'I saw enormous spiders floating towards me' : Scottish army veteran tells of horror of sight loss condition

An army veteran has told of the horrors of a traumatic sight loss condition in a bid to encourage others to seek help.

John Baptie, 73, from Inverness, began suffering from Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) in 2013.

Unaware of the condition at the time, he said the first years were “hell” as he thought he was “losing his mind”.

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Mr Baptie was later able to talk about his experiences as part of ‘Esme’s friends’ – a CBS support group set up in partnership by Sight Scotland Veterans and Esme’s Umbrella.

Army veteran John Baptie, 72, of Inverness, participated in the Esme’s Friends calls.Army veteran John Baptie, 72, of Inverness, participated in the Esme’s Friends calls.
Army veteran John Baptie, 72, of Inverness, participated in the Esme’s Friends calls.

The charities say they had noticed veterans reporting increased or changing CBS experiences during the pandemic, and are now offering telephone support groups as a result.

CBS is a common condition, which can affect people of any age with sight loss. It causes hallucinations which can vary from person to person.

Some veterans who have taken part in the Esme’s Friends calls had kept silent for years about their experiences, unaware of CBS and fearing the hallucinations were signs of mental illness, dementia or even paranormal hauntings.

Mr Baptie said he found the support group and talking to people with similar experiences a “great help”.

He said: “Nobody had ever mentioned Charles Bonnet Syndrome to me before, not even at eye clinic. It really came to light with Sight Scotland Veterans’ support. I realise now these things I’m seeing aren’t real. As soon as I realised, I felt alright.”

Mr Baptie had previously lost the sight in his left eye, but only experienced CBS symptoms when he also began to lose the sight in his right eye.

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"When it started happening, I did not understand what it was,” he said.

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"I thought I was haunted. I went through hell thinking that I had dementia and that things were going to get worse. I even paid for my funeral because I thought that was it.

“I would be sat down and see ginormous spiders coming towards me. I’d see spiders floating through the air coming towards me.

"I would see people dressed in black and when I approached them, I couldn’t see their faces. That made me think I was being haunted.

"When I was looking at something I’d swear it was moving, even though I knew it wasn’t. Even when I’d go out on a walk and I knew where I was going, I would get lost. When you don’t know what it is, you think you’re going mad.”

Esme's Umbrella was launched in 2015 by Judith Potts in memory of her mother, who had CBS. It raises awareness of CBS, offers support and raises funds for research.

Sight Scotland Veterans lead rehabilitation officer Sandra Taylor said: “During the pandemic, some individuals supported by Sight Scotland Veterans have told us that that they have experienced more or changing CBS hallucinations. With CBS still such a little-known condition, raising awareness of CBS and its effects plays a vital part in overall support for sight loss."

Mr Baptie added: “By sharing my experiences it’s nice that I can maybe help others too because I don’t want them to go through what I went through. The more Charles Bonnet Syndrome is brought out into the open and more people understand what it is, the better.”

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