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.