Your Normal Is My Scary: 1 – An Eye Test

Photo by Wellington Rodrigues.

It’s 9.32am, and I am walking out of the house. It’s cold, but not quite enough to need gloves. I’m a little bit jumpy, because I’m about to go and do something intimidating. Is it a job interview? An exam?

No, it’s much more mundane. It’s an eye test.

The walk down is okay. I’ve got a podcast on – I’m not wholly paying attention to it, but it’s better than just music, and it’s definitely better than silence. Going into town is downhill for us, which is nice, except you know you’ve got uphill on the way back. For now, though, it makes it easier. Probably for the best; I don’t need another excuse not to go.

Soon I’m in town, and I’ve started to worry that I won’t find the right place in time. The opticians is on the high street, right? I’ve walked past it dozens of times. But because I’ve never been in, my brain is using that small amount of uncertainty as the crack through which it can ooze.

I attempt to apply logic to the situation. I have 20 minutes until my appointment. Even if it’s not where I think it is, I can look it up on my phone and find it in time. I have that technology.

Mildly buoyed, I turn onto the high street, where it becomes quickly apparent that the location in my head is the other opticians. I open a map. Even though I am now assured that I’m going the right way, I get more nervous. I start to point fingers and disapproval at myself for supposedly failing. The crack gets wider, and other fears slip in.

By the time I can see the opticians, there’s a knot in my chest, and I can’t stop thinking about the hundred hundred things that worry me. The knot tightens as I realise my appointment is 5 minutes earlier than I expected. I’m still early, of course. I head in.

Before I carry on, I want to pause to talk about something.

I’ve mentioned that I’m uncomfortable with my memories of when I was at university. One of the reasons for that is that – well, I spent a lot of my time lying. A lot. And you know that adage about lying so much that you yourself then start to believe it? It’s true. I did that to the point that I didn’t know what was true and what I’d made up.

What did I lie about? Well, anything. I lied about how much effort I’d put into things, about whether I knew how to do something or not, about how I was feeling. Often I lied to make myself seem more ill than I was (needless, really, I was already suicidal). Or I lied about why I wasn’t attending classes (I still didn’t feel like severe depression was a good enough reason). Anything at all, I lied about.

Combine that with the fact that my memory of those years isn’t brilliant, and you can probably see why I’m uncomfortable. Going past that point I still did it, but I did it less and less, until I didn’t do it at all. Except now I can’t trust my own perception of things. I worry and worry, now, that I’m going to lie again.

The last time I had an eye test done, I lied. I wanted glasses. Why? Well, if there’s ever an opportunity to be special in some way, I want it. I envy those who have it. To have glasses was to stand out, and so I needed to get glasses. Just one problem: my eyesight was perfect.

Somehow, I still came away from the opticians that time with glasses. I can be very convincing, when I want to.

It scares me.

Flash forward, then. I’ve made it in, I’ve made myself known, I’m sitting and waiting. It’s a nice place. My eye test is in two parts, led by two different people, both women. They both make me feel comfortable – impressive, for strangers, because I’m normally tense around all of them.

The first part of the test is photos of my retina, air blown on my eyes, and a peripheral vision test. The first two are fine. I can’t lie to a camera! But the peripheral vision one worries me. What if I lie? Can I trust myself? I do the test, and try so very hard to be truthful. I get something wrong. Not that I lie – I just don’t see one of the dots. She re-tests me, and I spot everything just fine.

But as I’m back in the waiting room, waiting for the second part of the test, that part of me that desperately longs to be special returns. I start to want glasses again. Then another part of me feels guilty, pre-emptively, about the cost of that. Another part of me is just frustrated at myself.

The second part is the part you’re probably more familiar with – reading letters on a wall whilst someone puts different lenses in those weird, plastic and metal glasses that make you look like someone foolishly set a Steampunk LARP in the 90s.

I’m honest, though. I respond on instinct, just go with my gut, and I have to trust that because otherwise I’m going to overthink (and overthinking definitely isn’t right). My eyesight, the optician pronounces, is absolutely fine – all of my tests are clear or normal. I pay my money at the front desk – thank you Patrons for funding it – and leave.

It is at this point that I realise I am exhausted, anxious, and feel absolutely awful.

In the run up to this appointment, I worried that an eye test wasn’t a scary enough thing. I mean, I booked it online without a problem. I’ve been and done it before. It should have been fine, right? As I stand outside the opticians, fumbling to put my headphones on and be safe in the quiet, I retract this fear in favour of others.

When I get anxious like this, I get easily paralysed. It becomes really hard to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. I break it down into smaller steps. The escalator is just nearby – I go down, and stop in the health food shop to buy chocolate as a form of apology and soothing to my anxious self.

I’m even twitchy during this process. Is the shop assistant watching me? I’m just wandering in circles, she must think I look so weird. Or stupid. What should I buy? Should I really be spending my money on this at all? What about my calorie limit? I’m an awful person. I should just leave. No, I shouldn’t leave, I came in here to do something and it’s –

I end up buying three things in my panic, then escape back into the cold for my walk home. My legs are shaking. Is it from that morning’s yoga session? Is it from the 20 minute walk that I did to the opticians? I’m not sure.

Either way, it’s a long, anxious climb up the hill.

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