Monday, May 03, 2010

My history as an Optic-Obsessive

By All4Eyes May 2006

Every word of this is 137% true, right down to the names. To protect the innocent, I used only first names, except for my eye doctor, who I’m sure won’t mind a free plug.

I have often wondered exactly how and when my unusual fascination with all things visual began. I suppose it could have started when I was 6 years old and my mother became blind due to Multiple Sclerosis. She could only see shadows, light and dark and this lasted for about a year and a half before she got her sight back. I think this is also when I learned to love reading, because she would ask me to help by reading things to her. “But, Mama, I can’t really read yet” I would say and she’d say “But you can read some words and the ones you don’t know you can spell and I’ll tell you what they are”. I think it made me feel important to be helping her that way. At that point in time, I was not yet concerned with myopia or eyeglasses, just with blindness, although my father wore glasses (plus lenses) and my mother had worn minus glasses before she went blind and wore them again when her sight came back. Maybe I identified with my mother a bit as well. Anyway, during the time my mother was blind and for a while afterwards I used to blind fold myself and try to walk around and do things that way. I was curious about what it was like for her and also I enjoyed “being blind” like her. I also developed a bit of a phobia about going blind myself for real. I think this may have been behind a lot of my initial reading about eyes and vision, trying to reassure myself it wouldn’t happen. I find it interesting how close fear and fascination often are.

When I was 7 and in grade 2, I sat in the very back of our classroom. I remember one day I was looking at the chart with our spelling words on it and I was having a hard time trying to read them because the words looked blurry. I think I already knew what that meant, that I was nearsighted and needed glasses. I went home that afternoon and told my parents that I had trouble seeing the board at school and they took me for my very first eye exam. I don’t remember much about it, as I was very young and not yet obsessed with glasses. I don’t remember my first prescription. I do vaguely remember getting glasses for the first time. It wasn’t one of those one-hour places; I had to wait a couple days. I choose a gold metal frame with flex-spring hinges, the front pieces holding the lenses shaped like squares with the corners rounded-off and red paint on the front pieces and earpieces. I remember those frames so well because I still have them, in fact I am wearing them right now as I type this (but these aren’t my first lenses, more about this in a bit). I don’t especially remember them making much of a difference to my vision. I don’t think I really needed glasses that much yet. And in grade 3 I sat in the very front row and I could see the board just fine without my glasses. I remember I knew someone who said she couldn’t see the board even from the front row without her glasses and I couldn’t imagine having eyes that bad. I had an odd pattern of wearing my glasses - I would either wear them all day if, for some reason, I felt like it or (more often) I wouldn’t wear them at all, not even for the board.

Getting back to blindness, from the ages of about 8 to about 12, I had a friend who was blind. Actually, she was the granddaughter of one of my mother’s friends. She lived in New York and only came down here in the summer, but I always enjoyed spending time with her. I remember once she was spending the night at my house and she asked me to look at the clock and tell her the time and when I tried to explain that I couldn’t see it because it was too far away she didn’t understand. Now it’s a little late, but I think I’ve come up with a way to explain needing glasses to a blind person. It’s sort of like a radio that isn’t tuned quite right. You can hear noise, maybe you can even catch a word now and then, but it’s staticy and you can’t really follow what’s happening and you really have to concentrate to even catch the occasional word. Then you turn the dial a bit and it’s tuned properly so everything sounds nice and clear. That’s how my eyes are, if I take my glasses off, it’s like visual static, then I put them back on and get a clear signal (but, of course, when this incident happened I didn’t have any glasses to put on). I guess she was confused because she thought either you were blind or you could see, no in between, and she’d asked me before if I was blind and I said “No”. Actually, she’s not the only person who’s asked if I was blind. I used to get that a lot. There are some people who look like they’re blind, for some reason, even though they aren’t and I guess I must be one of them. That’s one thing about wearing glasses-everyone knows I’m not blind because I wouldn’t be wearing glasses if I was! (Although a person could be legally blind and still wear glasses, but I think most people don’t think of that).

