My appreciation for a good book is vast and runs deep. Becoming enveloped in the words, being captivated by the stories, getting lost in the world an author creates: it truly lights my soul on fire. Reading and books have become so dear to my heart; but it hasn’t always been this way.
Up until a year ago I hated to read. I would do anything I could to avoid it actually, and it wasn’t until last year that I finally figured out why- and like most things that have happened to me on this spiritual journey, it all started with meditation.
When I started to meditate upon hitting rock bottom, a lot of things within me unleashed- massive amounts of physical and emotional pain, anxiety times a million, dark parts of me that I didn’t know existed, light parts of me that I didn’t know existed, and the list goes on and on- but all that can be saved for another story (or fifty). One thing that started to become very clear (or shall I say unclear) was that something was very off with my vision. Not my vision for my future, my creative vision, my imagination- but my actual, physical vision.
I spent years upon years experiencing brain zapping from anxiety medications, saying things like “I feel like I’m crosseyed,” and trying to read and having all the words on the page blur together. I would experience nausea and discomfort and have to lay my head down and close my eyes often. I would be frustrated that I couldn’t ever remember what I read. I thought these things were normal and issues that everyone else experienced. But it wasn’t until I started meditating that these symptoms intensified (as meditation often brings things to surface that have been buried within) and I started to really notice something was not right. I could barely keep my eyes focused on anything, I noticed that my eyes darted very fast and I often felt incredibly visually overwhelmed by my surroundings (especially in busy places, so LA clearly had me spinning). I often just wanted to close my eyes and curl into a ball because visually things were shaky and sending my mind and body into a panic. What really got me worried was the immense pain I felt in my left eye, and how it felt like it was pulling on its own; a sensation I hadn’t ever noticed before.
One day after months of experiencing these symptoms, driving down 3rd St and feeling this eye pain, I stopped at a red light. A commercial popped up on my Spotify that caught my attention. “Eye discomfort and pain could be a symptom of cardiovascular disease, go get checked today…” This sent a wave of fear through my body, but I tried not to let it get to me. As the commercial continued, I looked up, and there were two eye doctor offices right in front of me, on both sides of 3rd street. Cue the freakout. At this point I had been meditating often, and a lot of synchronistic things had been happening in my life. I decided I couldn’t ignore such an obvious sign, and went home and looked up the nearest eye doctor. This was around the time I started doing everything holistically and swearing off regular MD’s, so I looked up “holistic eye doctor.” The Center for Vision and Development Optometry popped up, I called and made an appointment, and I was in the office in Pasadena the following week.
When I arrived for my appointment I felt a little out of place, it was full of children, children’s toys, and pamphlets that read: “Vision Problems and Autism,” “ADHD and Vision,” “All About Vision and Learning.” I started to feel a little shaky and became a little uncertain of why I was there. Then I started to read the success stories on the walls, most were from children and their parents thanking Dr. Tong for helping their kids do better in school, improving their focus and mood… more uncertainty started to sink in, is this a mistake? Then, I grabbed another book of success stories, and finally came across a letter from a 70 year old man. The letter stated how he had trouble remembering what he read his entire life, and was so grateful for Dr. Tong because he finally was able to read a book and remember it’s content after his vision therapy treatment. Hmm, sounds familiar. Maybe this makes more sense. I glanced up and found a framed note from a middle aged ex football player who had vision trouble after concussions in his sport, thanking the Doc for helping him straighten out his vision as well. As I started to relax and feel a little more positive affirmation as to why I might be here, the eye doctor called my name.
Walking past the booths of kids and their therapists seemingly playing and engaging in fun activities, I walked into the exam room. The exam was unusual and unlike any other eye exam I had ever done, and the doctor explained to me that this was more in depth and more specialized than any other normal eye exam I would get. After finishing the tests, Dr. Tong glanced over everything he had written down as I sat in the burgundy exam chair with anticipation and a genuine uncertainty of what to expect. What he came back with shocked me and changed my life.
“Do you have trouble remembering information after reading, or do you avoid reading?” Yes…
“Do you feel nauseous often or get dizzy, sometimes overwhelmed with your surroundings?” Um, yeah…
“Do words blur together when you read, or do you have to use your finger to keep track of your sentences? Do you experience double vision? Yes, yes and yes…
I felt a little surprised that he was able to pinpoint all these things without me mentioning anything, but I also just thought these were things that most people experienced; so I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this or what new information he would be able to give me. Then, he went on with a diagnosis.
“So, 99% of people with concussions often have problems with their vision after the injury, some more noticeable than others.” OH.
“These tests show you are having trouble with eye tracking/eye teaming.” …MEANING???
“Your left and right eye aren’t tracking together, they aren’t working in coordination. Meaning your left and right brain aren’t quite working together. Both eyes are taking in information separately, which can lead to confusion.” WHAT THE…
“This also means it may be taking longer for information to get to your brain and for you to process what you are seeing…does this sound right?” The tears started to well up…I answered with a very quiet “yes.”
