A worm's eye view of an adult holding the brim of a hat. There are skyscrapers towering around them and a bright sun shining overhead.

Light Too Bright

When I was a kid, I would stare into the sun while riding in the car. My mom told me not to but I did it anyway. My small act of childhood rebellion. I would look through the window, up at the sun, and wait for my eyes to adjust. When they would, for only a moment, I could see dark circles on the face of the sun. It was exhilarating. I felt I was capable of seeing something other people couldn’t. What I didn’t realize is that I was likely damaging my eyes. But I didn’t care, I was 8.

I never thought light could hurt me. That was until I developed Thyroid Eye Disease in 2018. With the onset of the disease came a sudden shift in my relationship to light. The dial of the sun turned up to an unbearable level. I would walk outside and go blind within a few steps. I became aware of how bright lights were in stores and classrooms. White light bulbs were way worse than yellow ones. Sitting in a waiting room always made my eyes hurt.

When lights become the enemy

At first, it was uncomfortable to deal with the light. And then the pain came. It hurt…a lot. The feeling was so particular. The only way I can accurately describe it is it felt like my eyes were being burned from the outside in. I lost my ability to hold any resistance against it. I’d see light and I couldn’t see anything else. The pain was new, startling, and disarming.

Driving at night became almost impossible. Headlights coming from the other direction were catnip for my eyes. It was very difficult to ignore the cars as they drove past me. Every light at night lit up brighter than I had known before. The streetlights and traffic lights appeared almost neon. Everything seemed off. I had been transported into an unfamiliar reality where lights became my enemy.

Finding comfort

Trying to have any semblance of comfort, I added a baseball cap and sunglasses to my everyday wardrobe. I bought a New York Yankee hat (I’m a fan of the city, not the team) a few months before I developed TED. I bought it thinking I would probably never wear it. I was wrong. It became a piece of armor, protecting my eyes from the blaring enemy. I’d catch myself in mirrors when walking through stores. I’d pause and take in my reflection. I looked like a celebrity trying to go incognito. For years, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the house without that hat on.

As my TED improved over time, lights dimmed. I can walk into a store without being in significant pain. I recently bought a new blue baseball cap with good vibes written on the front. Even though hats have become less of a necessity in my day-to-day life, I do wear them every once and a while. My relationship with the sun is less rocky. I can walk outside again with my glasses on without becoming instantly blind.

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