RAF veteran with vision impairment uses poetry talent to share experiences of sight loss

Posted: 21/03/2019 | Scottish War Blinded

An RAF veteran facing the prospect of blindness is using his talent for poetry to explore his feelings about living with sight loss.


Dave Phillips felt “numb” when, at just 25, he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) in 1991 – a genetic eye disease which initially causes loss of peripheral vision, creates ‘tunnel vision’ and occasionally results in complete blindness. 


The former Aerospace Systems Operator had to leave the RAF after seven years as a result of his sight loss.


Now, aged 53, the married dad-of-two lives with minimal sight after the disease slowly stole away his peripheral vision. 

RAF veteran Dave Phillips


But the veteran, who lives in Paisley and is supported by charity Scottish War Blinded, has a natural flair for opening up on paper through poetry as a method of coping with his condition.


And by sharing his poems on social media, he hopes that others living with sight loss can also find some solace in the range of emotion of his work, which encompasses everything from deep sadness to witty humour.


Dave, who is originally from Birmingham, said: “When I was diagnosed with RP I was numb, I guess. Doctors were unable to give me a timescale for my sight loss.


“Losing my career and my bike licence was hard to swallow at 25, but I’d been in hospital a few years earlier and seen a few younger guys with terminal cancer so I knew it could be worse.


“I’ve always loved writing and I started writing poetry around the age of 16. I was rebelling against the highbrow poetry I was forced to analyse in English Literature.


“I think the first poem I wrote about my sight loss was ‘The Dark at The End of the Tunnel’ and I wrote it in around 1995, a few years after my diagnosis. I think it decided to be written rather than vice versa.


“It helps to get it on paper and share it with others. Certain things are hard to explain verbally. One of my poems, ‘Black Hole’, conveys the fact that seeing stars even on the clearest night is rendered impossible by the condition. The written word hopefully helps the reader understand that emotion.


“Most of my poems take less than ten minutes from conception to the page. I’ll have a thought and it blossoms. I’m not really nervous about putting my thoughts down. There is a fair mix of emotion from humour to despair in my poetry. It’s art imitating life.”


After years of collating a body of work on his sight loss, Dave has now compiled the poems into a collection: ‘The Eyes Have It’, with the hope it will be an insight into his sight loss for others.


He shares his work, including poems on other themes, on his Facebook page, Plainverse, the Poetry of Dave Phillips.


“In ‘The Eyes Have It’, I think ‘More Than One Way To See’ encapsulates the loss that RP brings as well as the possibilities it opens up,” Dave said.


“Immediately after being medically discharged from the RAF and losing my job and driving licence, I embarked on about three years of hitch-hiking throughout the UK and Europe, filling my mind with sights with the idea that, should I ever go totally blind, I’ll have a catalogue of images in my mind. 


“I hope readers see that it’s okay to laugh and it’s okay to cry, and that they’re not alone on their journey.”


Though his sight loss has affected huge parts of his life, Dave, who works from home as a travel consultant, has found ways to adapt with the support of his family and Scottish War Blinded – membership of which he says is “vitally important” to him.


“I work from home and only really leave my house at weekends with my lovely wife,” he explained.


“I avoid social events and pubs or cinemas, as at six foot-four with no peripheral vision and night blindness, I’m prone to knock people and things over.


“My work lets me work from home which saves me the commute. I’m grateful for that. My condition is probably harder for my parents than for me. The support I get from my wife and girls is priceless.


“My Scottish War Blinded Outreach Worker has been brilliant, arranging for my employer to install software to enable me to carry on working. The charity’s rehab team have given me white cane training, and the charity has supplied me with equipment such as a one cup hot water machine to keep me safe in the kitchen.”


Through Scottish War Blinded, Dave has met fellow veterans with sight loss –something he has found to be a great help – and he says it’s crucial that people struggling with vision impairments seek support.


Dave said: “Last year I went to Scottish War Blinded’s ‘The Gathering’ event in Clydebank and found it truly inspirational. Being part of the charity has really helped me.


“I’d advise that anyone with sight loss seeks out folk who are dealing with similar issues. I avoided doing it for years because I didn’t want to see my worst case scenario, but now as well as being a member of Scottish War Blinded, I’m part of an RP group on Facebook. 


“There are folk with all stages of the process who help lift each other’s spirits and share stories of bruised shins.”


Scottish War Blinded gives free support to ex-servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service. The charity’s services include rehabilitation and training to adapt to sight loss, grants for equipment to assist with independent living, funded respite care and home modifications.


If you or someone you know could benefit from Scottish War Blinded’s activities and support, call us free today on 0800 035 6409.