near(ly) sighted

I cried at the eye doctor yesterday. Nothing is wrong. It was just a routine check up. I completely understand if you’re thinking, “Who cries during an eye exam?”

I know I’ve cried after an exam when I’ve found out that my prescription needed to be stronger—AGAIN— which is sort of like crying after a bad haircut, but worse because it won’t grow out. But to cry during the part of the exam where you determine if one is better than two or two is better than one? Who does that?

I do. I have all sorts of emotion bound within my vision issues, and though I’ve gotten upset about it before and worried about the going blind, I never really came undone the way I did yesterday.

About five years ago I threw a fit that almost got me kicked out of an optician’s office in Florida. I’m surprised I didn’t end up in jail after the scene I caused. I called the ophthalmologist an asshole and managed to slip in something about how I felt sorry for his wife. I was about to get kicked out, but my mom dragged me out first.

I’d spent hours trying on dozens of frames for my mother, who thought they all looked great. In my pre-contact lens days I had relied on her to choose frames for me, because without corrective lenses I couldn’t make out the details of my face. Even if I was ten inches from a mirror. Yes, I am that blind. But I still like to have someone with me who isn’t trying to sell me something. If the frames don’t look good with non-corrective lenses in them, they will not look good with my double-digit prescriptions welded in place.

After I narrowed my picks down to a half dozen I asked the optician, “which ones will work with my prescription?” She said any would work with the new thin lenses she was special ordering for a bazillion dollars so I didn’t have to worry about size or shape as much as I had in the past. Woo-Woo! Able to move into rectangular frames I went big and bold with gorgeous, made in Italy, turquoise blue frames. I imagined myself wearing them out to breakfast! To dinner! To movies! My life as a severely near-sighted person was changing, literally, right before my eyes.

Tomorrow would be different. It was Thanksgiving Eve, and I imagined myself sitting around with my family in my glasses, basting a turkey in my glasses, allowing a picture to be taken of me. In my glasses.

The optician had specially ordered (via courier so I could have them the same day) the (supposedly) thinnest lenses available. I was optimistic. I trusted her. I handed her a credit card (that had what seemed at the time to be a limitless balance) and began to get excited about the potential for having glasses I felt comfortable wearing out of the house.

Although it had been twenty years since I’d relied solely on glasses to see, and I was grateful for my contacts, I was tired of wearing them all the time. I was tired of friends seeing me for the first time in my glasses and saying, “Wow! You weren’t kidding! You really are blind!” As if I didn’t know. I was tired of sleeping with my contacts in around new boyfriends. I was tired of seemingly obligatory comments like, “Well I think you look cute in your glasses,” which may or may not be true, but all I hear is “your face looks good in glasses.” This also may or may not be true, but I know one fact to be non-negotiably true: lenses in my prescription strength distort the eyes and parts of the face that are viewed through them. I don’t look or feel like myself behind glasses.

I got contacts when I was twelve years old and was finally able to see myself, for the first time. It was also the first time I felt like I could be seen. I became more confident and sassy, and though these things would eventually lead to trouble, I liked the way I felt with my naked face turned outward at the world. My baby half-sister called me Jaime when I had my contacts in, and Diggie when I wore my glasses. She thought I was two different people, and I suppose I acted that way too.

With contacts I also had something I’d never had before: peripheral vision. In addition to viewing the world less myopically, I was able to see left and right of center. This changed sports and school for me in dramatic ways, but it also changed my social life. I know longer had to turn my face toward someone to see them or to see if they were seeing me. I’d discovered the brave new world of peeking out of the corner of my eye. I could be sneaky.

But that day In Florida, as a thirty-two year old, I threw a child-sized temper tantrum when the glasses—that looked like something you could use to start a fire—were presented to me. My old glasses were coming apart at the seams, and because I was living on a remote island thirty miles off the coast of Honduras I needed a backup source of vision. Although I hate wearing glasses I panic over not having them on hand in an emergency. I can barely make it to the bathroom in my own house with my glasses. It is downright dangerous for me to be without backup eyewear. I could not go back to the island without my security blanket, loathsome as they are.

The problem wasn’t just my dissatisfaction with the ugly new glasses—ugly glasses were my norm—it was that the optician had misled me.

I was out of control. I expected something different—despite the fact that I’ve always had lenses that resemble glass from a lighthouse—because the optician had promised that thin(ish) lenses that would look terrific with the frames I’d picked out. Price was not a factor for me that day; I wanted something I would wear and I believed I was about to get it.

I fought—arms crossed, foot tapping, glare head-on — for a refund (they wouldn’t refund the lenses or courier charges, just the frames), and we headed to the Lenscrafters at the nearby mall that was open late. I’m pretty sure I blacked out a little because I barely remember any of it except that I got some functional frames for emergencies. Oi.

