Seeing Red

red angry face

What makes us angry?

As visually impaired and blind senior adults, we often find ourselves metaphorically seeing red when confronted by life without our most dominant sense. We are angered by our loss of independence, our inability to fight injustices, and by the ignorance or indifference of others.    

Since most of us hale from the more gentle generations, we try to avoid outward expressions of anger. Heaven forbid if we, as children, ever slammed a door in a fit of rage, or if we raised our voices in church no matter whose turn it was to hold the hymnal. We were taught that angry confrontation is not welcome in polite society, so most of us tend to suppress the warriors inside us. And for those of us with visual impairment, opportunities for holding back arise often, like when we: 

  • perceive that our concerns are falling upon deaf ears
  • feel that we are appearing weak or self-pitying
  • recognize that others are overreacting or misunderstanding our needs
  • decide that further attempts to communicate are futile

Anger can be considered a secondary symptom of eye disease, and numerous studies are showing that suppression of anger can cause psychological and physiological harm. If we don’t have healthy management strategies, then our emotions might be doing us more harm than the disease itself. Thankfully, resources are available, and low vision counseling or rehabilitation therapy can help us develop ways to deal with frustrating situations. Such intervention usually suggests recognizing the specific issues that cause us anger, often beginning with making an actionable list.

The lists below have been derived from conversations with thousands of low vision senior adults over the past couple of decades. Their shared thoughts fall into five categories: 1) Loss, 2) Fear of the unknown, 3) Indifference by others, 4) Public ignorance, and 5) Prohibitive costs.

While offering no specific solutions, perhaps bringing those thoughts into the open like this will initiate preventative discussions and strategies among low vision and blind individuals. Toward that purpose, the lists are presented here. 

Loss

Those of us in our later years can be profoundly affected by missing the good vision we once enjoyed. We are being robbed, and we feel helpless against the unseen forces that steal our valuable eyesight. In no particular order, the most-reported deprivations due to vision disease are:

  • Joy of seeing beauty (environment, faces, visual art)
  • Reading (for pleasure or information)
  • Physical independence (driving, mobility)
  • Social activities (clubs, exercise groups, faith-based groups)
  • Employment (avocational or vocational)
  • Volunteer opportunities 
  • Hobbies (sewing, crafting, woodworking)
  • Self-confidence (fear of failure, appearing weak or inept)
  • Hope (for new cures, treatments, or technological advances)
  • Faith (in God, doctors, self, family, society)

Fear of the unknown

Like the monster that lurked beneath our childhood beds, fear of the unknown is the worst of all fears. It is the biggest challenge in coping with progressive vision loss. The monsters that continue to stalk us are:

  • Further vision loss (diminishing visual field or clarity, blindness)
  • Unforeseen co-morbidities (injury, dementia, secondary disease)
  • Exclusion and isolation (being left out, being alone)
  • Unwelcome changes in personal environment (reorganization, addition of obstacles)
  • Vulnerability (being accosted or cheated)
  • Limitations (restriction of abilities)
  • Victimization (by scams or false promises)

Indifference by others

We sometimes think that no one seems to care. Especially in terms of the people who should care most:

  • Spouse or partner
  • Family members
  • Eye care specialists (lack of communication about health status and research, lack of referrals to low vision rehabilitation or assistance) 

Lack of Awareness

We live in a world of stairs, sharp corners, stop lights, printed words, color-coding, and poles appearing out of nowhere. It is a world in which we identify one another by appearance and communicate by way of gestures and lip-reading. We can thus be blinded not as much by our eyesight as by those who do not understand our visual limitations. We have come a good distance since enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), but lack of awareness still abounds, such as by:

  • Visual media producers, websites, and printed matter
  • Educators who are poorly-trained, insufficiently enabled, or simply unaware
  • Community developers who still maintain inaccessible walking routes, traffic signals, and signage  
  • Service providers, including cashiers, private drivers, and transportation companies
  • The general public’s awareness of basic courtesies for the blind and visually impaired, like long cane and guide animal protocols

Prohibitive costs

The high costs of services, treatments, and devices effectively block the road to some of the most valuable solutions for living well with low vision or blindness. Many of us cannot afford assistive devices or computers and server fees that enable modern technology. And when compounded with the high costs of treatment, the plight can become intolerable. 

The most common budget breakers are: 

  • Eye care and rehabilitation (clinic fees, surgery, insurance co-pays, travel to clinics)
  • High-tech assistive devices and software (electronic magnifiers, readers, and vision enhancers)
  • Medicine (intravitreal and topical treatments) 
  • Nutraceuticals (preventative nutritional products) 

Keeping our cool

With help from low vision therapists, patient advocacy organizations, and government agencies, we can work around many of the issues that cause frustration. Guidance is available, and solutions can be found, but we should try to not toss all of our grievances into one bucket. To avoid overwhelming ourselves to the point of lethargy or depression, we should first identify our anger issues and then address each one individually. 

A good number of issues listed above have solutions, but at this time some do not. Even so, we cannot be expected to accept vision impairment, because acceptance implies passive approval. We should, however, try to adapt. Adaptation involves actively gathering tools with which, for the sake of our mental and emotional well-being, we can bolster the framework of our everyday lives. And that sometimes demands giving air to the frustrations lying beneath our usually well-mannered surfaces.

We can take comfort in knowing that “seeing red” is a treatable symptom shared by many in our low vision and blind community. Sharing consolations and remedies can help to salve our wounds, so an effective prescription might be to engage in conversation with individuals who understand. We hope that such opportunities will continue to be made available through eye care specialists and the outreach services of caring organizations

In short, we see red when we feel powerless. We then have two choices: ineffectually cover our eyes or set about patiently dealing with the causes one at a time. We may not win all the battles, but with the intercession of knowledge and empathetic human support, we might be able to turn that fiery red color into a more tolerable shade of pink.

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© 2022, MD Support

Author:

Dan Roberts
Founding Director
MD Support

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