When I was five, my parents had me tested to determine whether I should enter school at age six or a year later. An old guy told me to draw stuff with thick colored pencils. I “passed” with flying colors. I was to go to school within a year, and — as a sidebar — the nice man also reassured my parents that I did not need glasses.
I was devastated.
So, what the hell did I think was so great about having glasses?
Everyone would agree they’re just an impediment to, well, everything.
You have to clean them. You have to make sure they don’t fall off your face all the time and worry they’ll smash and you’ll have to go buy a new pair and you’ll have to squint into the mirror because you can’t see without glasses or put the frame you’re trying on behind or in front of your old pair and that sort of defeats the purpose and maybe you should just get contacts again.
But you only miss those because they made you immune to onion tear gas; you used them for ten years and ended up with corneal edema that hurt like fuck and anyway you kinda like having glasses again now, they make you look like an owl.
But really? They fog up all the time. That blurry rim around everything you look at sucks. Worrying about them falling off your face. Having them fall to the bathroom tiles when you bend down to dry your hair after a shower. Your son stealing them ALL THE TIME. Worrying about him breaking them, again. Dealing with him almost breaking them, again.
And worrying about them falling off your face.
Glasses are fun!
On a sunny afternoon several months ago, I suddenly realized the world would end if I didn’t get up from my desk and walk through the woods to town to buy coconut water, like, right now. I decided that any urge to go outside was ultimately a good one, so I donned some shoes and ambled into the forest.
Quickly, another urge overcame me, one I hadn’t felt in forever. The compelling desire to take off my glasses even though I was outside. Even though I, you know, can’t see where I’m going without them. But I decided that any urge to give my eyes a break was ultimately a good one, so —
I did it —
And I stopped breathing for a second.
What I saw was the most beautiful thing in the world.
I saw the forest. I saw the sky. I saw the light.
I saw it shimmering, I saw all the iridescent greens the forest had to offer, I saw the sky beckoning overhead, beyond that sparkling, crystalline dome of chlorophyll.
I saw the emerald palace.
I’m not joking, not exaggerating. It was breathtaking. As I walked on, mesmerized, I saw what I had been missing since that day when I was nine and finally did need glasses. I saw what my eyes and my brain had been doing for me since my sight started getting blurry:
Cutting out the noise. The superfluousness of the details in everyday life.
They were showing me beauty, and all I had to do to see it was take off my glasses.
I couldn’t stop gaping at the intricacy of nature weaving its colors into a gut-punching-ly dazzling whole. Like silent fireworks (dude, can someone please invent those? Also including no bad gasses. Thank you) exploding above me with every step I took.
All of it lost in the details we never actually see: bark and twigs, pebbles and clouds, timber, roots, soil, moss and humus; a thicket of ivy, branches and brambles and berries; a horizon of dirt.
I once found that the best photos of nature happen when you either lean in closer than you’d normally think to or take a mile-high step back — this experience was an exercise in both. To let the bounty of oxygen wash over me. To fill up my eyes with clear, unbiased light. To engage in that miraculous exchange of gasses that is the symbiosis of plant and human life, taking it even further, letting the green light rinse the tension off my mind, soaking up wonder and delight.
Moving through space without clear vision was also forcing me into my body, to employ my other senses with more awareness. The gravel and dirt beneath my shoes, the sound of voices somewhere — though fortunately not in my line of sight, because nothing was in my line of sight.
Palpitations of thankfulness grew throughout my body — gaping, tearing up, standing there in wonder, mouthing thank you to nothing in particular but also everything at once, everything in my life that led me to be there, then, in that miracle moment, acting upon that one weird urge.
I recently found out that I’m autistic. Since that explained all the anxiety and depression and supposed unfounded exhaustion and hopelessness and inertia so commonplace throughout my late teens until I moved back home, to this neck of the woods (ha), I’ve been taking a lot of time to explore what kind of sensory stimulation I can tolerate at all.
In this context, my blurred vision suddenly made so much sense I was aghast at my previous ignorance.
My brain has been trying to protect me for twenty years.
I just didn’t see it. So it didn’t work.
When I got my first pair of glasses, tangible problems relating to my autism were starting to manifest.
