IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Have a Lazy Eye and I Didn't Realize It For 24 Years

Having a lazy eye isn’t funny, but I’m trying to find the humour in it.
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Amanda Van Slyke
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Having a lazy eye isn’t funny, but I’m trying to find the humour in it.

Do me a favour: When you’re out with your friends and decide to take a funny group selfie, please don’t be the person who attempts to cross their eyes. 

It’s not that I want to ruin your fond memory of the night you made silly faces with your friends. It’s more that while you’re moving on from the photo you just took, there’s a person out there who’s simply trying to take a nice photo with their friends too. And they just came across yours that’s indirectly making fun of them.

From movies like "View From The Top" where Mike Meyers’ eyes are constantly the butt of the joke to the cashier who looks behind you at the grocery store when you’re trying to talk to them, living with a lazy eye really isn’t funny. 

I mean, I guess you could find it humorous that I often bang into walls and tables and desks because my 2-D vision doesn’t allow me to see the clear outline of them. And sure, when I go to pick things up I tend to miss, causing me to clutch at thin air repeatedly. I often get lost and look like I don’t know where I’m going. But things don’t seem so entertaining when I think about the undiagnosed learning disability I had in school and that I failed my drivers’ test because I almost hit the median. 

Bangs do wonders when you have a lazy eye.

Bangs do wonders when you have a lazy eye.

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have a lazy eye growing up. In photos of me as a child, and even in my early twenties, I had straight eyes. I was raised thinking that I saw no differently than anyone else, and nobody told me otherwise -- until last year when I asked my optometrist why I was having vision problems even though they told me I saw 20/20 with my prescription. 

Why was it more blurry when I wore glasses than contacts? And why did my friends say I sometimes looked in the opposite direction? I had always pushed these things to the back of my mind, making excuses that I was clumsy or anxious. But when people started giving me weird looks it became something I could no longer ignore.

Nonchalantly, the optometrist brought up my having strabismus as the reason for my issues. They said it as if I should have known what they were talking about. Apparently my diagnosis began when I was born premature. My retinas were detaching and the muscle surgery I had on both eyes to keep me from going blind caused them to no longer work together. Because of this, I see two images combined instead of one clear image, which is called double vision. 

The doctor me that I’ve had strabismus all my life -- but when I went home to ask my parents about it, they had no idea what I was talking about. How could I have been unaware of this for 24 years?

For months I was obsessed with trying to find a cure for my newfound lazy eye, filled with insecurities every time I looked someone in the face. When I got into a specialist to discuss treatment options, I was pretty late to the game. If I had been a few years old, I could have done patching or vision therapy, but now the only real option was surgery. However, because my strabismus is so bad in both eyes, I have a good chance of my double vision increasing from this, and whether or not my eyes will even be straight afterward is a lottery. 

Before I left the specialist’s, they showed me a photo of a fly -- then asked me if it looked any different with a film over it. It looked exactly the same. That’s when I discovered that I don’t see 3-D. Suddenly my confusion about what made 3-D movies so special made sense. 

I also learned that strabismus can get worse as you get older and that it can exist with or without a lazy eye. As my prescription became stronger throughout the years, my lazy eye became more noticeable. Without my contacts in, my eyes are straight -- but with glasses on my double vision gets worse. 

To be clear, I get around pretty normally for someone with a disability. I’ve figured out how to do most things without them affecting my quality of life too deeply, and if you didn’t sit down and have a conversation with me you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell I have a lazy eye. 

I’m getting over the insecurities of looking at people, simply because I don’t have time to give a shit. But living with strabismus is more than just teaching yourself how to take good selfies -- it’s like being in that drunk driving commercial where they put glasses in front of the camera. Most of the time you’re used to it, but because I work in a profession that requires me to be constantly reading, writing and editing it causes eye-strain and headaches. Not to mention just trying to navigate crossing the street or walking down stairs.

Having a lazy eye isn’t funny, but I’m trying to find the humour in it. Rather than being embarrassed when someone notices, I want to be able to laugh it off. But telling someone where I’m looking gets old fast, and it makes me feel like the butt of the joke. 

There are online support groups and books that teach you DIY vision therapy, like Sue Barry’s "Fixing My Gaze" –- but it makes me angry that I have to go through rewiring my brain on my own time when I could have had it possibly fixed as a child. 

I know there are lots of people who are much worse off than me, who have tried both vision therapy and surgery multiple times and still struggle with their vision and their self-esteem. But if we were to eradicate the stigma of people who are different instead of making fun of them, at least we could feel confident rather than ashamed.