I had my glasses less than 2 years when I lost them. I had more-or-less a “good riddance” attitude, but my mother was very upset. Here I will digress from the lost-glasses issue for a moment to explain the emergence of my obsession with myopia. When I was in grade 4, shortly after I lost my glasses, I read a book called “A Wrinkle in Time”. There was a character named Meg who wore glasses because she was nearsighted. There was a part I particularly liked where she is sitting with her boyfriend and he has taken her glasses of and wiped her face for her because she was crying and he mentions that he has never seen her without them and she explains how she is nearsighted and blind as a bat and he tells her to go on wearing her glasses because he doesn’t want anyone else to know how beautiful her eyes are. A pair of glasses also figures in the plot of the story at one point. I got great pleasure reading that and I think that was when it first occurred to me that I had a greater than usual interest in glasses and I began to feel a bit ashamed of it. Back to the loss of my own glasses, at first this did not cause me any trouble aside from my mother being mad. She always suspected I had lost them on purpose, “Whenever I say anything about your glasses you get this funny smile on your face” she said once. Of course, I couldn’t tell her the real reason for that because 1. I didn’t know how to explain it and 2. I was too embarrassed. My best friend Aleshia (who wore plus lenses in pink plastic frames) and I used to like to play “Mystery” and lost glasses always make for a good mystery game. The glasses did eventually turn up, but I am trying to keep this story in chronological order and this did not happen till sometime later.

My uncorrected vision didn’t cause me any problems in school in grade 4, but in grade 5 I got into some pretty bad myopic messes. By then I’d reached the point where I could barely see the board from the front row and I had the misfortune of having a teacher who not only hadn’t a clue about myopia, but also loved to write a question on the board, look around the room to see who looked the most confused and call on that person to answer the question. I still feel absolutely mortified as I remember her saying “Marie, would you answer Problem 3 for us, please?” and me sitting there going “Ummmm”, squinting just as hard as I can and I just KNOW the whole class must be staring at me and finally having to give up and say “I don’t know”. That was what was really ironic, I was smart and the work we did wasn’t that hard for me when I could actually see it. Math was especially hard, since our teacher used the board or the overhead projector (which I came to think of as an instrument of torture) to demonstrate how to do the problems. I think this caused lingering problems for me because I later had difficulty with math (it is still my worst subject) and I think it’s because of the instruction I missed because I couldn’t see it and also because I had to pretend I didn’t know things so much that I came to believe it and think of myself as “bad at math”. Once I did manage to work up the courage to tell the stupid teacher that I couldn’t see the board and she asked me “Why?” Apparently this woman never heard of a kid needing glasses before (she didn’t wear them). Of course, I’m hoping she’s somewhere with a pair of –40’s on her nose right now. Now, some of you are probably wondering why I didn’t simply inform my parents of my predicament, as I had before. This is something that has taken me a long time to understand. Partly I was ashamed, not only of needing glasses but also of wanting them, because I had developed a definite desire to wear glasses. My embarrassment was such that I pretended to hate glasses and vigorously denied needing them, though my greatest secret wish was to somehow be forced into getting my eyes examined and getting glasses without having to say anything about it myself. It was also around this time I got my first crush on a boy with plus glasses he wore constantly, although unfortunately my love was not reciprocated.

Grade 6 was not so bad, as it seemed my teachers that year were not as fond of writing things on the board and also I have cerebral palsy which makes it difficult for me to write very fast, so I had an aide who took notes for me (btw, she wore either contacts or a pair of very strong, thick minus glasses, at least a –10, I’m sure). I once again fell in love with a bespectacled boy, this time a myope. On the first day of school he first came to class without glasses, but he caught my eye even so (he was VERY cute!). Then the teacher lit up the overhead projector and he asked to be excused to go get his glasses out of his locker. He and I and my 2 best friends in school all sat at the same table. One of these girls wore a pair of very weak minuses, I doubt she really needed to wear them constantly, but she did. But the other girl wore a pretty strong pair, I’d say now about a –6 or so, but at that point I still didn’t know much about judging lens strength. These 2 girls and I sat together at lunch everyday, also. But, alas, my darling myope Michael was in love with the most popular girl in school (not me) although he was friendly with me. I remember even with his glasses he had to sit up front and he squinted any time he had to read the board (I LOVED to watch him do that!). Once our teacher asked “Don’t your glasses work, Michael?” and he answered, “They’re not strong enough.” Also, when I was 11 and in grade 6, my friend Aleshia got new glasses. She called and told me and when I asked what color frame she got she said “Red”, I said “Wow, that’s the same as mine were!” and she said, “That’s where I got the idea”. When she came over she showed them to me. Then she suggested we show them to my mother. When we did she said, “Marie, those are YOUR glasses!” Aleshia had stolen my glasses and had new lenses for her put in. My mother called Aleshia’s and told her what she’d done and we kept those glasses that were half (frames) mine and half (lenses) hers. Aleshia didn’t really need them because she had another pair. Mom paid a lot for those frames and Aleshia did steal them. But we didn’t have lenses for me put in again because I said I didn’t need glasses.

