More to Bates than Meets the Eye
by Liz May
Even though I have had lessons and now teach the Bates Method, I never realised how much my vision had been affected by repressed childhood emotions. In particular it has been feelings of fear and insecurity centred around my mother which have underscored my perception.
Let me tell you my story. Since the age of two and a half, I have had various eye conditions. They began with a convergent squint in my left eye, leading to learning difficulties at five and myopia and astigmatism in my thirties. Nothing too problematic about all these, but I believe they were physical symptoms of suppression.
It all started when my mother disappeared for two weeks to have my brother in hospital. I became angry and confused. In my young mind, I had been abandoned. On my mother’s return, I would have nothing to do with her in the daytime but would rush to her bedside at night for comfort and reassurance.
Soon after I found myself in pink NHS spectacles to help "retrain" my left eye squint. The right eye was patched some of the time. The glasses were intrusive and I was forever being told off for looking over the rims! But in time my insecure feelings must have receded as the squint disappeared and the glasses were discarded.
However, these negative emotions soon resurfaced. When I started school, I could not see to read. Although the letters were clear, they made no sense to me. A child psychologist informed my parents that I was suffering from an emotional disturbance which was blocking my ability to read. I overcame my insecurity with the lady’s guidance and began to read in no time. It was probably dyslexia.
From that point I soared ahead and never gave my eyesight another thought. Then in my late thirties, car registration numbers would momentarily blur. I put it down to two things: a frenetic lifestyle as a manufacturer’s agent and worry over my husband’s redundancy.
In 1992, at the age of thirty nine, the inevitable spectacles for mild myopia and astigmatism were prescribed, specifically for driving and TV. Again I hated wearing them but my work necessitated their use for several hours daily. Gradually those childhood feelings reappeared, as everything and everyone became more blurred. I felt disconnected and less independent. It affected my relationships with friends and family in subtle ways. I tried to hide my fears as my world started to close in.
But all these negative thoughts seemed to be forgotten when I tentatively came out of glasses in June 1996, after being taught by Francesca Gilbert, my local Bates teacher. From then on, my vision steadily improved.
Then in spring of this year I began having recurring dreams about my inability to see in unfamiliar surroundings and darkness. I confided this to Patrick Mahoney, a recently qualified teacher.
He decided to test my peripheral vision. No problem for the left eye but as the card appeared by my right ear from behind, I involuntarily looked to the right instead of straight ahead.
Something was going on here. Patrick then gave me two lessons which made a real impact on me, emotionally, mentally and physically. Those deeply buried feelings of fear and insecurity were released in a dramatic way.
First of all, we went for a drive. How it all came about I am not quite sure, but I suddenly burst into tears, recounting my mother’s death in a car accident. I remember closing my eyes just before the crash. I had not cried about it for sixteen years. In an instant, I realised that my blurriness when driving along unfamiliar roads was directly linked to the tragedy. By the next day, it was as though a great weight had been lifted and I felt wonderfully calm.
Then in the evening, we walked to the local beauty spot where the river meanders through green meadows and deep escarpments. As it grew darker, the woods became colder, damper and more eerie. Patrick pointed out an old tree stump about fifty yards distant. I imagined it as a person. It was rather creepy. Again he tested my peripheral awareness. My right eye felt uneasy but reassured Patrick I was OK, but when he wriggled his fingers from behind, I jumped.
What could this mean? A scene popped into my mind. I was eight years old playing with a friend on our local heath. A stranger approached us and told us of a bird’s nest nearby. We decided to accompany him. It was in a very dark and murky shed. I felt impending danger. I rushed off with my friend but fell over in a bed of nettles (I had mentioned to Patrick at the start of our walk how luscious the nettles were at the side of the path). Luckily I fought the man off, caught up with my friend and we raced home. For some time after this incident, I would look over my right shoulder in fear of being followed. I had not thought about this for almost forty years.
My fear and apprehension about the dark has lessened considerably. My peripheral vision has really opened up, especially on the right side, and my eyesight has improved. I would never have imagined that these emotions could have had such an effect. I can never thank Patrick and the Bates Method enough!
15 August 1999