Reading and Visual Fatigue: A Personal Journey


It took me awhile to figure out why I hated wearing my glasses, why my eyes got so tired as a young girl.  I was born with medial strabismus, a hereditary trait that causes cross-eye.  With modern day surgical techniques I was able to follow family footsteps in correcting ocular alignment.

My brother’s surgery resulted with an eye infection. Subsequently, he had permanent damage with blindness in one eye for his lifetime. My ‘cosmetic’ surgery was considered successful, still risky, leaving me with residual visual issues. One is intermittent reading.

As a toddler I wore eye glasses or eye patches and followed the nagging of my mother to do eye exercises. These techniques strengthened my ocular muscles.  At one years old I had my first surgical procedure. The second at age sixteen brought self confidence because my eyes finally worked together.  Depth of perception changed and I was less tired when I read chapters on end. Although, double vision occurred with inadequate rest.  Reading in moderation was fun again. This so-called “cosmetic” surgery became more then appearance.

The ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.” Malcolm Gladwell

None the less, my parents took a huge risk knowing what happened with my brother.  The doctors didn’t explain to my parents what happened to him. They chalked it up to obvious cosmetic issues.  It may seem like I talk about this matter casually, but the truth is I still struggle with it emotionally and physically.

I was teased a lot growing up.  Kids were mean.  The countless experiences of kids ignoring me on purpose because they were freaked out. They couldn’t tell which direction I was really looking. They didn’t believe what I was seeing, ‘looking’ straight at them.  I was awkward with my coke bottle glasses, clumsy due to visual perception issues, and always tired in attempt to keep up with my schoolwork.  Likely I faked the ability to read. That is, until my second surgery.

The more painful memories surface in consideration of my leaders.  I felt ostracized, invisible and mortified. Teachers scolded me: “Look at me when I am talking to you.”  I was young so my insight was poor to rationalize an explanation of why I had no control over my eyes drifting.

The taxing journey to prepare reading at my “full potential” was solely spoken of in regards to the physiological aspect of my eyes working.  I’m still working through the psychological, language, and cognitive aspect of it all.  Some days I can’t read when I feel distracted.  Stress causes an inability to read. Often I have to stop all together because I can’t comprehend what my eyes see. Sleep, frequent breaks, good lighting, and avoiding microscopic fonts reduce issues.

It’s miraculous that I made it through graduate school with all my visual issues.   To this day my eyes don’t consistently ‘team up’.  I use my right eye for reading and left eye for looking far away.  They remind me I’m not normal. Sometimes I challenge my normalcy but end up on the ground when testing my right eye to help with focus during yoga balance poses.

There’s a test available for everyone.  It’s an image of a box and a dot. The viewer looks at a box with their left eye and a dot with their right. If your eyes team up, you’d be able to see the dot inside the box.  Ugh! I can’t see the darn dot in the box!  Reading with my left eye is like trying to write with my non-dominant hand.  It takes twice as long to process, plus my eyes fatigue rapidly.

One previous work experience left a most impressionable struggle because my grammar required constant editing. It required rising before the sun while maintaining life on less than five hours of sleep a day. The commute required a focused 90 minute drive one way during itchy-eye allergy season. The grueling singled spaced reports exceeded eight pages of constant straining to edit text. The job demand trumped proper eye care. The feeling was a total shut-down on both my eyes and brain.

It took near failure and exhaustion to become an advocate on the seriousness of the issue. My ego had to step-back to allow my occupational therapy skills to go to work on my wellbeing. I asked myself, ‘if I had a client presented with the same complaints, what would be the Productivity Plan?’

Here’s the occupational plan I implemented:

CONTEXTUAL  Advocate for additional time after defining my visual deficits; implement air-purification systems; use natural light;

OCCUPATIONAL DRIVEN  Edit in peek-performance morning hours; increase the size of all font; edit one paragraph at a time; read aloud, plus use auditory feedback for improved processing; work with a wellbeing advocate to resolve the following observed issues (FYI the optometrist told me nothing was wrong with my eyes):

  • Binocular vision – the ability to point both eyes accurately so that a clear three dimensional image is seen. It is also referred to as eye teaming.
  • Accommodation – the ability to change the shape of the lens inside the eye so that a clear image can be seen whether close or far away. It is commonly called focusing and should happen accurately in a fraction of a second.
  • Eye Movement Skills – the ability of the eyes to move smoothly or in a rapid jump movement so that the most sensitive part of the eye is regarding whatever is of interest.
  • Laterality* – knowing your own left and right.
  • Directionality* – recognizing left and right orientation in other things.
  • Visual form perception* – ability to recognize and copy shapes and patterns.
  • Visual memory* – ability to recall and recreate shapes from memory. This skill is essential for spelling.
  • Visual Motor Integration* – hand-eye coordination

*Visual Processing skills

SENSORY   Omega 3 supplements to reduce dry eyes; eliminate using Claritin.

My advice is to get the right players involved that are interested to address all the performance issues. It was disheartening the optometrist neglected to pursue my reading and visual fatigue observations that plainly caused work stress and fatigue. There are health and wellbeing professionals, including occupational therapists that specialize in visual performance.

The good fortune here is my parents were willing to support my wellbeing needs. Taking the necessary risks gave me a second chance in life. It was called ‘cosmetic’ but I believe my ocular muscles would be lax from overuse. There are four more times I may go through with the same surgical procedure. Two down, two to go! The ocular muscle scar tissue may be severe but, alas! technology is advancing.

I contemplated sharing this rather personal journey, but I value GIG readers interest in whole-being.  Writing this was quite cathartic for me. I awakened the realization of what a gift it is to be able to read! Vision is precious, quick to dissipate. With that said, it’s time to rest my eyes.