Blind anxiety

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...and blinder! Flickr image by GrevelAnxiety! How does it work? I really don't know! But sometimes it feels like I've been anxious forever. 

*****

I don't recall ever being asked about my attributes, my interests, my aspirations. The program for a blind life was dictated to me. Through all this I kept silent, not knowing how I was going to cope. I was 13.

That's when it really began; the anxiety.

Adults were very encouraging, telling me I was brave. It was a sharp turn from being considered an impish little smart arse.

I learnt to sprout a diatribe that would get me through when I was cornered. Pressed for answers: 'How did you go blind?' How do I answer that? There are times when I just don't want to drag myself through all those painful emotions. The coma, the shock. Just too painful.

Blindness and anxiety isn't a great cocktail. Once I got the two confused. Nowadays it's easier; I know how to separate them. Blindness I can manage but I admit that anxiety can screw me up. It's then that I need time on my own. Time to rebuild self esteem. I can be comfortably blind by myself and do all the usual blind-isms: systematic searching with my hands, stopping when I'm disorientated, thinking my way out of it.

*****

At school, anxiety gave way to abandonment. No one's fault.

People rallied. Everyone was compassionate but they had their able-bodied adolescence to be busy with. As teenagers they were evolving capacities of physical mobility, whereas I had to learn about idleness and how to be still. Slowly adjusting to the lower revs of blindness. My body was programmed for running and jumping and didn't want stillness. When movement failed me I took to repetitive, obsessive behaviour — counting the keys on my brailler, even chewing the inside of my mouth. Anything but stillness.

Guys ran past in the playground, yelling out to each other. Then gone. I called out to a fella. He stopped and said, 'What?'

I had nothing to say.

Calling out was instinctive, but he was off to play a game I was no longer part of. I just felt I could no longer count on friendship.

Inside I ached for it.

Me; the lame creature; the person who had the misfortune to be blinded.

*****

It's not a complaint; I do enjoy my life.

I don't want to complain, but I do want to be honest with myself.

*****

Then I'll gag emotionally in social situations. Anxious again. The visual cues that mediate conversation are gone, so halfway through a sentence confidence evaporates. I'm convinced they're not interested, or I think I hear them stifling a yawn. Why did I ever start to talk?

Or my nervous enthusiasm squeezes out a raving, an impatience to connect. I'm not sure where to stop and start sentences. Simply can't stop talking. Enthusiasm and anxiety pumps my larynx and I just rave on, then get so bloody embarrassed I walk away and cringe.

I still go through phases of blabbering.

Few people understand blindness; my blindness. I manoeuvre through a conversation, trying to remain true to myself, while not undermining their assumptions and stereotypes. They love to hear of blind people doing amazing things. The super-crip. The legend. But that's not me. I'm not all that amazing and can overwhelm myself with the pressure to perform.

*****

I'm never comfortable with anger, but it happens.

I'm anxious enough already in environments I don't control: the neighbourhood or someone else's house. So if I go crashing into a carelessly parked car or a half open door, it can wind me right up.

I've learnt to talk myself through it. I keep telling myself, 'Most people do care, most people are thoughtful, most people get it'.

*****

Anxiety is the Grapes of Depression.

Stealthily, sadness and anxiety rot away my self-belief and the ability to trust my senses and act on visceral impulses. Gradually I lose the intangible awareness of which way to choose. It gnaws away at my sense of self and renders me immobile. The thread that links day to day evaporates. I can't string a few wins together. Time weighs heavily on me. I learn to dread the future.

Then the emotional turbine slowly winds up into nervousness, mild mania, frustration and a sense of futility, and finally, fatally, the descent into depression. Everything gets confused. One thing dribbles and spills into the other. It slowly surges out of my belly: all the repressed anger and injustice, the nightmare of it all. It full-on hits me like a wrecking ball. Instant karma. I'm staggered every time.

How the hell did I get back here?

I lock up feelings inside. I know no other way. Sadness rises and falls in me on most days of my life and I have this unhealthy habit of beating up on myself for not being able to predict situations and avoid the humiliation of losing my temper.

Or of crying in public.

*****

Anxiety!

Is it chronic pain, lack of sleep, loneliness? Is it being pushed to my limit? Is it the cone of silence that forbids speaking about sadness?

