Back in high school, I faced major test anxiety — particularly the SAT, which I totally bombed.
These days, I’m stressing out about the midlife equivalent of the SAT — the annual eye exam.
I’ve needed glasses since fourth grade and watched my vision nosedive ever since. By my 20s, I needed a stronger prescription than my 70-year-old grandmother.
Thanks to my annual eye exam, my aging insecurities bubbled to the surface. Would I need reading glasses on top of my contact lenses? Did my astigmatism worsen? Is macular degeneration setting in?
I feared the arrival of my eye exam postcard in the mail. It taunted me with its ageist wording by brazenly stating:
Dear Lisa, it’s time for your annual eye exam with Dr. Goodsight. Please call our office to schedule your appointment.
Oh sure, it sounds innocent enough. But I could read between the lines:
Dear Lisa, since your days as a four-eyed fourth grader, your eyesight has plummeted like Roseanne’s TV reboot. We urge you to learn braille and get paired with a good guide dog to help you maneuver through Target. Stop avoiding the inevitable — don’t make us hunt you down! Schedule your eye exam today.
At least that’s how I took it.
With dread, I scheduled my appointment and went into SAT mode, prepping for exam day.
• I practiced reading street signs at night.
• I decoded restaurant menus in dim lighting.
• I deciphered tiny directions on a bottle of Tylenol.
I felt prepped but panicked, wondering if I could still conquer an eye chart at 52.
My eye-exam anxiety kicked in high gear as I walked into the optometrist’s office. “Nurse Ratched” appeared out of nowhere to lead me through the preliminary testing.
“Try not to blink,” she barked, as I propped my chin into a machine, pressed in my forehead, and focused on a spiraling design. After a 30-second eternity, my blinkless stare gave way to stinging and watery eyes, causing me to lose focus. Crap! I blinked. Did I fail?
Up next — the peripheral vision test. “Focus on the black dot in the center of the circle,” Nurse Ratched teased. She gave me a clicker to press every time I saw a dot light up around the circle’s perimeter. There’s one. Click. And another. Click. Blink. Crap! Did I miss one while I blinked? Click. Click. (Just in case.) A long pause without any dots made me panic, thinking I had temporarily gone blind. Did I fail again?
With apprehension, I headed back to the exam room and removed my contacts. The optometrist switched off the lights and told me to focus on the eye chart on the wall.
“Read the line that you can see most clearly,” instructed Dr. Goodsight.
A line? Without my contacts, I could barely see the optometrist.
Next, she positioned my head into another machine and asked, “Which one is better … one? Or two?” Pause. “One? Two?” As I hesitated, she repeated, “One? Or two?”
STOP PRESSURING ME!
With my prescription now dialed in, I got another crack at the eye chart. I hokeypokey-ed my way through the exam as I covered my right eye, then my left eye.
Finally, the moment of reckoning arrived — the test results with the inevitable change in prescription.
Instead, my doctor said the words I longed to hear since I was 10: “Your eyesight slightly improved since last year.”
What’s this now?
Apparently, it’s a phenomenon that happens sometimes in middle age. But I’ll take this win. At this point, it feels like I just aced the midlife equivalent of the SAT.
Lisa Beach is a freelance journalist and copywriter with work appearing in publications including NYT and GH.
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