The Hereford Howler (November 2011)

THE HEREFORD HOWLER

 

November 2011 news letter for The Hereford and District Fund Raising Branch for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

 

 

Welcome to our first edition of The Hereford Howler. We are pleased to announce that our new Hereford and District Fund Raising Branch is now up and running!

 

 

Branch Members –

 

Our highly enthusiastic Branch Organiser is Claire Rush, who welcomes any and all fund raising ideas and can be contacted on; 01432 357416 / 07832527082, or via e-mail at; snout221b@btinternet.com

 

I, Suzanne, am the newly appointed Trading Secretary (paperwork pending) and I can be contacted on; 07794680479, or e-mail; suzanneeaton84@hotmail.co.uk

 

Our Branch Treasurer (paperwork pending) is hopefully going to be Rob Bettington from Weston near Ross. Justin Griffiths is the Collection box co-ordinator responsible for collection boxes in the Kington area, and Ann-Marie Hughson assists with the Hereford collection boxes and other Branch duties.

 

 

Progress so far –

 

Since our official launch in August, we have gotten off to a flying start; we have so far assisted with two collections which had been organised by Sandie Cotterell (Organiser of the well established Ross-on-Wye Branch). These were held in Hereford High Town, and at Belmont Tesco, and together raised around £3,000 – a great pace maker for our fledgling Hereford branch. We have a collection of our own arranged on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st March at the Hereford Morrisons store. Anybody who could spare a couple of hours on either of these days would be gladly welcomed, particularly anybody who can bring a Guide Dog along as they are great for drawing in the crowds! If you would like to donate an hour or two of your time to help with the Morrisons collection please contact Claire.

 

28 collection boxes have so far been placed in and around Hereford City. If anybody knows of a suitable venue where either a small counter top box, or a life sized collection dog could be located, please contact Branch Organiser Claire, and she will arrange to get a box sent out to you. We are scouting for some more volunteers to help with the locating and maintenance of collection boxes so drop Claire a line if you may be interested in filling this role.

 

The Hereford Branch has also begun running a Seasonal Quiz. The Autumn Quiz proved to be hugely popular, so much so that a number of “quizzees” have already pre-paid for their winter edition. Over seventy of the Autumn quiz sheets were sold, and the winner of a huge cuddly dog is soon to be drawn. Anyone can purchase the quiz sheets for £1 either from Claire directly by sending an SAE and £1 to 47 Campbell Road, Hereford, HR1 1AD (cheques payable to Hereford Branch GDBA) or via the Fundraising Quizzes website http://sitesaver.dns-systems.net/quiz/quizzes.php The closing date for returning the Winter quiz sheet is March 1st 2012. The winner will receive a chocolate explosion.

 

£86.92 was raised by Claire and Annie who held a car boot sale in Madly. They are hoping to run more sales once the weather warms up. Any donations for the car boot sale would be much appreciated!

 

The Hereford Branch has a Just giving Page which we would love people to visit if they wish to donate on-line to Guide dogs. This can be found at http://www.justgiving.com/Claire-Rush0

 

I have just set up a Facebook page for our members and supporters to follow our progress and keep up to date with upcoming events. To join our page just search for us on Facebook, our page title is Hereford Fund Raising Branch for Guide Dogs. Once you’ve found our page just click “like” and you will receive any updates on our page automatically. Please feel free to post any info or photos that you would like to share on there. There is also a link to the just giving site on there.

 

 

Supporters –

 

The Foresters Friendly Society have kindly adopted Guide Dogs as their charity of the year. The Foresters are aiming to raise £5000 as part of their Name a Puppy Appeal. They are staging a Plush-puppy race at the Royal National College for the Blind on February 24th and a Santa’s Grotto at the Belmont Centre on December 10th and December 17th.

 

The 1st Fownhope Cubs are currently cooking up some fund raising ideas and are keen to contribute to our efforts.

 

The Hereford Fire Choir are also giving a concert in May in aid of Guide dogs. This will be held at Our Lady’s Church in Hereford. Details to follow in the next newsletter.

 

We are also assisting the Ross Golf Club in Gorsley with their fundraising. The recently inaugurated Ladies Captain, Amanda Marshall, has chosen Guide dogs as her nominated charity for 2011/2012. They also hope to raise £5000 in order to name a Guide dog puppy. Claire has visited the Golf Club with Trudy to lend support for the Name a Puppy Appeal, and is planning to give a talk there sometime next year.