I’ve been to several eye doctors since then—and every time I’ve left upset in one way or another—but before yesterday I’d never cried during the exam. I’ve choked back tears when there was little improvement between one or two or two and one—the common denominator being “I still can’t see”—but never have tears slid down my cheeks with my face in the mask-like phoropter.

The problem yesterday was not with the ophthalmologist. Dr. Sheppard was wonderful and the exam was thorough. She used a combination of modern and old-fashioned examination tools, and we chatted about how she’d never give up some of the older methods—many of them glorified pieces of cardboard—because they do things the new machines just can’t. I felt like I was in good hands and I trusted her assessment of my eyes. If she noticed my tears—I’m not sure how she could have missed them—she didn’t fuss about it or appear to be in any way fazed by it.

After Dr. Sheppard determined my prescription she said she’d order my contacts, and suggested I try a different type that will correct my astigmatism. She didn’t say what the other doctors have said, that she’d sure I’ve gotten used to it after all these years. She said, “let’s try something different.” Other doctors have never suggested the alternative, they all figured I’d be happy to stick with what I was already doing, assuming it was working. Until yesterday not one had said, “Why not try to see better?”

Astigmatism “…results in distorted images, as light rays are prevented from meeting at a common focus.”

I didn’t even know until yesterday that astigmatism-correcting contacts were an option, and look forward to trying them when they arrive. It might be a whole new world of increased clarity, or I may decide to stick with what’s been comfortable, but I sure hope I don’t. I’d like to try seeing the world differently, to see myself differently within it.

I’ve most likely been astigmatic my entire life, but the condition is an appropriate metaphor for the present as I work on my latest writing project. I’m distilling my experiences on Roatan and creating a framework for those stories that will (hopefully) result in a fun, interesting, and thought-provoking book. Some of those images are distorted in my memory, so I sift through the emotional aspects to bridge the gap between what happened and the stories I told about what happened. Will an improvement in my current vision change my perception of past memories? It’s a possibility and I’m willing to give it a try. Why keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result?

We all tell stories. We tell them to others and we tell them to ourselves; we say things to convey comfort and confidence, and sometimes we fib. We say, “It’ll be okay,” even when we’re not so sure, even when the prognosis is not good. We say, “I’m well,” even when we’re not because we don’t want someone to worry and because it feels good, even for a second, to just pretend it’s all okay.

I regularly use the idiom, “I can’t see the forest for the trees,” and it’s true. The big picture often eludes me. I habitually get bogged down in minutiae and can’t get past the details to see what might really be happening or to see what is right in front of me or beyond what is right in front of me. I can’t help but wonder if this forest/trees mindset is more of a problem for me because I’m so near-sighted.

Without corrective lenses my very close—like one inch close—vision is like a microscope. I bet I could do a killer eyebrow tweeze (on someone else) with my naturally microscopic eyes. Oh, the gifts. Any takers?!

I got my first pair of glasses as a three year old though they were mostly abandoned in favor of sitting three feet from Sesame Street. When I got to school I needed them to see the board, but I’d choose instead to sit in the front row. I avoided wearing my glasses as much as possible, but as my prescriptions grew stronger wearing them became inevitable. I even had to wear them to recess and P.E. class if I wanted to avoid whiffing or tripping. Yes, I was the kid with the Croakies on her glasses. I chose red, as if to say “I don’t care. I’m not trying to hide anything,” when in reality I cared a lot. Clearly.

During swim classes I’d place my glasses on the edge of the pool so I could put them on as soon as we were out of the water. One time a parent or lifeguard moved them to a “safer place,” not realizing I’d have a hard time getting to the picnic table let alone finding my spectacles without them on my face. I hated swim class.

I spent many months of each year from middle school through high school with pink eye. Instead of wearing my glasses for a few days while using antibiotic drops I prolonged the affliction by treating one eye at a time so I could go about my days wearing one contact. Splitting headaches and chronically reinfecting myself seemed like a small price to pay to keep my vanity intact.

Obviously my life did not change with my firestarter/lighthouse/turquoise blue glasses in Florida; not even close. Will it change next week when I get my astigmatism-correcting contacts? Will correcting the astigmatism clarify the images and allow them to meet at a common focus? Will this do more than affect the way I see things? Will it help how I feel about things? Will it help how I organize my stories? Will the focus be sharpened, light rays meeting as they should? Might it help me have a clearer perspective on life in general? Perhaps with my corrected vision I’ll be able to accept that sometimes the forest really is just the trees, and sometimes the spaces between are what we seek.

Goodness, let’s hope so.


  1. Kate says:

    Amazing how the littlest act of kindness or compassion can move you so much. I had a similar experience last week. I’m glad your ophthalmologist was willing to think outside the box for you. Imagine if we all did that for each other all the time!

    1. jaimestathis says:

      Absolutely, Kate. We should all work on making life easier for each other instead of harder. What was your experience?

  2. Kate says:

    Not for public consumption. 🙂

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