Our Journey with the Bates Method
By Caroline Mills
I first came across the Bates’ method whilst browsing in a bookshop in my early twenties.
I had been prescribed glasses at the tender age of 7 or 8, and was told that I needed them every waking hour as I was both short sighted and had astigmatism. I was told that as my mum was short sighted too, it was likely that my prescription would get stronger and stronger as it was in my genes, and nothing could be done. The optician decided something might be able to be done for my astigmatism so insisted that my parents do “exercises” with me, which involved them bringing a lollipop stick marked with a small cross towards me and away from me repeatedly for 10 minutes every evening. My dad did this religiously with me but after a month or so, I found it extremely tedious and couldn’t think of anything worse to do with my evening so started to dread it, especially as I didn’t have any faith that it was making my sight better. And sure enough, it didn’t as to this day, I have astigmatism.
Even though I was young, I clearly remember feeling as though I had somehow failed, and I absolutely dreaded the thought of wearing my horrid pink framed glasses to school. So for a few months, I simply didn’t! As soon as I got to the school gates, I hid them in my pocket and pretended to my granddad who took me to school that they were dirty and needed to be cleaned. I got away with my little trick until parents’ evening when my mum asked my form teacher how I had been getting on with my glasses, and was told that she didn’t know I had any!
From then on, I was made (by my parents and the school working in coalition!) to wear them at school, at home, all the time. And soon I simply got used to it as they told me I would, though I always hated them as they made me feel ugly and somehow different to everyone. I longed to fit in. I was lucky that I was at a lovely school and nobody in my class teased me, although I have clear memories of one of my cousins whom I really looked up to, asking to try my glasses on, and being shocked at how strong the lenses were and commenting to the whole family. I remember feeling very small. So, glasses did nothing for my confidence or how I felt about myself. And they did nothing for my sight as I started to dread the six monthly optician’s appointment where I felt completely useless that I couldn’t read every line or that sometimes even when I could see a letter, I wasn’t sure what letter it was. I stopped trying to read through fear of being wrong and simply let the optician prescribe whatever he wished. So my prescriptions got stronger and stronger throughout primary and then secondary school.
From the summer before university however, I simply stopped wearing my glasses. To be honest, it was purely for vanity rather than because of a conscious decision that glasses were no good for me. But I immediately felt better about myself. From being a very shy girl, I became outgoing and confident. I felt as though I was someone. I didn’t at the time put it down to being without glasses although in retrospect, I think this was more than a significant factor.
I managed to get through four years at Cambridge University which included a year in Paris without wearing my glasses at all – and even managed to pass all my exams and not get lost in a foreign country! Who said I couldn’t see?!
But deep down, I always felt a bit naughty and rebellious that I wasn’t wearing my glasses because my sight was so bad. And then, in my mid twenties, a routine eye examination picked up the presence of drusen (some sort of deposit at the back of my eyes). I was referred to the hospital and told that I had early signs of age-related macular degeneration and there was nothing that could be done but the condition may eventually lead to blindness even though it was not currently affecting my sight. So when I came across one of Dr. Bates’ books, I was extremely interested as it seemed to offer a way of actually improving my sight without the use of dreaded glasses.
So, for a couple of weeks, I did try the Bates method on my own, but without the help and encouragement of a teacher, I didn’t feel confident that I was doing the exercises correctly and with a busy social life getting in the way, I found it difficult to commit the time to trying it out properly. Bates isn’t something where you see immediate, miraculous results and lacking the commitment to carry on with it, I simply forgot about it and carried on with my life.
So, ten years on, and having gone through law school and the start of a career as a City lawyer, I got married and then fell pregnant. In terms of glasses, I would wear my glasses at work as I didn’t feel confident that I could see well enough without them but not otherwise.
I had a terrible (though much wanted) pregnancy, and was confined to a chair or bed for about four months due to a crippling case of symphisis pubis dysfunction. It was a terrible and very painful time, and I started wearing my glasses all the time, partly because I had lost my freedom and independence so was stuck at work or home.
And then when my beautiful baby girl, Alexa, was born (completely naturally I am proud to say), I wore my glasses all the time out of fear that I would somehow miss something important and not be able to protect her if I took them off. What if I couldn’t see a car coming towards us when we were out? What if I couldn’t see something dangerous at home and it hurt her? Plus, I was incredibly tired and not really thinking about myself at all. My weight had ballooned from a size 8/10 to a 14/16 as I had been so inactive throughout half my pregnancy and I had lost a lot of self confidence and myself to some extent, and turned my focus in life solely to my perfect little daughter.
