10.28.2016

What Optic Neuritis Looks Like (Halloween Edition)

If you haven't had optic neuritis, you might not know what it looks like. Or maybe I should say, you might not know what it's like to look when you have optic neuritis. 
I've had optic neuritis three times now, all associated with multiple sclerosis, and should say right off the bat that no two episodes (for me) have been identical. The first time I had it, it was "just" painful with no real vision loss. The next two episodes involved vision loss. (I've also suffered from diplopia due to a palsy to the 6th cranial nerve, but that's something for another post.) 
The following image, doctored in PhotoShop, is my best effort to show what it's been like for me to look through my eyes when I have optic neuritis. The image at left is full clarity, the image at right is my rendering of what I have seen when suffering from optic neuritis. Some people also have color blindness (of various kinds) when the optic nerve is inflamed and/or being gnawed on by the white blood cells, but I haven't experienced that. 

So at right you should see an image that is darker/dimmer, a bit blurred, and then inconsistent: splotches abound that are darker and lighter. Fortunately, for me, I've generally had one eye working while the other is dimmed and screwed up, so it hasn't been impossible to see. 
So what's it like to experience vision loss due to optic neuritis? Of course, I can only speak for myself, but in a word I'd say disorienting. Clichés like "You never know how much you rely on your vision until you lose it" come to mind. My job, I quickly realized, is entirely vision-based. And then the vision loss is not just optical, it becomes psychological, as it's a daily reminder of the larger challenges and causes associated with having MS. 
Fortunately for me, most of my vision loss has been temporary. (Yes, I'm knocking on wood while I write this.) Losing the ability to see in a periodic way is both unsettling and relieving: unsettling because you never know when it's going to happen, but relieving because it's tended to come back. Another cliché: today I can see clearly enough to doctor up some images in PhotoShop and post a bit about optic neuritis. It's a good day.  

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