WORD RAMBLIES

Chuck Looks Back On Having A Lazy Eye

For some blog posts, there’s always been a longstanding desire to discuss the topic lingering in the back of my mind. My posts about having anxiety and acne, for example, were things that I always knew I wanted to talk about, because they impact my life quite heavily and I’m sort of perpetually thinking about them anyway. Other subjects, however, pop into my mind rather abruptly and with absolutely no provocation. The other night, I was wide awake in bed, my mind flooded with the detritus your consciousness just loves to reminisce about at one in the morning, and suddenly my brain yelled “REMEMBER WHEN YOU HAD A LAZY EYE?” at me. Oh yeah, I thought, that happened. That’d be fun and only mildly embarrassing to write about.

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So, I was born with amblyopia of the right eye. Apart from my great uncle on my mum’s side, nobody else in my family had a lazy eye. To be honest, my memory of having it as a young child is practically nonexistent, because after wearing glasses with a patch for a while, I had corrective surgery. I don’t know the exact age I was when this happened, since when I questioned my parents about it, neither of them can remember me even having that operation. I know I definitely had some sort of procedure, because I remember being put under for something when I was really young. In particular, I can specifically recall mumbling about having toast afterwards, and then throwing up in a McDonald’s cup holder on the drive home because it was the only thing in the car. My parents drawing a blank on this unnerved me for a moment. Maybe I was abducted by some alien experimenters, or kidnapped for a secret government program. I reminded my mum of these details, and her response was “oh, yeah, that’s right, you must’ve been six or seven, then.” A+ parenting skills there. Although, I don’t really blame them for forgetting about it, since it didn’t take long for the wonders of medical science to fade away and revert my eye back to a state of wandering.

From about eight years old onward, I have a more distinct vision of what it was like to have a lazy eye, and as you can imagine, it wasn’t really idyllic for me. This wasn’t necessarily because of bullying – in fact, I don’t ever really recall being overtly bullied about it. If I was, I must’ve successfully banished it entirely from my brain. Hooray for repression! Largely, I remember it being a horrible time just because I was a very introverted child, as you may or may not have gathered from the catastrophic amount of anxiety that permeates me now in adulthood. I can’t help but wonder if I’d be more confident now if I hadn’t spent so many years being powerfully ashamed of my own face. Maybe I made such a pitiable figure that other kids felt like it would be dishonourable to tease me, like kicking a newborn kitten, or launching a baby bird like a shot-put. Regardless, I was my own worst enemy. If anybody ever commented on it, it wasn’t directly to me.

Progressing on to secondary school still didn’t bring about an onslaught of bullying. If kids picked on me a little, it was because I was a weird little emo weeb who liked anime and cartoons too much, not because of my eyes. After having a bowl-cut for a majority of childhood, puberty caused me to rebuff my parent-sanctioned haircuts and grow out my fringe for the first time, and I let it get long enough so that it didn’t just cover my lazy eye, but the entire right side of my face. In hindsight, it made me look infinitely more ridiculous than if I just embraced my condition outright. Plus, I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure that permanently covering one of your eyeballs can’t be good for you, especially when it’s not perfect to begin with.

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Finally, after enduring two years of agonising insecurity at secondary school, I had another corrective procedure at 13, and this time it actually worked. Well, it’s been good for almost a decade now, so hopefully I didn’t just jinx it. While I don’t remember this operation, either, the horrifying aftercare will be eternally carved into my memory centre. For the first few weeks afterwards, I had to sleep with a cotton eye patch over my eye, which was tolerable. What wasn’t comfortable was the cleaning process the morning after. I’d peel off the patch and have to force myself not to projectile vomit or scream at the sheer amount of build-up. A layer of gunk would be sitting cosily underneath my eye, resembling half a rotten onion ring. I couldn’t open my eye even halfway, but what you could see of it was a garish pink. Most gruesome of all, I had stitches INSIDE MY EYE that I just had to leave. When they poked out, I had to resist the temptation to yank them free, and instead had to just feel sick for hours as they dangled before falling free of their own accord.

This happened in the summer between year eight and nine, so instead of missing school, I missed out on frolicking in the sun with the limited amount of friends I had. I acutely remember crying because a girl I knew was moving to Switzerland, and I couldn’t say goodbye to her because I wasn’t really supposed to go outside. Not that I’d want to, looking like a pirate with poor hygiene, but still. It was a very isolating process.

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Now, you can’t even tell that I ever had anything wrong. (I hope.) I can look perfectly straight ahead, and that’s not really an impressive achievement for the most part, but I’m so grateful for it every single day. The only real side effect is that I have absolutely appalling vision. If you cover up my left eye, everything suddenly becomes blurred and resembles a bunch of giant blobs, and it takes all my effort to open my right eye all the way as it sags with the strain.

Also, I physically cannot make out any fine details that are more than, say, six feet away. If I’m sitting on the tube, and I look at the advertisements above the opposite seats, I have to squint to make out anything that isn’t in bold. When I went to the optician, she cheerfully exclaimed “Wow, your vision is the worst I’ve ever seen!” Thanks, I’ll just bump that achievement on my CV. With my glasses on, things become much clearer, but only to an extent. There’s only so much they can do. Plus, I don’t really wear them that often, mainly because it aches to after a while, and also because the right lens makes me look like I have a giant bug eye. Everyone who tries on my glasses always marvels at how absolutely god-awful my eyesight must be to necessitate such an intense magnifier. It’s like looking through a powerful microscope.

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Left vs. right. COME CLOSER

While I can look dead on, I don’t really like glancing to the left side, because I think my lazy eye briefly comes out to play again. Instead, I always physically turn my head to look at something. As you can guess, as well, I’m not really comfortable with eye contact. I’m always self-conscious that my eye will suddenly revert, or that the person I’m talking to can scan my mind for all my shameful secrets and they’ll judge me intensely. And sometimes, if I stare at a screen for too long, my eye does actually start to drift again, at which point I hastily shove on my glasses for an hour or so, and that usually solves it.

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Since most people don’t even know I suffered from a lazy eye, occasionally somebody will make a comment to me making fun of a passerby or shop assistant who has one, and it makes me bubble with rage and shame a little. Personally, given my anxiety, it’s not really an ideal feature for me to have, but I’ve met plenty of adults, a majority of whom are twice my age, who have lazy eye and are completely happy with themselves. I am envious of that confidence. I know it’s a bit rich of me to preach about being happy with yourself no matter what, after I had corrective surgery to fix the problem, but if you are happy, then that’s absolutely amazing and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just frustrating to hear people complain “I don’t know where to look, it’s uncomfortable for me” in regards to eye contact with people with amblyopia. Oh wow, you’re uncomfortable?? It must be such a struggle for you, having to look at someone! All they have to do is live with an impairment 24/7 and constantly try to ignore people making fun and whispering about them behind their back, but you’re clearly worse off. Good thing I brought my tiny violin to play a special piece just for you. Here’s a tip: just look directly at the eye that’s looking at you. Done, problem solved. Move on, girl.

Just try and have a little sympathy, basically. Amblyopia affects around two to three percent of people, and is the most common cause of impaired vision in children, so the prospect of you talking to somebody who was born with it isn’t as unreasonable as you think. Just be conscious and keep a good eye on yourself. Ha ha ha. I can make those jokes because I suffered heinously. Worth it.

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