I have gotten a kick out of trying on people’s glasses for almost as long as I can remember. I especially liked minus lenses, of course, because I could see clearly a little farther and I especially liked the “focused-in” feeling I got when I read with minus glasses. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find many people who would let me try theirs on and nobody with strong glasses would. One day when I was 12, I snuck into the master bedroom while my parents were gone and tried on a pair of my mother’s glasses. Well, that was really something! I remember how clear and bright everything looked. The TV set was on and I was amazed that I could actually see what was happening, the characters’ facial expressions and everything instead of just a fuzzy smear of colors. Any doubts I may have had about my needing glasses were dispelled then and there. I felt such an incredibly intense longing for a pair of glasses for myself, it became a real obsession. Many times I tried to work up the courage to tell my parents that I was really having trouble seeing. I was, too, I was starting to really notice that my vision was getting worse and worse all the time and after trying on my mother’s glasses I became aware of how much I was missing. I don’t know how long I thought I was going to be able to continue walking around in a fog like that. It had gotten to the point where everything was really blurry unless I had it right up in my face. Even reading was getting to be hard because I had to almost literally stick my nose in the book. I remember my teachers used to fuss at me for leaning down over my desk and not sitting up straight. Now I realize I was doing that because I had to to get close enough to my work to see it. But still I just couldn’t muster up the courage to tell anyone.

Now, you might be wondering, “What about school vision screenings?” We only had them every other year, grades 1,3,5, and 7. I passed with flying colors in grades 1 and 3. In grade 5 I failed, but I told the nurse I did have glasses (I didn’t tell her I had no clue where they were) and she let it go. In grade 7, however, there was no escaping it. I had been out sick a lot and missed the regular screening day and also the makeup day, but the school nurse doggedly tracked me down and made me go through with it, even though I was the absolute last kid in the whole 7th grade who hadn’t yet been screened. She wasn’t about to let even one get away! I think I was able to read about 2 or 3 lines and that was all. “Well, you’re not seeing very well, are you?” she said. “I guess not” I replied, head hung in shame. She wrote a note to take home to my parents. I dutifully gave it to my mother when I got home, but she didn’t show much reaction. Perhaps she was distracted. Actually, I think she already had an idea that I had a vision problem. Sometimes she would point something out to me, a bird in a tree or a sign or something, and I would have to go through a whole song-and-dance routine to cover up the fact that I couldn’t see it. Then she would say, “See, this is why you need your glasses”. But I think a couple of times just before I got glasses again I really surprised her with how little I could see. “You mean you can’t see THAT?” she would ask, then shake her head and groan. She asked me once how far I could see clearly and I said “About 3 feet” (actually, this was an overestimate. I’ve since measured it precisely with a ruler and it’s about 8 inches). I don’t know that she believed me.