 

 

More upcoming events –

 

There will shortly be a Guide dogs information stand in Hereford Vision Links in Widemarsh Street and the Branch looks forward to working with Mike Edwards, the chairman of the Macular Disease Society who is based at Vision Links.

 

We are hoping to get a branch website online shortly, this way we can keep members and supporters up to date with events and successes as we go along. This page will also contain links to the Just Giving website, and the seasonal quiz site.

 

On a more creative note, we are currently in the process of putting together an anthology containing amusing poems and stories written from different Guide Dogs’ perspectives. The 1st Fownhope Cubs are going to write us some poems and we are holding high hope that there will be some very entertaining submissions as they were a rather “lively” bunch when Claire and Trudy visited to give a talk to them earlier this month! Fingers crossed the anthology will be ready for sale by Easter, and all proceeds will of course be going to Guide Dogs. If you would like to submit anything to be printed in the anthology (preferably humorous work) contact me via e-mail at the address given above.

 

Some other events in the pipeline are;

– A Go Walkies event

– Further collections in Hereford High Town and other venues.

– A music event.

– A quiz night and sale of merchandise possibly at TGS Bowling, Hereford.

– Smaller events such as car boot sales and the Seasonal Quiz.

– Sale of Guide dogs merchandise.

– A charity football tournament

 

 

Dates for your diary –

 

Saturday December 10th Santa’s Grotto, Belmont Centre, Hereford (10 am – 2pm)

 

Saturday December 17th, Santa’s Grotto, Belmont Centre, Hereford (10 am – 2pm)

 

February 24th 7pm at the Royal National College for the Blind. Night at the races! The huge plush-puppy race which aims to raise at least £1000 for Guide dogs.

 

Friday March 30th. All-day collection at Morrisons, Hereford (volunteers needed please)

 

Saturday March 31st All-day collection at Morrisons, Hereford (volunteers needed please)

 

 

Finally we would like to thank everybody for their support, particularly those who have donated their time to help us get the Hereford Branch up and running, and also to all of the venues which have allowed us to place our collection boxes with them.

 

We hope that everybody has a wonderful Christmas and new year.

 

Bye for nowwwwwwwww!

 

 

My Phoenix will not let me die

I am not a particularly outgoing person, and three years ago you would have had to drag me into a room full of people.  Social ease does not come naturally to me.  Yet I have learned to present a confident persona largely as a result of my role as a volunteer Speaker.

When I trained with my Guide dog Trudy in 2008 I received the “Qualifying Pack” which all rookie Guide dog owners are given at the end of training.  One of the leaflets in this pack gave details about becoming a volunteer Speaker for Guide dogs.  Something stirred inside me and I wondered if I would be any good at it.  After all, I had started out at University wanting to be a Teacher.  I love the art of language, and to me a string of well-chosen words beats any fireworks display.  This  drive to express myself and communicate passionately with others left me in no doubt that I would end up being a Classics Teacher. 

But it was not to be.  Twenty years after my arrival at Oxford I found myself dwindling in a nursing home, afraid to be seen in public, unsure of who I was.  Losing my useful vision at the end of my first year as an undergraduate was the end of my world.   The disappointment of having to abandon my degree  left me in tatters, and I lost all hope of having a life.  The grief I felt took over my mind and dismantled my thoughts.  I was unable to function, and thus began my default career as a psychiatric patient.  I  seriously thought that I would never emerge whole again.  

But after many struggles which spanned twenty years I did emerge.   Somehow I reached the peak of the mountain, and my reward was Trudy.  Training with a Guide dog had been my dream since leaving Oxford.  I knew that a dog would free me from the confines of sight loss, so I had to get myself back on track.  At the time I did not anticipate that it would take so many years.  But Trudy was worth the wait.  When I trained with her I had been a resident in the nursing home for seven years, and never envisaged leaving.  Trudy literally led me out of the front door and showed me the world outside. 

So the leaflet in the Qualifying Pack renewed my sense of purpose and gave me direction.  I moved into my own flat and began to seize every opportunity to rekindle the life which had so nearly died inside me.  Could I really be a Speaker?  Why not!  I was extremely apprehensive, for my mental breakdown had stolen my confidence and given me a morbid fear of strangers.  Yet I knew that if I didn’t seize this chance I would probably never feel fulfilled.  I reasoned that even if it was disastrous, at least I would have given it my best shot.

