When Debbie Lenehan was first diagnosed with both Retinitis Pigmentosa and Bull's Eye Maculopathy she didn’t know where to turn.
A self-described “bundle of tears” at the time, Debbie said accepting her diagnosis proved to be extremely challenging for her, but with some guidance from others with similar experiences, she managed to come to terms with things.
“At the beginning I really didn’t have any idea about what to do and there wasn’t much around in the way of support. I managed to find a few people who had the same eye condition as me and speak to them and that really helped men out,” Debbie said.
“I just didn’t know what to expect, so being able to ask somebody who had gone through the same things as me all the questions that were going through my head was a real help. Early on I was a bundle of tears, but that really helped me in terms of accepting things and making the decision to stop crying and enjoy life,” she said.
As part of that acceptance, Debbie reached out to Vision Australia and received a range of supports, including Occupational Therapy, Orientation and Mobility service and advice and training around adaptive technology.
Debbie’s involvement with Vision Australia resulted in her becoming a volunteer with the organisation and now it’s her turn to help others as they come to terms with living with blindness or low vision.
“Being able to talk to somebody who had been through the same things I was experiencing was such a big thing for me and I just wanted to provide that same support to somebody else that might need it,” Debbie said.
For the past three years, Debbie has been a volunteer in the Vision Australia Peer Support Program, which matches people with similar lived experiences relating to vision loss.
When matched with somebody, Debbie acts as a support network and outlet for the other person.
“I’ve had probably five or six peers since I’ve been involved in the program and I’ve really enjoyed being able to help people.
“What we talk about is up to them. There might be a specific day-to-day task they want to ask about, but I also think just giving people somebody to talk to who can relate and empathise with what they going through can really make a difference.”
While Debbie believes simply being on the other end the phone can play a big role helping people, she did say there are some questions about day-to-day life that she regularly comes across.
“Losing your vision obviously can present some challenges to people doing everyday things and I think it’s normal that people will have some questions about how they’ll be able to do things.
“One of the big things I get asked about is about cooking. People want to know things like how do I know if a piece of meat is cooked or things like that. I tell them that I use touch a lot and that so far I haven’t had anything undercooked.
“The other thing I get asked is about parenting. For me that’s never been an issue, I don’t know if it’s just a sixth sense that every parent has, but I’ve always been able to tell what my son is doing. I call it mummy magic, but it’s just an instinct I seem to have.”
For Debbie, signing up to the Peer Support Program was a way to give back after others from the blind and low vision community supported her, but she encourages anybody to get involved.
“You’re not a counsellor or anything like that. You’re talking to people who are having the same experiences and thoughts that you did.
“You just need to be able to relate to what they’re going through and maybe share some of the strategies you use to get things done.”