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Managing Social Anxiety & Sight Loss

Managing Social Anxiety & Sight Loss

While appearing confident is important it’s more important to articulate what our needs are. Because I appear as if I’m in control people forget I can’t see and sometimes this hurts more than helps. I think part of my struggle here is the delicate balancing act of being confident yet knowing when to request assistance.

Bold Blind Beauty

These Four Walls

Recently I’ve talked with several of my blind & visually impaired friends about managing social anxiety and blindness. For many reasons, anxiety, as it relates to our sight loss, is a topic we don’t talk about frequently. On a personal level, one of my reasons is simply the fear of my fear. I feel like if I talk about it all the scary things in my mind they will come into existence. So how do I handle social anxiety and sight loss? The easy answer is I fake it.

Truth be told I’ve always lived with social anxiety and my blindness kicks it up several notches. A panic attack always lurks just beneath the surface whenever I’m in unfamiliar or heavily populated open spaces.

When you can only see blurry shapes, colors, and movement, it’s not ideal. Adding noise to this equation can overwhelm my senses compounding the anxiety. For example in a shopping mall environment, the expectation would be humans and service animals here and there. Without any central vision, I cannot see fine details so people’s faces are nonexistent. Whenever my grown children come by they have to identify themselves so I know who they are. So imagine being in unfamiliar territory with unknown people—no one stands out even people I know.

While being within the confines of my home makes me feel safer than anywhere else there are some challenges. When I’m home alone I know exactly where everything is, on the flipside when my son and grandson are here it can be chaotic. I rely on everything being in its place but when you share living space, there are bound to be problems.

The Moment Of Truth

Since retiring several years ago, my life mainly revolves around being at home on my computer. Blogging and social media have given me an outlet to connect with and live life vicariously through others. Even so, there is the inevitable grocery store run, doctor’s visit, or an occasional special outing that requires leaving home. Then there’s the dog.

As an animal lover and dog owner, it’s my responsibility to walk my Mollie. One would think that since I’m familiar with the area where I live this would be an easy thing to do right? Nah, it’s not that simple. See I live in a condominium complex without sidewalks which means I have to be constantly alert. In addition, I cannot use my cane when walking Mollie which makes me more vulnerable as drivers don’t know I can’t see. Many of my neighbors also don’t know I can’t see because I guard my privacy—so there’s that.

Today was a minor turning point for me as I admitted my fear and pushed through anyway. The first day at a new gym can be a little unsettling to anyone I suppose. For me, I was downright terrified but I’d put it off long enough and decided to be honest.

Because I’d called in advance the facility was expecting me but I opted not to disclose my disability until in person. With white cane in hand, I followed my son into the building. Once inside I met Tammy, the owner of the gym. I briefly explained my fears and she immediately put me at ease. She explained the gym’s offerings and told me she’d create a workout plan for me in large print. I was over the moon and may for the first time ever, take a couple of classes.

Lessons Learned

Today was a very good day. Was I still anxious? You bet I was! But being upfront with Tammy about my blindness and explaining what I can and cannot see helped her to help me. For far too long I let my fear control me and was afraid of being vulnerable, judged and appearing foolish.

I also think that while appearing confident is important it’s more important to articulate what our needs are. Because I appear as if I’m in control people forget I can’t see and sometimes this hurts more than helps. I think part of my struggle here is the delicate balancing act of being confident yet knowing when to request assistance.
Since empowerment is a key component of Bold Blind Beauty I sometimes feel torn about admitting my perceived flaws. Then there’s another part of me who understands that real empowerment and confidence comes from knowing when to seek help. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.

My anxiety like my blindness is a part of me and will more than likely remain with me until my last breath. I do have a few additional tips that I’ll share at a later date. For now, though, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you ever talk about your fears?

Managing Social Anxiety & Sight Loss Image Descriptions:

The featured image, as well as the gallery of three photos, are of me on the treadmill. I’m wearing navy exercise capris, teal tank top, teal & navy sneakers and navy knotted head scarf.

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When We Connect We Are Stronger

When We Connect collage of FFB photos are in the body of the post

When We Connect We Are Stronger

Three of Diane Krek's landscape paintings are on easels behind a banquet table with Chinese Auction and Silent Auction items. In front of each auction item is a pink or blue foil gift bag for the raffle tickets.
Diane Krek’s Paintings, “BLT Art For A Cause”

This past weekend the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind (PCB) was an exhibitor at the Pittsburgh Vision Seminar. The seminar, hosted by the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) reminded me once again of how lonely sight loss can be. When we connect we are stronger because losing one’s eyesight can be a lonely experience but it can be different.

The first person I met was so upset over her sister’s sight loss to diabetic retinopathy I thought she might break down. When I asked her if her sister was given a referral to low vision rehabilitation I wasn’t surprised when she told me no. This conversation set the tone as we spoke with many people and family members of those new to sight loss.

It’s Helpful to Know You Aren’t Alone

While those attending these events are looking for a cure to their inherited retinal disease I think it’s equally important to adapt. For this reason, I am so glad several of the exhibitors were blind or visually impaired. This was an opportunity for a vital connection between sighted and non-sighted communities. My friend Diane Krek, who was recently featured in one of our local newspapers, was there with her beautiful paintings. Then there was my friend Christine and I who represented PCB.

When I lost my sight it was my friends at PCB and our local chapter who helped me get through it. So Saturday was my chance to give back by letting people see us in action. It’s so gratifying being in a position of helping people understand they are not alone in their sight loss journey and assure them that life goes on.

Giving people a few simple tools like 20/20 pens and check writing guides along with other resources enlightened them. Advising others of our local PCB affiliate in Pittsburgh gave them the opportunity to join our peer network.

