Vision loss is a tough companion to learn to live with. It means that as your vision changes, your relationship with yourself and others needs to adapt too.
Recently my father-in-law relocated to eternity and so , we had a rare opportunity to get together as an extended family and close friends to celebrate his well-lived life and to rejoice in the hope of the next generation of Webster’s and co. It was a sad happy time reconnecting with loved ones from around the world. Somehow, if you don’t see each other often the changes you see in each other seem quite dramatic. The little chaps are now big bruisers and us ‘young marrieds’ are now the ‘old marrieds’. It was in meeting old family and mew additions that I realised how my eyesight has deteriorated since our last meeting.
The family also noticed the changes in me as I now use a mobility cane, can’t collect the glasses off the table after dinner and am no longer the scrabble champJ , but what hit me ‘in the face’ was not a low branch over a walk way, but was that I could not see expressions on faces at all. In a social environment this is a big deal. I was disappointed that I could not easily understand or gauge who these new loved ones were. Not able to look across a room and smile or nod in greeting etc. The up side is that I just tried to spend a little time with each one, so that I had a reference for relating.
On our return I went to the Low vision support group where we spoke about the obstacles around communicating without the feedback of facial expression. And, something I had never thought of …what is my face doing when I talk? I can’t even see my own face in the mirror (which may be a relief for my middle aged wrinkles) . Also, eye contact is an important portal for social intimacy, as we can communicate through just looking. Children can gain confidence and trust through meaningful glances and encouraging smiles. Reflecting on our family gathering I really felt like I was missing a channel of communication especially with the kids.
Being two-faced is always a problem, but being no -faced is exceptionally tricky. I find it difficult to aim my nose at people’s faces because they disappear in my central vision and, because my eyes look normal, they think I am seeing them …or think I am maybe high on something!!! It must be a bit weird looking onto eyes that aren’t actually looking back at you.
On discussing this with a mentor she told me that 7% of our communication is relayed through the actual words, 38% of our communication is transmitted through the tone or how we say it and 55% is related through facial expression and body language. Visual impairment thus greatly affects communication and places added hurdles in the way of easy social interaction.
I am very aware of body language and it is easier to see people in winter because clothes usually provide a good colour contrast. I see clothes moving about and as long as folk keep their heads above their shoulders, I can aim my nose for the designated spot. When I see sleeves swinging about, there is generally an animated conversation on the go.
When I am talking to someone and they become still, I can’t always gauge how they are responding. I love it when sounds come out …”sjoe”or,” wow”….or,” hee hee”….or,” aaagh” ! It is an expressive clue to their facial expression.
I am so grateful for my family and friends who are available for encouragement and help in all social contexts. I don’t know if you realise it, but you ‘smile’ at me by a squeeze from a hand, a touch on the shoulder or a friendly bump on the elbow. My smile-voice is usually loud, slightly over expressive and accompanied by touch.
Let’s face it …vision loss is tough, but love is tougher.