I am still on self-imposed sabbatical from any DIY VT sessions. The red-green glasses, tubes, bird-on-a-stick and Brock String still reside in their basket on the hall stand, gathering dust. Apparently, the break is not hurting my “progress.” Instead, it seems to be another form of letting-go that might be helping.
Giving my Brain some Space
Last post I wrote about consciously giving my brain permission to use both eyes. However, this often unconsciously happens during my weekly yoga exercise session at the local Methodist church. There is something about the combination of dim lighting, soothing music and diffusion of lavender that helps my mind let go while going through and holding different yoga poses for an hour or so. About half way into the session, when I gaze rather vacantly at the ceiling, one of the ceiling fixtures will double in my central vision.
My consciously unsuppressed, permitted diplopia continues all the way through to the final 5-to-10 minute “savasana” rest time, when our instructor tells us to relax our feet and legs, torso and arms, shoulders, neck and head, including the face and eyes.
Last week, after I relaxed my eye muscles, the dancing double images of the ceiling vent directly above me fused into a nebulous whole. It wasn’t the 3D, popped-out vent I desire, but more of an elliptical shape that was a bit wider than a circle, shifting it’s shape a bit like it was under water.
The best part was that the watery-looking but whole ceiling vent didn’t slide back to double, nor did my brain suppress one eye to see it more clearly— what usually happens!
In my last post I shared that “Letting go also requires giving myself permission to allow a new way of seeing to emerge, to be visually open-minded.”
Yoga is making this possible , and I am thankful.
Oh to be so care-free all the day long! I must learn to cast away care “without ceasing” as a heart attitude.
Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7
I’ve been following this VT patient’s progress reports with interest. Today’s post “Stop trying so hard and just SEE” mentions a common hurdle to diverging our eyes, the ability to RELAX those rogue eye turn-in muscles! “Stop LOOKING” my VT would often say. LOOKING to isolate something normally fixates both eyes on an object, or in my case, unconsciously fixates one eye while turning in and suppressing the out-of-alignment image of the other. “Soften your gaze” was another frequent VT exhortation.
Last week, random dots did the trick of NOT LOOKING for this VT patient, and I think I understand why. The randomness of the thing viewed eliminates the worry about getting a “right” answer, and therefore is less stressful than “Is the elephant or the fly popping out for you?” which can trigger frantic LOOKING.
Randomness is the opposite of representation, therefore the brain lets go of the need to comprehend and interpret an object. As an artist who strives to accurately represent objects, a good dose of randomness may be exactly what my brain needs to stop trying so hard.
This is why, for me, letting go also requires giving myself permission to allow a new way of seeing to emerge, to be visually open-minded.
I’m rejoicing that random dot stereograms are working for this patient to overcome her eye turn-in along with the many awesome mind-opening exercises her Vision Therapist is tailoring to wake up her brain.
By letting go and giving herself permission to see a new way, her world is opening up into the third dimension I long to experience.
New research is tracking brain changes in patients who undergo binocular vision therapy. Combine objective fMRI data and the many blog posts by adult therapy patients, and you have exponential evidence that vision therapy works for adult patients, and is getting better and better at targeting each patient’s unique visual needs to generate success.
All you need, therefore, is a therapist with an interest in helping the adult patient with the newest cutting edge stuff like Oculus Rift who happens to be passionate about binocular vision and works with adult patients within 100 miles.
My own home-based VT with a little help from an optometrist in my village pretty much ground to a halt in October. I even cancelled my monthly visit, acting out a deplorable level of avoidance behavior I am ashamed to admit. I did manage to make a 15 minute visit in November to confess I had done nothing since September. I did not commit to more monthly visits, as I’ve not been doing any exercises.
This week’s post at The VisionHelp Blog detailed the new neural research with a link to a TED talk by Tara Alvarez, Ph.D. In the midst of the good news was a succinct explanation for my own self-imposed hiatus:
… in the video she notes that in the landmark CITT study … home-alone therapy was no better than (a) placebo. A significant reason for this, she speculates is that the currently available home-alone therapy is gosh-awful boring and compliance is therefore lacking. Another potential reason is the patient may not be doing the therapy optimally because of lack of feedback from a therapist.
