Anxiety Society: Coping, But Without the Luxury of Sight(This is the sixteenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society”, in which I interview everyday anxiety sufferers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.)

Meet Sveta.

She loves music, listening to bird calls, and reading. Although she’s just in her early twenties, she’s already been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and dysthymia. Her diagnoses follow a difficult and abusive childhood.

What makes Sveta’s story a bit different from most stories of PTSD and abuse is this: she’s also blind.

Although she can perceive colors and shapes, and distinguish between light and dark, that’s the extent of her visual ability. The blindness affects everything from her ability to escape triggering situations to her anxiety coping strategies. Her parents still largely control the minutae of her everyday life, so Sveta finds herself struggling to carve out her own strategies for controlling her environment.

Summer: Have you always been blind, or were you able to see at some point in your life?

Sveta: I was born 3 months and 2 weeks early. I was put on oxygen because I couldn’t breathe. The result was that not only could I breathe, but the blood vessels in my eyes grew too fast, forcing the retina and the eye apart.

SB: And you suffer from an anxiety disorder, correct? Do you mind sharing your diagnoses?

S: I have been diagnosed with dysthymia, also known as chronic depression and complex PTSD, which is like BPD but to a lesser degree.

SB: Do you feel the dysthymia was always present, or did it develop at some point in your life?

S: The dysthymia was always there for as long as I can remember. My parents used to make fun of my love for minor keys saying, “You only like songs where someone dies”. This, of course, isn’t true. I like the minor key, not the death. It happens, sometimes, that songs where someone dies are in minor keys. It also happens that in songs in minor keys, sometimes, someone dies.

SB: What about the sadness itself?

S: I have always been a sad person who was prone to reading books, listening to music, and writing poetry instead of spending time with friends. I don’t know when it started, but I can’t ever remember liking people much. I would rather read about them, write about them, or listen to their music. All others, I would avoid.

SB: Do you mind sharing what type of experience triggered the PTSD?

S: I am not sure what triggered the PTSD. I remember noticing the first sign of depersonalization when I was 11. It felt weird, as if I was watching what I did. As if I were watching a movie or reading a book about what I was doing. This still happens quite often.

SB: When you seek out mental health resources on the internet, what steps do you take? What kind of device or software do you use to help you interact in a medium that seems to be built for sighted people?

S: Well, there’s the iPhone, which I grudgingly say is awesome. It has a screen reader called Voice Over built into it. Voice over will read three-quarters of applications, web pages, and all of the native built-in software in iOS. Then, for the computer, there are NVDA and JAWS: “Non-visual desktop access” and “Job access with speech”.

SB: What makes you anxious? I know that’s a very vague question…but what are your triggers?

S: Overload. Lots of noise. Huge spaces. I can’t stand shopping malls or busy stores. I nearly went insane when I was at Target the other day. As you likely know, being around loads of people makes me anxious too. Reminders of the things that happened to me, the child abuse I suffered, small children and their parents, flashing lights. Can’t look at the high way at night. Nope.

Later this week, Sveta shares the story of her childhood abuse. Check back soon.

Creative Commons License photo credit: desiretofire : music is the shape of silence