Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Something Happens When Nothing Happens

"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence
George Eliot, Middlemarch

So, I wasn't going to write today. I thought, I really don't have anything to write about, because nothing significant happened in Vision Therapy.  Then I started thinking about how I have come to realize that whether or not I am aware that something is happening, something is really happening!  Even though I can't say some specific change happened today, I think about all the millions of brain cells that I call to attention each time I try to see out of both eyes, and feel pretty silly saying,  Nothing really happened in Vision Therapy today.  

Vision Therapy calls for a lot of work and a lot of faith.  How quickly I forget that I am trying to change visual system that was set in motion over 40 years ago!  I read somewhere where the mother of a highly gifted autistic child said her son's brain changes according to its own timeline and not a moment sooner, that it just happens when it happens. 

I desperately want to see my vision change, but sometimes I don't, and then suddenly something will happen.  This makes me realize things are moving forward, life is always changing and whether or not we can see it change does not stop it from being real, "and we should die of that roar on the other side of silence..." 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sandwiched between Jung and Party Games

I took this photo between two books on my bookshelf which randomly ended up being "Party Games for Adults," and C.G. Jung's "Memories, Dreams, Reflections,"  Yikes!

My left eye has been crossing in when I fixate on something about 12 inches in front of my face. (It started this summer and no one is really sure why.) Bummer. After three surgeries, (two by butchers) God only knows what the muscles are doing beneath my eyes.  
Good news is that the two eyes are working!  Bad news is I have gone from a droopy looking eye, to a crossed eye.  But this is a sign to me that things are changing, so it is fine with me.  Things are changing!

People have always had a hard time knowing where I was looking, so this is won't make a difference.  Although, a workman at our house the other day kept looking down at his sweatshirt as I was speaking to him because that is where my eye was pointing, and I wanted to punch him!  But I am used to this, used to children saying, "Mommy, what is wrong with her eye?"  Whatever.  I guess if it was REALLY bad people would just be silent, ("Shhhh, don't stare honey...") so I take it as a good thing that people make comments..."Tell me Heather, what is wrong with your eye?" 

Did you get stung by a bee dear?
Oh, what happened to your lid?
Are you looking at me kid or
is there something on my chin?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dispatch from the Hallway

I see something.  Do I mention every moment?  The manicured bush this summer that looked like a floating anvil? I never knew bushes had tops!  The ordinary drain that stopped me in my tracks because I could see the street leading up to it and then the grass leading away from it? Who knew a storm drain could be so beautiful!

It has taken possession of me this new vision.  Each new sighting is like visiting another planet. If I don't report what I see in stereo they pile up leaving me tossing and turning at night; the snow, the table legs, the bumper on that car, the bush, my sugar bowl,  the pot on the floor, the window sill.  They all collect together and I am afraid if I don't document them, I may forget, so here I am with a dispatch of another 3D sighting.  My pug in the hallway!

I was at the end of the hall a moment ago.  Our dog came out of the sitting room looking for me and he suddenly appeared smaller in the hall and low to the ground.  (The first time this happened, it was the cutlery holder in our dishwasher.) As he walked towards the bedroom door the walls seemed to loom up on either side of him. I could see the space between us as he walked towards me. It was elastic. Layers of space in front of him and continuing on behind him.  If my dog only knew how he suddenly appeared; a little spaceman floating at the end of a long tunnel.  

Seeing in stereo is not only incredible visually, but there is another thing that seems to come along with the act of seeing differently and that is how I feel as I see.  It is amazing.  There are no words to describe it, it is pure joy.  It is a long thirst that I am finally quenching...my brain seems to say, this feels good!  When I see that space I think that we are not alone, there is something bigger in all that invisible glue, there has to be.  It is divine. My little fat dog walking down the hall slowly towards me looking so different.  It is almost like I am in a dream or in the past. I see things as they are, but in 3D they are imbued with something that is like a feeling of deja vu.  I still haven't figured out why seeing in stereo does this to me.  

Imagine looking at something familiar, your refrigerator, a room in your house, or some object, and suddenly it is completely different.  It is the same, but not the same.  Space changes everything, but it keeps it the same.  You can still say, "that is my refrigerator..." but there is this other thing that is there too and it is space.  It is stretchy, bouncy, gooey and electric.  I can't say it is blue, or red, or rough or wet, but it is utterly alive!  

Not having it all these years makes it so precious.  I wonder if I will ever tire of seeing it?  It was alive in my head all these years unable to come out. Welcome Mrs. Stereo, please sit down and stay awhile!  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snowy Cosmos of Vertical Alignment

"One of life's most fulfilling moments occurs in the split-second when the familiar is suddenly transformed into the dazzling aura of the profoundly new."
-Edward B. Lindaman, Thinking in the Future Tense

It is snowing.  I just came in from watching it fall while wearing my prism glasses.  It fell all around me, like a slow motion tunnel of white puffs falling in a disturbingly divine order. Each flake had its own space surrounded by millions of other flakes falling in their own black velvet space.   I could see INTO the falling layers, in front of my face, through curtains of more flakes beyond, and still more further beyond.  Ahh, depth perception... And to think a multitude of doctors would say seeing with only one eye isn't missing much. 

