Keeping Good Relationships with Family and Friends
Being diagnosed with a degenerative sight problem aged 20, was a huge shock for Darrell Unsworth and his wife, Steph from the UK. Darrell, now 31, was just four months away from getting married and looking forward to starting a family and furthering his career as a car salesman when he was diagnosed with macular edema secondary to central retinal vein occlusion. “I was worried how my poor vision would impact the life I was building with Steph. She’s been my rock throughout everything though – I wouldn’t be here without her.”
Even though it’s difficult to process what life could be like when you’ve just been diagnosed with vision problems, it’s important to bear in mind that your family and friends might also be confused and concerned for you.
Involving your partner in appointments and consultations can be valuable for you both. They can help you talk to specialists, take notes and think of different questions to ask so you have all the information you need.
“It’s very hard to remember everything that’s said to you during a consultation, especially with the medical jargon and emotional impact of the diagnosis,” says Dr Jen Nash, a Psychologist from London. “Having your partner there can help you absorb all the details. What’s more important though, is being able to talk through your reactions together afterwards.”
Darrell recalls: “After I lost my sight in my left eye which was then removed in 2006, and the vision in my right eye started to deteriorate, I thought that was it for me – I wasn’t going to be able to see my children as they grew up. Steph was as upset as I was. But we kept talking about our feelings and grew closer together for it.”
Dr Nash adds: “Be mindful that your friends and family might deal with your diagnosis in a different way and at a different pace to you. There’ll be good days and bad days, so remember to look out for each other and speak up when you’re feeling low. You’re in this together.”
Many relatives take on the role of carer and this can bring its own difficulties as their life has taken a sudden turn in direction – just as yours has. Be aware that this change in dynamic can affect you both.
“Luckily, Steph and I are similar and we just get on with things,” says Darrell. “We look out for each other and if Steph is worried or stressed, then I try to reassure her and vice-versa. I’ve just found out about a local support group which offers practical advice to help us cope. We’re open about how we feel which has made us stronger.”
Friends may take a backseat while you adjust to the changes you and your family are experiencing. But friends can be a big support too and it’s crucial to invest time in your friendships. “Not only will you appreciate seeing fresh faces but your family will have time to spend with their friends too,” says Dr Nash. “Sometimes, you need space from each other.”
Darrell made the effort with his friends, which helped boost his confidence and wellbeing. “You really know who your friends are when you go through something like this,” he says. “They ask me how things are, but they don’t treat me any differently. Good friends always know how to make you smile.”
Darrell’s sight has improved since he was prescribed anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) treatment and he’s now looking forward to getting back to work. The team at the hospital are amazing and I feel really supported. But I wouldn’t be here without my wife and my children are great.”