Losing something as precious as your vision can cause a range of emotions. It’s common, expected and hopefully temporary to feel down in the wake of a diagnosis of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). What’s important to know is that while living with AMD may present challenges, most people eventually come to terms with their diagnosis and settle into this new normal to live happy and productive lives.
Your Emotional Journey with AMD
Many people experience grief when diagnosed with AMD, especially if there’s already some vision loss. If you’re experiencing a profound sense of loss, know that it’s not unusual and that as with any grief, your emotions may go through several stages before you settle into your new normal: denial, anger, depression and then acceptance. You may have experienced these feelings before with a previous loss. If so, you’ll know that you need to give yourself a little time to adjust.
For some people, the unpredictability of AMD can be emotionally unsettling. Macular degeneration presents so many unknowns: Will my vision stay the same or worsen, and how quickly? Will I be able to remain independent or will I need to rely on others? When will I have to stop driving? These are just some of the many concerns that can negatively impact your mental wellbeing. One way to cope is to remind yourself that many people with significant vision loss continue to live independently or with some help at home.
Coming to terms with life with AMD—again and again
Many of the recommendations that doctors give patients who are going emotional distress after, say, the loss of a loved one will help support you during your journey with AMD.
You may find yourself needing to revisit these actions during the course of your disease if it progresses. If you have a sudden loss of vision, or develop AMD in the other eye, or go from dry to wet AMD, you may re-experience what you felt on first being diagnosed. So whatever you’re feeling, it’s a good idea to tune in to your emotions and learn what helps you feel better. The coping mechanisms you develop now will help your build resilience for whatever comes your way.
Educate yourself: Gaining a better understanding of AMD is empowering on many levels. Not only does it give you a feeling of being more in control of your life, but by learning what you can about your condition, you’ll improve communication with your healthcare team and also be able to help those around you better understand what you’re experiencing.
Embrace Change: Even if you have no symptoms, adjusting to life with AMD is an ongoing process of assessing and reassessing. If you have symptoms now, focus first on what you’re still able to do, which is probably more that you think. Then work on finding new approaches to doing tasks that are becoming harder. Your life might not look exactly the same as it did last year, but life is change. Even a year ago, your day-to-day was far from what it was when you were 30.
Stay Connected: Some people sideline friendships and family during this time. If that sounds like you, make every effort to fight your impulse to isolate yourself, and reach out to to your close circle, as well as telling neighbors with whom you’re in regular contact. Close relationships are important now and in your future. They can help curb sadness and anxiety, and research shows that they’re vital to your overall health.
De-stress: Besides being good for your retinal health, regular exercise—even just taking a walk—is thought to lift your mood by boosting certain “feel-good” brain chemicals. Practices like yoga and tai chi can help you relax, focus and regain mental balance. And there are relaxation techniques like mindful meditation that you can perform on your own, using a DVD to learn.
Take action to stem vision loss: It’s never too late to start living a healthy lifestyle. Make a plan to do all you can to protect your vision, and then follow it. Taking charge of your life with AMD will help you feel better.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to curb sadness, it doesn’t lift. This could mean you have clinical depression. If you experiencing the following symptoms more days than not, tell your healthcare provider.
Feeling helpless, hopeless and pessimistic
Feeling tired or having no energy
Not wanting to do activities and interests you previously enjoyed
Sleeping too little or too much or waking up often