The power of the mind is pretty amazing. I mean, I had always heard things about the placebo effect -- stories of soldiers in war who were administered sugar pills instead of sedatives because the hospital was totally out of the latter (thanks, M*A*S*H!), stories of people with phantom limb pain, stories of hysterical blindness. But this last week is the first time that it really came into perspective for me.
1. Out of sight
First, some back story: shortly after Halloween -- November 2nd, in fact -- I picked up my glasses and they promptly fell in half. Not broke, just fell. The bridge had apparently had enough in the way of metal fatigue, and just disintegrated. Well, this was a Sunday before work, and it was quite obvious that these things were not going to be fixed. So my wife, daughter and I piled into the car to run to the nearest place open on a Sunday, which happened to be America's Best. (Hint: they aren't.) The first thing I learned is that there was no way they could fix my frames, even temporarily. The second thing I learned is that getting new glasses from them would take seven to ten business days. So much for that idea.
However, the third thing I learned is that I could get a trial pair of contacts to wear if I had a contact eye exam. I had never worn contacts before, because my eyes were just too sensitive, but I figured that perhaps I could wear the trial pair until some new glasses came in. After much trial and error, I managed to get the trial contacts in, and it was obvious they would be no help: they had no astigmatism correction at all, leaving me with vast smears across my field of view.
Out of ideas, but determined to press on, I ordered one pair of glasses and one pair of contacts (ones with the right prescription this time) and headed home. My wife continued with inventive, if not successful, attempts to mend my old frames, when a revelation occurred to me. I ran out to the car, threw open my glove box, and let out an insane cackle of joy as I found my emergency backup glasses, enormous Coke-bottle things that were once Transitions lenses but had long since decayed into a uniform light-brown tint.
I wore that pair of glasses for the next two weeks, and despite the fact that their prescription was way off, they worked fine. I even attended the Obama rally wearing them, and barely noticed the fact that I probably had somewhere around 20/60 vision with them.
2. Not Quite Optimal
The new glasses finally arrived, and I picked them up on a Friday night (along with the contacts). The lady there pulled them out of the envelope and just handed them to me. Putting them on, I immediately knew something was way wrong. Massive fishbowl effect, color fringing all over, total disorientation.
"Whoa, there's something really wrong with these. They definitely have to be adjusted," I said.
The lady standing there just stared vacantly back at me. "Adjusted in what way?" she asked. This caught me a bit by surprise. In what way? I've worn glasses since I was in first grade, and every time I'd gotten new frames, a staff member there would adjust them to fit my face. She acted as though I was speaking Dutch or something.
"Uhhh... I don't know," I fumbled. "I'm just very dizzy, and everything seems to have a barrel-like effect."
"Oh, well, you have a really strong prescription, so it will probably take some time to adjust. We tell our customers to give it a week or so first, and then come back if they still have trouble. We definitely don't recommend you drive home with them on."
I was pretty sure I was being fed quite a line of bullshit, but I said okay, I'd give it a shot, and headed home. I stumbled through a somewhat dizzy four days like that before deciding that, no, something was definitely not right, and headed to an independent optician to get them looked at. Immediately they found that the bridge was seriously bent out of shape, causing one of my lenses to be vertically tilted with respect to the other. They made some adjustments which resulted in a vast improvement.
Things were still not quite right, though, so I made yet another eye appointment with them instead, for the following week. They found that my prescription was a bit different than what the last exam showed, and that the glasses were a bit off as well. So I ordered another pair of glasses from them (which have yet to arrive); then I went back to America's Best, showed them the new prescription, pointed out the discrepancy in my existing glasses, and they promised to remake the lenses for me (which also have yet to arrive). I headed home and proceeded to have a very nice Thanksgiving weekend with my wife, daughter, and extended family.
3. Out Of Mind
This brings me to last Tuesday, when I decided I would make an appointment with a doctor because I was very tired and seemed to be much more oddly aware of floaters in my vision. Since I am extremely nearsighted, so they tend to be more of a problem for me than others, but they'd grown particularly prevalent lately. Neither of my two recent eye exams had found anything particularly wrong with my eyes. (That is, other than the America's Best optometrist saying, "Gee, you have a lot of floaters, don't you?" Yeah, lady, thanks. I knew that.)