Today I worked on the viewfinder machine at Vision Therapy. They are trying to teach me to direct my eyes.  With two eyes going in different directions I am now trying to direct them toward the same direction.  It is a bit like being an air traffic controller with two planes in the air going different directions and having to guide them down the right air strip,  but you are not sure who is flying the planes, and how to communicate with the pilots!  So you just hope that something will work.  I hope.  And hope some more...

I am just beginning to understand how to get my eyes aligned vertically, but I am lost when it comes to trying to direct them horizontally.  Actually while doing The Brock String exercise, one day the strings just jumped into alignment vertically.  It was only for a second, but there it was.  I felt it in my head, so I tried it again, and again the strings jumped into alignment, so I knew I was doing it.  The vision therapist said that getting the eyes to align vertically is more difficult, so I guess that is a good thing.  Now I just have to figure out how to get my eyes to come together horizontally.  I think this may be called fusing.  Right now i see two different things out of two different eyes (yea, I am not suppressing!) and I guess they want me to only see one of whatever i am looking at...  UGH!   I just sit there looking and looking into that machine, hoping for a miracle; hoping that it will just happen spontaneously, but nothing but a bunch of jumping images.  Vision Therapy takes a lot of trust.   You have to trust that things are changing even when you feel like they are not.  It has definitely made me a more patient person.  The brain will change according to its own timeline and there isn't a thing you can do to move it along faster, except maybe getting more sleep!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Magic Door

"All emotions are pure which gather you and lift you up; that emotion is impure which seizes only one side of your being as so distorts you."  
-Rainer Maria Rilke

I am sick, it is late. I have a cold and have been in bed all day with chills and a stuffed nose. Right now I have globs of Vick's Vapor Rub in my nostrils, not a pretty sight. Something happened just a few minutes ago and I have to write about it.  Sick or not.

Last Tuesday I had a new therapist.  He had a big smile on his face when he introduced himself and said something like, "I am going to make you work today!"  He wasn't kidding.

I worked on the Stereoscope machine where I wear my prism glasses and hold two pointers as I look at a photo.  The photos are always black and white and depending on the one the therapist loads into the machine, depict various scenes; a pre-global warming Mt. Kilimanjaro snuggled by layers of snow, a 1950's family having a picnic complete with Schnauzer playing in the grass.  Placed on the photo are several numbers and I am supposed to take both hands and touch the two numbers.  

It was something the therapist said during the last five minutes of this exercise that has had a strong impact on me days later and now I am sitting here with Sean having just cried my eyes out with excitement over what I am now able to do. 

He said, "Once you get the two pointers so they appear to be on the same number, I want you to REMEMBER THAT FEELING..."    Basically he was telling me that when I was able to get my eyes into alignment to stop for a second and try to recognize what it felt like to have my eyes in that position.  When the two pointers are together it means my eyes are in alignment. 

It is almost impossible to get them aligned, the sticks jump all over the place (the points of the sticks are where my two eyes are pointing and as my eyes jump, so too do the sticks), but if I do it long enough, I can usually get the sticks to be on the same number for a second or two.  It is in this moment that the therapist wanted me to remember and now I see he couldn't have said a better thing to me to get me to understand. 

I like the idea of remembering the way something feels and then trying to figure out how to get back to it by remembering the feeling.  I can imagine athletes having to do this a lot.   You don't remember it for the technique of doing it, you remember it from the feeling you got while doing it. Learning how to align my eyes by remembering how it 'feels' is the magic door that I have been searching for.   

This afternoon I suddenly felt like I was able to lift my eye up.  I don't know why it took three days or why it happened on a Friday afternoon when I was sick and not in the mood to really do anything.  I wasn't doing anything in particular, I just suddenly remembered the feeling that I tried to memorize this past Tuesday in Vision Therapy, so I went to my computer, turned on my camera and took a photo of my eyes once I got the feeling again and low and behold, MY EYES LOOKED ALMOST STRAIGHT!!!!  (PS: the feeling is a bit like doing a bench press with your pinky toe.)

I have never felt I had any control over my eyes.  I either look out of one, or the other, but never knew I could direct them anywhere. This evening I asked Sean to look at my eyes while I tried to grasp that feeling and he said, "I see you are lifting your eye up. "   

Imagine what it would feel like to have some part of your body (say an arm) lifeless for your whole life.  Not connected to any muscles in your shoulder, unable to move this body part you just drag it around with you and make do.  You never have any sense of this arm, it just always seems to be there along for the ride. Well, this is what this eye has been for me.  My sleeping eye, dead of any feeling just sitting in my head along for the ride. Well, tonight my eye came alive.  It is like suddenly I realized that I could move it. It feels like my brain and that eye have just been wired to work together for the first time in over 40 years.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sleep Sleep

My mum always said, "you were an eight hour baby..." Apparently, as a child I needed more sleep than any of my brothers or sisters.   My husband can go days on end functioning just fine on 6 hours sleep.   Not me.   A couple of times over the months I arrived at Vision Therapy without having had a good night's sleep and it was a disaster; many of the exercises I had the ability to do I just could NOT do.  It was like the magic disappeared.  Why could I see Little Bo' Peep, her sheep and her staff last week, but this week her sheep was gone...?  Fatigue and Vision Therapy don't mix!  So now I sleep and always remember that I am an 'eight hour baby!'

