Showing posts with label Blind. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blind. Show all posts

Monday, 1 October 2018

Unalone in The Dark

Megan Paul is 26. Like Jack and Michelle, she's very sociable and lively. She is blind and looks back now on a very lonely time at school, set apart by her disability and even more so by others' reactions to it. 
"I went to a mainstream, all-girls secondary school," says Megan. "It was OK for the first couple of years and then when girls hit their teenage years they become interested in makeup, magazines and how boys look - all quite visual things. I loved my books and animals, so I didn't have the same interests. I couldn't talk about whether boys were cute, so there was that natural growing apart." 
In lessons pupils would often work in pairs. When the teacher asked the whole class who wanted to work with Megan, there would be an awkward silence until eventually the teacher paired up with her. Sometimes she felt the staff set a bad example. 
"I would put my hand up needing help from the teacher and the teacher would ignore me or make inappropriate comments about me. Pupils learn a lot from adult role models at that age and they saw that the teachers didn't know what to do with me," Megan says. 
"I felt awful. My mental health was the worst it's ever been. I wanted to die rather than be at school. Then in Year 11 they agreed that I could do a lot of my work at home. I found that was much better than being stressed out at school and it taught me great study skills." 

Now Megan is studying for a master's degree and life has become easier, but she says that there are still aspects of her disability which can make her feel lonely. 
"As a blind person we can't make eye contact or use body language. If someone who can see comes into a room they will gravitate towards someone who smiles at them. I'm not smiling until I know that they are there, so they don't get any feedback from me. 
"The frustration is that I am confident enough to go up to people and chat, but I have to wait for people to come to me. It does mean the friends I have are really special though, because they're the kind of people who persevered. I appreciate the friends I have so much more because I don't have many of them." 
When Megan first got an assistance dog, knowing how many people love dogs, she wondered whether the dog might draw people in to talk to her, but she's found that's not always the case. 
"Being an assistance dog owner brings its own type of loneliness - a lonely-in-a-crowd scenario," she says. "If people start stroking the dog I'll use that to start a conversation, but quite a lot of people just walk off. Sometimes I feel I'm overshadowed by my dog. I know I'm not cute and furry but I do have something to offer." 
I asked Megan whether she has tried joining any clubs or schemes designed to alleviate loneliness. She would like to, but finds access can be a problem. "Meetups are awkward because people don't know how to approach me. I recently tried to join a walking group with my dog, but they wrote back and said I needed to find a group that walks slowly. I'm a fast walker. They should decide how fast we walk together. If I do go to a group, I'm in the corner and everyone swirls around me. But the more groups I could join, the better." 
As time goes on Megan has found that one solution is to turn to her phone. "As you grow, you develop coping strategies. If I feel really bad, now I drop people a message. I don't tell them I'm feeling bad, I'm just making connections and reaching out, so I can work through that feeling." 
With the high levels of loneliness among young people, a blog Megan wrote might be particularly useful for those with disabilities at school today. She includes tips, such as holding the door open for people in order to start a conversation. 
"I was so bored at school. A lot of people walked through without noticing, but even if you got a 'Thank you' or a 'Hello' at least it was an interaction. I wasn't able to go up to people and say 'Hi' because I didn't know where they were. So it's one way of getting noticed. It's nice to be seen as helpful rather than 'Here's the weird blind girl again.'" 
Another of Megan's tips is to talk to teachers as if they're real people, and not just your teachers. 
"Even as a teenager, if you're that lonely you don't care who you talk to. I remember talking to a teacher who told me her cat had had kittens. Afterwards I thought, 'That's one less break time spent alone.'" 
Megan says she believes not being able to see has made her kinder to others. "People with vision judge people on appearances and I don't, because I can't." 
It's possible that loneliness has made her kinder too. We found that people who say they often feel lonely score higher on average for social empathy. They are better at spotting when someone else is feeling rejected or excluded, probably because they have experienced it themselves
But when it comes to trust, the findings are very different. Although they may be more understanding of other people's emotional pain, on average people who say they often feel lonely had lower levels of trust in others and higher levels of anxiety, both of which can make it harder to make friends. 
Michelle can relate to this. "I sometimes feel that people are just being pitying by wanting to spend time with me. I do have trust issues and I think they stem from my anxiety. I think when you become lonely you do start to look inward and question people's motives. You find yourself wondering whether people spend time with me because they want to, or because they feel guilty."

Paulie : 
Friends owe!

Rocky :
Friends don't  owe -- 
They Do Because They Wanna Do -
You Owe Yourself.

Cut to the halls. Buffy and Cordelia are walking.

So, how much the creepy is it that this Marcie's been at this for months? 
Spying on us? 
Learning our most guarded secrets? 
So, are you saying she's invisible because she's so unpopular?

That about sums it up.

Cordelia:  (exhales) 
Bummer for her. 
It's awful to feel that lonely.

Hmm.  So you've read something about the feeling?

Cordelia:  (stops Buffy) 
Hey! You think I'm never lonely because I'm so  cute and popular? 
I can be surrounded by people and be completely alone.
 It's not like any of them really know me. 
I don't even know if they like  me half the time. 
People just want to be in a popular zone.
Sometimes, when I talk, everyone's so busy agreeing with me, 
They don't hear a word I say.

Well, if you feel so alone, then why do you work so hard at being popular?

Well, it beats being alone all by yourself.

She continues down the hall. After considering that for a moment Buffy 
quickly follows.