‘The eyes might be gone a bit but my brain’s still here’

RNIB volunteer Majella McFarlane. DER2316GS048
RNIB volunteer Majella McFarlane. DER2316GS048

A Derry woman who began losing her sight almost 30 years ago, has revealed how a confidence building course with the Royal National Institute for the Blind helped her to accept that it’s o.k. to ask people for help.

Majella McFarlane was just 22 when she travelled to Scotland to see if she could get fitted for contact lenses. It was there she was dealt the devastating blow that she had glaucoma and was losing her eyesight.

Some of the RNIB volunteers who attended a Graduation and Thank You  event held in the Maldron Hotel Derry on Friday afternoon last.  DER2316GS049

Some of the RNIB volunteers who attended a Graduation and Thank You event held in the Maldron Hotel Derry on Friday afternoon last. DER2316GS049

Twenty eight years on and Majella has lost the sight in her left eye and has only partial sight in her right.

“I have had five operations,” Majella told the ‘Journal.’”Thankfully over the past 15 years there has been no further decline in my eyesight.”

The Derry mother of one says that although she struggles with night blindness and reading labels on food cartons or white goods, she still remains fiercely independent.

“When you are first diagnosed the fear sets in and you think your life is over,” she said. “But once you step through the door and let people help you the support is brilliant. Being with other people at the RNIB who have sight loss makes it like a family affair, we are all going through the same thing and support each other. I think at the beginning you didn’t want people to know you had an eyesight problem, and you carried a wee bit of a shame. And people would kind of treat you different like you are stupid. I would say ‘the eyes are gone a bit but the brain is still here.’

“Now when I meet people I would ask people ‘can I have you arm crossing the road?’ Nine times out of ten people are ok and so generous.”

RNIB NI Community Access Worker, Annmarie Houston says, “When a person loses some or all of their sight, there can often be an adverse impact on their self confidence. Without support or intervention, this can lead to a sense of resignation and ultimately to additional physical and mental health issues. Following the completion of these personal development programmes, individuals inevitably become role models who inspire the next year’s intake of eager recruits.”