I expected to have some training in Public Speaking before I was let loose on the public.  However this was not the case.  After registering as a volunteer for Guide dogs, six months later I received a phone call requesting me to give a talk at a nearby village Primary School.  I cannot properly describe the terror which took hold of me as the appointed day grew closer.  What was I thinking of?!  Me! The semi-reclusive blind woman with a cleft palate speech impediment, giving a talk to a schoolful of kids!  I always struggled being part of an audience, so how was I going to address one?

The dire scenarios tormented me for nights on end, but I forced myself to go through with it.  When the day came I was relieved to find that most eyes were fixed on Trudy throughout my talk.  I was speaking during Assembly to 90 children,  but thanks to Trudy the dreaded “spotlight effect” did not take hold of me for long.  When I finished my talk the children plied me with excited questions, and I felt so elated that I almost soared into the air.  I was alive and free! This first talk was sixteen months ago, and now I am averaging about three talks a month.  So in a very round-about way I have fulfilled my dream of becoming a Teacher.  The topic of Guide dogs is easily as thrilling as Classics. 

As I have grown more confident, my voice has ceased to vibrate uncontrollably as I’m speaking.  I forget that I have a cleft palate which affects my pronunciation of certain consonants.  Somehow I have learned to project out of myself, and the audiences I speak to rarely get to see the quaking nervous wreck inside the Speaker.  I would not say that every talk I give is a success.  Recently I came home convinced that my public speaking phase was over, and that I would never have the guts to speak in public again.  But I guess the Phoenix within me won’t let my courage die forever.  This week I gave another talk in Hereford, and thankfully I hit the right note with the audience.  The buzz from a well-received talk fires up your soul and you leap into the clouds feeling literally on top of the world.

One of my favourite books is Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis.  Zorba’s dance epitomises the phrase “Carpe Diem” – seize the day.  His love for the moment and the simple pleasures of life, together with his incredible passion for music, has always struck a deep chord within me.  Zorba knows what it means to be free, and is desperate to teach others the essence of freedom.  One day I shall visit Crete and when I get there I will dance like Zorba.  Sometimes it pays to leap out of your every day life and risk the unknown.  Uncertainty gives rise to adventure, self-discovery and possible fulfilment.   If it all goes wrong and you find yourself heading over a cliff-edge, then you can always turn round and go back the way you came.

I Love Aylestone Park

There is a park in Hereford which is four minutes walk away from my flat.  This park comprises two large fields/meadows, a canal, an orchard and a gravel path which snakes its way round in an irregular loop.  The trees are fairly sparse so it always feels breezy, and on a day like today there is a good chance that hat-wearers would go home hatless.  Over the past few months I have become indebted to this open space known as Aylestone Park.  As I feel the wind seize my hair by its roots and flutter against my face I can’t help feeling moved, for I am in no doubt that I am in the presence of something beyond words.   This presence stirs, and seems to manifest itself in the tumbling wind.  When I stand still in Aylestone Park I feel bonded to nature, I feel humbled by the elements, I feel mortal, I feel free.
Simply by rooting myself to the ground I am reassured.   The earth still breathes and moves beneath me but my feet are still.  My mishmash of worries becomes lighter, and my restless spirit starts to calm.   Hope revives herself within me.  I love this park because it has not been unduly tampered with.  There are no landscaped flowerbeds and no ornamental ponds guarded by stone goddesses.  Humans have their rightful place, as does the long grass, and the scuttling mammals.  Dogs bound everywhere, sniffing out the mole hills and splashing in the canal.  Some people find Aylestone Park “boring” because it is themeless and its only “facility” is a large car park.  But to me this park is freedom itself.  Just planting myself in the lower field and allowing the wind to absorb me breaks open the ties which bind my spirit.  I feel so fortunate to have such freedom.
Trudy my Guide dog adores this park.  It gives her freedom too, as here is where she sheds her harness and tears around being a Labrador.  This time of year she goes scrumping in the orchard and I’m often showered with leaves as her snout sends them flying into the air.  All I can hear is the rustling of twigs and leaves as Trudy pursues the myriad scents which arouse her snout.  She befriends two or three pet dogs every time we visit, and eagerly joins in their games.  If I take her to the canal she throws herself into the brown-blue water and doggy-paddles back to me snorting like a pig.  The snorting is even louder if she’s carrying something in her mouth, and little jets of water spurt out of her nostrils.  Sometimes a regular group of dog-walkers whom I’ve nicknamed “the Labrador Convention” arrives at the canal and Trudy mingles with the black, yellow and chocolate Labradors teasing and chasing them.  She steals their frisbees and dives in after their treats.  She is in Labrador paradise.  When it’s time to go Trudy pretends not to hear the whistle and I have to use all my cunning and skill to lure her back to me.  Even with her smelly water-logged fur I am relieved when she comes lolloping back.

