How I See Things

How I See Things
Cartoon-like drawing in shades of dark to medium purple. Eyes with beautiful eyelashes, looking through a pair of glasses.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Flickering Eyesight

So, I have known for a long time that my eyes don’t work together. It has taken me almost 50 years to be able to describe what I see to people. For most of my life, I just dealt with it and didn’t really think much about it. I actually thought that I looked through my left eye only, for most of the time, and that my right eye was just along for the ride — it being on my face and all and generally pointed in the right direction.

I know some people, we can look at them and know they don’t “see normally.” Maybe their eyes aren’t both aimed the same way. Maybe they are wearing an eye patch. Maybe they have said to you, “I am legally blind.” For whatever reason, you know they don’t see normally. They either told you, or you can tell.

I haven’t really ever known or acknowledged that I had an eye problem.

I went to Dr. Magic Optometrist, and he diagnosed me for probably an hour. He performed test after test on my eyes, determining which problems I have. At one point, I was so exhausted, physically, that I just started crying. Yes, I started crying at the eye doctor. It was hard work, trying to describe what I was seeing, to an eye doctor who has seen everything.

He was patient and kind and handed me the tissue box. He explained that patients of his often have to use the tissue box. 

During my appointment with him, describing what I see, I realized that I don’t just look out of my left eye. I actually alternate - very quickly - out of each eye. One at a time. Flick. Flick. Flick.Flick. Flick. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Back and forth. 

I described this a bit to a friend of mine, who came up with this analogy. This analogy describes what I see better than I was able to. I am grateful for my friend who understands what I say so easily. 

Picture a stage with actors and props and it looks like the TV set of the TV show, “Friends.” Or some other sitcom that is familiar to you. 

There are two cameras. One is slight to the left of the center, and one is about 3 inches to the right, and maybe raised up about 2 inches. It’s got a different angle on everything, and it’s not perfectly centered. 

Ok, so the director of the show starts filming. But instead of using 1 camera, they actually do about 5 frames from one camera, and then they take about 5 frames from the other camera. Oh, and one camera’s view is slightly more blurry than the other one. 

In this way, the show is filmed. 5 frames from one camera, 5 frames from the other. It’s a “moving picture,” because the actors are moving around, talking, laughing. The furniture is physically standing still, but since it’s being filmed from 2 different angles that are alternating, it seems to flicker from one spot to the right to the other spot on the left, and back again, very rapidly. 

Now, picture that the director, to further confuse the audience, mutes about every 5th word that is said. So you, the viewer, are constantly trying to figure out the punch line, or the set up, because you can only hear every 4 out 5 of words. You’re missing a LOT of content. For one thing, you can’t look at one actor when they are talking. You’re having to alter who you are looking at, based on which camera is looking at the action. It might be the side view of one of the actor’s heads at one minute, and the next moment, it’s the front of their head and the vase right in front of them, that you can’t move, even though it’s blocking part of their face. Back and forth, rapid fire filming. 

This is what I see like. My eyes flicker back and forth CONSTANTLY. I get tired from all this conflicting input. So when I am partially tired and feel at ease (like when I am home, alone, or reading a book (and no one is staring at my face)), I will shut one eye. Usually my left eye if I am looking at something up close. Actually, as I typed this paragraph, I closed my left eye. I got tired of tilting my head to see what I was typing. This font on this computer is tiny tiny! Who made it so tiny? I will need to change this.

If I am talking with a person, I was trained as a young child to look at someone’s face when they are talking. It’s exhausting for me to do this, though. But I still do it, because “it’s rude not to.” I know people who are on the autism spectrum have trouble looking at people. I imagine that they also have so much input from so many places that they cannot filter out, so they want to look away, so they can process what they are listening to, without being distracted from what they are seeing. The same with me. I happen to also see double, at all times. Because my eyes aren’t giving me 3D input; they are actually showing me 2 different versions of the same thing, at the same time. So, looking at someone’s face, for me, is a LOT of input. It’s tiring. It’s also confusing. It’s so hard to concentrate on what someone is saying, when their face is right there, moving. It’s a constant struggle. I do my best. No wonder being with people and in crowds wears me out, but I am loathe to say, “I am an introvert.” 

Remember how I said the TV director is muting every 5th word? This is called, “suppression.” Suppression is actually written on my eye diagnosis. I suppress a LOT of information. Because I have double the input (is it really only double? It feels like 5x the input) from my eyes, I have to filter out a lot. My brain can only process so much at any given time, and then it has to suppress information, so it can sort out what it’s getting input from. 

When I am in a loud room, and someone is talking to me, I can see their face. I try to lip read. Sometimes I can do it. I would like to think I am pretty good at lip reading. But sometimes I just can’t do it. Like if it’s a noisy restaurant or a noisy environment. I simply can’t make out all the words. I can’t suppress the background information at all in an environment. My brain is already suppressing as much as it can of the visual input, and trying to sort out what I am seeing “how far is the table, where is my drink, what food is that, what smell is that, it smells really good, what color is she wearing, I like that sweater, what is the mural on the back wall depicting, what do I want to eat on this menu…..” All while getting double the visual input. 

Then, if someone is talking with me AND there is background noise, I can’t further suppress the background noise. And what happens is that I can’t hear what they are saying. I hear maybe every 5th word. And the words won’t make sense as a sentence. “Store, apple, brown, sister, 100.” I try very hard to figure out “what on earth are they talking to me about?” And I just can’t figure it out. It’s too much work. I don’t want to appear rude, so I nod and smile just like I was taught. And every now and then I may catch a little glimpse of what they are talking about, but I am honestly missing so much more than anyone knows. My brain can only suppress so much. And - it turns out - I miss audible sound because of my vision issues. 

I have had my ears checked numerous times. But you see, they check ears in a quiet environment with someone saying 1 word at a time. I can hear all the disparate words. One at a time, it’s easy. I never needed a baby monitor. My dad and I always listened to the radio on the lowest volume possible. No use turning up the volume and hurting our ears. We can hear quiet things from far away that no one else can hear. My hearing isn’t the issue. 

My eyes cause my ears not to be able to hear, because there is just too much input and I can’t take it all in. Suppression. My brain is choosing, as best it can, to sort out what is important from what is not, and can only do so much. 

I wonder what things will be like after I go to the weekly visual therapy. I guess I will (literally) see!


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Flickering Eyesight

So, I have known for a long time that my eyes don’t work together. It has taken me almost 50 years to be able to describe what I see to peop...