Friday, April 18, 2014

Optic Neuritis - One Year Later

Last April my life got suddenly complicated (not to mention scary) when I suddenly lost much of the vision in my left eye. That part of the story is here.

Over the past year I've experienced small victories and big frustrations,  I've learned to adapt, to be patient, and to have faith. Thankfully I haven't had any kind of relapse or had any other symptoms that would indicate a serious health problem. Each day that passes makes me more confident that my doctor was right, this was a random event, a strange misfire of my immune system, probably triggered by an ordinary virus. I really don't like not having an absolute explanation or definite answers to my many questions but I'm grateful that for now my explanation doesn't include MS or one of the other autoimmune disorders that causes optic neuritis.

I'd guess I now have about 80% of my vision in my left eye. I can see most details but very little color in the center of my vision. It's like a gray film is in front of my eye. I also see slower in that eye. Not much registers with a quick glance but the longer I look at something the better I can see it. Officially my vision is 20/25 in that eye, good enough to pass the DMV vision test.  My field of vision is normal and my eye is working fine but as of December my optic nerve was still not a healthy pink color. Luckily my right eye still works great and in most situations I hardly even notice a problem with my vision.  I can drive and do everything else I need to do.  I don't feel limited in any way by my unusual way of seeing things. That doesn't mean I can do everything well, but I can do everything I want to do.

I've started wearing reading glasses a lot and that has felt like a miracle! Ok, so I'm 46 years old and I could have used reading glasses for a few years now but until a year ago my vision was good enough to see small print, just not good enough to see it really clearly and easily. Now without the glasses, for the first time in my life, there are things I just can't see. I have a new level of compassion for people who wear glasses.

My depth perception is still a little off. I've figure out most things. I can now serve food and eat without spilling although I still don't judge portion sizes very well. I can get things in and out of the oven without burning myself. I have to measure carefully when I'm cooking because if I'm not paying attention I can't tell if something is heaped up in the measuring cup. When someone hands me something I usually reach for it with both hands and that keeps me from missing or dropping it. The only problems I have are when a cashier hands me a receipt (it would look weird to reach for it with both hands) or when I'm working in the garden (lots of abstract shapes at all different depths). I think with my limited depth perception I might actually be able to learn to draw better. I've always had a hard time translating 3D real life into a 2D sketch. It's on my to-do list but I haven't found much time to work on it yet.

My vision seems to be a little worse in some circumstances. My left eye by itself doesn't seem to be worse, but my two eyes together don't cooperate as well when I'm hot or under a lot of stress.  Some lighting conditions cause problems too. I wear sunglasses in bright sunlight and that seems to make my vision almost completely normal. I see even better in the dark where there's less contrast between my two eyes. But somewhere between those two - overcast days or twilight for instance, when it's too dark to wear sunglasses but light enough to cause a little glare in my eye - that's when I have to concentrate really hard to see well. Fluorescent lights cause problems too. The CFL bulbs all over my house don't seem to bother me, but the long fluorescent tube lights in my kitchen are very disorienting. I also have a hard time with the fluorescent lights at grocery stores and at church. I suppose I could wear sunglasses indoors but usually if I feel too disoriented or annoyed I just close my left eye for a few seconds.

I've discovered two superpowers that I have now. There may be more but I haven't discovered them yet. The first is my built-in sunglass lens. If I walk outside into bright sunlight without my sunglasses I just have to close my right eye and then there's a nice gray film between the sun and me. I know I have to be careful not to damage my eye so I don't actually look straight at the sun or anything, but I might be saving myself some wrinkles by not squinting, right?  

I discovered my second superpower by accident. I've been trying to decide what color to paint a room and I'm notoriously bad at looking at a little paint chip and understanding how dark or light the color will look on a wall. I took some paint chips into my son's room because I like how his bedroom color is not too dark or too light. The paint chips I was comparing were a different color and I was trying (not very successfully) to compare the color values. In a moment of frustration I closed my right eye, and unable to see the colors I immediately saw the perfect value match! Yep, I have a built in value finder. The rest of the world can buy one on Amazon for $10 - $20. That superpower may only have limited usefulness, but I'll take it anyway.

You know, this past year hasn't been fun at times. In fact, a lot of the time it was really hard and I had to keep reminding myself to just make it through one day at a time. I'm not glad this happened to me, but I'm also not angry or resentful. We all have hard things to deal with. I'd gladly trade my hard things for someone else's easy things, but not for someone else's hard things. I also wouldn't want to give up the things I've learned. I know I have to be stretched, challenged, and pushed to my limits in order to be shaped into the person God wants me to be. I don't know if I'll see any more improvement over the next year.  I may get a little more color vision back, and it's even more likely that my brain will ignore my left eye more than it already does.  If nothing changes, I'm ok with that too.  I've got a great life, I'm healthy, and at 46 I think I can accept that my body doesn't work the way it did 20 years ago.  I'll embrace my new superpowers and I won't let a limitation define who I am.  

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