We amble back home through the tall stems of prickly grass, Trudy is usually munching weeds or thrusting her snout into the hedgerows.  Before I put her back on harness we often stand for a few more minutes savouring our freedom.  I turn my face towards the wind and feel it tussle my hair.  I inhale its freshness and allow all my anxieties to melt into the air.  They disperse like paper petals.  Trudy has a final nose-dive and then drums her tail against my legs ready for the four-minute stroll home.  I never leave the park with an ounce of stress or fear lingering.  This magical place renews and invigorates me.  It makes life seem even more precious, and I arrive home eager to make the most of everything I have.

Guide Dogs Week 2011

It’s Guide Dogs Week 2011 (1st – 9th October).  This has got to be one of my most active weeks this year!  My volunteering for Guide dogs has taken on a slightly manic aspect.  I find myself skipping breakfast and flying towards the bus stop with a grumbling Trudy who, like me, is not wired up to deal with early morning starts.  As we sit panting on the bus Trudy’s noises of discontent gain her the sympathy of our fellow passengers.  I smile haplessly and hope we won’t miss the stop, which is a frequent occurrence.

Luckily this week has been good so far as regards buses.  No memorable food crimes have been committed by the hoovering hound, and nothing untoward has happened.

It’s a difficult time for fundraising.  Spare cash is almost non-existent, so standing in a supermarket or Town centre with a collecting bucket is not as profitable as it was this time last year.  Charities are all competing with each other for scraps from the master’s table.  Some will inevitably not survive this barren period.  But this does not make fundraising any less rewarding.  For one thing, I am extremely fortunate having Trudy to help me.

When we are doing street collections we are not allowed to shake our buckets or ask people to donate money, so it can be quite disheartening watching a stream of people pass by seemingly oblivious to the fact that we are there.  Trudy however, does not have to abide by any such rules.  She locks onto the eye of a passer-by and draws that person towards me, begging him or her to donate to the cause.  She rolls onto her back and folds her limbs in half just asking for her tummy to be tickled.  Many people cannot walk by a prostrate Labrador who appears to be in the grip of sublime rapture.  When Trudy does her fundraising roll (as I’ve dubbed it this week) my bucket sings with coins!  Of course I explain to people that I have never trained Trudy to do this, but it is a fantastic fundraiser!  Trudy laps up the compliments like a cabaret artist.

So although the totals are down, the rewards have not diminished.  Bucket collections have always been characterised by fits and starts.  Just as my legs start to go numb and my back aches to distraction I become immersed in conversation with a friendly person, and the coins clink into the bucket which is extremely invigorating.  From somewhere, a new wave of energy emerges and I can finish my two-hour stint.  (As I’m with Trudy, I’m only allowed to do two hours at a time – which is just as well, as Trudy’s head would become bald from all the patting and stroking).

As charities are being hit hard at the moment, it’s even more important to keep up a high public profile.  It means working harder, but getting noticed increases your chances of raising funds.  This is one of the many reasons I love being a Speaker for Guide dogs.  Word of mouth is a very powerful fundraiser.  I think it helps people to relate to Guide dogs the charity if they can see an actual Guide dog and listen to the personal experience of a Guide dog owner.  Trudy loves being the centre of attention and as she’s such a vocal dog she usually makes the audience laugh at some point, which helps me no end!

For instance when I tell people that it costs approximately £49,000 to train and maintain each working Guide dog – Trudy often agrees with an expressive groan, as if to say “Because I’m worth it”.  I’m so lucky to have such an ally.  Trudy makes my talks real, and interrupts me which keeps them “live”.  I never lose sight of the fact that if it wasn’t for Trudy, I would never have become a volunteer and a whole chunk of life would have been missed.