I went on this way until I was 14. Then one day I saw a flash of light like blue fireworks in my right eye. I told my mother about that and she said it might just be a fluke, but to tell her if it happened again. Well, a couple days later it did (this time in both eyes). Mom called my pediatrician, but he was out of town, so she called her eye doctor, who referred us to a neuro-opthalmologist. At first I was scared there might be something really wrong with me. By the day before the appointment, I was pretty much convinced I was OK; so I started to get excited about visiting a real live eye doctor (heaven, I’m in heaven!). We went to my appointment on July 16, 1998. Boy, was I nervous! As we were going out to the car, Mom said, “I’ll bring these so if that’s the problem we can fix that” and she had those red glasses in her hand! We got there and she sat with the paperwork and I sat facing her in the waiting room. I was excited and nervous, half hoping I would get glasses, but not sure if it would actually happen. Now looking back I can’t imagine how I thought that an eye doctor could examine me and not discover that I was nearsighted, but I guess maybe I thought he’d just take a quick look in my eyes to be sure nothing had come unglued or anything and not bother with a full exam or checking my vision. I must have looked antsy, because Mom asked if I was comfortable. Finally the nurse called my name. We followed her to the exam room and the nurse left saying “Dr. Hamed will be with you in just a moment”. So I looked around. There was a counter covered in little bottles. I didn’t see an eye chart, but there was that chair with a phoropter attached! Then the Dr. came and he and Mom talked for a while (a lot of the conversation concerned me and my vision, but I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have to that conversation!).

Then finally the real eye examination started! I didn’t get to sit in the “Magic Chair”, though, because it would have been hard to transfer to it from my wheelchair (I use a wheelchair when I go out due to my CP, but I get around on my own at home). So the Dr. told me to park my chair in front of the “magic” one, so I was actually a wee bit closer to the wall where the chart was than most people get (not that this helped!). He turned off the lights and shut the door. Then he projected a row of letters onto the wall in front of me. He asked if I could read them and I said “No” (read them? I didn’t even see anything except a strip of light!). We went through this up several lines (I thought it was a low-down dirty trick on his part to start right off at the bottom instead of the top and working my way down) until he turned to my mother and nervously asked, “Does she wear glasses?” Mom said that I did but wouldn’t wear them. He said to me “I really think you should”. (I realize now that I should have told him right at first that I had worn glasses and knew I was nearsighted. It probably scared the poor man silly to have someone come in complaining of flashes and then discover she has very poor vision). We went up several MORE lines, until I finally thought my squinting could remove enough of the fuzz for me to make out the letters. When he asked, “Can you read this line?” I said “Uh, yes. Yes!” I read the line and got all the letters right except for 1 or 2. It was the line right under the Big E. “So the vision’s about 20/200?” said Dr. Hamed in near-disbelief. “Wow, that’s legally blind!” I whispered under my breath. Then he looked in my eyes with lots of different instruments (no drops, though). Next he said, “Ok, I think I want to take some measurements”. We went into a different room. Then I was told to move up to another machine and put my face in the face-rest. “Eyes wide open and no talking” he said when I said, “Oh, cool, there’s a little picture in here!” The picture went in-and-out of focus for a few moments, and then he said I could sit back and he pulled a piece of paper out. Then he checked my peripheral vision by having me look at his nose while he held up fingers out to the side and asked me to count them. This was a little hard (I had trouble keeping my eyes focused on his nose. I had trouble staying on the Big E like he asked me to while he looked in my eyes, too.). Then he wrote down my prescription and handed it to my Mom, saying, “Well, she’s significantly nearsighted (little did he know he couldn’t have paid me a bigger compliment) but other than that, there aren’t any significant problems. I think the flashing lights were just a form of migraine” (That is true. I still have episodes of that, plus occasional blind spots (when you have them in most of your field of vision in both eyes, that’s really fun). Being in bright sunlight or brightly lit rooms indoors seems to aggravate it). As we were leaving, Mom stopped to talk to the receptionist for a minute and Dr. Hamed came out and shook my hand, like he was impressed with me for some reason or something. We left the Dr.’s office in the pouring rain.

