Contact Lenses and PTSD: Surprising Connections

As part of my on-going Middle Age Immersion, I have been experimenting with bifocal contact lenses. I had little hope of them actually working and had preemptively begun the worrying-process about what I’d do when they failed me. There is no way these things should work for anyone, in my humble opinion.

I’ve had corrective lenses since I was in the fourth grade and have always gotten new lenses from the eye doctor when my eyes are not functioning as I expect. Despite this focus, ehem, on eyes, so much of how the body works comes back to the brain and so too with the eyes. Consider how a bifocal contact lens works: the near-focus and the and far-focus portions of the lens are in front of the pupil at the same time, meaning the brain has to determine which parts of the lens to use to get the best image resolution.

I was marveling at my brain and its tricky ways, enjoying the morning sunlight, as I headed to work on Monday. I maneuvered onto 880 during the morning rush (short-merge, road construction, freight-truck-wheels-at-eye-level to the left and a cement wall to the right, white knuckle-anxiety chaser to my morning cuppa joe), just as the California Report on KQED aired a story on the use of meditation with combat veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The part of the story that really captivated me was when the therapist leading the vets through a guided meditation kept repeating the phrase “…and they’re just like me…” So for example, “I’m walking out of a grocery store and the person behind me drops a jar of pickles that sounds like a bomb. He’s a guy getting his groceries and he’s just like me.”

The idea, if I understood it correctly, is that PTSD impacts the way the brain works, making the part that helps us experience compassion for others take a backseat to the fight/flight part of the brain. By gently leading the veterans through everyday challenging situations and providing them a different way of processing that information, guided meditation helps them re-build or restore the use of their brains’ compassion centers.

Although I am not a combat vet and do not, so far as I know, have PTSD, I have diagnosed myself with a condition I call Patience Deficit Disorder. I’m pretty certain I’m not the only one who has it. I think many people suffering this affliction are my blood relatives, but my research methods are not scientific. The condition, as manifested by me, is most pronounced when I am behind the wheel.

While listening to the PTSD meditation story, I realized that using the same mantra could be the antidote for my PDD. As I was already feeling tense from my perilous morning commute, I started using the mantra right away and it seems to have been very helpful this week. For example, when I’m merging onto an insane freeway during rush hour, I tell myself that the people in those cars are just like me. When someone changes lanes in front of me and stops quickly, “the person in that car is just like me.” When some lost driver sits through a green light, makes their turn at the end of the yellow, and leaves me at the red, I know the person in that car is just like me. When I am late, in the wrong lane, or lost, I appreciate a little compassion from my fellow drivers on the road we share.

Perhaps compassion is the antidote for many of the challenges that tax our minds and souls?

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