability in the real world and keeping an active social life with friends and family takes a lot of emotional energy that I don’t always have.
In the past, I’ve committed to going out for “Girls Night” or attending a friend’s dinner party as part of my social life. Even though I was feeling a bit down and anti-social, I didn’t cancel. And more often than not, I was really glad I went! Pulling up my big girl panties and pushing myself to stay connected with others helps me feel better – more like my old fully sighted self. Being with others gets me thinking about other things and not obsessing about poor me and life sucks. Staying connected and keeping in touch is a bit like eating kale. Just eat that leafy shit, it’s good for you!
The attitude I have is entirely up to me. I’m leaning towards “feisty and fierce”! While LHON is here to stay, I am stronger than what it’s done to me. I can’t let it impact the decisions I make, how I parent my kids or my future. And yes, sometimes, I still get emotional over all this. But even on the days when it seems my sight loss is winning, ending it all Isn’t part of the plan. A blind life isn’t a bad life, it’s just a different life. There are many ways to help myself (and you), to stay in the fight for a life without sight. ❤
If you or someone you care about is in crisis and needs immediate medical care, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital OR call 911.