A friend who is a rehabilitation therapist in China told me some interesting observation he has had while treating myopic children. He noticed that for those children who are more anxious, their myopia progressed faster, versus those who are calmer. So he asked me whether anxiety and other psychological factors may contribute to myopia development and progression.
Now I know that when I was 10 and started becoming myopic, I had a lot of anxiety and depression, for the reason that I could not see the blackboard in class! Every school year we went to the hospital to have physical exam and the vision exam was the most anxiety-inducing. I would squint, guess, and peek at the tumbling E beforehand trying to memorize them. My face became red and my hands sweaty. Yes I am ashamed to admit that I cheated in the vision screening in elementary school to get away with a failed report to the teacher and my parents. Why did I do that? As a child I could not describe it exactly. But I did not want to wear glasses and became different from everyone else. Plus, as a straight A student, a failed test in any form was not acceptable.
More and more I found it difficult to see the board. I would nonchalantly walk up to the board then back to my seat (fortunately I sat in the middle so did not have to walk too long to disturb the other students). I would peek at my desk mate’s notes to see what’s going on. I became afraid of math classes because the numbers were small. Eventually I had to tell my parents that I had trouble seeing the board. I remember feeling ashamed when I had to tell them. It’s as though I contracted a disease that I should not have. Though the science at the time was not clear, at least to me, I knew that I was to blame for becoming near-sighted. I was always reading, day and night. Not necessarily school-related, but I was hooked by fictions, story books, magazines and newspapers, anything that had prints on them. Outside classroom, I would read on my own. During summer and winter vacation, I would still be reading books from the library. My dad who’s a teacher and scholar, was the role model that I took after. He did not stop my prolonged near work. My childhood home was very dark, with rather dim lighting. Plus my dad also had myopia though my mom had hyperopia. Thus odds were really against me and no surprise I was among the early ones in my class to wear glasses. That was in the early 1990s, at age 10 I developed myopia while majority of my classmates were still emmetropic. Today probably majority of kids in a 4th grade classroom are wearing glasses. Times have really changed.
I remember going to the hospital to have my eyes examined. The doctor put eye drops in my eyes, I had to wait for a long time, before someone put a strange-looking frame on my face and showed me a bunch of different lenses. I was asked to read letters on a chart, and I felt strange that I was able to see some tiny letters. I had to say that this cycloplegic trial frame refraction was up to American standard even to this day. Thanks to my small town ophthalmologist, I was finally able to see. I was -2.00 in both eyes that day and I no longer had to walk up to the board to see small prints.
Back to our question on myopia and anxiety. My own experience told me that as a myope without glasses, I definitely felt anxiety. After wearing glasses, my vision was back, but I felt a kind of depression because I had to rely on glasses and I hated having to glasses. I went through all 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I thought that if I looked far away long enough, my eyes would be back to normal. I was mad at myself for abusing my eyes without a break on those stupid books. I constantly regret it and promised I would trade in some years of my life in exchange for normal eyesight. I was depressed that I had to wear glasses and looked ugly. Eventually of course I accepted this imperfect aspect of me. After all, there were so many other things that were not perfect so why focus only on myopia?
As an optometrist, myopia is one of the most common conditions we treat. It’s so common we almost consider it ‘normal’, routine and benign. We rarely considered the psychological aspect of myopia, when in reality this condition hit children and adolescents, who are at a vulnerable age.
Now the science part of this article. Research has shown that myopic teenagers had more anxiety than their peers, and boys with myopia had more anxiety than girls with the same condition 1. However, personality profile and psychophysical stress do not seem to play a primary pathogenetic role in myopia 2. So that is good, you can feel tortured by the fact that you need thicker glasses, but the sadness alone does not make your eyesight worse.