It’s been a very subtle thing, since around Christmas time of last year. This feeling, this slow knowing that things were starting to slip. Intangible, largely indescribable things. Inside, Outside.
After my grandmother’s funeral last winter, my father pointed out that one of my eyes looked larger than the other. Everyone else assured me that I was fine, my eyes are fine, everything is fine. Just a swollen eye that looked funny after a day of crying at a funeral. Nothing more.
At his suggestion, I had thyroid blood work done, just in case. Everything came back normal.
Still, every few weeks, I’d wipe the condensation from the mirror after a shower and stare at my naked face, see it, and then part my hair to cover that eye more than the other. But, it was only vanity. Nothing more, just one eye that suddenly seemed ever-so-slightly like, really, just the tiniest bit, more prominent.
But then, in May on our second day waking up in Bucharest, I caught my reflection in the mirror and was completely perplexed. Had I been bitten by a spider? Was I allergic to something in the hotel? Had I slept funny? I wrapped ice cubes in thin paper towels and held them to my eye until streams of cold water slid down to my elbow and my skin was pink. But the swelling remained.
Over the course of the year, I’ve been mentally and emotionally shifting, too. My thoughts can’t seem to hold still. My body can’t stop moving, though it’s simultaneously been fatigued to the point of wanting to just lie on the mat and not get up, mid-workout.
Something is slipping.
Soon, by the time we were home and wedding season was in full swing, my eye had started to hurt, like a stray lash that won’t leave, or a grain of sand, scratching with each blink. I finally made an appointment with my PCP, who sent me to an optometrist.
I can’t focus, it’s like it’s slipping when I try to find where to focus, I told the optometrist. It’s the only way I can describe it. It’s not exactly blurry, it’s just…it’s just slipping. Like how my brain has become foggy and muddled, my eyes are having trouble locking down and focusing. Sure enough, my prescription has changed, in just that eye. Convinced he saw a mass of tissue growing above my eyeball, he referred me for a biopsy.
These past two weeks, I’ve been in waves of emotional anxiety and fatigue, unable to focus mentally or physically on anything. I’ve basically been driving Vinnie insane.
Normally pretty calm and confident, I’ve become nervous, over mundane things. Driving to visit with friends last week, I fought waves of nervousness that I’d never experienced before, a pit like the swelling of your heart and gut when you’re at the top of a roller coaster and fear the impending fall. That was me, watching other cars switch lanes on 93. Like cars do.
I blamed the nervousness on the fear of going for the biopsy. I blamed wedding season. I blamed the August heat and too many days of a houseful of kids and a dishwasher that broke and the impending school year yet to plan. I blamed it on anything.
Yesterday, after not sleeping all night, Vinnie drove me to Concord to meet with the ocular surgeon…and it turns out, it’s not a tumor and there is no need for a biopsy. My eye is more prominent, it is swollen, the lid is retracted, all of the things I’d been trying to convince myself were normal, that only I saw them…confirmed, and without the need for any sort of needle or knife coming near my eyeball.
(I think I was more terrified about the biopsy than I was about what it could mean if the results had been anything other than benign. I hate all things to do with eyeballs.)
Even better, based on all of the symptoms, the best guess, pending a few more tests and scans, is Thyroid Eye Disease (which can, in rare cases, present without having your thyroid actually be out of whack). Vinnie looked up the symptoms of this autoimmune disease while I sat and stared at a giant poster of the human eyeball, watching it get blurrier and fuzzier around the edges as my eyes dilated.
From the chair across the room, he chuckled, skimming over things like, “Symptoms include: Nervousness. Sensitivity to heat. Sweating. Restlessness. Fatigue. Insomnia. Inability to focus. etc” All of the ways that I had felt that I was slowly going crazy, that I’ve been slipping, explained in a simple diagnosis. And a treatable one, at that.
I don’t think anyone ever wants to be diagnosed with a disease, let alone one that impacts their vision (especially as a photographer) or one that can be chronic. But, when the alternative is a tumor…the sense of relief is downright euphoric.
And in the meantime, as we wait for the official diagnosis and treatment options, I’m learning to use my other eye to shoot with. Because, even though there’s an endgame in sight, there’s still life to keep living and living well, right here and now.
And I don’t have time to waste, slipping focus.