Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Feeling Your Way Around with Vision Anomalies

Twenty years ago I wrote in my holiday newsletter, “I’ve decided that 35 is the age of the unwanted hair.” You know what I mean, and it’s not just a dark-haired female matter. How many guys say, “I’m growing hair where I don’t want it and losing hair where I want to keep it.” Aging bodies. Wha’cha gonna do?

Another thing I wrote in that newsletter was, “Declining vision makes us more attractive to each other as we age,” which explains why I always liked older men. They were more accepting of my many imperfections. I thought I was pretty funny back then, but here I am 20 years later thinking, These statements are not so funny anymore. Getting old smells bad.

Now, I know declining eyesight is not just an old-age issue. Many of us started wearing glasses in grade school. It’s just more difficult to see as we age or when our eyes behave differently from each other or they become myopic, then, many years later, become hyperopic, but not to the same degree. First, though, I shall share an old eye story.

Imagine hearing a four-year-old boy shrieking, “Mama! He shot an arrow in Arnold’s eye! Mama! Help!” And the mother running to the door to see her horrified, sobbing seven-year-old bleeding profusely from his left eye.

That four-year-old became my uncle, the mother became my grandma, and the seven-year-old became my dad. One hot, humid July 1941 day in a small Wisconsin town, neighborhood boys were playing cowboys and Indians. Arnold played a cowboy. All I know about the “Indian” is that he was older and should have known better than to be aiming an arrow at anyone. What I don’t know is how he felt, nor what happened to the relationship between my dad’s parents and those of the boy, if there ever was one. What I do know is how important vision is.

My dad's prosthetic left eye.
As a child, I didn’t give a second thought to my dad taking out his artificial eye at night and placing it in a glass of water by the bathroom sink. Eventually when grade-school girlfriends started sleeping over, they found creepy what I believed to be normal. It wasn’t until then that I realized not all dads took an eye out at night. [For that story, see "Here's Lookin' at You, Kid."]

To test what my dad must have to live with, I used to cover or close my left eye. Seeing the world in two dimensions, without depth, caused me to misstep, nudge objects I was trying to pass, and feel off balance. My experimentation was prescient.

Talking with my age-fifty-something friend Kent in Minnesota recently, he said, “I’m scared. Since my car accident, I’m scared to drive. If I take a new job, I can’t drive too far, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to do what they want me to do. I just can’t see very well. My floaters are so bad, I sometimes don’t know what’s real. I’m afraid I won’t be able to pay my rent because I can’t get a job that accommodates my vision problems. I’m just scared all the time.”

To some, his complaints might sound like excuses, laziness, or irrational fears. All I could say is, “I can relate.”

Understandably, vision problems can also lead to depression. The disability can make a person feel incompetent, ugly, worthless, unacceptable, off-kilter, even paralyzed. Do I see a show of hands here? Side effects, such as confusion, fatigue, eye- and headaches, and a foreign-body feeling in the eyes, cause a person to withdraw from social situations. A feeling similar to autism, IMO. You simply do not want to be seen. There’s always discomfort—with or without glasses or contact lenses. Uneven, lopsided vision, in which one eye sees better than the other, though neither sees well at all, makes a person feel discombobulated, as my neighbor said. Sometimes you don’t even want to get out of bed, Kent felt, because you’ll have to open your eyes and see the out-of-focus, dispiriting world before you.

Not only is it difficult to see from inside your head outward, some people don’t want to look at you, particularly when people recognize that you can’t focus. I fielded a question from a man I had just met, who asked why I was looking at him so strangely, as if I appeared incredulous of his words. Sorry, dude, but it’s what God is doing to me. Of course, the dolt was a judge and would probably run over someone using a white cane.

Folks might think, Just get your eyes fixed. Get glasses or contact lenses. Did that. Got ’em.

Kent has worn glasses as long as I’ve known him (more than 30 years) and has had corrective surgery for his hyperopia, or farsightedness, and astigmatism, but still must wear specs.

In 1994, to correct my myopia, I had radial keratotomy, eight pie cuts into the cornea of my left eye. When it didn’t correct my vision, I went back to the surgeon three months later and received eight more slices. At night, even before I take any hallucinogens, I see a 16-ray starburst, making night driving a circus ride. And now the acuity in that eye is low resolution due to aging’s progressive hyperopia and is at times so blurry, I cannot see out of it. My right eye has been legally blind since I was in sixth grade, so on days of relative comfort, I wear a contact if I want to see or work or drive. If I can’t wear the lens, life is severely off balance.