I was frequently non-verbal for hours at a time in school and at home (it was labeled “very shy” at the time). I saught sensory sanctuary in the library every chance I got. I was hopelessly lost in social situations, my mind in a permanent state of OHMYGOD WHAT IS HAPPENING WHAT DO I DO, analyzing everything, I mean EVERYTHING. I was making up new social rules for myself by the hour, and I very much believed the conclusions I arrived at were actually how things are.
So, now, what is the most inconspicuous, easily explained, totally normal way the brain can just turn down the volume of at least one channel through which sensory input is received?
Blur the vision.
Theories for the causes of myopia include, though none have been proven, per Wikipedia:
“Near work” hypothesis
The “near work” hypothesis, also referred to as the “use-abuse theory” states that spending time involved in near work strains the eyes and increases the risk of myopia. Some studies support the hypothesis, while other studies do not. While an association is present, it is not clearly causal.
Makes sense. I spent weeks reading in my room, failing to notice when it got dark every day, too engrossed in my books and too unable to do that dreaded task switching notorious among autistics to switch on a light.
“Visual stimuli” hypothesis
The lack of normal visual stimuli causes improper development of the eyeball. In this case, “normal” refers to the environmental stimuli that the eyeball evolved for over hundreds of millions of years. These stimuli would include diverse natural environments — the ocean, the jungle, the forest, and the savannah plains, among other dynamic visually exciting environments. Modern humans who spend most of their time indoors, in dimly or fluorescently lit buildings are not giving their eyes the appropriate stimuli to which they had evolved and may contribute to the development of myopia.
Yeah. I spent plenty of time outdoors, but I also spent more than half of my days inside, in school. And reading. Also, that squinting thing I do outside in daylight no matter if it’s sunny or overcast because the light seems to overstimulate my pupils… probably never did my corneas any favors.
Last but not least, there’s:
- Genetics (duh)
I’m not about to argue with any of these theories, they sound pretty sound. And this isn’t a scientific paper; I don’t have any proof of what I’m proposing here, just my own observations.
What I propose instead of a heated debate on the five W’s of myopia is the preposterously unscientific idea of holding two opposed ways of seeing it in your head — at the same time — “Yes, and!”. It’s for your own good. Hear me out.
I used to take off my glasses for a couple of minutes regularly, several times a day. I judged myself for it, my brain supplying thoughts along the lines of you’re just showing off, God knows how I arrived there, but the point is that I eventually stopped giving my eyes and my brain those well-deserved breaks.
Then, I wore contacts for ten years, until my body all but repelled them and I needed glasses again, doctor’s orders.
Then, on a sunny afternoon, I saw it.
I saw my frenzy of needing to see everything there is to see.
I thought I could only navigate the world with perfect vision.
I saw how much energy my brain expends every second just taking in the visual information with which I am confronted only by existing with open eyes. Granted, I’d welcome a chance to turn down other senses more than my vision. I can smell mold when it’s still barely visible from across the room, and I have to fight my gag reflex hard when there are two or more conflicting and/or artificial smells present.
But this opportunity is what I’ve been afforded.
Vision is what I work with. I have always prided myself on seeing things other people don’t. I’ve always thought that my vision — seeing everything (almost) — is what sets me apart.
Doesn’t it follow, then, that since everything in nature strives for balance, my brain would seek it by reigning in my capacity to see at all?
It’s an oddly privileged way to view vision or a lack of it, period. Blind people don’t have the luxury of choosing when to see and when not to. So it feels incredibly weird saying it, though I suspect some Blind people would be the first to understand:
I’m glad to be visually impaired.
I’m glad I’m not blind. And I’m glad I don’t have 20/20 vision. I’m myopic for life (no Lasik for me — not that I’d want it).
Of course, I wouldn’t advocate taking off your glasses on a busy street — near any street for that matter — or any other time you would be compromising your safety. That would be incredibly short-sighted.
All I’m saying is this: If you are as myopic as I am, you can moan about it, you can cuss over how expensive glasses are, you can victimize yourself be mad at your family for being genetically wired for it and giving you bookcases of books that you spend your entire childhood reading in your cave of a room, but you can also accept your situation as it is and make it work for you.
You can choose to let the beauty in when you can.
You can give your eyes a break when you have a minute (and aren’t in a place where you’ll be run over if you don’t see that train coming).
You can thank your brain for doing you this weird favor, because God knows all of our bodies could do with a bit more gratitude.