Boredom plus lack of solid feedback are indeed primary causes for throwing in the towel. In addition, the exercises exhaust me. I recently read of another patient’s progress at the Mindsight blog and he/she continually admits to the need for SLEEP. I battle feeling totally fried after just 2 minutes of Brock staring. Even looking at motion parallax while my husband drives places cooks my noodle on a good day. And, while this patient is making measurable progress, I lack any measurement but my own guesstimates, and wonder if they are even accurate.
Where do I go from here? Three years ago, the Vision Therapist working under my Developmental Optometrist offered to stay in touch via email, because she is a fellow adult strabismic and was undergoing Vision Therapy to gain binocular vision at the time. I’m curious to know if she has made progress. Curious enough to contact her.
Meanwhile, I have my “Map of Fellows” grabbed from the “Locate a Doctor” search at covd.org … the closest Fellow is the Developmental Optometrist I worked with before my BRAO in 2010-11 where the aforementioned strabismic VT works. In 2010 that Fellow was somewhat reluctant to take me on (due to the dearth of data confirming adult success) and suggested a more progressive Fellow in Cleveland. My sudden blindness in March 2011 put frosting on that reluctance cake.
Cleveland is far, but a less stressful drive than going to Pittsburgh through the hills on back roads and secondary highways. But my driving back home from Cleveland through Akron and Canton for over an hour, fighting heavy traffic AFTER the weekly brain-frying session? No. No. No. Not safe …
And so, my hiatus remains. But my interest is still on fire. That may never change.
Driving in to my landscaping job, I went to my usual stress-free parking spot (a small gravel parking area not also inhabited by large trucks and heavy equipment) and found a coworker had parked his small car at an enormous angle, leaving me a tight spot. I didn’t know just how tight until I pulled in and couldn’t open my door … enough. I should have just backed out and gone to the other gravel area with the big trucks and the other guys milling about everywhere, but that was even more stressful: aka. the spectre of possible public humiliation to ramp up my nervousness. So I pulled forward, thinking, “If I clip his mirror, it will fold and not be harmed (like at the ATM machine.)” Wrongo! My stubborn mirror popped his mirror’s outer cover and another clear piece that covered a light.
After putting the pieces in his car, I found and told him about my “poor judgement” and offered buy him a new pieces if anything was truly broke. “That’s ok” he said.
Private humiliation turned semi-private. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, before the event was shared with the other guys and … my boss.
At a client’s house, I was told I could park at the bottom of his hilly drive. So, in a company truck that has taken me a couple of years to figure out it’s true relative size to it’s surroundings, I pulled down and realized I was in deep trouble. There was no room to turn around, meaning I would have to back up a steep curved drive when I finished.
Fortunately the client came out. “You can back up on the lawn to turn around.” He said. Seeing my obvious jubilation, he made a comment about women not liking to back up as much as men. “It’s not that,” I say “It’s just that I can’t see 3D.” He was doubtful, but as we talked more about my stereo blindness, he admitted he does pencil push-ups to help his eyes team after cataract surgery!
Upon returning to the scene of my crime at base three hours and four jobs later, I observed that my co-worker had popped the cover back on his mirror and moved his car, as far away as possible, from mine. I noticed that the small clear light cover on the mirror extended beyond the black band encircling his mirror. My inability to see 3D failed to pick up on this important 3/4” fact.
After work, while fixing lunch, I manage to clip my ring finger, just below the nail, as I glided a plate from point A on the high counter to point B on the low counter, knocking over a glass bowl of egg salad. I got a nice blood blister on my finger in addition to my bruised ego.
Vision exercises at 5pm before dinner provided the usual impasse where I can’t see the Brock string center bead clearly at any distance over 12” … this has been going on for weeks.
I could use a breakthrough.
