Experiences of 2020

MSYP Takeover - Claire Ford, Haggeye RNIB

At 18 years old, I lost all of my central vision overnight, due to complications arising from my primary medical condition, hydrocephalus and realised that I had to face the future with blindness. In the ensuing six years I have experienced many peaks and troughs. It is fair to say that, for me, the lows have been truly low but the highs have been spectacularly high! When one experiences rapid sight loss, especially when young, there is often a temptation to retreat from the world, to enter a deep freeze, to put up the shutters and engage in a form of self-imposed lockdown, if you will. I fought this impulse and sought to make the most of my situation. Fast-forward 6 years and I was faced with a lockdown of a very different kind – a lockdown that was mandatory, open-ended and very bleak.

Covid-19 was a very real and present danger in my family circle. My mum works as a nurse at the Inverclyde Royal Hospital and, during the peak months of the pandemic, had volunteered to work additional shifts, triaging people coming to the hospital with all manner of ailments, including Covid-19. Inverclyde was named Scotland’s ‘Covid Capital’ and each day I wondered if this was the day that she would bring it home with her. My dad was doing the shopping for his mum (my granny), who is 93 and who is bed-ridden and has vascular dementia. Four times a day my granny has carers coming into her home to tend to her and each visit by the carers or my dad with the groceries was like playing Russian roulette. Lockdown meant weight-gain from less exercise and more eating to relieve the boredom; less social interaction, leading to the concomitant feelings of isolation and loneliness; over-indulgence in the chewing-gum for the brain that can come from television, the internet and social media, all of which lower the mood and lead to thoughts that everyone else is making more of lockdown than you are and that your life is passing you by; feelings of listlessness and ennui and, possibly worst of all, too much time to think!

However, positives can be found in even the bleakest of situations and the lockdown was no different. My dad has worked from home for the duration and that has provided me with a lifeline when human contact was necessary. Not having been born blind, I have often struggled with adapting to my ‘new normal’ and I have found it difficult to truly gain independence and self-reliance. Lockdown has presented me with new opportunities to work toward my goal of being fully independent. Recent improvements in technology have meant that I regularly use Zoom, Teams and Skype to keep in touch with friends and family and it has allowed me to engage in virtual choir sessions, forums for blind and partially-sighted football fans, sittings of the Scottish Youth Parliament, meetings of disability rights groups and my women’s speakers club. I have been able to conduct interviews with celebrities and inspirational people that are put out as podcasts on RNIB Connect Radio. Prior to lockdown, I had a motion on mandatory sight loss awareness training passed at the Scottish Youth Parliament and it has proved to be quite a challenge to bring my dream into reality. A personal highlight was voicing my concerns about how blind and the partially-sighted could adhere to social distancing to Professor Jason Leitch and forcing the admission that the Scottish Government had not given this any thought … as it is at any other time, life for a disabled woman in lockdown was about little victories!