Once we got in the car, I asked Mom to let me see my prescription. She gave it to me. It was OS –4.00 OD –4.50! I was shocked! I knew I was nearsighted, but I didn’t know I was THAT nearsighted! We got to the shopping plaza where the optician was. We went in there and gave the optician my Rx and the red glasses. “These aren’t hers, are they?” the optician asked. Mom said “No”. “Yeah, these look like plus lenses and she’s got a minus prescription” the optician muttered. Then Mom said I could get another pair, too, so we started looking at frames. I was in such a state of shock, having learned just how myopic I was and accepting that I really was getting glasses now, that my greatest dream was coming true, that my brain was pretty well scrambled and I didn’t take as active a part in choosing frames as I should have. I just kind of went with what Mom and the optician said. We (or should I say they) narrowed it down to a couple round, gold frames a la John Lennon. So I tried them on. At first the optician put the mirror down on the table in front of me, then she looked down at my Rx and said, “You probably can’t see it very well here, huh?” I had to admit I couldn’t, so she put it in my lap, and I picked it up and looked that way, holding the mirror up in front of me. I chose the brightest, shiniest pair. Then Mom and I went to a pizza parlor next to the optician’s and ordered a cheese pizza (I LOVE pizza). As I sat there at the table waiting for our pizza, I started thinking about getting glasses. How would I look? I’d heard lots of stories about people getting glasses and suddenly they could SEE! Would it be like that for me? Then our pizza came. As we ate, we talked. “I’m still not sure about glasses,” I said. Mom kept telling me reassuring things (it’s strange I don’t remember more of what was said that day.). When we finished, we went to see if my glasses were ready. They weren’t, so we went out and walked around outside a bit (it had stopped raining). Mom said something about how awful she looked and I said, “I think you look fine. But I guess now we know I’m not a very good judge of how things look!”

We went back and my red pair was ready, but the gold pair had gotten a lens scratched while they were making them (Mom said because they weren’t used to making so strong a prescription) and had to be remade. The optician went ahead and fit the red ones to my face. This required putting them on me and taking them off me repeatedly. The first time she put them on, I changed the way I was focusing and using my eyes completely. Every time she put them on and took them off, I had to change focus. This annoyed me a little and I must have showed it, because she said “Oh, I know it’s irritating having them on and off all the time, isn’t it?” When she went to get the gold ones she left the red ones on me and I quickly took them off because I still was unsure about wearing them (all the time, anyway). “They won’t do you any good if you keep taking them off” said Mom, so I put them back on. The optician came back with the gold pair and fitted these to my face. Then I looked at this little sign about 2 inches high and 3 feet away with very small print, and I could read it (no squinting, either, just look and there it was)! Then I noticed that the lights looked about 3 times brighter. Mom asked me to look out the window that overlooked the parking lot. “See anything different out there, like people in cars?” she asked. Like cars, period, I thought. We went outside and the sunlight was so bright it was almost painful! On the way home we got stuck in traffic, but I was so busy looking at things, I didn’t care! When we got home I just kept talking nonstop, I was so wound up. As a neat coincidence, a Ronald Reagan interview was on TV (which I could see from more than 2 feet!) that night and he talked about getting his first glasses at 14. I didn’t want to go to bed that night, but finally I did. But I was up early the next morning and put on my glasses first thing, anxious to begin another day of seeing!

Then in the summer of 2000 a new world opened up for me once again-we got a computer and I discovered Eyescene! I posted my email address and got a few replies, but then my mother caught me and was mad that I’d given out my email address and was talking to all you weird people. 8) I don’t think she actually took the time to read much of my emails or Eyescene. That was when I tried to explain my feelings to her. She knew I was interested in vision and she knew I was planning on becoming an optometrist, but I don’t think she realized the depth of my feelings. I didn’t fully, either, until I started reading some of the Eyescene postings. At one point she asked “It’s not like something kinky, is it?” I asked what she meant and she said “Well, I mean, you don’t want to take people with poor vision and, like, tie them up or something?” I quickly assured her that wasn’t what I meant (although now that I think of it.. But only if the person consented. 8) I certainly have no desire to harm anyone). But there is this other aspect that is nonsexual, but nonetheless strange (to most people). I just REALLY enjoy being with people who need glasses and talking about glasses and vision and being myopic myself. There is also this matter of identity. I like thinking of myself as a myope and everything about it - the look and feel of frames on my face, the reflections of light and power rings, the “cut-in” effect, the “focused-in” feeling I get wearing my glasses, the clarity of vision I have with them, I even love the feel of my lenses through the cloth as I clean them! One thing that perhaps makes me a bit different from most Eyesceners (though I saw a few who share my view) is that I also enjoy just being nearsighted, living in the blur without glasses. I sometimes fantasize about what my life would be like if my vision wasn’t correctable. Yet there are so many things I love about wearing glasses, too.

