lazy eye.

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I have had a lazy eye since, I am assuming, a very young age. Its fancy name is diplopia, which makes it sound like you’re taking a dump on my eye. So maybe it’s not so fancy after all, just technical. It gives me double vision (horizontal, not vertical), which becomes more noticeable as I get more tired.

When the doctor first noticed it, I was sent to Easter Seals to do “eye training” to see my left eye would strengthen enough to start working with my right eye. This went on for months. Me, sitting in a darkened room trying to make the single red laser dot in the middle of the room go from two to one; the dots just moving further and further away. It would become worse when I got tired, and the dot would move further away from itself until I started to lose hope that they would ever unite.

Finally, I was rewarded for all my hard work with a pair of Coke bottle glasses. Now, it didn’t help that I lived with my grandparents, whose idea of cool involved the Carpenters, Neil Diamond and Lawrence Welk. Mind you, my peers were listening to Michael Jackson, Quiet Riot, etc. I only mention this because I came home from the eye doctor’s office with a pair of glasses that would make Helen Reddy even blush. They were terrible. Big, grey and pink (hard to see in the photo), square, big prisms. Awful. And I made them even worse by deciding that feather roach clips purchased from the fair were a great addition to my pony tails.

In the absence of a proper social mentor, I went to school this way. For school pictures. Of course, living in my senior citizen bubble where everything I did was “adorable”, I had NO IDEA how much crap from my classmates I would get. Social suicide, grade three.

Thankfully, children get bored quickly of their bullying and moved on to the kid who was discovered to eat paste. But the shame remained, and is something I’ve dealt with since.

Many years after this unfortunate picture was taken, I finally found a doctor who referred me to a pediatric ophthalmologist. It was funny to walk into Dr. Satterfield’s office and sit in child-size chairs, reading Highlights for Children. She performed the examination and told me that my left eye muscle had stretched so much that I would need surgery to bring my eyes back in alignment. A few snips and I would be fixed.

Are you serious? That was it?!!! Yes, that was it.

A month later I was back at work with an eye patch and a whole new outlook. Everything was in delightful monovision. My confidence skyrocketed overnight, which in retrospect is telling. I didn’t understand how much one aspect of me was squashing down my own sense of self.

Now, that was almost 15 years ago. Over the years my eye has started to drift again, and it is impossible for me to keep my eyes focused together unless the object is at a short distance and I am not super tired. I wear glasses, but even with a high prescription they aren’t helping that much. And of course, in that time I have worked in a school.  Talk about returning to the scene of the crime. I have gotten to relive some of that social awkwardness, particularly when kids say things like “Are you looking at me? Is something wrong with your eye?” Except, now that I’m 40 and not 10 or 13 or even 23, I just tell them I have something called diplopia and that yes, I am looking at them. Oh, and go into my office since now you’re in trouble. Ha!

In a week I will return to the pediatric ophthalmologist’s office, sit in the tiny chairs, and wait anxiously while flipping through that kids’ magazine.

And I will go into the office knowing I am the same, but different, than I was fifteen years ago. I’ve heard that your body regenerates cells every seven years, though sadly modern research and a quick Internet search have completed killed this theory for me. But, what I do know is that so much as happened in the last “two cycles” – kids, marriage, work, life – that I know if I get surgery again it won’t be a life altering experience, just a medical one.

And I will go into that office with a deeper appreciation for my condition, and how it’s contributed to making me the person who I am today. Who am I? A person on a quest for what Brené Brown calls wholehearted living. In scanning her list, I can see how I’ve actually benefited from my condition:

  • Authenticity. It has forced me to be more authentic. At some point in time, more recently than I care to admit, I started owning my weirdness. The lazy eye just adds an external marker to my own internal strange.
  • Self-compassion. My lazy eye has forced me to learn how to be kind to myself, particularly when others were cruel.
  • Laughter, song and dance. It has helped me learn to laugh at myself, and not take myself so seriously.
  • Calm and stillness. Having a lazy eye has forced me to slow down in a good way, particularly since I tend to go at hyper speed. Sometimes I even meditate using the double images as a focal point.
  • Resiliency. Need I say any more?
  • Creativity. It has helped me be creative in my thoughts. While I cannot confirm or deny this, in many ways I feel like this condition has forced to me to literally and figuratively see things differently.
  • Meaningful work. My eye condition was just one thing that contributed to me hating school starting in junior high, when kids would come up to me and make fun of me for my glasses, or my lazy eye when I wasn’t wearing them. When I graduated from college, I started teaching out of the sheer desire to be somebody that would make a difference to kids like me.
  • Play and rest. My lazy eye has forced me, indirectly and directly, to appreciate these two necessary aspects of life. I have to literally slow down after a lot of activity because my eye feels like a pinball in an arcade.
  • Gratitude & joy. I am not sure I would appreciate my eyes as much if I hadn’t been constantly aware of them for what feels like my whole life.
  • Intuition and faith. I find it interesting that vision and visibility have been of great interest to me since I was a child. Maybe I am just waxing poetic, but conditions like my diplopia, along with some pretty crazy life experiences, have propelled me in this direction.

So, thank you, lazy eye. Even if you leave tomorrow, I want to thank you for helping me be more human.

Love, Antonia

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confession.

