Updated: Jan 29
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
"What exit is that?" I asked Mike, on one of our many drives to God-Knows-Where. We go so many places that they blur together like so many cars on so many congested, L.A.-adjacent interstates.
I couldn't see the exit sign because my eyes, already heavily corrected, have once again gone to shit. Mike, on the other hand, has absolutely perfect vision for no good reason.
Road signs are blurry, especially at night. Just the other weekend, I couldn't read the overhead menu in a restaurant. At night, the moon looks like a large, blurry orb hanging over the ocean. So I booked an eye exam at the one and only Costco, and the lovely eye doctor there told me what I already knew, "Your eyes have worsened considerably," she told me, "I'm going to up your contact prescription three quarters of a point, the glasses will go up an entire point."
Cool, I thought. Not only do I spend hundreds of dollars each year on eye care, but as my prescription worsens, my glasses get thicker and my contacts increase in price because I live with an astigmatism and because I can no longer tolerate monthly or even weekly eye suckers. Last year, I picked up my year supply of daily contacts in a Trader Joe's grocery bag. Wearing daily contacts means that I slowly discard 730 tiny plastic containers, sea turtles be damned. Maybe, I mused, it was time for Lasik.
I've had poor eyesight for a long time. At age eleven or twelve, I started wearing contacts and marveled at how easily I could read the whiteboard. Maybe I wasn't bad at math, maybe I just couldn't see the math. Ever since, my eyes have worsened and I've gone through the daily, tiresome morning process of inserting my vision. In the evening lull between removing my contacts and putting on my glasses, I stumble around blindly, knocking my shins on the bed frame, stubbing my toes in the doorway, searching around frantically on the floor near the bed where I thought I left my glasses. Where did I leave my glasses? Without corrective vision, I would be able to see and do nothing.
Before my eye exam, the assistant asked me to remove my contacts, and I obliged. She then asked me to fill out a form, and I laughed out loud. I couldn't see the page in front of me, even if I'd wanted to fill it out, which of course, I did not. Asking me to fill out the form was akin to asking the family dog to say grace before dinner. Nice thought and all, but not an achievable task.
The first time a man told me how I could magically improve my vision was at a bar in Newport Beach. "Gorgeous eyes," he told me. "Thanks," I answered, "they're pretty but they can't see shit." That set off an unwanted monologue about eye exercises; how I could not only stop the deterioration of my vision, but how I could actually improve it, if I just set my mind to it. I eventually extracted myself from the conversation, but not before he'd pointed me to a website that not only described each exercise in detail, but sold a questionable "eye health supplement." My largest takeaway from this chance encounter was that not every damn physical reality can be exercised/willed away, and that drunk men in bars are some of the most annoying living beings roaming this blessed planet.
The second time a man told me how I could magically improve my vision was a year or two later. I was loosely dating (or was I just bored) a guy who had a receding hairline, a very thin frame, and the personality of an aged beagle. He was nice enough, despite his obsession with Sam Harris and performative self-improvement. He not only told me how I could prevent my eyes from worsening, but also how he himself had prevented the need for glasses at all by doing daily figure-eights with his eyes, and occasionally gazing into the distance. Sometimes, it's the smartest person who says the stupidest shit.
Sometimes men claim to know things and actually do know things. Sometimes, they claim to know things in order to avoid feeling inadequate. And sometimes, they claim to know things and actually believe what they're saying, which is the most concerning reality of all. Eye exercises never could and never will reverse my 20/500 vision.
Harvard Health states, "Until evidence-based research proves otherwise, it's safe to assume that nonmedical self-help eye exercise programs won't keep you out of glasses if you need them and won't change the ultimate course of your nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, or astigmatism."
The World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research states, "Practicing Eye Exercises regularly is very much beneficial to keep eyesight healthy and acts as an eyesight rejuvenation therapy....but unfortunately there is no evidence available which proves that Eye Exercises improve vision."
And this study, conducted on school children in rural China concludes, "We found no evidence for an effect of eye exercises on change in vision or eyeglasses wear."
The reason that doing eye exercises does not improve vision is really quite simple. Bad eyesight (i.e., blurry vision) is most commonly caused by a refractive error like nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. Refractive errors develop when the eye is unable to focus light directly on the retina due to imperfections in the eye’s length, corneal curvature and/or internal lens curvature. The refractive error you experience depends on which anatomical flaw your eyes have. For example, eye length is normally associated with farsightedness, corneal curvature is linked to astigmatism and lens curvature can determine nearsightedness or farsightedness. No amount of figure-eights or concentrated re-focusing can change the anatomical flaw that may exist in your eyes.
My eye doctor did give me some helpful tips though, "Try to order smaller frames for your glasses," she said, "the larger the lens, the thicker it will be for a prescription as strong as yours." She gave me the name of a Lasik specialist in a neighboring city, and showed me photos of my eyes. "Your blood vessels are very healthy," she said, "make sure you don't sleep in your contacts, and take these home with you." She handed me two pairs of contacts in my new prescription. "This is all I have on hand, I'd give you more if I could." She looked up at me, "I know how frustrating it is to not be able to see."