hey’re like little worms in your vision, aren’t they?” the doctor asks me. “They move as your eyes move.”
“Yes! Yes exactly!” I tell him, excited to see that he understands, to have him describe my symptoms to me in his own words. “They are like dark waves in my vision.”
“Yes, yes,” he replies, nodding. “Worse when you look at a blank wall.”
“Exactly!” I agree.
We go back and forth like this for a while, listing different descriptions of eye floaters, agreeing with each other and nodding almost frantically.
I am at an eye exam I booked due to my sudden onset eye floaters, dark spots and waves now floating in my vision almost constantly — an issue I never had before. After weeks of panicky Google searches and anxiously observing any other changes in my vision, I had finally decided to go to a doctor, in the hope that he would confirm something is wrong in my eye and, well, fix it. Sitting here now, listening to him describe my floaters to me so vividly, I am filled with hope that he has figured out what is wrong with my eyes, and that he will tell me in a second what to do.
I am at an eye exam I booked due to my sudden onset eye floaters, dark spots and waves now floating in my vision almost constantly — an issue I never had before.
But our excited back and forth is soon over, and he starts to put his notebook away.
“Yeah,” he says with a final nod. “Yeah I know. I have them too.” His face still holds an expression of amusement, and I finally realize that our floater conversation was not a part of the medical examination but simply small talk.
“So, what exactly is the issue? What can I do about it?” I ask him.
“Oh, nothing!” he answers, moving his hand in the air as if distracted by a fly. “It happens, you know. It’s very common, quite natural. You’ll get used to them.”
There is silence. I stare at him, waiting for more. But he says nothing. Instead, he gets up and opens the door for me. I realize, with disappointment, that the eye exam is over.
I leave the optician severely unhappy, not only because I have learned that my floaters will never go away, but also because I feel like I exaggerated what is, in the doctor’s words, a “common” and “natural” situation. I cannot understand why they bother me so much, these little spots experiencing the world with me, if they don’t seem to bother other people.
This isn’t the first time somebody tells me floaters aren’t a big deal. In fact, the first few days after my floaters appeared, I had trouble adjusting to people’s casual tone when I told them about my problem. “Oh, yeah I have them too!” a friend of mine told me. “I sometimes move my eyes in such a way that I can make the spots jump over cars in traffic! So fun!”
Another friend told me that she has been “seeing weird things” ever since she was a child, and asked me whether my floaters were like her “weird things.” I told her I didn’t know, but whatever my floaters were, they certainly made me more uncomfortable than those “weird things” seemed to make her.
As much as I try to describe what I am seeing to others, I realize there is no way I can make anyone understand it. Nobody else will ever be able to see the world exactly as I see it, and I will never know how they see it either. I will never know if I’m exaggerating the “weird things” in my eye, or if my “weird things” are in fact worse and more distracting than my friend’s. There is a sense of loneliness accompanying the unknown. That frightens me.
As much as I try to describe what I am seeing to others, I realize there is no way I can make anyone understand it. Nobody else will ever be able to see the world exactly as I see it, and I will never know how they see it either.
Before I learned that floaters were normal and often permanent, I had convinced myself that they were a result of too much screen time. All eye problems, to me, are a result of too much screen time. So I decided to limit my use of digital devices — a task that proved more difficult than I could have ever imagined. Though this effort did not improve my vision as I had naively thought it would, it did show me something important; I had never realized how much of my life was dominated by screens before I attempted to take them out of it. Once I realized the huge role screens play in my life, I could not go back to my old habits.
With the ease and comfort digital devices provide, I, like many others, have structured my life around screens. I set my alarm on my phone every day, so the first thing that I look at when I open my eyes in the morning is a screen. Unable to get up quickly, I often lose myself in the comfort of the phone screen after turning my alarm off, moving onto various social media platforms and starting my day scrolling in bed.
Even after I get up and start my day, my eyes are constantly on a screen. I go to class and take notes on a tablet, I go to a library and type on a computer. As a student, I feel incredibly lucky to have access to digital devices that make studying easier, but I can’t help but wonder how this affects my health, and students’ health in general; screens dominate modern education, to a point where learning becomes an activity between a student and their screen. At every café I go to, in my classes, in the libraries, I look around to see people lost in their digital devices, their eyes way too close to the screens, taking no breaks, not looking up for hours — almost hypnotized. A sight that I was so used to now seems so odd, so dystopian.
A friend of mine texts me the same day of my eye exam, complaining about her smartphone screen time. “It’s six hours!” she tells me. “Six long hours spent looking at this stupid phone!”
Considering the average person sleeps about seven to eight hours a day, six hours of screen time is significant. It is almost half of the time one spends awake. But while it sounds unbelievable and extreme when stated in this way, it doesn’t feel extreme to spend entire days on our phones or computer screens. It feels normal.
We are now used to having screens occupy a large part of our lives; technology and social media are so advanced today that you can pretty much find everything there. You can watch videos of beautiful places and feel like you’ve visited them, you can access educational content to replace reading, you can scroll through your friends’ feeds or exchange photographs to feel connected. Whatever need we have, digital devices provide some sort of digital, on-screen alternative to satisfy it. I can’t help but wonder if we are approaching some sort of dystopian world where our physical bodies will no longer be useful because our entire reality will be dependent on a screen somewhere. It sounds unrealistic, perhaps, but ever since I started paying attention to the role of digital technology in everyday life, it started to seem less and less unrealistic.
Whatever need we have, digital devices provide some sort of digital, on-screen alternative to satisfy it.
My recent eye problems made me appreciate good vision — something many of us take for granted, and I became eager to take better care of my eyes, to protect them and to use them to see more of the world itself, rather than digital representations of it.
“It’s a horrible feeling to have your health deteriorate,” I told a friend who, coincidentally, was also experiencing some trouble with his vision. I explained, “But I keep thinking of it as a metaphor, a sign or something. I can’t help wanting to write about it!”
“It’s what writers do,” he told me. “It’s the way you process things.”
As soon as I heard these words I knew he was right. Ever since the beginning I refused to accept that “I have eye problems and they make my life difficult.” It was never that simple, that straightforward. I was always searching for ways to turn this experience into a big metaphor, to extract some type of social commentary from it, to find a deeper meaning behind it. I ran to a paper and pen to write about my thoughts and feelings, to structure and package them neatly, almost like wrapping a gift. Mine was an attempt to transform my fear into a life lesson, a learning opportunity, perhaps even a moral examination of my optimism and perseverance, some sort of turning point in my life — because for it to be anything else was a terrifying thought.
As I write these final lines and wrap my gift, I end with a positive note or at least an acceptance of my situation — the ribbon on the package. Writing for me is a coping strategy, a way to process my feelings, as my friend suggested. After weeks of adjusting to my new vision and comparing my level of discomfort to others’, I have finally accepted that in life, things just happen, as the doctor told me; whether I can find in this a deep moral lesson or not, I just have to deal with it.