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April 8, 2013

Note: This post was first published on April 8, 2013 and was updated on Jan. 12, 2024. All the links are working now. 

Seeing things clearly can be such an emotional issue – literally. I learned this from my holistic eye doctor, Marc Grossman. He’s the guy who taught me that my severe nearsightedness is all about letting go, while people who are farsighted have issues with focusing.

We first met when I was 39. I desperately needed reading glasses. Squinting at cereal box labels was depressing! The whole situation made me feel old. That’s when I heard about Marc and made an appointment.

As someone who has been wearing thick glasses since the age of nine, I’ve been inside a lot of optometrist offices. At first glance, Marc’s  set-up looked pretty ordinary. But after he did a fairly routine eye check-up, he said there actually was a way to avoid reading glasses.

“We can take care of it in a few months with eye exercises, no problem,” he said. “And what about your nearsightedness? Do you want to do anything about that?”

What?!!! Was he nuts?!!! My vision was about 20/650, in the legally blind category. But over the next few years, I spent a few daily minutes on eye exercises at home. My routine also included a weekly visit to his office for an hour of vision therapy that involved specialized drills. Today, I’m in the 20/275 range. At age 56, I still don’t use reading glasses.

Holistic eye therapy is a great gift, especially for someone like me, who has no guts or money for laser eye surgery. It’s not just the vision improvement but the self-discovery. Marc always says that eyes are the windows to the soul because they’re also an extension of our brains. The eye’s retina is actually made of a specialized form of brain tissue, creating a powerful interaction between seeing and thinking. No wonder sight is the most developed of the five human senses.

When my vision started improving, I shared with Marc my sadness – and fury – about my hands. I was born a natural lefty, which my parents believed was unlucky. So as soon as I could hold a crayon, they tried to break me of my “bad habit.”

Today, I hold my forks and chopsticks in my right hand. But I still write with my left hand. I couldn’t let cultural values and misguided parenting destroy who I am at my core. There’s a reason I grew up to be a writer! Once I started working with Marc, I also found my inner artist.

“Are you interested at all in drawing?” he asked, in what seemed like a total non-sequitur. But in fact, art solved a lot of my problems. Marc said it would help if I could take a picture of something, turn it upside down — and then draw it. To learn how to do that, he recommended a wonderful book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” by Betty Edwards.

In its pages, I learned how to look at photos, turn them upside, and draw what I was seeing from my upside-down perspective. Suddenly, I found the freeing experience of NOT trying to draw the face or trees in the photo. Instead, I was simply looking at curves and lines and shapes. They were forms and nothing more.

In other words, pure vision. I was inspired.

i started taking painting classes, drawing classes and recently, comic book illustration. After an emotionally crushing childhood where my parents forbid art lessons, I was finally, in middle age, on the journey of my dreams.

It would be nice to brag that my eyesight has improved to 20/80 or even 20/200. But after my divorce in 2001, the vision recovery plateaued. I’ve let go of a lot and maybe it’s enough! To maintain my eyesight, I still do Marc’s eye exercises because, like any good workout, they keep me limber and healthy.

For daily living, Marc has me outfitted in contact lenses that are slightly weaker than what I need. This means the edges of things are a wee bit blurry. Not seeing everything in sharp focus is a blessing. Think about it…is it really important to constantly focus? That’s a recipe for eye strain and emotional exhaustion.

His exercises also include wearing special prescription glasses that blur my vision even more. I wear them when I’m walking my dog Rosebud, doing the laundry or cooking simple dishes. Everything turns into true soft focus, which, at first, made me feel very insecure. Could I trust my blurry eyes to see?

The answer: I realized that it’s completely unnecessary to see the hard edge of the sidewalk, or my mug filled with tea. After about half an hour of wearing my special glasses, I take them off. This is when the magic happens: Everything suddenly looks naturally crisper and sharper.

Marc, who started practicing telemedicine after the pandemic, is physically based in the Hudson Valley college town of New Paltz, N.Y., which is located in upstate New York. Here’s the link to his website, with info about his philosophy, rates, etc. And here’s his YouTube featuring basic eye exercises that can help us all. They all offer relief from hours of computer-weary eye strain. The hot dog is my favorite, because it’s fun and feels soooo good.

If you can’t get to him, he has books. My favorite one is“Magic Eye Beyond 3D: Improve Your Vision.” Magic Eye refers to a very cool visual trick. The book is filled with images that look like pages of tightly-patterned wallpaper. But once we relax our eyes in a specific way, we can see that each page actually hides a 3D-image.

I’ll leave you with a few parting thoughts…

Marc, who is a Queens boy, an acupuncturist and a Stuyvesant High School alum like me, has been around plenty of Asian folks. When I asked him why so many Asians are four-eyed from an early age, he said that the close detail work and the pressure to be a perfectionist are part of the reason. But wearing eyeglasses is also a form of armor, a physical shield that enables the wearer to keep the world at bay.

It’s a theory that makes total sense of my childhood. When I started with glasses, I was a miserable, vulnerable little kid under the tyranny of control freak tiger parents. They forced me to study, study, study and pursue the path they set for me. Clearly, those thick lenses were a way to literally get them outta my face.

So that’s my moment-by-moment challenge. As an adult, I can have my own vision for life. I can see from my own perspective. The control is in my hands. And, my eyes.

And from there, it’s all about letting go.