Chris Punt is a good example of someone who felt very isolated and depressed when much of her remaining sight was lost. It was a very tough time for her, but with the support of her Sense Communicator Guide she has built a new life for herself.
Some people can’t wait to retire from work, others can find this a difficult transition – especially if this has been forced upon them.
Chris had always loved her work, and the people it brought her into contact with, but suddenly this was snatched away from her. “I spent my entire life supporting children and adults with learning disabilities and mental health difficulties,” she explains. “I did so many things. I had a football team with Watford Football Club; we did a bereavement group, we did music, art and craft. I just loved it so much.”
She even had some involvement with Sense when she supported a group of adults to move from the long-stay hospital where she was working to one of our group homes.
Since childhood she had always had poor hearing and eyesight, but wore powerful hearing aids and always built up a great rapport with the individuals she supported. But then she gradually became blind in her left eye when her retina detached, and with an inoperable dense cataract already in her right eye, her employers felt she could no longer carry on – although Chris now feels they could certainly have done more to support her.
“I was absolutely distraught, and missed it terribly” she says. “It’s been very, very hard; one of the hardest times of my life, to be perfectly honest.”
“It’s been one of the hardest times of my life”
She also had to learn how to live with very little sight and hearing. Her husband George has always been very supportive, but it was still tough. “It can be a very lonely condition,” she says. “I could contend with the hearing loss, but I found the sight loss really bad. I wouldn’t have a white cane, I wouldn’t have anything. I was so self-conscious, and tried to block it out almost.”
Another big adjustment was that she had always been the person doing the caring, but now she was on the other side of the fence. “It’s hard, because now you have to ask for help,” she says. “I found it so embarrassing and was at a very, very low ebb.”
She started to attend a local club for blind people, but gradually felt she could do more. Following assessment from a specialist Deafblind worker at Hertfordshire County Council’s Sensory Services, it was agreed that Chris would benefit from a Communicator Guide service and with Chris’s consent, she was referred to Sense. The service was then commissioned by Hertfordshire. As a result, Natalie became her first Communicator Guide (she’s now on maternity leave) as well as Suzy, and more recently Lynne “I didn’t know it at the time,” she says, “but a whole new door had opened for me.”
“I look forward to my sessions so much. I decide what I want to do and I try to do as much I can. This time of year I am spending a lot of time Christmas shopping, but we have done quite a few things. Suzy has introduced me to a local music café, a gallery – could be anything, really, just what I’d like to do. It has opened my eyes to other things out there.
“It’s nice because it also gives my husband George a break, and he knows I’m all right because I’m out with Suzy, so he hasn’t got to worry about me. I trust her implicitly, and although I’m aware she’s guiding me, or warning me there’s a step or something, I almost forget that I’m disabled. It makes me feel that I’m not that much different from everybody else.”
“Although I’m aware she’s guiding me, I almost forget that I’m disabled”
“Suzy just gives me that encouragement, and the sense of, `don’t think about what you can’t do, think of what you are doing, and what you have achieved’. Last year, I actually went to stay with a partially sighted friend in Bournemouth on my own for five days. I’d never have done that before.”
“Suzy offers me a lot of support, but because I have worked in the caring professions I also know that there is a boundary there. But she’s just lifts me. Sometimes, you can’t necessarily talk to friends about more personal things, but she’s sort of advised me, and taken me to the hospital so I can go and see my granddaughter, who’s been very poorly. It’s just meant everything, really.”
Chris has also been able to use some of the skills and experience from her working life to “give something back to Sense,” she says. As well as attending the forum that meets at TouchBase SouthEast in Barnet, she has helped with some art sessions with younger children there and supported two young women who attends the centre. “That was really good fun, I loved that,” she says.
Perhaps most impressively, Christine also joined a local gym in her sixties. “Suzy took me along for quite a few sessions,” she says, “and I’ve been going there well over a year now. In fact, the other week I did go in and use the equipment for a little while on my own, and then George came to meet me. I didn’t think I’d ever do that.
“It lightens my mood and makes me feel good”
“I do the arm exercises, usually do the treadmill and the static bike and rowing machine. It keeps me fit and, because I have diabetes, I have to be careful with my levels so it’s good for that. It also lightens my mood and makes me feel good. My GP is very pleased with me and I’ve been asked to share information about what I am doing to encourage others to give it a try!”
“Thank goodness Sense came along. It has really got me back on track.”
Chris recognises that she is fortunate compared to some people, but her disability still makes life very challenging. “Even if you have family and friends around you, deafblindness can make you feel very lonely and cut off,” she says.
Sense estimates that there are 358,000 people in the UK who have both a sight and hearing impairment, some who have been born with this condition, and others who have acquired this later in life. Each person is different, but many people will find it difficult to move around and travel without support, to live independently and stay in touch with the people around them.
When someone finds it hard to have a conversation, to hear what people are saying (especially in group situations), or to read their lips, they may well feel increasingly cut-off and become anxious, withdrawn and depressed. “They do not understand” as one woman said to Sense, “I am very isolated and lonely. I cannot see and hear anything.” Half of disabled people say they are lonely, and one in four feel lonely every day.
These statistics paint a challenging picture, but as Christine’s story shows, people who have experienced ongoing loneliness can rebuild their confidence and start to enjoy life again if they are given the right support and opportunities.
This article was first published in Talking Sense, the Sense members’ magazine. Click below to become a member for free!