My quest is to raise funds for more Muttleys to be trained as Guide dogs, and as the charity receives no government funding I think I’m in for an awful lot of bucket collecting….

http://www.justgiving.com/Claire-Rush0

Defeat of the Gremlins: Just ask that Guide dog!

Guide dogs are adept at warding off gremlins, as I know from first-hand experience.  The gremlin who inhabits my flat is often at his most peevish in the early hours of the morning.  Trudy, whose criminal alias is The Hereford Hoover, is instantly awake the minute he pokes my eye to wake me up.  She bounces out of her wicker basket which is adjacent to my bed, grabs one of my slippers and whacks the gremlin out of my day.  It always works.

Even on the most drab and melancholy Monday mornings I can’t help chuckling at the gusto of my Guide dog.  I usually attempt to get back to sleep, but the wagging rudder thumps incessantly to remind me that I owe her one for chasing away the gremlin.  Once my arm is out of bed rolling up her Labrador ears into long tubes, sleep loses its appeal.  So at the point when Trudy’s warm, wet tongue slides over my hand I invariably get up.  Trudy is all fur and tail.  She wraps her paws round my feet, sprinting off as I grope around for the slipper which is nearly always still in her mouth.  I daren’t invoke the gremlin by checking the time – but it’s usually around 6 am by this point.  I’m still half-dazed, only just aware of a hot-breathing hound baiting me with my own slipper.  She pretends to lose interest, but each time I draw near she hares off again with her stolen booty.  After much hiding and seeking, pleading and grumbling, I finally reclaim my slipper – damp and crumpled after its encounter with a Labrador.

Fighting gremlins probably isn’t in Trudy’s job description, yet she is an expert.  She seems to sense when the insidious creature is lurking round the corner ready to ruin a morning or afternoon.   Up goes her tail, beating rapidly to ward off the malevolent spirit.  The climax of the ritual involves a complicated war-dance with Trudy wielding one of her toys above her head.   Her current favourite is a massive pink turtle called Myrtle.  Trudy won Myrtle at the Guide dog of the Year Awards and Myrtle is thankfully still intact with all her limbs attached.  Whenever the gremlin is about to steal my smile, Trudy grabs Myrtle and flies towards me snorting and panting.  Even if I’m not up for a tug of war game, Trudy charging towards me with Myrtle  hanging out of her mouth is guaranteed to make me laugh   Laughter is toxic to gremlins so my unwanted guest vanishes instantly.  One of Myrtle’s bonus features is that her tummy makes rude noises when it’s held in a certain way.  This feature has proved invaluable  in the war against gremlins.

You may be wondering about these gremlins.  I suspect there are many types and breeds skulking about in worldwide dwellings.  But the character who sneaks around in my flat is particularly destructive.  He tips over milk bottles, pokes me when I’m about to nod off in a chair, and sets off the smoke alarm when I’m really really hungry and just want a piece of toast….!  He pervades my mind and needles under my skin if he’s not dealt with in time.  Trudy will not tolerate him.  If he slips a morsel of despair into my lunch box she will take it out and replace it with a chewed sock.  I wouldn’t say it tastes much better, but it’s the thought that counts.  Chewed socks, stolen receipts, the entire contents of my bag – they are all brought in dribs and drabs to cheer me up.  One of the things I love about Labradors is that they never arrive on the scene empty-handed.  Even though Trudy’s presents are usually recycled socks, scraps of paper or stolen items from my laundry basket they are still presents from her to me.  The generosity of Labradors is unbeatable, and gremlins scarper at the sight of it.

Gremlins are intent on bringing gloom into your day, but Guide dogs are gremlin grabbers!  I really came to understand this when I was separated from Trudy at the start of my radiotherapy treatment.  After only two days without her I became aware that the nefarious gremlin inhabiting my flat had gathered a formidable army.  I was utterly defeated and could not function.  I did not even have any inclination to fight.  I knew that I needed Trudy back, so back home she came.  The moment she bounded through the door the gremlin legion lay down its arms and marched away.  They have not returned en masse since.