But instead of continuing to feel sorry for myself, I want to share about Atticus. Kids in schools everywhere need a far more important breakthrough, especially when their needless suffering is way more severe than my own ever has been. Give a listen to Atticus’ appeal for visual accommodations before the Board of Education.
The cherry of top of this video is the last comment by a School Board Member: “Atticus, I want to you know I have the same thing, and I really understand how you feel.” Even if she has a less severe variation of Binocular Vision Disorder (or Insufficiency), she gets it!
The Baltimore Sun has just reported Atticus’ appeal, and his Mom’s advocacy work to implement visual accomodation compliance to Maryland law for those struggling with Binocular Vision Insufficiency in Maryland schools.
Visual system deficiencies are far more common than folks realize. There’s always more to vision than seeing 20/20.
Slowly, very slowly, the world is beginning to see.
Words of wisdom from a man who maximized his unusual eyes:
David Bowie’s unique appearance was the result of an accidental injury to his left eye during a tussle with a friend as a teen. The friend’s punch landed close enough to his eye to cause the pupil to become permanently enlarged, a rare condition called anisocoria.
Read more about David Bowie’s anisocoria here.
What I noticed more than the difference in pupil/iris appearance in this clip was that he also appeared to have exotropia. His angle of eye deviation is so severe, it’s hard to tell if he’s looking at the camera, or at an interviewer to his right … or both. It has a crazy way of driving his message home.
It would make sense that his brain would suppress the eye with the dysfunctional pupil. I could not find an article to verify his strabismus, but strabismus in the form of exotropia, where the suppressed eye is turned out, is my educated guess. He may have even patched his right eye in the 70’s in an effort to correct amblyopia that developed in the dysfunctional left eye, and used the patch to good effect!
David Bowie, 1974 | Credit:AVRO
As a person with strabismus, I found his “Don’t play to the gallery” philosophy doubly inspiring. I can easily make the connection between his way of seeing everything differently and his commitment to remain true to his inner vision, no matter what others thought during his life.
It’s clear he did not let his unusual eyes get in the way of relating to people on stage or in interviews. If anything, his eye conditions informed his outlook on life and his music, as well as his other-worldly stage presence.
During my vision therapy hiatus, I would from time to time succeed at looking at both my eyes in the mirror in the way most people make eye contact, “the act of looking directly into one another’s eyes.” 1
My felt need for mirror-practice is because “Strabismus … interferes with normal eye contact: a person whose eyes are not aligned usually makes full eye contact with one eye only, while the orientation of the other eye deviates slightly or more.” 2 I wrote more about this in 2010 where I had recently discovered the difference:
“Most people make two-eyed contact, with right eyes gazing into left and left into right. Al enlighted me of this fact only last week. It’s really eyes contact.” 3
While mirror practice is really right to right eye and left to left, softening my gaze to see both eyes at the same time achieves the same purpose. Since starting back on the Brock String in late June, I have been practicing in the mirror more.
When I explained this to my optometrist on Tuesday, he wanted to see if I could pull it off. For a second or so I couldn’t get it, then I tilted my head just slightly to the right. Then it happened: my first full connection with another human being— Real. Full. Eye Contact.
“You tilted your head,” he noted, and then warmly related how sometimes his vision doubles and head tilting is a way to get binocular function back. While I am not happy that this is happening to him, I am comforted in that whatever research he will be doing for me may also be of benefit to him.
I also used the Brock String with him holding the other end. My nervousness and the angle of the string, and difficult overhead office lighting made for less than ideal conditions. I think I got the “magic X” through the yellow center bead only for a millisecond or two at 15” and was not able to converge and diverge between the closer green bead and yellow bead.
But I digress. The actual genuine eye contact was THE huge milestone with psychological and social significance. I fake genuine eye contact pretty well, as my misalignment is now so slight as to be practically imperceptible to others. But I am always missing the connection by half. To have made that full connection, even for clinical purposes, is huge.