Another neighbor and I share the Distrust Disorder. We sleep with one or both eyelids open a crack. Aside from the advantage of being able to watch the ghostly spirits making their nightly rounds, the practice turns eyes into repositories inviting dust, hair, and dryness into our eyes. It’s no wonder mucous membranes work overtime leaving their residual sign. Luckier for me than for my neighbor, though, I wake up alone. I can’t imagine someone getting used to the way I look now, at this age!

Some of my spectaculars.
With all the daily changes affecting eyesight, life becomes more of an adventure. Differing sleep patterns, solid and liquid intake, bright or dim lighting, sunny or cloudy sky, windy or calm weather, high or low barometric pressure, dry or humid conditions, and stress all affect how a day will be received and, therefore, perceived. The more you stress, the worse your acuity.

And though language provides a method of describing your vision experiences and self-diagnostic perceptions to physicians, even the most articulate patient can suffer medical conditions that cannot be thoroughly understood nor sufficiently treated. Ophthalmologists may have never met, diagnosed, or treated patients with specific problems. So the patient goes home with their affliction and without answers. Until an answer is pinpointed, life isn’t whole. It’s diminished, duller, less flavorful, with reduced color and sharpness.

As for my dad: his profession of banking moved into the computer age many moons ago, so he had to retire early because his remaining eye grew tired looking at a screen for even brief amounts of time.

And until Kent and I can finally see, we’ll have to rely on feeling our way around. Now really, that’s not all bad. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Effects of Disorders on Others

Until you spiritually embody and are in the energy field of another’s disease or disorder, you don’t fully comprehend the impact your own frailties can have on others. Disorders of the mind are the most tricky and, as we read in the news, the most devastating. Who today seems normal, even if a bit troubled, may become inconsolable, incapacitated, or evil the next, sometimes without their own absolute knowledge.

As written in the Gospels, demons can live in our minds, causing our bodies to act in absurd ways. Whether through faulty circuitry or the intake of simple substances—alcohol, cigarettes or pot, prescription or other drugs, eating too much or too little—slumbering demons can awaken and cause the body to act in abnormal ways. Prescription meds, however, could be a healthy choice in certain circumstances.

The following story helped me better understand the impact my behaviors have on those close to me.

At eight o’clock one cold, early January, new moon night, Shiloh the Lab and I thought we heard faint footsteps on the front wood deck. He rose from his bed, looked at the door, and gave a pitiful, low-energy woof. When the doorbell rang, he glanced back at me lying on my sofa and uttered another plaintive woof, then walked back to his bed and lay down.

I didn’t answer the door. I didn’t even move. The day had been stressful, and, after tubbing for a half hour till night cast its dark spell, I’d fallen asleep watching a movie called Waking Life. In addition, I simply did not look good. The idea of facing a human being, even one who totally accepted me, was beyond my comfort zone.
Had I been in healthy form, no matter what my appearance, I would have answered the door. But following two weeks of an unhealthy condition that sucked all my energy into a deep, black hole, I felt like, and looked like, a leper. Earlier that Friday I’d treated myself to a long-overdue ophthalmologist appointment for my eye and eyelid condition. Nights from two till four a.m., my completely desiccated eyelids would itch, turn redder, and no matter what lotion, oil, or butter I would slather on top of my eyelids, they would still feel like crisp bacon and itch like I felt—crazy. I surmise Eli, the long-haired, feral cat who lies upside down on the living room floor in the sun licking his paws, has something to do with my eye problem, given the number of protein strands seen flying around and that I’ve pulled from my eyes. Or maybe I wasn’t smoking enough medical marijuana.*
Photo courtesy of Bob Groat © 2002

By the time I plopped into Dr. Ophthalmologist’s chair, I’d been using prednisone eye drops his associate prescribed over the phone on New Year’s Eve three days before. Despite the racing-heart feeling after dripping the steroids into my eyes, the drops had diminished my elephantiasis-of-the-eyelids appearance. My doc said, “You have allergies. Didn’t you have this problem last year?”

“Allergies to what?” I asked.