I think that most dogs are capable of being gremlin chasers, but as I’ve never lived with a pet dog I can’t be sure.  This got me thinking about stereotypes.  The Guide dog stereotype is a noble, obedient,, long-suffering dog with almost no will of its own.  As a Guide dog Trudy is exemplary, but thankfully she does not match the stereotype.  She can be noble – even supercilious at times when she spies a misbehaving pet dog who should know better (according to the Laws of Hound).  She can be obedient too when I really need her to be.  But she is so stubborn there are times when a battle of wills  determines the outcome of certain situations.  We have stand-offs, sit-downs and strikes in the oddest and most inappropriate places.    If Trudy had to wear a school tie she’d turn it inside out with the ends askew.  I’d almost certainly catch her smoking behind the bike shed with a can of lager in her free paw.  Yet she’d pass her exams and probably get into Oxford.  She’s that kind of “told you so” dog.

It makes me smile when I explain to audiences about the matching process of Guide dogs.  So much time and effort is put into matching the right dog with the right owner.  How did Worcester Guide dogs know I’m stubborn, love food and prefer to do my own thing?!  It concerns me that it might be obvious!  Being matched with a Guide dog is a bit like registering with a dating agency.  They pool your common denominators and mix up the rest, so at some point during your partnership you and your dog become one being.  I think this is what makes Guide dogs experts at chasing away gremlins.  Trudy knows before I do when something is amiss.  This means that the lone gremlin who wakes me up in the early hours does not stand a chance.  In fact I think Trudy is quite capable of chasing him away for good, but then I’d have a homeless gremlin on my conscience.

So next time you spy a Guide dog with a wagging tail and a glint of mischief in its eye, think of the gremlins it has probably chased away that day.  If your smile lasts for at least four seconds any gremlins you know may take a hike at the same time…..

HELP! I’M GOING BLIND!

Wondering if you might be going blind is not a pleasant thought.  Knowing that you’re going blind can feel like you’re heading for eternal doom.  In this post I hope to paint an alternative picture of blindness for those readers who know that this is an inevitability.  I will  also offer some practical advice, and hopefully by the time you’ve finished reading this article the word “blind” will  not conjure up such fearful images.

