Thursday, January 29, 2009

How This All Came About - Part One

I have been blogging about my recent experiences learning to see with two eyes but haven't filled in the story of how I got here, how I found myself on this path of visual awakening.  For those of you who don't know, I have seen the world as flat since I was three years old.

I was standing on 14th Street in Manhattan waiting for the M-15 to take me home on June 26th, 2006.  It was a warm day, there was no bus in sight, so I headed to a newsstand and scanned the covers of all the magazines. A New Yorker grabbed my eye, on the cover an article by Oliver Sacks about vision.  I absolutely love Oliver Sacks, so I bought it and jumped on the bus.

Isn't life so amazing? Tracing back from extraordinary events, we see it was nothing more than a moment that started it all.  For me it was a summer day standing on a dirty sidewalk waiting for a bus and deciding to look at magazines. 

Dr. Sacks wrote about a woman named Dr. Sue Barry who had discovered a wonderful visual world unbeknownst to her one day while walking out of her optometrist, Dr. Theresa Ruggerio's office in Northampton, Ma. 

I remember the day perfectly. I hopped off the bus, and continued reading on my couch that afternoon until my husband came home from work and found me exploding with the story I had just read.  

Oh my God Sean, how was your day, but wait, wait, before you tell me, I have got to tell you about this article I just read in the New Yorker... This woman... Oh my God, I just can't believe, it... she, she, well she is like me... I had no idea there was even others out there who had no depth perception... and she GOT IT BACK!  I mean, she, she actually got it back and supposedly it is totally different.  It is just the most amazing thing I have EVER read.  

I could barely contain myself. The opthamologist told my mum and dad when I was a child that I would not miss much, perhaps have some difficulty with depth in sports, but that was it, and here I just read about this woman who had this experience of seeing in a way that seemed incredible, magical, spectacular, unbelievable.  I wasn't even sure if I believed it.  I thought, how could things really look that different? I can see, and function in the world just fine.  Ok, maybe I slam glasses down on tables misjudging the distance or I miss when trying to pour things, but otherwise I see just like everyone else, right?  
I cried that night in the dark bedroom of our East Village apartment.  I had no idea I was ever missing anything... Somewhere in the blur of my tears I decided that I was going to find out if I could see this way, I was going to find this magical visual world that Dr. Sue Barry found.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Card Games in Vision Therapy

I played card games with the therapist yesterday. Crazy Eights and Bullsh%$! while I wore red/green glasses. One eye sees through a green lens and the other eye through a red lens. If you are not using both eyes, then everything will appear in either all red or all green depending on the eye you are using.  For a strabismic with my lightening speed talent of switching back and forth from eye to eye I could do what I have always done, but the idea is not to switch from eye to eye, but use both eyes.  Basically retraining my entire visual system as I know it. 

When I say this is difficult, I am understating it. While playing the card game, the cards go blank, then flicker on and off.  Imagine someone flashing a card at you so quickly that you can barely say what you saw.  Was it the King of Diamonds?  Queen of Hearts? 

Five months ago I know I would not have been able to handle a card game with red/green glasses on, so I see the progress, but I yearn for things to be more steady and not sure if I will ever get there without surgery.  Only time will tell. 

 I am reminded of the first time I learned about subliminal advertising where they would imbed a split second image of a dripping Coca Cola cup or whatever it was they wanted movie goers to buy.  As a kid I would always close my eyes through the trailers because I didn't want some commercial worm to enter my brain.  My stereo-vision is like this; flickering, flashing, subliminal.  Popcorn anyone?  

Magic Wand Finger

Last week Dr. Gruning lent me a pair of red/green glasses and some charts with red/green letters and numbers to take home.  As I was practicing in my living room, I noticed a very strange thing. When I pointed to the area that was black (areas that are black mean they are suppressed by one eye) the image would appear. I was like, what the heck is in my finger!  I felt a bit like E.T. with some magical light beaming out of my index finger.    

Apparently this is a very normal thing, but it is a bizarre experience when you can't see something and then just the act of pointing towards it makes it appear.  I wonder why this happens.  What takes place in the brain that pointing at something makes it appear? For now, I am just happy to know that E.T is coming home! 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Brock String with Dog Leash


Today on my walk with Chester, I got the idea to use his leash as a Brock String. The Brock String exercise is one of the first I learned in Vision Therapy.

