Eyes Right

(5 July 2022 12:00 am)
Simon smiling in his kitchen, holding one of his books

Sight loss is easier to bear if you are mentally and physically prepared. In his new book, Simon Mahoney guides readers through the steps to regaining confidence, dignity and independence following the dreaded diagnosis.

For those familiar with the emotions of receiving bad news about their deteriorating vision, the weeks, months or years leading to total loss of sight can be overwhelming to say the least. Simon Mahoney’s new book, Winging it Blind, serves as a survival guide for navigating through this difficult period, arming yourself with the tools and wisdom to prepare for a different kind of life.

"Glaucoma is in my family, and from my late 30s I was semi prepared for it – it happened gradually over about four years, starting in 2013. When I retired from my job in social work, the plan was to move to Derbyshire to focus on working as a freelance artist, painting local scenery. But my vision deteriorated soon after arriving when I noticed some issues while I
was driving. I saw the optician and after that I hung my car keys up and sold the car. Funnily enough, I didn’t mind that too much because the bus service here is quite good and
I always have the most incredible conversations with fellow passengers. I find it gives me a sense of independence, as when you’re blind there’s a tendency to end up doing
things that are heavily supervised, and it’s just so nice to get out and do my own thing. I’m completely blind but for me it’s actually quite tolerable. I have visual memories of everything
that happens to me which I don’t fully understand.

When I was younger, I spent several years in the military as a Royal Marine Officer. It gave me that little bit of steel to help me overcome obstacles. I’m a member of Blind Veterans UK
now, which is quite a robust society, and very supportive. After my time in the military, I got a degree in Business Studies, and went onto become a social worker for 30 years where I got another degree in Psychology. I followed that up with a Masters in Social Work, which may seem a strange career change, but to me it seemed that social workers were fighting a war on the home front, because people on the bottom rung of society would be desperate without the little that we could provide. It was just fighting a different war to prevent disorder and anarchy, which is why I find the cutbacks in public services such as social work, so foolish.

I’ve written two other books dealing with sight loss and bereavement (‘A descent into darkness’) and cookery (‘First catch your rabbit’). Winging it Blind is my third, and draws together issues touched on in the first two. It focuses on the key things that someone can expect to face when first diagnosed with progressive sight loss. There are five levels covered that address putting sight loss into perspective, including overcoming fear of the unknown through seeking knowledge of your condition and how to manage it; preparing for a lack of support and understanding the importance of registering yourself as blind and how to do it; and laws about managing your work situation.

It also covers stress, adaptation, knowing how to ask for and refuse help, managing sight loss, the importance of self-presentation, and other basic tools like communication
skills. Further on, topics look at establishing yourself and developing your skills, such as navigation. It addresses accepting your condition and building relationships with others, and considerations for family and friends who are also trying to come to terms with what you’re going through. It also deals with sight loss within society – where I’ve vented a little about my abhorrence of the word ‘community’, which I feel encourages stereotyping which has no relevance to individuals!

My studies and work history have helped me personally get through difficult times. I knew from theory that my emotions were going to be all over the place. Sight loss is a bereavement but I was prepared for the emotional rollercoaster and change. The first thing I did was set up some rules of engagement that dealt with the immediate issues I’d need to face and positive action, such as learning something new every day; learning to adapt; not getting upset by people’s well-meaning comments; and keeping things in their place. I determined fairly early on what I was going to do.

One of my last jobs as a sighted person was running a large day centre for people with disabilities. We encouraged those who could read and write to express what they felt about their life, and that proved to be very powerful in therapeutic terms. I thought if it worked for them, it should work for me, so when I sat down to write it enabled me to engage with the process and empowered me at the same time.

I was determined from the outset that I was not going to give up through fear of the unknown. A pivotal moment was a fantastic flight over the Peak District to Ladybower Reservoir in a Tiger Moth, arranged by my late wife. Having taken the controls of the plane with no vision whatsoever, I thought afterwards – there’s nothing I can’t do. It was a huge confidence boost as I realised I could hack whatever came.

Winging it Blind is now the focus of a project by Anglian Ruskin University into vision loss research. One aspect of it is to find out how the book helps people entering the world of sight loss. I just hope that all three of my books help people find the solutions they need when they need them"

Winging it Blind by Simon Mahoney is available now on Amazon, priced £12.99.
ISBN: 1916446361.

For more information, please visit www.wingingitblind.com

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