Deteriorating vision is easier to deny than to accept.  For one thing, the human brain often compensates for sight loss by replacing indistinct shapes with recognisable ones.  So if your eyes register a blur in front of you your brain will try to make sense of it by replacing the blur with familiar objects.    The dancing cat or waving monkey may in fact be a crooked fence post or a canvas sign flapping in the wind.  At this point your friends or family will probably be nagging you to “get your eyes checked”.    Your vision defect could turn out to be something  that’s curable or helped by prescription glasses.  But occasionally the situation may be more serious.  You might suspect this and be afraid to have it verified, or perhaps you’re already under an opthalmologist and you know that sight loss is fast approaching.
This is often where fear of the unknown – i.e. being blind, takes over your rational head.  Sometimes the easiest thing to do is simply to ignore the reality and get on with your everyday life.  But the trouble with this approach is that one day, if sight loss is inevitable, there will come a point when you can no longer run away from it.
Most sight loss is in fact gradual.  It’s extremely rare to wake up one morning and find that you’re totally blind. You’re more likely to realise you cannot see when you’re trying to read something or spot someone in a crowd.  This realisation that you’re practically blind will probably hit you with a bang, and your world will go topsy-turvy for a while.  Therefore if you know that one day you’ll be blind, it makes sense to slowly introduce yourself to this concept.  A good way to do this is to familiarise yourself  with some of the gadgets and gizmos that are out there to assist visually impaired people with everyday tasks.  You could start with something basic such as a liquid level indicator.  This useful inexpensive little gadget has plastic prongs which hook over a cup or mug, and vibrate or beep when the hot water makes contact.  You may well encounter resistance from people around you who don’t wish to think of you as being blind.  This can make arming yourself with gadgets and paraphernalia tricky, but don’t be deterred.   Talking alarm clocks and audiobooks do have some general appeal nowadays, so if you share your living space with others there’s no reason to be isolated.  However, other people’s reactions are not always helpful – it might be worth bearing in mind that they will be having to readjust too as your vision deteriorates.
 This preparation period could be viewed as a blindfold test drive.  It doesn’t mean you have to become preoccupied with blindness, but becoming more self-aware will help you later on   Familiarise yourself with  what’s available before you absolutely need it.  Browsing through the RNIB catalogue or on an Assistive technology website  might even be inspiring!  You’ll probably be amazed by the variety of aids and gadgets on offer,and most of them don’t require great technical know-how to operate.  The whole point of these things is to help not hinder!
If you’re at the stage where you know your sight is failing this is a great time to build up your list of contacts.    Your local association for the blind, or charities such as RNIB or Action for Blind People are great resources.  The RNIB has a helpline: 0303 123 9999.  Knowing that you’re going blind is actually a great opportunity to consider what you want to do with your life, and to ascertain what assistance (if any) you might need to achieve your goals.  It doesn’t have to be a headlong dive into despair.
Coming to terms with  blindness is often harder than the blindness itself.  Facing it head on might seem like the last thing you want to do.  But from my own experience the more you stick your head in the sand the longer it will take to readjust.  As I mentioned before, blindness is more often than not a gradual process.  Imagining being blind can be frightening, so it’s a good idea to find someone who will listen to your fears and anxieties.  An objective person such as your GP or RNIB staff might be able to offer more practical advice than someone close to you.
What is being blind like?  Blindness does not necessarily mean total darkness.  Most registered blind people in the UK retain some light perception or are able to make out hand movements.  Being registered blind essentially means that the vision you have is no longer reliable or useful.  This does not mean your life has to stop or tone down, but you will need to find other ways of continuing your hobbies.  For instance I’ve always been a bookworm, and when I lost my sight I missed reading more than anything else.  But once I’d accepted that I could no longer read print I began listening to audiobooks and Radio Drama.  Although it doesn’t quite equal reading, I can still get my fill of literature  from Audio libraries such as Calibre and RNIB.
Whether you lose your vision suddenly or gradually you’ll find that you learn to manage indoors far more quickly than outdoors.   The big wide world outside your front door might become a source of terror.  This probably accounts for why around 180,000 visually impaired people never leave home alone.   I can’t pretend that the outdoors isn’t scary at first.  But  I know for sure that it gets more and more scary if you start hibernating.  For this reason I would make it a priority to step outside your front door at least once a day.  You don’t have to go anywhere – but just listen to the birds, inhale some fresh air, stand still and absorb your surroundings.  Slowly a whole new world will start to emerge.  Sounds will seem sharper, the rain will make your nose tingle with a medley of smells,  and if you’re lucky someone might even call a greeting to you.  Even if you meet no one, you’ve shown yourself to the world and you’ll go back inside a more refreshed person.  In time, you’ll find that you still have a place in the world.
It’s common for newly blind people to become very depressed.  Losing your sight is a huge loss, and you will grieve.  If your sight loss is sudden and you’ve had to change your whole lifestyle your emotions will be totally out of sync.  My advice would be to go with your instincts and not to expect too much from yourself.  Accepting that your feelings are natural will help you move forward.  There’s no time limit to adjusting – some people may take 20 years to feel comfortable with their blindness, and others just a few months.  It’s your journey, and you’re the one deciding how fast to travel.  Perhaps it’s worth saying here that a lot of people who find themselves suddenly disabled in any way struggle with asking for or accepting help from others.  You’ll learn how to balance keeping your pride and independence with getting to where you want to go.  This comes with experience.
But blindness or near-blindness does not mean the end of the road.  In fact it’s often a new beginning, despite the fact that you’d rather not have had a new beginning.  When I was at the ‘Guide dog of the Year Awards this year I met Scott and his dog Travis.  Scott lost his sight in 1993 and has just received an MBE.  He’s trekked hundreds of miles, climbed Ben Nevis with his Guide dog and raised £!25, 000 for Guide dogs.  Blindness does not stop you having a life.  Not every one will have the inclination to climb Ben Nevis, but whatever your goals are you can still achieve them.  Being blind may mean that it takes you twice as long, but perseverance pays off.   In my own life it took 18 years to be matched successfully with a Guide dog, but the great benefit of achieving something after a real effort is that the victory tastes super-sweet.
There will undoubtedly be days when you wish you were dead.  But if you forge on you will emerge stronger and more determined than ever.  Your life will not be the same as it was before your sight loss, but that does not necessarily mean it is worse.  Whether you end up training with a Guide dog, competing in the Paralympics, wading through the CDs of the RNIB library or learning to touch type – you will find your own way of learning to live with blindness.  If you keep hold of your dreams and don’t give up,  the darkness will  eventually lose its gloom and you’ll feel the radiance of a rainbow light up your life.