Or is it this ghost that resides in me? A ghost of myself. Hanging out in my muscles and bones. Something that can't die. A passenger. Frustrated. Trying to get out when I'm sleeping, trying to fly, trying to escape its mortal entrapment.

Something that takes me over when I am weak and full of yearning. It can't speak; but it stirs when I'm demanding to be heard. Inexplicable flashes of visual imagery: a tantalising colour or the flowing Dandenong Ranges.

The past becomes the anxious present. Constantly reminding me that it once controlled this organism ...

... and may do so again ...


Brendan Forde was blinded in October 1974, aged 13. He has an Arts Degree at Philip Institute of Technology, has been active in disability politics, is a member of various committees of local government, and writes and speaks on disability issues.

Topic tags: brendan forde, blind, anxiety, depression

 

 

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Existing comments

Wow! Just Wow!!
Frank | 22 July 2009


A great piece of writing because it is more than writing; it is vision; it is depth; it is the expression of every heart or I think it is because it is mine. There is a blindness that is not of the eyes. 'They have eyes but see not'.

How angry I get when people who have all the ability of skill and education do not see the simple truth. They prefer to follow others of presumed authority like the blind following the blind when all the light and vision of truth is within them. No wonder the Church as it is today must die so that vision can be set free.

Francis Brown | 22 July 2009


I am touched by the feelings that are expressed. Thank you for openning the world of your experience.
Carina | 22 July 2009


I'm deaf and felt that Brendan expressed how I feel in social situations. The drying up of conversation and cringing embarrassment when uttering something wrong never evaporates.
The slow descent into depression and the ovewhelming weight of anxiety...in my case manifesting in panic attacks.

Essentially, every person with a disability has to love themselves first and yet yearns to be loved by others. Not to be overloaded with false expectations or even no expectations...as in my case. She's deaf and dumb too, don't you know?
Beautifully expressed Brendan, heart-breaking, but oh how I empathise with what you say!!
Mary | 22 July 2009


Thank you for this insight Brendan. I belong to a group of writers which includes a young blind man. I've observed that people obviously love him but he sits alone while we stand around socialising because communication is difficult in a group, but when the time comes for someone to read his work for him though he still sits immobile the room is filled with the magic of his storytelling.
Margaret McDonald | 22 July 2009


The clarity, the sustained intensity, the frightening but uplifting honesty of this piece offer a truly rare experience. Brendan, it would be wonderful to think that knowledge of the love it provokes could be some support as you manage the daily demands your brave spirit has to cope with
Joe Castley | 22 July 2009


Thank you Brendan,for giving me an insight and helping me realise we are all blind in so many ways. Your clarity in describing the human condition,and our vulnerabilities is overwhelming. I grew up and went to school with you and your brother and sisters and your Mum taught my sisters. I think my father Terry may have taught you. I have often thought of you and remember when, at age 13, you were tragically blinded. It is so good to read your article and I want to say some people(like you) are amazing in their capacity to grab as much out of life as they can,defying the norm. We need constant encouragement and nourishment from each other simply because we are social creatures. You are wonderful, and thank you again.
Catherine | 23 July 2009


My 20 year old daughter acquired a disability when she was 12. She would strongly identify with all the experiences and emotions you express. Thank you so much for drawing us into your world. Your willingness and ability to share your life's experience helps all thinking and feeling people to draw one step closer.
Sue | 24 July 2009


Brendan, i thank you for speaking from your heart, i admire you.
Julia | 08 June 2013


Two hundred word limit eh? I may be four year too late with this reply but I woke this morning thinking on a conversation I had yesterday. I don't believe I injured anyone back in the 70's when I was instructing on some pretty hairy outdoor activities for the RVIB but I remembered coming close when a canoe turned over with a boy named Brenden Forde in it. I was 24 and you were 14. So I thought I'd try the Internet to see how the little guy was going. This is what I remember about you - or why you were so memorable. You were a very good looking boy with a reserved intelligence and keen, yes impish, wit. Even then, you seemed bigger than, or would be bigger than your disability. Proof that it is not what happens to you but how you deal with it. By the way, I was the craft instructor at the RVIB. I have two daughters. I live on the Mornington Peninsula near the beach and still enjoy sculpting. I am also learning Latin at the ripe old age of 58. Wish you every happiness. Josie. at the ripe old age of 58.
Josie Hermans | 12 October 2013


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