In the first few weeks of her life, I and the rest of the family noticed that she would always open just one eye when she first got up and equally when she was sleepy, she would close one eye. It was the sweetest thing, and as a newborn baby, nobody thought any more of it.
However, when she was about four months old, my mum noticed that one of her eyes would drift outwards when she was tired. I started watching and noticed that although it was her right eye most of the time, sometimes her left eye would also drift outwards. I left it for a month to see if it would go away on its own but when it didn’t, I took my gorgeous girl to the doctor who diagnosed squint and referred us to the hospital. I was so worried but hoped that the hospital would say something could be done to make her fine. (I didn’t have the realisation then that she was fine – you just want your children to be well and healthy more than anything and my wish for Alexa from before she was born was that she would get her daddy’s wonderful 20/20 vision and not my terrible sight!) As I write this, I can almost hear Lizzie telling me that my eyes are perfect too – and they are – but as I said, I hadn’t discovered Lizzie or the Bates’ method then.
So, at just 8 months old and in perfect health, Alexa had her first trip to the hospital (since her birth of course). The doctor examined her eyes and then said that we should come back in six months as Alexa wasn’t tired so had not exhibited any signs of squint. The same thing happened when we returned the second time. So she was set free for another year. I asked the doctor if there was anything I could do in the meantime to help her, but was told there was nothing to be done but adopt a wait and see approach.
When we went to the hospital this summer, Alexa and I had an awful experience. The appointment was after lunchtime so it was Alexa’s naptime. Sure enough, as she grew tired, her right eye started to drift outwards and then when she tried to focus that eye, her left would drift out. The doctors had finally appreciated that I wasn’t mad. So what did they do? Well, they put some horrible stinging drops in her eyes to dilate her pupils so they could check her eyes properly. She was very upset by this but with my cuddles, managed to sit admirably still for them to examine her eyes. She was then told to decipher endless pictures of cats, ducks, cars etc so they could test her vision. After about five minutes of this, she was bored and simply stopped and refused to tell the doctor what the pictures were. She started crying instead, asking whether we could go outside and play with the toy kettle in the waiting room. Diagnosis? Alexa was already borderline shortsighted, and was likely to need glasses for short sightedness in time. Also, she had alternating strabismus which they would keep an eye on. I asked how it would be treated in the future, and was told that if patching didn’t work, Alexa may need surgery at some point. At this point, huge alarm bells were ringing in my head – this was my perfect little girl who only showed signs of a drifting eye when she was tired. The doctor had said that her vision appeared to be developing equally so why suddenly were they mentioning the possibility of surgery? I felt helpless but was told that nothing could be done to improve her sight but to wait and see.
Not content with that response, I scoured the internet to find natural therapies which might help her eyes get well – even when they’re tired. I found a website with Bates’ practitioners – and was attracted to Lizzie’s page as she particularly mentioned working with children. We had had such a difficult time at the hospital and Alexa and I were both slightly traumatised by our experience that I wanted someone who was positive about working with children. Lizzie was exactly that and more!
I had also found a contact for a vision therapist (not really knowing what they did!) in North London but had been put off when I called them as they discussed putting Alexa in glasses as a means of getting her out of them. I didn’t understand the theory behind this and was adamant that my daughter would not have to wear glasses if I could help it – but not at the expense of her eyesight!
So, within a week, we had an appointment to see Lizzie, our new Bates’ teacher. Luke, my very supportive husband who was happy to try something new which might help Alexa, came along with Alexa and I to the appointment. I was refreshed to see that all Lizzie did with Alexa was to play games – albeit games which really helped Alexa use her wonderful eyes – which Alexa loved. (Alexa is a very lively, bright and active child). She was less good at palming as it involved sitting down and relaxing – not what my two year old likes doing in the morning! But over the months, she has really improved and sometimes, she sits and palms of her own accord when as she puts it, “my eyes are tired, Mummy”. Lizzie made us see that there is nothing wrong with Alexa – when she is tired or stressed, her eyes simply drift in response to that stress. When I am tired, I always get a cough and in the same way, Alexa’s stress is seen in her eyes.