For a while Mom was very watchful of my computer use, so it was a long time before I could go back to Eyescene. But when I turned 18 she loosened up a bit, since I was now a grown woman. I still am keeping all this a secret from her, though (I do still live with her; because of my and her disabilities it is more practical for us to live together). That is why my postings tend to be sporadic. I did have one more eye exam when I was 16. I did get to sit in the “Magic Chair” but unfortunately I didn’t need a stronger prescription. My acuity was 20/25, but I’m not sure if that was simply the limit of my vision or if I really could have used a bit more minus power and the Dr. figured it wasn’t enough of an increase to prescribe new lenses. I had been wearing the gold pair and keeping the red ones as a back up. That was a good thing, because one of the temples kept breaking on the gold pair. I went to an optician (not the same one I got my glasses at) to have them fixed and the guy there was trying to push me into getting “a smaller frame, so your lenses won’t look so thick”. I realize he was just trying to make a sale, but at the time it jarred me a little, like an insult. I hadn’t really thought of my glasses as being particularly thick. Anyway, the temple piece broke off again so I finally gave up and switched to my red glasses about 4 years ago. I think now I made a mistake with these frames. I have always especially admired black plastic frames of the type Buddy Holly wore, but I’m not really sure how they would look on me. I want new glasses now, not only because I don’t like these frames but also because I want stronger lenses. My dream is to get to be about -12 or so, but I know realistically I probably won’t make it that far. I would really like to at the very least get to -6 and into the high myope category. As I posted on Eyescene previously, I had been wearing a pair of my mother’s glasses that are –3 with some cylinder over my own and doing rather well. I am pretty sure if I had a pair of –7 glasses (that was the total power of my and her glasses being worn together) without the cylinder I could see very well with them. BTW, I’m not doing that anymore because, dumb me, I left her glasses just sitting on my dresser and the other day she walked in and found them! There’s a piece on the temple that’s cracked and when she asked why I had her glasses I told her they looked broken to me and I was trying to see if I could fix them. She bought the story, but still I was mortified! Just today (May 5) I took my glasses off and put on a pair of +2.50 drugstore readers which brought me to –6.50 and –7.00 and I think I’d be total comfortable with this vision. It really isn’t that much worse than what I’ve got now.

I’m thinking too, apart from wanting new glasses, I probably need them. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but it seems to me I see more clearly if I look through the bottoms of my glasses and if I squint. Several times over the past year my mother has commented that it is probably time I go have my eyes checked again and I have a friend who has said the same thing (I wonder if they’ve noticed me squinting? I try to be discreet about it). And I got the prescription I have now 8 years ago, but when I was examined 2 years later there was no change (it was odd how my vision seemed to stop deteriorating just when I got my glasses, as if they stopped my eyes getting worse). And my vision with my glasses isn’t bad; it’s not blurry so much as it’s just not especially clear. I’m not sure if my vision without glasses has really gotten worse or if it just seems that way because I’ve gotten used to seeing clearly. I’ve been putting off having my eyes examined, though for financial reasons. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not really poor, but I’m not really rich either and I have lots of things I want to do that all cost more money than I have, so I’m always trying to save. One thing I want to do is go to college and then optometry school. Plus, I’m just a natural tightwad. But, when I do have my next eye exam I am DETERMINED to leave with a stronger Rx, even if I have to cheat! I’m thinking of altering my next Rx also.

I guess I’ll wrap this up by going back to the blindness issue. I’ve been so preoccupied with the whole eyeglass stuff that I hadn’t been thinking of blindness for a while. Then I found Amy’s stories on Bobby’s site and started getting back into it. I’ve gone back to blindfolding myself occasionally when I’m all alone and I like to fantasize about being blind, but it’s strictly a part-time thing for me, at least as far as total blindness goes. I don’t want to be permanently totally blind, but I might not mind being visually impaired forever. I wonder how many others are like me and have both an eyeglass and blindness fetish? I am especially intrigued by the link between high myopia and blindness. I love some of the stories that “cross-over”, discussing this progression.

Maria aka All4Eyes, May 2006

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