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I'm Too Young to Have Reading Glasses . . . Right? Wrong!

The 20/20 fade is a natural part of the aging process

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Cute Dog Wearing Funny Glasses
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"Hold on … let me get my glasses.” By my unscientific count, this has been my mom's most-repeated phrase over the past few decades, replacing the long-popular “Call me when you get there.” She can't read an urgent text message or look at a vacation photo without reaching for the plastic frames I'm sure she picked up at the corner CVS. But it's fine. I understand. My 91-year-old grandma uses a magnifying glass to do the newspaper crossword puzzle. My other grandma slid glasses on the bridge of her nose when she needlepointed. It's a fact that the 20/20 fade is a natural part of the aging process.

The above rationale was cold comfort when I finally dragged myself to the optometrist at age 41. To make a frustrating anecdote short, I have reading glasses. They're nondescript oval brown frames, and if you look closely, you'll notice a yellow tint in the lenses to help reduce the glare from tech screens. I take them out of a bright-green case and put them on when I need to process words or flicker images directly in front of me — which is, oh, nearly every waking moment. I'm dismayed to report that I don't look especially hipster in them. And I can't quite pull off the Tina Fey intellectual vibe, either. They're strictly functional and, if I'm being honest, my most necessary accessory.

I blew off the warning signs, despite my tendency to bolt to urgent care on a dime and frantically Google medical symptoms. I wasn't fazed that I could barely decipher sports scores on my phone and squinted while poring over magazines. I rationalized that I was strengthening my eyes when I leaned in so close to my laptop that I could make out with the screen. Headaches could be solved with Advil and dimmed lighting. I treated my delay of the inevitable doctor's appointment as a game. And ever the competitor, I was determined to win. To give in was to admit I needed a visual crutch, probably for the rest of my life.

It's not that I cringed at the mere thought of glasses. I wore a pair in school when I had trouble seeing the blackboard. No big deal. I didn't need contacts and felt a bit of smugness whenever I saw a friend futz with solution. But a new pair … in my 40s? They didn't just represent a quick, artificial fix to my nagging eyesight problems. Glasses were an SOS, a surefire signal that the trusty body that had served me well for so many decades had begun to deteriorate. I fretted that corrective lenses were the first stop on the road to osteoporosis and Depends. Indeed, I finally scheduled the appointment not because my headaches worsened and because the words on a page started blurring together, but because I was changing insurance and I figured I might as well take advantage of vision coverage while I still could. I failed the eye test with impressive flying colors.

The doctor attempted to lessen the blow by explaining that after age 40, we have a harder time viewing things clearly when they're up close. The medical term is presbyopia. (I Googled it, obviously.) As we age, changes occur inside the lens that cause it to lose its flexibility. We also lose a bit of control over the ciliary body muscle — which allows the lens to change shape and can keep items in focus — and it becomes less elastic. Experts have concluded that it's a combination of these two things that causes us to develop the condition and to start picking out frames that complement the shape of our face.

That's the sobering news. But, to paraphrase my mom, hold on. Because for all my years of hemming and hawing, I haven't spent one moment ruing the day that I was fitted for my reading glasses. Beyond the obvious medical benefits of, you know, the ability to read without squinting, there's a psychological bonus that I never expected. Every time I put on my specs, I feel a bit like Clark Kent. Seriously. The glasses are my superpower that enable me to be stronger and to literally get the (writing) jobs done.

They're a daily physical reminder that I had the wherewithal to troubleshoot my medical problem and, as a bonus, accept exactly where I am in my life. For the first time in a long time, I can see clearly.

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