Independent Socializing: When to Change Your Operating System

Backyard in summer, About 15 people are standing in groups ho

About 15 people standing in groups in a backyard. Even this small number is tough to socialize with when you can’t recognize them – especially when standing and moving around.

Following up on the May 19 After Losing my sight Struggling to Be Seen, Repost from the New York Times Modern Love

At this time of loss and heart ache there could be a small advantage to people with vision loss. As the country begins to open up and social get-togethers are still restricted to small numbers, this could be a good time to experiment with independent socializing. Most people who live with vision loss or blindness prefer gatherings of ten or fewer.

In the repost from Modern Love Leona took her partner to a writers’ workshop because she has trouble keeping track of her location. The workshop was of course full of strangers, all writers, and Leona’s partner was not a writer but he could see! He could make eye contact, smile back, and respond to other visual cues. So people talked to him rather than her!

New acquaintances almost always have some “interaction stress” when addressing someone blind and prefer to talk to a sighted companion. Someone new to their own loss of vision may prefer this too. But in time the assumptions that strangers often make about the balance of the relationship, (for Leona this included assuming her partner wrote her emails,) begins to be frustrating: You want to make your own independent relationships.

In my book: When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes Chapter 9: Independent Socializing, the first section is called When to Change Your Operating System. Here is a paragraph:

“Embarking on social encounters Without having thEm filtered through a friend’s personality gives you back autonomy and can be far more satisfying. But only if you are prepared. Without planning you can wander around wondering how to make contact.” The next section called Step Away! Begin Independent Socializing goes into detail:

“You will often use the same person as your guide or companion at social events, but you need to find others who can also assist you. Consider stepping away from your closest friend some of the time and learning your own strategies.

Asking someone else to assist is an important break-through in independence. You have almost certainly been more dependent on your spouse, brother, or friend since vision loss. Now you can begin to regain faith in your own judgment. Experimenting with a more independent style is slow to begin with, but you are thinking for yourself again. If you reach out there will probably be someone going to an event who could be your companion and would be willing to help.

Here are a few suggestions for this next step:

  • Try to keep your time at events short. Your brain is working harder than before as it creates new pathways, so you may become tired quite quickly.
  • Ask your companion to come with you to the group you want to join, telling you about anyone he knows before you get there.
  • As you become more confident, ask him to come back after ten minutes to check on you.
  • Repeat new names aloud a couple of times and ask how to spell them. Remembering the names of new acquaintances is harder because you can’t tie the name to the face
  • Ask where you can sit to eat. Managing a glass and a plate and (maybe) a cane while trying to look someone in the eye is tough!

Stepping away from your usual companion is the beginning of independent socializing. From here you can learn more social ease and assertiveness.”

Chapter9 has eleven more sections including: Joining a group, Going to Large events, Should I Tell People About My Vision? And much more.

When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes: Vision Loss and Personal Recovery, the first How To guide for people losing sight and their families was published in 2019. It is available on Amazon in print, and Google Play Books as an accessible eBook, NLS talking books (#DBC11619) and on Bookshare. Thanks to generous friends and family the eBook is also available free of charge. It can be read in regular or large print or as an audio book. Apply for accessible free copy here.

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