May 21, 2013 9 Share

Seeing Clearly

Woman holding glasses in one hand and rubbing eyes.

April wasn’t only Autism Awareness Month. It was National Stress Awareness Month too.


Last month I started having difficulty seeing. Initially I attributed it to my new eyeglasses. Everything seemed to be pixilating in the center of my left eye. It wasn’t just those annoying floaters. Any text I stared at seemed to fade out, as if a shimmering dark cloud was moving across the page. It felt like holes in my vision. I had a headache that waxed and waned but never quite disappeared. I, who pride myself on my proofreading skills, was suddenly missing typos. Writing became hard. Reading was exhausting. Driving was a white knuckle experience. I stopped doing the New York Times crossword puzzle because I couldn’t make out the numbers in the grid.

I Googled my symptoms. I know, I know. Bad idea. Of course I scared myself. I read about posterior vitreous detachment—strands in the vitreous gel inside the eye, common after cataract surgery, especially if you are nearsighted. Retinal detachment. Pituitary tumor. Macular holes. Ocular migraine. But with ocular migraine, I read, the symptoms resolve between headache bouts.

Mine didn’t.

My ophthalmologist sent me to a retina specialist. She dilated my eyes. “I see a very small hemorrhage, but I don’t think that’s causing your symptoms,” she said. “You can get that just by bending over. I’m going to torture you a little bit. We’ll inject some contrast dye to get a look at the blood vessels behind the retina.”

For a nanosecond I pictured the eye clamp scene from “A Clockwork Orange.”

As soon as she left the room I whispered to my husband Marc, “The ‘torture’ part is just injecting the dye in my arm, right?”

“I’m sure it’s the dye,”  he said reassuringly.

I signed consent forms, and a technician took more than a dozen temporarily blindingly bright flash photos. I returned to the doctor, my sight now a blurry pink haze. She clicked through the images on the computer screen. “That inverted smoke stack shape?” she said, pointing. “Classic presentation of central cirrus.” Cirrus? Like a cloud formation? I pictured wisps of water vapor drifting over the surface of my eye.

“The good news,” she said, “is that it generally resolves with time.”

“So what causes it?” I asked.



“We see this most in men in their 30s and 40s, who have ‘Type A’ personalities.”

Which I am assuredly not.

But stress?

Why yes. We’re intimately acquainted.

And the last few months have been intense. My autistic son Mickey has landed in the emergency room twice: for kidney stones, and for a painful abscessed cyst requiring surgery. We’re struggling to figure out what he will do once he turns 21 this year and exits the school system. (That’s what they call it—exiting. Not graduating. But that is another column.) Last month was filled with psychological assessments for Mickey. Educational evaluations. Doctor appointments. EEGs. Seizure medication changes. A new consulting engagement out of state for Marc that requires him to live all week in a hotel.

I went home and looked up “central cirrus.” Google corrected me: central serous. It had nothing to do with wispy or funnel shaped clouds. I squinted at the screen to read: “Central serous retinopathy: An eye disease which causes visual impairment, often temporary, usually in one eye, characterized by leakage of fluid under the retina. Stress appears to play an important role. CSR can re-occur causing progressive vision loss.”

It’s not just the episodes of acute stress. It’s the chronic concerns that grind me down. Sometimes I feel like the Bill Murray character in the movie “Groundhog Day,” locked in a time loop and endlessly repeating my days. When Bill Murray’s character eventually learns the lesson he most needs to learn, the loop ends. He moves on to a next day. But does that analogy hold up? When you have a child with special needs, you’ve signed on for life. Do you ever truly move on?

I hope so. Because like the proverbial canary in the mineshaft, my eye is an early warning system. It’s telling me I need to learn something critical: how to pace my anxiety. If I don’t figure out how to modulate my reactions to the stress in my life, I’m going to be in serious—not only serous—trouble.

“I’m getting a doctor’s note for a live-in masseuse,” I tell Marc.

But beneath the joke is a darker truth: Stress kills you.

And special needs parents need to live forever.

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I became extremely ill three

I became extremely ill three years ago with a sudden bout of vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, tremors and more. After two trips to the ER they have me Xanax. When I went to my doctor he told me I was lightheaded because my blood pressure was low. Well almost two years into it - and having every test imaginable done - I finally realized it was all stress related. Funny thing is that when I first went to the ER the doctor asked me if I was stressed and I said "no". No? Was I crazy? Two kids on the spectrum, a husband working 60 hours a week and no one else to help me? I was in serious denial. And just this past year the panic attacks came back. I also experienced eye problems this time. My vision was clouded like I was walking through fog, and my judgement while driving was completely off. It was awful and scary. Thankfully when you realize it's all stress related you purposefully take time to rest. You change the way you handle stress. And you learn to pick your battles. It has also put me in a better place emotionally to evaluate the situation when one of my kids has a meltdown. It's been a tough few years, but it has actually helped me become a better, more patient person. It has also helped me realize that I have been handed a challenging life and it's okay to fail sometimes.


Life's journey

While life is so rich with all of its intricacies it is also exceptionallychallenging.  There are countless random things that pop up, likeland mines, out of nowhere. I have read many of Liane’s pieces, and of courseempathized with her though her family’s journey.  Liane writes with a relatable honesty thatcaptures all of our hearts and emotions.


Once again, Liane manages to

Once again, Liane manages to offer us  a genuinely heartfelt and sincere piece about the realities of parenting a special needs child. What makes Liane's work shine is that there is never a hint of (well-earned) self-pity, but instead her wry humor and her wonderful ability to inform and enlighten us without lecturing us. Thank you.


Beautiful and moving

Your last line says it all....the uncertainty of how Mickey will manage in the future hangs over you every moment. Once again you have so beautifully shared your thoughts, you bring tears to my eyes even as you give strength to so many parents who are unable to voice their fears and feel so alone. 



Brilliant--and oh how I feel for you dearest Lee. You are an angel--and don't they live forever? But ser-ously, I hope you get that live-in masseuse. No one deserves it more. Take care. Be kind to my dear friend.


Stress reduction - let me talk to a human

The inability to reach a human on any phone system is a major cause of stress to me.Followed by 'you just need to fill out a form'.Precious time is wasted trying to complete a simple task because your question isn't one of the canned responses.Our whole society is built now on avoiding talking to customers. ( with the exception of TD BANK)As special needs parents we have to deal with more red tape than other people and the impossibility of speaking to a person who could actually deal with my issue is the biggest stress inducer that I have.   


After reading this, I am just

After reading this, I am just speechless.


Great article

Liane: Thank you for sharing your story-I have just come through a very stressful period and have been quite depressed (but getting better thanks to my awesome therapist and psychiatrist). It is so important for autism parents to be consious of the effects of stress and to do their best to get help when the load is too much.Am sharing-THANK you


I've read about how stress

I've read about how stress can cause physical illness, but I've never read it linked to the chronic stress of raising and caring for an autistic child. Liane shares the information and her emotions so honestly.