'I went to help make tea but I stayed for the support'

Posted: Thursday 21 December 2023
Valda Johnston smiling into camera

For more than a decade Valda volunteered with her local support group, despite her initial doubts of being around others with sight loss.

Now she feels local support groups are imperative, as it helped her adjust to life with both dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinal vein occlusion (RVO).

She said: “It's nice to go and talk to other people who are in the same position as you, you help each other by giving tips.”

Despite barriers, Valda, who is also a keen dancer, has continued to lead an active lifestyle.

But it was thanks to some encouragement from a friend that Valda went on to volunteer at the Barnt Green group in Worcestershire, although she has since passed on the tea-making duties because of her deteriorating vision.

Impact of the support group

She said: “I think it's a good support group and everybody should go to one. It may be I can do things one way or somebody else has found a different way of doing things which can help you as well.”

She added: “When I look back, I didn't want to go at first because I was under the opinion people were going to be sat there feeling sad and miserable, but it's not like that at all. Everybody's cheerful and our group leader is very good, very helpful if I'm concerned about anything.

“I went there at first to help make the tea and I ended up just staying there for the support, to help others and that’s what it’s all about.”

The help and encouragement from others in the group has been vital to Valda.

She said: “When I first had this, it didn't bother me too much. It didn't affect me that much but you don't realise how much one eye depends on the other one. When the second eye started to go, that's when my vision seemed to deteriorate quickly.

“That did frustrate me then, because I had to give up driving. I was legally allowed to carry on but I knew in myself it was a risk. I remember my optician said I was allowed to drive but advised me that if I was their mother that they wouldn't want me to be behind the wheel.”

Dancing with sight loss

However, despite no longer driving, Valda has continued her passion for sequence dancing. At 86 years old, she has picked up where she left off before her sight loss.

It has long been a hobby of the Strictly Come Dancing fan, who admits she even agrees with judge Craig Revel-Horwood on occasion! Since being diagnosed with macular disease, she has refused to let her deteriorating vision stop from her from getting on the dance floor.

Valda said: “My sight loss hasn’t stopped me, I think once you know how to dance, you just do it, don't you? Physically things change, there’s a few pains, and tiredness, but it gets us out, even if we just end up sitting down and having a natter too. It’s a bit like a Macular Society group, it means we’re out socialising, which is better than being at home being miserable and down because of our eyes.

“You don't need your eyes to learn to dance, you just have to listen to the music and listen to the instructor. If you're learning a new dance you might bump into someone occasionally, but it’s more a mistake in the routine. I can still make out people are there, just not see the finer details.

“But I say just keep going, because even if you're not good at it, it's an outlet, isn't it? It's something to stop you from sitting at home, just go and mix with people, and keep yourself active.

“Isn't it really so easy to sit at home and feel sorry for yourself? So get out and have a go. You don't need to be a professional to do sequence dancing.”

Find your nearest Macular Society support group

Macular disease should not stop you from doing what you enjoy, and socialising with other people. Local support groups can be a great way of connecting with others. Find a group near you or call 01264 560 259.