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8 April 2024

On my """lazy""" eye

by Else

About a year ago, I took off my glasses. I’ve been trying ever since to describe what I’ve been feeling and thinking about it. I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t be able to communicate it well enough, and I will have to settle for something that won’t feel right. I’ve resolved to post whatever I have written when the eclipse comes, regardless of quality or completeness.

For context, I was prescribed with glasses and a patch when I was 4 years old to correct a “lazy” eye. The technical term is anisometropic amblyopia. I had believed, my entire life, that I had been legally blind at the beginning of the treatment. Recently was it clarified to me that only my “bad” eye was blind.

I invite you to imagine the impact this had on my sanity.

There’s this episode of Star Trek where Picard gets stuck in a simulation of another man’s life, on a doomed planet. He has children, and grandchildren. He watches the climate on the planet getting worse. He learns to play a flute. When he emerges from the simulation, he learns that not even half an hour has passed. But he can still play the flute.

I was not blind as a child. With my good eye patched over, though, I did experience blindness. It was thoroughly traumatic. The fact that it was temporary doesn’t change that. The fact that I was “cured” also does not change it.

I put “cured” in quotes because, if it is indeed the case that total blindness was never on the table, I do not consider the disease to be worse than the cure. A “lazy” eye is a benign injury, despite how it is demonized. I am a textbook success of the treatment, and I would consider the difference in quality of life because of the treatment to be trivial. Patching was a deeply traumatic experience, and all I got for it was a bit of extra peripheral vision. The fact that my eye “looks normal”, that I didn’t develop a visible strabismus, is only relevant in the reactions of the kind of judgmental assholes who got on my case for wearing glasses anyway. So if I am to buy into the notion that my body should be accepted for what it is, that I do not owe anyone “fixing” it, I have to conclude that it would have been okay for me not to have gone through the hell of having one of my eyes taped shut.

This perspective has led me to be very wary of vision correction. I believe it to be over-used. It should not be the case that the majority of people need glasses. Supposedly, 20/20 vision is defined by the normal case. A person with 20/20 vision can see from 20 feet what an average person can see from 20 feet. By that definition, the majority of people must have 20/20 vision or better. Therefore, glasses should be “needed” by a minority of people. As I’m writing this from a trailhead in the Adirondacks, I don’t have internet to verify the exact statistic, but suffice it to say that isn’t the case. Vision treatment isn’t living by its own definition.

I suspect the reason for this is that we expect too much of our eyes. It is common advice to spend less time looking at things close up, yet who feels empowered to do so? Are office workers explicitly entitled to spend as much time away from their screen as is recommended, or are they instructed to remain at their desk nearly 8 hours straight? The same can be asked of students, and it should be noted that books are not meaningfully different from screens in terms of focal distance. In fact, many activities would be considered close work.

Before I took my glasses off, I did not know the meaning of relaxing my eyes. I was unaccustomed to not exercising them on close work. I didn’t know what to do with myself that didn’t involve looking at something close to my face. But I was determined to find out what life is like without my glasses, so I tried. In order to relax my eyes, I couldn’t care about what I was seeing. I couldn’t be worried that my eyes would be hurt, and I couldn’t obsess about the differences between my eyes. There’s a whole post about how hard those two things were for me, but I don’t have time.

Totality is almost here, which means I have to cut myself short. I want to end by hastily describing what I’m seeing. Low light is a big part of exploring relaxing my eyes. As such, the lowering of light as totality approaches is intriguing. I can tell that the light is lowering, but unlike at dawn and dusk, the color of the light is not changing. This gives the world a look that I overheard someone else describe as gray, but for reasons I don’t have time to get into, I would describe it as green. And now totality has arrived, the world has ended, and so, abruptly, has this post.