1980 was a good year for me. I was a freshman in college. And, instead of putting on the Freshman 15, I lost it, did my hair and make-up, and got a couple of new outfits. I officially peaked the day before my Geology 201 final.
The next morning, I woke up with my right eye swollen shut.
I made a bunch of wild guesses on the cause of that. Stress? Could be. Allergies? Definitely had those, so I took some antihistamines. Pink eye? Stye? Other? I didn’t have time to go to a doctor, so I skipped the mascara and tried not to be contagious.
In a day or so, it went away.
In a month or so, it happened again. That time I went to a doctor. They went through the same list of diagnoses I had given myself, declared it pink eye, gave me some eye drops that didn’t help, and sent me home.
And it happened again. And again. And again. It usually happened a week before my period. When I told that to doctors, they usually looked at me like I was crazy and told me that the only consistent predictor I could give them had nothing to do with anything. Then they gave me the same eye drops I’d already tried and sent me home.
So I slept with my head elevated, yelled at myself for excess salt intake, and gave up make-up for all but the most special occasions, like my wedding. I was always scared to death that days like that—days were there’d be cameras— would fall in the week before my period and I’d wake up looking like I’d been someone’s punching bag the night before.
After a couple of years, I had a permanent spot of crepey skin on the eyelid. After ten years or so, I found a particularly bad tempered eye doctor who gave me a diagnosis. Blepharochalasis syndrome. It was really rare. It wasn’t an allergy, though they didn’t help it. It was probably autoimmune.
:Great,” I said. “How do we stop it?”
“We don’t,” he told me. The treatment was to wait until it stopped on its own and to get surgery to fix the mess.
“That’s not fair,” I said.
“Who said life is fair?” he said. Did I mention he was kind of a douchebag? I went home in tears. A week later, he sent me a letter saying he was interested in my condition and wanted to study me.
I ripped it up.
Some more years passed. Sometime after age 40, I had the worst outbreak ever. Half my face was swollen. The eye was bright red. I went back to Dr. Douchebag who took his nurse out in the hall and yelled for five minutes that she had not correctly tested my vision, while I sat trembling in the exam room. Then he sent me to more specialists.
They were fascinated. They poked my eye with sticks and asked me questions about spiders and wasps. Then, they asked me again, because they didn’t believe I’d swelled up like that without help from some outside agent. And I went through the same song and dance I’d been doing since I was 19. No, my husband did not hit me. No bugs. No food allergies. No. No. No. It just does this, sometimes.
This was my own personal super power. I couldn’t fly or turn invisible. I had a useless facial deformity that made people greet me with “Hi, Chri… OH GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR EYE?”
They gave me some prednisone, which worked real well until they tried to taper me off, and the eyeball itself swelled up. Yeah. That hurts as bad as you would think. It also looked like a movie special effect. But after a month or so, things settled down. After that, I considered the problem to be “in remission.”
Of course, in remission means I haven’t been forced to wear large dark glasses for a month straight to keep from frightening my own children. And I have one permanently baggy eye, a fear of cameras, and a tendency to brush my teeth and do my hair with my eyes closed, which makes me think there is probably something very screwed up with my personal body image. I also have a field of vision cut to the point where even my incredibly cheap insurance company admits I have a problem. Not enough to pay, of course. I get to count it towards the deductable.
My son is dealing with auto immune kidney problems and my mother now runs the risk of breaking out in boils when exposed to sunlight. Until recently, those of us closest to her blamed this on the fact that she was a soul-sucking vampire. (Thank God for anti-depressants. We were ready to resort to garlic and holy water). Mostly, I think it’s proof that, genetically speaking, we are a pretty screwed up family.
But I am finally going to do something about it. Despite the fact that the money I’d set aside for surgery just went to buy a new fridge, I am getting my eyelids fixed next week. And since I am special case, even the plastic surgeon is not sure how this will work out. It may reactivate the old condition. For all I know, when she makes the first cut, it will unleash the demon that brings on the apocalypse.
If so, sorry about that. The end of the world is Tuesday morning. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
It may make things better. It may make things worse. Or maybe, no one but me will see a difference. I am pretty sure I’ll look different than the picture on this site, since I already do. That pic is ten years old and heavily ‘Shopped.
There is a chance that I am unintentionally about to do the full Renee Zellweger. Everyone made a big deal when America’s squinty-eyed sweetheart showed up with eyes wide open, claiming to be ‘rested’. Maybe she was just like me. After a couple of decades of it, I am tired of walking around with my brows forced up in a state of perpetual surprise, just so I can see on the right side. I would like the luxury of resting bitch face and not resting, “What’s wrong with your eye?”
So, if you or anyone you know sees Christine Merrill at RWA this year and wonders, “Did she have some work done?”
The answer is, yeah, she did.