So, what is “normal”, anyway?
The dictionary uses the synonyms “usual”, “ordinary”, “habitual”, and “accustomed” to define normal. So, then, your normal is anything that you’re used to, and my normal is anything that I’m used to, right? As creatures of habit, we can become pretty comfortable in our normal.
Throughout my childhood, I got good grades in school, and I did pretty well in the extracurricular activities my parents signed me up for, too. Back then, kids played outside a lot, playing ball, riding bikes, flying kites, climbing trees, jumping rope, and all that good stuff. I had skates and stilts and a skateboard, and a pogo stick. We played games like badminton and hopscotch and jacks and air hockey and ping pong and pool….not the virtual stuff – the real deal. So, thankfully, my childhood was, you could say, pretty normal. (Today’s childhood normal involves much more TV, video games, iPads, smartphones, and much less of that real stuff. But more about that another time.)
My little quirks, like constantly squinting or closing my left eye, tilting my head, and writing with my paper turned completely sideways were my normal, so I don’t think anyone ever really noticed or thought anything about it. It was just who I was. I was just one of those kids who had the tendency to get queasy on car trips. I was just one of those kids who bumped into stuff a lot and had some sleep issues, and anxiety, and low confidence.
As a young adult, I started having panic attacks, often triggered by corridors, or highway driving, or big, open spaces. By my early thirties, I began to have chronic back pain, which seemed to evolve into other problems over the coming years, like knee, and shoulder, and neck pain. And headaches. I didn’t know that vision directs posture, which in turn affects pretty much everything. Bright light started to bother me more and more. As much as I had always loved reading, by the time I was in my forties I found that I could barely read a few pages without the overwhelming need to go to sleep. So, all of these things I just chalked up to getting older. My new normal.
Responsible mother that I was, I always made sure my kids had their annual check-ups, immunizations, bi-annual dental cleanings. Yet it never occurred to me to have more than the standard 20/20 vision screening they get at the doctor’s office. I assumed that if they had a vision problem, they would tell me. Surely they would know if their vision wasn’t ‘normal’?
Several years ago, (feeling rather disenchanted with the direction that our educational system was heading) I left the teaching profession. All these years later, my eye-patch-wearing days long forgotten, I had become interested in learning about functional vision and becoming a vision therapist. The more I learned, the clearer it became. I now recognize the symptoms I’d unknowingly ignored over the years, simply because they were my normal.
Looking back over my years as a teacher, I can see the faces of some of those former students who’d had me wondering…why was it so hard for some of them to read? …write? …pay attention? Why didn’t it occur to me that learning might have something to do with vision? That the eyes are a part of the brain, and that just like we learn to crawl and walk, we learn to use our vision to guide us. That optimal visual skills are necessary for optimal learning and, well, living.
I wish I’d have known then what I know now about vision…for my sake, for my daughter’s sake, and for the sake of all those children in my classroom over the years.