Post date: 
Tuesday, 26 September 2017
Photo of Sue with her guide dog

Community member Sue Mooney talks about her ongoing battle with depression as a result of losing her sight.

Hi, my name is Sue. I'm in my 50s (let’s not get more specific than that) and feeling isolated is something I have felt as far back as I remember. I was born with congenital cataracts and nystagmus, and was registered blind at the age of five.

Looking back at my childhood

I didn’t go to school until I was six and a half, as the local authority in Liverpool wanted me to be home schooled, but my mum refused as she said I needed to be with other children. I went to a “special school” for children who were visually impaired until I was 11. I went by bus with other children who went to various special schools.
After that I went to boarding school in Coventry, as apparently I would get a better education. I had read Enid Blyton's series of novels, Malory Towers, and thought it was going to be fun – how wrong I was! I lived in a house with all girls, aged between four and 16, and shared a room with either four or six others. We had set meal times with no choice of what to eat or when, and my free time was spent mostly in my bedroom or the common room. The bathroom had two showers and a bath and we were supervised by a member of staff until we were 14, so we had no privacy.
I had to wear a uniform to school and different one in the evenings and weekends until I was 14. At 15 we were allowed to wear our own clothes outside of school.

I would go out on Saturdays with friends and the local children would make fun of us by saying things like "the looneys have been let out" and they would sometimes hit us.

I wanted to be more like my brother and sister, doing regular things that teenagers did. When I went home for the holidays, my circle of friends was limited because I didn’t go to school locally.
The feeling of being excluded and never really fitting in took its toll on me, so I ate for comfort. Then one day I'd had enough of people calling me fat, so I started to diet. I exercised, hardly ate and took laxatives excessively. I ended up with anorexia. My school was concerned and contacted my parents. I left as soon as I had done my GCSEs. Ironically, it was the first time I felt in control of my life.

Disability is not inability

I think my childhood has had a knock-on effect throughout the rest of my life. I am always striving to be seen as “normal” and want to be accepted by others.

While I managed to get a job at British Gas and stayed there for 13 years, I always felt I had to work harder than everyone else to be seen as worthy of that job.

I got married and had a daughter, but unfortunately things didn’t work out. We got divorced when she was three.
When I was 30, I developed secondary glaucoma and had to leave my job. My doctor contacted the relevant people concerned and I was sent a cane in the post. I was horrified and didn't want to accept it. I did the cane training, but once I finished it got put away in a drawer. The situation took a toll on my mental health and I ended up on anti-depressants. The only accessible activity available in my area was going to a centre with other people who had severe sight problems and the majority were old. Just because I couldn't see, it didn't mean I had the same interests as other people who couldn't see.
Then met my second husband and had another daughter. I thought maybe my life was changing for the better. I decided to get back into education and enrolled at the local college. I did a Disability Studies and Social Sciences degree, but it was a struggle as I was the only person they had with a sight problem. After the first year I had to drop the Social Sciences part because the lecturers weren’t able to accommodate me and instead I took up Women's Studies. I had a scribe and so many people would speak to her instead of me. This made me realise, while in theory things were meant to have changed, not a lot has. I’ve had several voluntary roles throughout my life, but since university I haven’t had any paid work.

It's still society’s ignorance that makes us disabled.

My eye sight then deteriorated to the point where I couldn't leave the house on my own for four years and the feeling of isolation and loneliness was unbearable at times. I don't think many people realised how bad things became, except for a few. I had a transplant two years ago due to cornea decompensation, and it didn’t work. What hit me more than anything was how people avoided me because they didn't know what to say. Also, they assumed because I never had useful vision before, that the failed operation wouldn't upset me, but I still felt loss like anyone else.

The hardest decision I’ve ever had to make

Despite how hard I had fought to not use a cane or get a guide dog, I decided I would have to. So last December I qualified for Ollie, my first guide dog. I believe if I hadn't been made to feel so different from an early age I would have made the choice years ago. I still struggle to this day with depression and probably always will. All I've ever wanted is to be accepted as Sue and not defined by my blindness.

Further information

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