Lizzie made us appreciate also that at Alexa’s age, she copies absolutely everything we do. Although Luke has 20/20 vision, he quite often sits staring at the TV, laptop or his Ipad. Equally, I was wearing my glasses all the time, so Alexa naturally would have thought that that was the norm. So Lizzie encouraged me to have some Bates’ classes too as more than Alexa, it was I who needed help to see.
How right she was! With a prescription of -5/5.5 in each eye and a strong prescription of astigmatism too, I was determined not to let my child’s eyesight difficulties be due to my own weaknesses. So, having had one Bates’ class, I stopped wearing my glasses altogether in September. Drastic, yes but I have never looked back.
Within a week, my daily headaches from eye strain at work stopped. I also changed my diet according to Lizzie’s advice (having fruit for breakfast, fruit and nuts for snacks, cutting out sugar, bread and cereals, having lovely salads and soups for lunch and a normal balanced dinner with meat or fish for dinner).
I started using my long walks to work (I walk two miles each way) to use my eyes in a positive way, trying out principles of shifting from something near to something far, counting chimneys on roofs, seeing what I could read across the road, looking at textures of trees and leaves from near and from far. Within a couple of weeks, people were commenting about how bright my eyes looked – and I had noticed too.
I felt so much healthier and really got a positive outlook. I even managed to lose a stone and a half in weight – and without dieting, just making a few changes to my diet, none of which involved hunger.
I also started palming twice a day – once in the morning when I get up and last thing at night before I go to bed. For the last couple of months, I have also tried sunning once a day, most days of the week. Luke too now does some palming when his eyes get tired after too much computer use. Even though his vision is really good anyway, he says it helps with the eye strain.
And then after about a month, I noticed that on bright days, I could actually see people’s faces across the road and read things that I couldn’t have read before from across the road. I even managed to read at church – something I would never have trusted myself to do without glasses before. So, the Bates’ method has truly been a revelation to me – and one which I am still learning to appreciate. I can’t promise when I will see perfectly although I do get the occasional glimpse every now and then when I really can see as I should without my glasses. It doesn’t last for long yet but the improvements I have seen in such a short time only encourage me to feel confident of my continuing progress.
What I have really learned also is the connection between emotions and vision. It is so clear that when I am relaxed and the day is bright, I can truly see more clearly. And when I am tired or just generally out of sorts or the day is dull, my sight is much less clear.
In December, I did have a moment when I was unsure of what Bates could do for Alexa, and Lizzie can vouch for my worry as I bombarded her with emails. But Lizzie reassured me that Alexa can see – she is fine and just needs encouragement to continue to use her eyes in the way they should be used. The only problem is my fear. My fear that something is wrong with my daughter when there is nothing wrong with her in the same way that I was made to feel something was wrong with me. Society makes you worry about every little thing, particularly your health, and they are so busy overtreating every little thing, that in the end, conditions only get worse. I have learned that the hard way! And I faced that fear when I rang the hospital to cancel Alexa’s appointment.
As a parent, you only want the best for your child, but it is interesting that when the best does not correspond with the conventional approach, you are made to feel as though you are almost neglecting or abusing your child. My husband and I had decided not to give Alexa the MMR jab due to concerns over its safety and the risks did not outweigh the benefits. Yet, we were and continue to be made to feel as though we are the most irresponsible parents around when I feel that quite the opposite is true. Cancelling her hospital appointment felt much the same. The receptionist asked if I wanted to postpone the appointment to a later date. When I said no and explained that I was not interested in Alexa being seen by the doctor for her strabismus, I was put through to a consultant. I had to explain my reasons for not wanting Alexa to be seen. I told the consultant that I was following the Bates’ method, and that in any case, the hospital had already told me that they could only wait and see if Alexa got better and if she didn’t, patching and surgery were her only options. I said that I was not happy with these options and that my child would not be undergoing surgery when there was nothing wrong with her but the occasional drifting of one of her eyes when she was tired. I was then called back by the senior consultant and made to set out my position again. For any parents out there who are faced with something similar, please stick to your arguments and do not let someone else control what is done to your child unless you are fully satisfied that that treatment is right for your child. Yes, you do need to be brave and incredibly responsible but if I can do it, you can too!! And I can promise you that you will feel so much better knowing that you are doing the very best thing for your child!
And so my journey with the Bates’ method continues. I appreciate my vision so much more than ever before. And I will do all I can to ensure that Alexa grows up appreciating her vision – without the need for glasses.