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An open hand, an open heart
There’s no need to be afraid
Open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
You’re not alone

This week’s theme is mercy, mystically provided by the Sisters of Mercy, where I spent four days this week workshopping (is that even a word?) on restorative practices. Restorative practices are built on the theory that “people are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”

As an educator, and as a human,  I have been very interested in this movement because I feel, to the very last nerve in my body, that traditional discipline doesn’t change behavior. Getting to the root of the issues through respect, dialogue, and “walking with” someone does.  Of course, that is me in my best mind/heart. I have found myself backsliding into familiar ground from my own childhood, in particular falling into punitive practices when I couldn’t get “control” over someone else.  Isn’t it about power?

I have felt deep shame in the past about this, at the incongruence of my heart (beliefs) and hands (actions) in times of crisis. I never meant to say that. I never meant to do that. I think many people, whether they experienced abuse or trauma or not, can relate.

Maybe it’s why the therapists’ offices and confessionals are full. We want to confess our “sins” but keep silent once we leave these boxes.  There are people, all over, in crisis with not even a box to confess in. Or, on the receiving end, there are those who suffer in silence and cannot release the anger, hurt, trauma because their voices haven’t been truly heard.

In my experience, few rooms in our lives can hold the space long enough for folks to heal. It’s just too much.

It’s easier to judge and move on, I’m afraid, than to seek to understand and restore. I admit it. It relieves me of that helpless feeling I have to change other people’s lives. Sometimes it’s more simple. I want to be right, have the answers.

Because, if I am busy educating you about how to live, you won’t look at what I’m doing and call me on my shit. Dang. As Anne Lamott would say, I guess I have the “disease of Good Ideas for Other People.”  Gah!

So, I arrived in Burlingame on Monday eager to learn about repairing harm in our school community. I need to confess at this point that I thought I was already practicing restorative justice. Seriously.  But even more deeply I wanted to be armed with knowledge so I could come back and “educate” my staff and whoever felt needed it.  Carrying my Disease of Good Ideas for Other People. Duh.

Of course, it was me who got an education.

affect theory and shame. 

 On the first day, we learned that restorative practices are based on  Tomkins’ affect theory, which, in my crappy paraphrasing, is the biological responses, known as affect, that humans attach meaning to. In his theory, there are only two positive affects (enjoyment-joy and interest-excitement), one neutral (surprise-startle), and six negative (fear-terrordistress-anguishanger-rage,shame-humiliationdisgust, and dissmell).  As humans we seek to maximize positive affect and minimize negative affect. It’s just that simple. People want to feel good.

Sweet. I got this.

Then we focused in on shame.  Tomkins defined as “any interruption to positive affect.”  Wow, ok. When I saw Brene Brown’s famous TED talk on vulnerability, I understood shame as a painful feeling connected with a person feeling he/she is unworthy of love and belonging.  Tomkins’ definition seems to explain the biological response, and Brown’s definition explains the feelings that come with it, along with the why. When we are in enjoyment-joy or interest-excitement, we are expressing our fullness of being. We are totally connected.  We are not thinking or feeling unworthy in these moments.

Shame is that disconnection from our good feelings, our positive sense of being and belonging. Our feeling of connection. It’s like the valve gets shut off and our bodies don’t know what to do with it. I thought about my feelings of shame around my punitive actions, and I started to understand Tomkins’ theory. I don’t want to feel this because it stops my enjoyment/joy affect in its tracks. I don’t want to be like this.

We moved onto Donald Nathanson’s “compass of shame” – our reactions to shame – which helped explain what our bodies tend to do when our positive affect is interrupted.

compass of shame

In looking at this compass, I saw myself. I have reacted in all of these ways.  Fight or flight, right? As a child of a drug addict, I have never abused drugs, but I have certainly sought “distraction through thrill-seeking”. I have struggled to stop putting myself down. I have blamed others, I have fled.

Wow.  I really am not alone. Apparently, there’s  a whole compass for us.

shame interruption. 

Restorative practices pick up from there. It addresses our deep longing for re-connection. How do we restore the good feeling? The sense of belonging? How do we talk about the affect a conflict has had on an individual or even a whole community? How can we seek to make things right?  The purpose of these practices is to take the confessional box and place it firmly in the community, allowing our shame out into the light so we can make things right with ourselves and the people we affect and/or are affected by. In some cases, there may be traditional “discipline” action for laws broken, etc. but this is deeper. All through real communication.

We practiced the simple questions to formal conferencing, and each time I felt more convinced that I was not just closer to “walking with” students and staff, but also walking with family. Walking with myself.

Maybe compassion and forgiveness are just shame interruption. Through compassion, empathy and forgiveness we can re-open the valve and restore that connection. I am with you. And mercy – kind and compassionate treatment in a case where severity is merited or expected – can stop others, and ourselves, from spinning further out into space, furthering the attack, hurting or distracting ourselves even more than we already do.  We, no I, just needed the language.

some questions for consideration.
To help those affected:
  • What did you think when you realized what had happened?
  • What impact has this incident had on you and others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?
When challenging behavior:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking of at the time?
  • What have you thought about since?
  • Who has been affected by what you have done? In what ways have they been affected?
  • What do you think you need to do to make things right?