“All of this can lead to trouble remembering what you read, sometimes people even avoid reading because it can become too stressful or discouraging.” I started to immediately track back to 17 when the concussion happened, and remembered the decline in my grades and my avoidance of studying began then…ok…
“It also shows that you are crosseyed, not noticeably by others, but when we look through our lenses it shows. Most people have the opposite affect after a concussion and have trouble crossing their eyes, but you have trouble uncrossing them, which is even harder and more straining.” Shock and disbelief spread throughout my body. I felt as if something inside me shattered, and I burst into tears.
Dr. Tong looked at me with empathy in his eyes, and asked if this resonated with me. I blubbered “yes” and went on to tell him that after all these years of feeling off, confused and not mentally up to parr with others this made so much sense, and that I had no idea that my concussion 11 years ago had had such an affect on me. He explained that these vision problems could play a part in the anxiety I experience and how it makes sense that I was feeling slower than others, why I was unable to remember what I read and retain information like those around me. It finally made sense to me that I often said “I feel like I can’t really see what I’m looking at,” and why I often felt removed. It made sense that it seemed as if my mental function was declining and I was feeling more and more mentally spacey after I turned 25. And for some reason what amazed me most was that this doctor told me I was actually crosseyed, after constantly saying for years and years that I felt crosseyed and not understanding why. I felt relief to finally have some answers that I didn’t even know I was looking for. I felt confused, astonished and excited from all the information. But most importantly, I finally felt heard by somebody who was actually mirroring to me what I was experiencing all these years, after having most people dismissing my symptoms and actually telling me “it’s all in your head.”
Sensing the array of emotions, Dr. Tong assured me that I was in the right place and that he was going to help manage my symptoms, and improve my vision and brain function. His voice did not waiver, and I was confident that he had helped many and knew what he was doing. I signed up for 20 sessions, where I went one day a week for 40 minutes, and had homework to take home each time. The activities that we did each week were ones I had never heard of or participated in before. My therapist got to know me quickly and didn’t allow me to ask questions beforehand. “How does this work, what is it supposed to do… and why??” (At all times, my mind wants to know exactly what we are doing and why, and ends up sabotaging the results in a way by expecting and trying too hard to do it perfectly.) “Just let it do it’s job and don’t worry about it, Jessica.” OK. Every session, my therapist got me to just do the exercises without explanations, and I had no expectations because I wasn’t quite sure what was supposed to be happening anyways.
To my surprise, a month in, I was reading multiple articles on my phone daily. 2 months in, I picked up a book and began to read again. 2.5 months in, I was able to have conversations about what the books was about. 3 months in the eye pain was starting to dissipate. 4 months in my vision felt stable, and I felt like I could process what I was looking at. 5 months rolled around and I was excelling at some of the exercises that had been difficult in the beginning. The therapist told me that meant my parasympathetic nervous system was relaxing and letting go easier, huge news for a person who’s experienced massive anxiety and been in constant fight or flight mode for 10 years. Upon session 20, it was graduation day, and I had completed Vision Therapy. I felt immense gratitude for Dr. Tong and my therapists. I imagined this must’ve been the joyful and grateful feeling the 70 year old man felt for his improved comprehensive skills, and I was thankful that I was able to address this at 29. I saw the appreciativeness of the parents of the children who were patients, thanking the therapists for helping their child who was having behavioral problems, having trouble learning, or was autistic. I came across a woman who had been in a car accident and had experienced a brain injury and was experiencing similar improvements. I was in awe of the synchronicity that brought me here, a place I would have never in a million years known existed, and could have never imagined I would find myself at.
It’s been a year and 2 months since I walked into The Center of Vision Development Optometry, and 8 months since I graduated. I’ve had 3 follow up sessions and my vision remains stable. It definitely fluctuates with the amount of stress I’m under, the amount of sleep I get and the amount I meditate, but the eye pain has not come back and I have at home exercises I was taught to help “work out” my eyes. I feel like there’s always room for improvement and if budget permitted, I would absolutely join in on another 20 sessions of vision therapy.
To this day, I’ve read about 10 books within the year since beginning vision therapy, which is honestly more books than I can say I’ve read in 10 years (I’m not kidding). I actually enjoy reading (I love being able to say this!!) I yearn for the feeling of getting lost in a good book, finding one that is so satisfying that it’s hard to put it down. It’s a beautiful thing to come across a read that is so relatable that my soul cries “yessssssss,” after every sentence and that if I continued to mark all the points I relate to, the entire book would be underlined.
This is why I have such a deep and everlasting appreciation for books and reading now, one that I never had before. The journey behind the process of cultivating this appreciation makes searching for a new read, becoming enchanted in each word, discussing it’s content with others, and closing a good book upon my chest with a smile on my face, and a warm heart, that much more fruitful.
Thank you to Dr. Tong and the team at The Center for Vision Development Optometry, you helped change my life!! <3 <3
If anyone has any questions about vision therapy or about my journey there please do not hesitate to ask! Comment below or email me.