I mentioned this at dinner, after taking in a 3D movie with my folks and husband on Saturday. Dad, who claims to have always had a “lazy eye” took immediate interest, and we attempted genuine eye contact. I was surprised when he told me he was alternating, and I (and my husband next to me) could see his eyes doing it! We’ve suspected that my condition runs through his family, but this was an “Aha!” moment to see his alternating esophoria (or tropia) in action. We laughed at our struggle and then lovingly made left “good” eye to left “good” eye contact.
My husband has become the next victim, as I will not let go of my goal to improve my newfound full-eye-contact skills, and he happens to be the most handy human being around. We normally do a lot of talking with occasional face contact. He too, grew up with an impairment to real eye contact: congenital cataracts and coke-bottle glasses. I’m sure this is what made him easy to be around at first, as this made him undemanding in the eye contact arena. I did not mind tunneling down through his glasses with my one good eye. While the pop-bottle lenses are long gone, gaining that full eye connection has been a challenge, because face contact has been nothing less than eye contact in his mind his whole life and all that I felt I could easily accomplish. But he is patiently putting up with me, and why not? Every enduring marriage needs a little magic!
June 27 – afternoon. my first time to Brock in a long long time. I was amazed that I could start out at 12 inches. I was also amazed that when looking softly over the yellow center bead I could get the double image of the rear red bead.
June 28 – afternoon. After a tiring day at work. Again I was able to successfully see the yellow bead at 12″with an “X” through it. But not much took place after that.
July 4 – late morning. More rested. I was able right away to nail yellow Bead it 12 inches. Then briefly, I could back it off to about 18 inches. But this only lasted for a millisecond. Then the whole thing deteriorated.
My other observation is that the right string image is always stronger in front of the bead I am converging on and the left string image is completely strong behind it. This confirms what I felt initially after the BRAO that my brain is vertically aligning upper and lower images from both eyes.
July 9 – walked by my Brock string for the umpteenth time and told myself “Look— it will only take three minutes!” This time I decided not place the yellow bead at a specific place but just grab the first 12” mark near the front green bead and look. I was surprised that I could converge at 21”!
July 10 – late morning, right after massage. Right off the bat I got 25”. Then things got a little wobbly. I got interrupted, but I was able to regroup and see the bead at 20”. I would call that an improvement!
Later that day or the day after, I see my fingers for the first time in 3-D. They were interlaced on my lap, with tips popping out toward me, and looking physically SOLID. It was so awesome I unlaced my right hand and just stoked those solid looking fingertips and then re-laced them once or twice. “So this is what REAL fingers look like.”
It was an almost spiritual experience, making this new connection with my own hands, and so I gave thanks for this new vision I didn’t even ask for. Grace …
July 14 – evening, after a long day on the road. Only managed 15″ convergence and that with only half the X: the right eye image of the string in front and left eye image of string in back of the center bead.
I decided after this poor “X” showing to pick blueberries for visual and emotional therapy. “Fast Cars” from U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb played in my head. It fit my anxious mood in a happy U2 sort of way. The tomato plants were begging to be tied in the garden behind me, and the piles of laundry and dirty dishes were waiting inside. It all made my head pop.
But, during that forever time picking, I thought “the whole diplopia experience isn’t needed in real life, so maybe a half an X is ok and a whole X is not the ultimate goal with me.” I know my eyes are converging with just that half an X …
July 16– 2:30 in the afternoon seems to be the best time. I once again was able to see the bead at 19” then things got wobbly. I also could not get myself to see the red bead. But after that, a quick second attempt to see the yellow be succeeded at 24 inches. Doing this more frequently definitely has its advantages.
July 19– 8am just before headed out to my landscaping job, I decide a 10-second “goose” before a visually demanding day would be a good thing. I converged and diverged easily between the near green bead at 8″ and the yellow at 15″ — this is a first.
Seven brief sessions in three weeks, not 21 or more. 3x day is my goal …
Even with only those seven brief sessions, a couple of amazing things happened at my optometry appointment this afternoon. But that’s another blog post!