He couldn’t say, but strongly shook his head to my thinking it could’ve been wine out of a box I’d consumed on December 13, some of which I could’ve used after he offered no specific reason for my misery. Sure it could be the severe wind and cold during my daily hikes, or makeup (though I opened a new tube of mascara), or dryness in the house (and I gave my Lennox a new 3M Filtrete filter), or using the wrong skin-care products (did someone say “cheap”?), and yes, of course it could be animal related (knucklehead). “You should see a dermatologist,” he suggested, furthering the physician network.

Argh! I’d recently seen my dermatologist, who took off more cancer cells. I was beginning to think by the time they threw me into the furnace, I’d be thinner from all the scraping. ’Course there’s never any scraping off my grotesque belly.

When I left Dr. Ophthalmologist’s brand new building, lighter of credit but happy to have received a 20 percent discount for having no insurance ($84 for 15 minutes), I headed to the mall. I’d not visited the Citadel in five years due to my mall allergy, but I needed to expose myself because it was one of the only places to buy Clinique products locally. Any activity involving too many people and spending money, particularly at the same time, such as a mall, Catholic church, or courthouse, causes severe reactions from my peace and tranquility pathways. Pubs, however, don’t elicit the same effect.

At Dillard’s Clinique counter, I met a kind, lovely lady called Margaret who provided me with hypoallergenic, fragrance-free skin solutions for my eyelids and other areas of exposure, the cost for which I will review upon receiving my inheritance in heaven from Obama. After thanking her sincerely and asking her if we’d become friends would she offer a me discount, I went to Walgreen’s, bought eye drops ordered by Dr. Oph, and left lighter of credit still.

So because I rarely leave my house, except for daily hikes, nor do I drive more than 1,100 miles per year, Friday was stressful, though it was also an ophthalmic relief, but not enough to rise from my sofa to answer the door on a dark, new moon, Friday night.

As I lay in bed that night wondering who might have stopped by and rung my bell, I thought of all my boyfriends, and their nationalities, and their professions, and why I’m not married, and well, you know how wondering minds can wander while a head rests on a pillow. But the last person my brain stopped on before falling asleep was my neighbor, Hannah.

Twelve hours after my doorbell had rung, a fire engine was at Hannah’s place, then an ambulance, then, shockingly, they carried Hannah out on a litter. I crumbled inside, felt negligent. Why didn’t I answer the door last night? What happened to her between ringing my bell and now? I was privy to a lot of history, but seeing her on a stretcher was not what I had expected. I held my breath and watched them drive away with her in the back.

I called another neighbor, Dee, who is equally close to both Hannah and me in knowledge and spirit. I told her I felt like excrement, that I should have been there for Hannah. Dee told me not to worry about not answering the door because I didn’t know who was there, no one called in advance, and it was dark. “People have their problems, and you can’t be there for everyone all the time,” she offered. I still felt no better. People know they can come to me anytime for anything.

For the first time in weeks, it snowed throughout Saturday, eventually accumulating four lovely inches of fluffy powder. Around noon, I talked again with Dee who asked if I’d received word. Without news, we both headed outside to shovel and sweep our walks and driveways, then headed into our respective houses. Right afterward, Hannah’s husband came out to shovel their walk. Dee went back out into the cold and spoke with him, then called me with the report. Hannah had experienced a seizure, her first, due to an adverse chemical mixture and was recuperating quietly at home.

Relief swept over me. Knowing Hannah was safe, alive, and home, I could finally exhale. I realized I’d been holding my breath, worrying, and wasting time all day. I bid Dee adieu and cried. Carrying a burden for eight hours made me emotionally raw. I picked up the phone and asked Dee if I could come over and talk for a few minutes. Unloading the day’s stress and suppressed tears helped—it awakened me.

Until we deeply embrace another’s pain and experience the emotional repercussions of his or her psychological or physical disabilities, we stand on the outside shaking our heads. And when we care about someone, really love that person, it matters not which of you is actually going through immediate agony. The secondary and tertiary effects can be equal to or greater than the actual experience itself.

Radiating that concept into the energy field, I wonder how many are affected by only one person’s affliction, be it addiction, a physical disability, a mental disorder, a nervous habit. Any behavior that goes beyond moderation for an extended period of time can be included here and emit a profound negative spirit that others feel as if it were their own.

My friends, this is life.

I am a little wiser today. I see more clearly the impact that my complex-PTSD and its associated behaviors has on others, and I am working to become a better me.

* I really don’t use marijuana, but I’m not against it.
Thanks to RJM for listening and helping.