An Edinburgh veteran says a sight loss charity is helping him “reclaim himself” after a stroke left him visually impaired.

Stephen Jennings, 61, says he felt “robbed” when he was struck by a stroke two years ago, impacting the left side of his vision and leading to medical retirement.

As a social work practitioner supporting blind and partially sighted people when the stroke hit, he was devastated to stop working in a job he loved.

Struggling to adapt to his sudden sight loss and unable to go out and about independently, Stephen says he was battling anxiety and depression. 

But with expert support from charity Sight Scotland Veterans, Stephen is regaining his confidence and independence.

Stephen, who served with the Territorial Army for nine years and had various civilian jobs including warehouse and construction roles before he qualified in social work, said: “After my stroke I woke up in hospital after four days. I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

“I was scared because I started walking into doors. It’s so weird because I know there’s something there, but I can’t see it. With sight loss you’ve got to get over that fear, because it is scary.

“Being medically retired was a shock. I was upset and I didn’t know what to do. I’d worked all my life. People can’t tell that I’ve had a stroke, but I can’t see anybody come up to me, or I don’t recognise people. I did get anxiety. I felt robbed, thinking ‘why me?’

“But I had fantastic support from Lorna at Edinburgh Community Stroke Service and their team did so much for me in my rehabilitation after the stroke. Lorna linked me in with Sight Scotland Veterans for support with mobility.”

Stephen is now receiving long cane training from Sight Scotland Veterans’ rehabilitation team to support him to adapt to life with sight loss and enable him to get out and about safely and independently again.

He is also supported by one of the charity’s outreach workers to rebuild his confidence in re-engaging with the community.

 Stephen said: “I was very depressed and I was in a dark place, but all of this support has given me back my personality again. My self-esteem has gone back up.

“I’m reclaiming myself now. What I took for granted was things like just walking up the road to go to the pub. But when I’ve done more of my long cane training, I’ll be able to do these things again. I can’t wait.

“At first, I was very wary about the cane training, but Kate, my Sight Scotland Veterans rehabilitation officer, knew that and has been great. I can’t fault her. I look forward to my cane training sessions now and I’m starting to trust the cane. Kate’s currently teaching me how to cross roads safely and manage stairs.

“My Sight Scotland Veterans outreach worker, Keith, will visit and we go out for a coffee. I can take his elbow to guide me if we go out and it’s been really good. He helps me feel relaxed. He took me to the parade in Edinburgh for Remembrance Day and kept talking to me to let me know what was happening. It was like I was watching.”

Stephen is now encouraging other veterans with sight loss in Edinburgh and the Lothians to reach out to Sight Scotland Veterans for support.

Stephen said: “My sight loss is a big wrench for me. But I’ve got to see the positive side. It’s made me very aware and determined to help people and talk to them about living with sight loss. 

“I would encourage other veterans with sight loss to get in touch with Sight Scotland Veterans. I’m talking to other veterans through the charity’s virtual hub and hearing their experiences, and it’s really helpful to listen to what they’ve been through. I’d missed the comradeship, and that’s what it’s all about.

“I look forward to meeting more people at Sight Scotland Veterans’ Linburn Centre in West Lothian. If I keep getting support from Sight Scotland Veterans and make more friends through the charity, I’ll be alright.”

Sight Scotland Veterans offers support to all veterans with sight loss based in Scotland – including those who served National Service. For more information about Sight Scotland Veterans or to get in touch with the charity for support, call 0800 035 6409 or fill in one of our contact forms.