I’ve been working on an essay about an eye condition that I have and its potential psychological/social effects. My eye muscles are misaligned, which makes it difficult to use both eyes at once, fuse the two separate images together, and make eye contact. As dismal as that sounds, I’m enjoying writing this. It’s forcing me to question how this issue that I’ve just sort of accepted as a part of my life has really shaped who I am. It feels a bit like therapy.
One of the things that its made me realize is that my eye condition might be one of the biggest reasons that I turned to writing in the first place. Because of the actual physical strain of holding my eyes up as well as the cosmetic appearance of my eyes, I’ve always felt uncomfortable communicating verbally. The easiest way for me to connect with people is through writing. Also, I’m beginning to realize that the way I (literally) see the world affects the way I think.
Susan Barry, who had an eye problem similar to mine, touches on this in her book, “Fixing My Gaze.” She underwent vision therapy in her forties and managed to make incredible progress towards regaining binocular vision. She wrote:
“Most surprising to me was that the change in my vision affected the way that I thought. I had always seen and reasoned in a step-by-step manner. I saw with one eye and then the other. When entering a crowded room, I would search for a friend by looking at one face, then the next. I didn’t know how to take in the whole room and its occupants in one glance. While lecturing in class I always spoke about A causing B causing C. Until I watched my children grow up, I had assumed that seeing the details and understanding the big picture were separate processes. Only after I learned the details could I add them up together in the whole. I could not, as the saying goes, see the forest for the trees. But my kids seemed to be able to do both at the same time.”
I’ve thought about that many times, but I wasn’t sure if it was just me, or if it had something to do with my eyes. Now I think it’s probably both. I’ve always considered myself to be fairly smart, but, frankly, kind of slow. I have a hard time participating in class because I need a lot of time to absorb and synthesize information before I can form an opinion on it. I’m sure this is true for a lot of people, with or without “normal” vision, but for me personally I think it’s due in part to the way my eyes work. Writing gives me that time and space to work out my thoughts and see what they add up to.
In a way, all of this points to a somewhat unhealthy dependence on writing. There’s no denying that to some extent I need to loosen my grip on written words and develop my verbal/interpersonal skills. But on the other hand, writing has been both an invaluable coping mechanism and act that challenges me to think and to learn.