Brock String Exercise
A string is tied to the wall slightly below nose level with three colored beads on it. You separate the beads to one in the middle, one about 12 inches from your nose, and one close to where the string is tied to the wall and hold the string up to the tip of your nose. Someone using both eyes will see the strings form an "X" when looking at the middle bead and a "V" shape when looking at the far bead. If you close one eye, you actually shut off one of the strings. Try it!! Here is a great link showing how to use a Brock String.
It is a great exercise that gives me instant feedback to where my eyes are pointing and has slowly taught me to 'feel' for when I get the stings in the right place, so I can memorize the feeling and try to get my muscles to remember how things felt when they were in the right place. I try to do it every morning and sometimes in the evening.

With the dog leash today, when I held the leash cord up to the bridge of my nose, sure enough, I saw two cords leading up to Chester in the shape of a V. Nice! The leash did not have a bead in the middle, so couldn't get it to form an X. I had to bend down so the leash was more parallel to the ground, (unlike the photo I took).
This is my husband trying it. Again, the string should be more parallel to the ground, but it does work!

My friend James commented that this entry reminded him of Lao-Tzo in the Tao Te Ching, where the 'space between things are as important as the things themselves...' I found this translation of the Tao Te Ching by Waley, which I really like. Thanks James!

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tree Fort for Chester

snowy-pine-tree-01 by callous903.
         Grab the dog leash it's snowing again 
All excited to see the snow in the daylight yesterday, I grabbed my prism glasses, harnessed up the dog and ran out.  

To my surprise, the snow looked the same as I have seen it for most of my life; a flat sheet of flakes. I didn't get that magical snowy 3D experience.  In fact, nothing looked out of the ordinary.   

Sometimes I see in-stereo and other times it just doesn't happen. I admit on the walk back home I was a bit deflated, but from experience I knew it would be back. 

I was just about to walk inside when our dog Chester paused. He has a retractable leash and wandered off under a small floppy Hemlock tree weighed down by snow and ice.  I was freezing and hoping he would hurry up. 

As I walked over to him, the tree suddenly appeared to be like a giant dome (a mushroom really, but I don't want to sound too trippy) with Chester as a tiny leprechaun underneath.  The top of the tree was close to me and scooping underneath was all this space. It was incredible. It looked like a neat little canopy in the shape of an umbrella. I was stopped in my tracks by all the space under the branches. The trunk was in the center and the pine needles created a roof. The tree became a house! For the first time I could see the meaning of the word 'underneath.'

Standing there relishing the magnificent sight of our dog under that droopy Hemlock, I laughed and thought, this is so bizarre, this whole vision changing thing is really is just soooo bizarre.  Chester stood there looking up at me, and I know this sounds silly but it was like he led me there.  Creepy pug!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tracing Teacups

Last week in Vision Therapy they had me look into the Stereoscope machine at a piece of paper with two circles on either side.  One side had an object in the circle and the other was just a circle with nothing in it.  
The therapist asked me to trace the object.

At first I did not really understand.  So I said, "I don't see anything on this side that I am supposed to trace."   They tried having me tap the area with my pencil, (tapping the area where you are supposed to see something will often make it magically appear...I have no idea why, but it does work!) but even tapping failed to make the image appear.  
After a few attempts at having me trace over pictures I could not see, the therapist loaded this last sheet into the machine. In the middle was a simple drawing of a tea cup, which he asked me to trace. I did not see a teacup in the circle, only a teacup to the left.  So I decided to try just copying the teacup, but as I put the pencil on the blank area the teacup suddenly appeared.  I screamed, "I SEE THE TEACUP!" I didn't want to lift my pencil for fear the image would go away, so I traced it, and this is what I came up with (see the faint tracing of the teacup to the right in photo above).  The tiny writing to the right of the test is where the therapist wrote that I did it successfully!   

Being able to see the teacup in the area that was blank and then trace over it is a very good thing.  Technically, I believe it means I fused the image of the teacup onto the image of the circle, rather than seeing just the circle and the teacup separately.   YAHOO! 

Monday, January 5, 2009

Where You See Red, I See Space

This morning while walking the dog with my prism glasses I had an idea.  As I looked at the trees and pathways, seeing all the spaces between things, I tried to figure out how to show someone with normal vision what I was seeing. 

The idea was to take a photograph and draw on it to highlight where I see space. It is almost impossible to describe my new vision to someone who has had stereo-vision for their whole lives, but I thought that these photos may help.  

Last night when my husband saw me on Photoshop drawing all these red lines, I am sure there was a moment when he thought, Should I call the men with the white coats?  Believe me, early on in Vision Therapy there were a few times I thought of calling them myself!

In this second photo the three skinny saplings to the right pop into 3-D. The trees are in succession and not flat or piled up on top of each other. 