Gene Therapy & Latest News

While I couldn’t stay for the entire seminar, the speakers I heard were awesome. Dr. Leah Byrne, Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh and Ben Shaberman, Senior Director of Communications, FFB shed light on the latest research. Another interesting tidbit of information was the My Retina Tracker Registry. The voluntary registry is designed to help accelerate the discovery of treatments and cures for those with inherited retinal diseases.

When We connect Featured Image Description:

A photo collage of images from the event. Left to right, the first photo is a blue and white FFB vertical banner. The only text I can read is Foundation Fighting Blindness and their website address. The second photo (top right) is the jam-packed hotel meeting room filled with people sitting at round tables. There is a big screen at the far right of the room where they shared a PowerPoint presentation. The third photo is the FFB registration table just outside if the meeting room.

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Liz Oleksa | Blind Beauty 5

Blind Beauty 5 featured image description is in the body of the post.

Liz Oleksa | Blind Beauty 5

“I had lost my sight in September 2012 from Diabetic Retinopathy. Logan (son) had seen how I went from living my life as a person who was sighted and had no self-confidence, to being a person with no physical sight and finally being proud of who I am. Finally, I can walk in a room with my head held high, knowing that I am enough and that I don’t need to prove myself to anyone except myself.” 

~Liz Oleksa
Blind Beauty 5 Image description is in the body of the post.
Liz, Logan & Bryce Krispie

Liz, aka Her Royal Blindness, is the President of the Lehigh Valley Council of Blind.

When you have a spare moment, check out Liz’s account of her son creating an image of positivity. Logan displays compassion, empathy and an understanding of real beauty within a person. The article can be found here: Image Of Positivity Is Changing Perceptions

Blind Beauty 5 Featured Image Description:

The image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Liz Oleksa, her son, Logan and guide dog Bryce Krispie are on the cover. Liz and Logan are both smiling while Bryce Krispie is looking intensely at the camera.

Blocks of text superimposed on Liz & Logan’s photo are: “Bold | She Keeps Pressing Onward,” “Blind | She Has Deeper Insight,” “Beautiful | She Sees To The Heart Of Others”

Additional Image:

In the photo is Liz, Logan, and Bryce Krispie. Liz is standing on the left, and Logan is on her right. They are both dressed up for Logan’s chorus concert at school. Bryce Krispie, Liz’s guide dog, is sitting in front of her and Logan’s feet.

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Image Of Positivity Is Changing Perceptions

He told me he was so proud of me because he knows that whenever someone says to me that I can’t do something because I am blind, my initial reaction is to prove them wrong and say, “Watch me! I may not do it the same way, and it may take me a bit longer, but I WILL do it!!!”

~Liz Oleksa

Image Of Positivity Is Changing Perceptions

Logan & The Silhouetted Man

Liz Oleksa, President of Lehigh Valley Council of The Blind has one of the most sparkling personalities of anyone I’ve met. I’m so happy I connected with her. The loving gesture made by her son is a testimony to the content of her character. And as a parent, she absolutely ROCKS! 

Blind Beauty 5 Image description is in the body of the post.
Liz, Logan & Bryce Krispie

It all began when talking with my 13-year-old son, Logan about this really amazing website and blog “Bold Blind Beauty,” and the icon that comes along with it all; her name is Abigale (Abby). She is a beautiful combination of “Ability” and ordinary brown bird, the “Nightingale.” Abby is depicted as a classy bold woman, who wears a stylish dress, handbag over her arm, a snazzy updo hairstyle. She proudly walks with her red and white cane, as Abby is a woman who happens to be visually impaired.

I was speaking with Logan about how important it is to be proud of who you are. Regardless of disability, regardless of how we look on the outside because we all have an inner beauty that shines through. It is about how we present our attitude and image of “self-worth” to the world around us.

Logan said that it was really cool and an impressive idea to be sending out to everyone, not only people who are blind or visually impaired. He told me that made him think of something, and he would be back in a bit because he wanted to go make me something.

The Silhouetted Man

The Silhouetted Man

I had lost my sight in September 2012 from Diabetic Retinopathy. Logan had seen how I went from living my life as a person who was sighted and had no self-confidence, to being a person with no physical sight and finally being proud of who I am. I finally can walk in a room with my head held high, knowing that I am enough. That I don’t need to prove myself to anyone except myself. I have always joked with Logan about my loss of eye-sight, that no matter what, “I will always be cooler because I can do everything with my eyes closed,” so to speak…

Needless to say, about a half hour later, Logan came back to me and said that he had something to share with me. He had taken my positive attitude and combined it with the amazing “Abby” concept to create an image of his very own. He described it as the following to me: It is a silhouette of a man using a red and white cane, on a pure white background. The man is facing the right of the picture where the black text reads

“Blind people can do anything that sighted people can do. But blind people are cooler because we do it with our eyes closed!”

~Logan Oleksa

He told me he was so proud of me because he knows that whenever someone says to me that I can’t do something because I am blind, my initial reaction is to prove them wrong and say, “Watch me! I may not do it the same way, and it may take me a bit longer, but I WILL do it!!!”

This is such an important message to be sent out, for both Abby and “the silhouetted man”. Not just for the blind and visually impaired community, but for all people. People as a whole.

So many people, disability or no disability, struggle with negative self-image. What people need to remember though is that it doesn’t matter what the outside looks like, but rather what shines from the inside. How can we present ourselves in confidence, self-pride, and self-worth if we keep a negative image of ourselves as a whole?

Let yourself be proud of who you are! You are unique and beautiful in your very own individual way, and that inner beauty has so much to share with the world!