When I was about 14, the worst thing happened. My vision started to blur and it became clear that I needed glasses. I could barely handle being pimply (I was almost caustic!). I simply couldn’t handle being 4-eyed (because wearing glasses makes it look as if you have 4 instead of 2 eyes) on top of that. That would destroy any remnants of confidence I had left after trying deluding myself that my pimples were barely visible.
So instead of getting glasses I jumped right into contact lenses. It took me a while to figure out how to jab something in my eye at first but at least the world was right again. And I can continue on the business of being a pimply pre-accutane teenager.
I wore contacts almost religiously. I never went out in public with my glasses on unless I absolutely had to (i.e. on the plane). I was scared that someone I knew would see me in my glasses. Some friends didn’t even know I wore glasses for years!
And when I discovered daily Acuvue moist during college, I couldn’t go back. It was so convenient and comfortable. I thought I could wear them forever. Who needs LASIK? It was risky and unnecessary.
So life went on. I graduated from college and started work. First as a data analyst in Chicago and then as an investor relations in Hong Kong. I spent long hours staring at the computer. At first everything was fine, I wore contacts all day from 9am to 8pm when I got home.
But then my eyes started to feel dry. It started to become difficult to remove the contacts at night. I was literally trying to peel them off my very very dry eyeballs. And on Friday nights when I get home later than usual, my eyes would feel like a desert. I would try to blink really hard and massage my eyes, but the dryness wouldn’t abate until I removed the contacts.
For the sake of vanity, I ignored the signs and soldiered through.
But then the office next door started renovating and the air got really dusty. My eyes started getting unbearably dry. So I started wearing glasses to work. At first it was temporary. Just until they finished renovating next door. Buteven after the renovations I continued to wear glasses to work everyday. What was the point of suffering through whole days of contact lens anyway? I see the same people everyday, and I didn’t need to impress them anymore. And I don’t look that bad with glasses anyway. My glasses are ridiculously expensive, so I should “show them off” more often anyway. My colleague V’s mantra – only dress up when it matters – started to make a lot of sense. I’ll just put on my contacts on special occasions when I want/need to feel pretty and confident.
At first I would put them on for work meetings and get together with friends. But as time went on, I realize that I only felt the need for contacts when I was about to meet a new bunch of people like at a work conference or a big gathering of not so close friends (who matter) – whenever I was outside my comfort zone. People are shallow by nature and are nicer to good looking people after all. My only remnant of vanity left was when I knew that lots of pictures will be taken and my 4-eyed self will be documented and possibly posted on social media for all of eternity (I.e. on birthdays and vacations).
My mom thought I was “letting go” of myself. And perhaps I was. Vanity just didn’t seem that important anymore. My confidence did not depend on it. I thought that I had finally achieved the promised state of “being comfortable in your own skin.”
Had I? Or had I just found my comfort zone and was hiding behind my glasses?
The turning point came in the form of a new job. The dream job that I had always wanted as a fresh grad. I was not so “fresh” anymore, but I wasn’t married and tied down with kids yet either. It was going to be more work and it would mean leaving the work family that I loved. But it was a career opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. I didn’t even realize I had career aspirations until then.
It prompted me to finally take the plunge to get LASIK. It had always been at the back of my mind, but the idea of surgery just sounded so scary and unnecessary. I heard that many Asian women were susceptible to dry eyes. Why do so few eye doctors themslves not get LASIK? What if I went blind for the sake of vanity and convenience? But as I prepared to step outside my comfort zone again, I resolved to stop overthinking and just do it. There was no question that I will need to put on my game face at the new job. And the prospect of pulling long hours with contacts dehydrating my eyes was just unbearable.
On the eve of my LASIK surgery, I felt nervous and somewhat excited. Not nervous that I will go blind. I have mostly convinced myself that my doctor was the best doctor available and everything will go fine (his overwhelming confidence was comforting). But a more niggling worry was whether I will get used to being back in the spotlight again; exposing all my expressions, dark circles and puffy eyes. Of being seen again. I have been hiding behind my glasses for so long and it has been so easy. I will probably have to wear makeup more often!
You know how when you are nervous, your hands start to sweat, your stomach feels like it is about to drop and your heart starts beating as if you are on a roller coaster ride? Well I felt none of those things the morning of the surgery. Maybe just a little. But nowhere near the level I get pre-job interviews. I felt oddly calm. Perfectly willing to handover my eyes to the ever capable doctor. Unlike in an interview, there was not much I can do to help anyway.
During the first part of the surgery the doctor asked me to lift my chin and don’t curl up (as one tends to do when nervous) so that the laser can get better access to my eyes. It reminded me of the time when I went skydiving. Before we jumped out of the plane, the instructor told me to lift my chin and body like a bird to better streamline ourselves. In both cases, what they asked me to do was completely anti instinctive to what I wanted to do, which was to curl up in my safety ball like an unborn baby. Being the ever trusting and obedient soul that I am under authority, I tried my best to obey. Both times, I realised that there was nothing to curl up in a ball over to begin with.
Both parts of the surgery was over with pretty quickly (it didn’t even feel like 20 minutes!). While it was nerve wracking, it was not as scary as I had anticipated. And there was no pain, just some pressure. You see a lot of light, complete darkness and then light again. Besides needing to cut the flap of my right eye twice and possibly causing the two red bruises on my right eye, everything went perfectly. The doctor was very good. He had a very reassuring and calm quality about him that makes you feel like everything is going to be alright. And that it is not even that big a deal. All I had to do was not move my eye balls.
While you are encouraged to rest your eyes during and immediately after surgery, it is amazing how much one can see during the whole process. I could see in between the two parts of surgery. And I can see directly after. Theoretically the cornea seals within minutes of being placed back, so you can actually already see right after surgery. But just in case it doesn’t stick on 100% immediately, you are encouraged to rest your eyes for the remainder of the day only squinting to see when walking or eating. That was a long night for me. Not being able to see doesn’t suit me. I finally couldn’t resist and squinted to turn on some interesting Ted talks.
I was able to remove the protective glasses and see properly again the next morning. I didn’t exactly get a “whoa I can finally wake up and see the clock” moment. It kind of slowly registered that I didnt need to reach for my glasses anymore. I didn’t have to worry about fingerprints and fog on my glasses. I can wear sunglasses whenever I want. I can travel without worrying about bringing enough contacts. Little things like that made me think whoa. The fact that I was already going out for tea the next day and shopping made me think whoa too.
3 weeks after surgery, I have almost forgotten about life with glasses. If it weren’t the need for constant eye drops and the faint red bruise in my right eye, I think I would forget that I recently had surgery. Life is back to normal. It is amazing how we can adapt to a new normal so quickly. Though today I did notice my eye bags being especially pronounced. I will most definitely need make up when I start work (in 1 day!!). Hopefully I will adapt. In the meantime I guess sunglasses will do.