There is the first tree and then, further beyond is tree two, and further beyond, tree three. I never really knew what "further beyond" meant until I saw with my prism glasses!  The red shows where I see space.

Intellectually I know that "beyond" means something further away than something else, just like I know the definitions of many other words that describe space; beyond, above, inside, around, over, underneath, etc. The difference is, I never saw these things.  

This is a pathway I walk every morning with our dog.  In red are all the areas that seem to vibrate with space.  There is a sense of being in a tunnel and everything else is beyond me in layers.  The world seems to surround me now, as opposed to things just being flat in front of me. 

The path winds along. Seeing my old way I never noticed that pathways actually lead to places.  I put arrows around the trunk of the large tree to the right because I now see how trees curve on the sides!  They are round!  Duh, I know, but again, I never saw this. 

Further beyond, are small spaces between the trees, which separate them.  It is like the space is an object; it is nothing that is made into something by the things that are in it. Tree, space, tree, space, tree, and so on.

I now love pathways! Walking along them gives me a wonderful feeling that is difficult to describe.  I know this all may sound strange...most people don't really get it.  Before it all happened to me, I didn't get it either. Never in a million years did I imagine things looking like this.

My old vision was similar to looking at a photograph or a movie screen; flat. Things have texture now, the grooves on this tree look deeper and the bumps really pop out.

The first photo, at the very top of the entry, is a shrub called a Winged Euonymus.  Other names for it are Burning Bush, or a Winged Wahoo. The first time I saw it this summer I was stunned at its aliveness. Every branch has its own space, and inside the bush is a little world unto itself, it seems to contain things, like you could crawl in and have a tea party in there.  WAHOO is right!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Tiny Furniture and The Perils of Snorkeling

Decorating Tips From Flatville
Vision therapy has taken me on a deliriously joyful, sometimes bizarre ride this past year. Lately, out of nowhere I will recall something that happened years ago and see it in a different light. Like an 'aha!' moment, it is as if my new vision is informing not only what I see in the present, but also things that happened in the past.

I lived in the same New York City apartment for almost 17 years, until last year when we moved to Connecticut. It was decorated with antiques given to me by my mother and other things bought or found on the streets of Alphabet City.  Friends said that they felt like they were in an old Connecticut home.  I had a very small couch (fit two people shoulders touching), tiny lamps, a small bed with tiny bedside tables.  Even my Chinese rug was small, floating like a doormat in the center of the living room. 

After about 10 years I bought some new furniture...larger furniture. Only by measuring the space did I see it would all fit, and even then I was compelled to measure, re-measure, and measure yet again. I just couldn't see where it would all fit. Unpacking some of the new things and putting them in place, I remember thinking, I wonder why I originally chose such small furniture when all this bigger stuff fits just fine...

I am learning what space is through Vision Therapy, I see now I had no idea I was seeing differently all my life until I saw differently.  Looking back, it makes perfect sense that I did not perceive my apartment being able to contain larger furniture.  I didn't see space, how could I judge filling it?

Objects Appear So Close They Can Scratch You! 
When I was fifteen I was in the British West Indies at a sleep away camp called Antigua Adventure.  My mum had inherited some money from the death of my Grandmother and she sent me to this camp with celebrity off-spring.  One of the day trips they took us on was snorkeling at a coral reef.  I was really looking forward to it.  On the beach, I eagerly put on my mask and fins and waddled down to the water.  Swimming out to the edge of the reef, I looked at all the glorious underwater colors shimmering in the noon day sun.  As I tried to get closer there suddenly appeared to be no space between me and the coral.  I could not swim over it because I was afraid it would cut me.  All the other campers were happily swimming over the reef, I wondered why I was so anxious.  "Objects Appear Closer Than They Really Are" in a diving mask, so I took a deep breath and told myself there was plenty of room and tried to swim over it again, but each time my body got close to the coral, it appeared to be too close. All I could do was swim the periphery of the reef, look across and marvel.  When I finally did swim over it, I had to use my hands to feel for the depth.

For a strabismic the world is flat. A sunken, deflated, movie screen with no space between things. I have enjoyed seeing lots of beautiful things in my life.  Never knowing I was missing anything, I have no regrets I have seen the world as flat for half my life. 

I know that inside my brain is the ability to see depth, but it has been impaired by eyes that can't get the message through.  I imagine this part of my brain unused for all these years, quietly waiting.  I look forward to the next half of my life where I know I will learn to use both eyes.  I already know it's what my brain wants, I just have to work to unlock it.