Floaters scare me, because they are a much-ignored part of the eye, considered to be more or less a nuisance than anything else. They also scare me because there's basically no cure for them. There's one laser therapy that seems to be considered rather dubious, and one surgical procedure called a vitrectomy which is about as dangerous and unpleasant as it sounds.
Anyways, I say I made an appointment with a doctor because there was no way in hell I was going to be able to see my doctor, as in my family's doctor for the past decade or so. He is apparently so in demand that he is booked well into the Second Coming. Or mid-January, at least. So I set up an appointment for that evening with a new doctor.
The appointment followed the typical routine: vitals taken by a nurse, and then the doctor comes in. The first thing the doctor said when he arrived was that my blood pressure was abnormally high compared to my previous readings, and that I should keep tabs on it. Then he went through questions about my family history and about my current symptoms, went through a few various tests, and said I should have blood work done at a lab since it had been a while since I'd had it done. He also said he wanted to rule out any connective tissue diseases, since my aunt has lupus and my father died of sarcoidosis. As a last bit, he prescribed Wellbutrin for me, believing the fatigue might be due to depression (which I have suffered from off and on throughout my life).
I have always been a nervous individual, catastrophizing on a regular basis, but I never considered myself particularly hypochondriac until my dad died. Suddenly death became a very, very real thing, and I began to imagine I had all sorts of diseases. The Internet empowers a hypochondriac to a ludicrous degree, of course, with its incredible repository of knowledge, conjecture, hearsay, anecdotes, and complete disinformation. So what did I do the moment I got home? Why, I looked up the symptoms of lupus, of course! Fatigue, muscle/joint aches, temporary loss of cognition... I fit a ton of these symptoms! And in that moment, I diagnosed myself with lupus and went into full-blown panic attack mode.
This was nuts, of course. I hadn't even had the blood work done. I didn't have many of the symptoms, particularly the most prevalent (rashes). And I'm a guy -- lupus usually hits women, not men. But that didn't stop me from propelling into a full-blown freakout, larger than anything I'd had previously. I'd had mild anxiety attacks, sure, but never that "I'm going to die" panic attack feeling.
Wednesday morning I had the blood work done, managed to trudge through work without much trouble (albeit also without much productivity), and went back home. Thursday something was very wrong. While at work, my heart felt like it was pounding, and I felt like I couldn't get enough breath. I couldn't eat anything, either. Seeing that this was another panic attack, I decided I'd go home... but I wasn't much better there. I was compelled to stay in bed, asleep, under the covers. Any time I tried to get up I was assaulted by feelings of panic and terror, directed at nothing at all in particular.
I had the doctor paged, saying I needed some sort of help. Turns out it was the Wellbutrin; apparently the side effects for me were heightened anxiety and paranoia, precisely the opposite of what I needed. He prescribed a sedative as a short-term solution to help calm me down. Another appointment on Saturday revealed that my blood pressure was normal again (probably had been a temporary stress-related condition), and had me return to Paxil CR, which I had been on a while back.
4. Recapturing Clarity
The floaters still persist sometimes, though, and they are teaching me an interesting lesson. You see, they're always there, for all of us, but our brain usually "tunes them out". And if I am calm enough and concentrating on something, I tune them out too... but I'm having trouble doing either of those things, and when I can't, I become aware of the floaters again. Then it just becomes a spiral of annoyance leading to anxiety and frustration, which just makes it worse, et cetera.
I still have yet to receive my glasses with the corrected prescription. It is possible that something is going on optically that makes it harder for me to ignore them. Maybe the prescription is just slightly out of whack enough, I don't know.
But I think the problem is largely psychosomatic, and this is where the "power of the mind" bit comes in... because there are times when the floaters are simply gone -- although they obviously aren't physically gone. My brain just wills them away, and wills them back, just like that. After experiencing this, I can totally see how somebody could end up losing motor functions, or sight, entirely due to psychological factors. It just might be that some sort of wiring in my brain just fizzled out and is causing me to "relearn" how to subconsciously ignore them all over again.
I just hope that I can relearn it. (Unhelpfully, anxiety about being "stuck this way forever" makes things worse.) I do believe that things will be okay in time, and I'll return to feeling centered and clear-eyed. Hopefully this will happen before I run out of Ativan, though.