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Progress Evaluation

Today I had my second progress evaluation in Vision Therapy.  Dr. Gruning was very pleased with what he was seeing.  During the exam, I noticed how I did not switch my eyes back and forth as much as when I was first evaluated nine months ago.  

 I know things are changing and feel that in time I will be better able to get my brain to pull my two eyes together into alignment.  I had no idea when I started Vision Therapy, what I would learn, that we really see with our brains.  I never made the connection between my eyes and my brain, and now I see that they are so connected.  I am not sure I will be able to get them in total alignment, but then again I had no idea I could correct my Vertical Strabismus from 80-90 P. D. (Prism Diopters) to my current 35-40 P.D. 

Today I looked at the clown on the light box.  Dr. Draper asked me if I saw the clown and his blocks looking like they were coming out at me.   I did not.  The clown has always looked the same...a flat menacing clown.   Dr. Draper pulled the Mylar sheets apart and asked me if the clown became two clowns.  She really had to pull the sheets far apart for me to see the two clowns.  She said that based upon what they were seeing, I was able to see in 3-D peripherally, but not in the center of my field of vision.  Apparently, I was surpressing one of the clowns, but not the R L letters.  They thought this was really incredible.  It was like my brain was selecting what it wanted to see and just blocking out the rest.   

The second half of therapy I worked with the red/green rotator, which is a giant rotating circle on the wall that I have worked with many times before.  If I am suppressing (shutting down) one eye, I would only see the red or green part of the big rotating disk depending on what eye I am suppressing, but for me, I see both the red, the green, but also the thing that I would see if I was suppressing, which is the black.   It has taken me a long time to understand what this means, but it is a pattern that I have come to recognize in most of the red/green exercises I do.  I am able to see out of both eyes now, but I can't seem to put things where they are supposed to be, so I see three things instead of two; I see the red things, the green things, but I also see the black things that I would see if I was suppressing one of my eyes.  

It is similar to when I first started to notice that the ground was moving beneath me this summer.  I was cycling with my husband and as soon as we started, I had to stop because I was seeing ahead, but at the same time I was seeing the road moving beneath me.  It was the most bizarre feeling.  It made cycling a disaster, but I was elated because I knew it meant, that eye that is normally looking down at the ground, was waking up.  My mind was saying, "Ok, you really want to see out of two eyes, here goes!"    Suppressing one eye is the brain's way of keeping sense of your visual world.  If two eyes are looking at two different things, then your brain says, "What the heck is this, I can't look up and down at the same time!"  so it picks one eye to keep things simple.  I have kept this order by suppressing one eye or the other for over 40 years...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Childhood and Corrective Eye Surgeries

"The journey of real discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."  Marcel Proust

Welcome to my blog.  I am one of many people who live with a vision impairment called Strabismus.  I have lived my life without the ability to see out of both of my eyes at the same time, but can use them independently. The internet is filled with definitions of Strabismus.   One says it is,  "a vision condition where a person can not align both eyes..."  

I saw the world with both eyes for the first time this year in May of 2008 while doing Vision Therapy with Dr. Carl Gruning in Southport, CT at Eye Care Associates.  With the help of bottle thick prism glasses, after months of therapy, one day the office I was standing in suddenly popped into 3-D and I could not believe my eyes!  Here is my story of how I am learning to see the world in a whole new way.

I was born with straight eyes.  When I was two or three my eyes crossed.  Baby photos of me with crossed eyes are few.  I think I may have one where I was in kindergarten, wearing my favorite dress with apples all over it and looking into the camera with my big brown eyes turned toward my nose.   I never liked this photo growing up...it made me sad to see that I was unaware of how bad my eyes looked; the innocence of being a child and not knowing that I was not like other children.  Years to follow I learned how to have my photo taken at an angle, so I would never have to look at a photo of myself with my eyes going in different directions.   To this day, I still turn my head at an angle every time I see a camera pointing towards me, out of habit, out of shame...

I had my first surgery in Bridgeport, CT at the age of 3 or 4 to correct my eyes and it was unsuccessful-my eyes went crossed again almost immediately.   My second surgery was when I was 6 or 7 at Norwalk Hospital.  This second doctor left me with one eye pulled in the opposite direction ("you were wall-eyed" says my mother...), so I no longer looked at my nose, but out to the side towards my ear with one eye.  

Fed up with these two local eye doctors, my parents took me to The Harkness Eye Institute where I was operated on when I was 8 or 9 by the renowned strabismic surgeon, Dr. Phillip Knapp.   Thinking back, snippets of that surgery are so clear in my mind; passing by the overhead lights as my small body lay on a stretcher gliding down the halls, the black mask over my face, the awful smell of the orange scented gas filling my head as I was told to count backwards from ten and only reaching eight before I fell asleep.