If you have a lazy eye, or strabismus, then you know why this article even exists. If you don’t, you might think that we are being dramatic or imagining things, and maybe we are, but imagined or not, meeting someone new when you have strabismus can be very stressful and I’m here to help.
I have lived with strabismus for 34 years, and for most of my adult life, my alignment was pretty bad. Only recently, after vision therapy and surgery, have I realized the relief of not worrying about my eyes wandering.
In those 34 years I have experienced SO many experiences of people asking me, “are you looking at me” or giving the dreaded over-the-shoulder-glance to see what I am looking at. I have never been a huge fan of these inevitable parts of meeting new people when you have strabismus.
But, I have developed some great ways to make meeting new people easier, less anxiety ridden and more fun and I want to share that with you!
7 Tips that can help anyone with a lazy eye (strabismus) meet new people with ease.
- Don’t Overthink it
- Don’t layer emotions
- Prepare Ahead of Time
- De-emphasize your eye-turn with a head tilt
- De-emphasize your eye-turn by looking at the right place
For most of my adult life, I had no idea how severe my eye turn was. You can read all about my experience discovering it a few years ago.
I share because I think it is interesting that when I had no idea that my eye turn was so bad, meeting new people wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t make the connection that I had to call on people multiple times in class because of my eyes. I didn’t give it more then a split second thought when someone looked behind them when I talked to them.
Then I realized the truth and it broke me for about a month. I was devastated and didn’t want to leave the house. I became paranoid about meeting new people and felt depressed.
Slowly, with help from a life coach and lots of introspection, I realized that my eye was exactly the same, only my thoughts and perception of myself had changed. I was able to accept and find confidence in new ways.
What if it’s okay to have a lazy eye? It’s something to consider.
I have a feeling that there are going to be a lot of people offended by this article, that think I am taking a physiological problem that they have no control over and making light of it.
I just want to say that that is NOT my intention. I am going to try to take the drama out of having a lazy eye, which will probably rub you the wrong way at first. Try to be open to this, I PROMISE that it is a more peaceful way to live your life. And if you need to, send me some strongly worded emails, I can handle it.
Here are my 7 tips to having successful, engaging and stress free interactions when meeting new people!
Don’t Overthink it
How do you meet someone new when you have strabismus?
Walk up to them, reach out and shake their hand and say, “nice to meet you, I’m ___________.”
In my experience, most people don’t even notice the strabismus or eye turn. If you were to show a picture, then yes, it’s very obvious, but in real life, there is so much movement and motion going on, it’s harder to notice. In fact, I did a little experiment last year when I was obsessing over my huge eye turn and I would purposely start up conversations with complete strangers and look them right in the eye and wait.
I would carefully watch their eyes and see how they responded to my obvious lazy eye. I felt like a scientist collecting data.
Were they looking from eye to eye? Usually, a bit.
Did they look over their shoulder? Rarely.
Did they ask me where I was looking? Almost never.
So 9 times out of 10, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. People aren’t that observant and can generally tell that you are talking to them if they do notice your eye turn. Especially if you aren’t doing things that accentuate the problem.
And they don’t care near as much as you do. So just pretend like you’re talking to your mom or sister or dad or best friend and carry on with business as usual.
You can set the mood for any conversation.
When you smile, hold your head high, make eye contact and exude confidence, people subconsciously realize that you don’t care that your eyes aren’t perfect and they join you in that boat. They may even admire you and envy your confidence.
I had a cousin confide in me after I started posting and opening up about my lazy eye. She said “I watched you and how you didn’t care about your eye. You smiled, made eye contact and had so much confidence. I realized that we all have imperfections and they don’t need to limit us.”
When you look down, talk in a low voice and frown, you exude insecurity and the idea that “something has gone wrong here.” They will join you in that boat and may even avoid talking to you and if they are unkind, may even make rude comments in an effort to ease awkwardness (sometimes unkind people behave so…blah).
Imagine how you would feel if your eyes were completely perfect, and then just choose to feel that now.
Don’t layer emotions
Imagine a scenario with me.
You are at the grocery store walking down the aisle and someone in front of you drops their purse. You notice, and call out, “excuse me, miss, you dropped your purse.”
She turns around, looks at you, looks behind her, looks back at you and asks, “are you talking to me?” all while you have been looking at her the whole time.
Yuck, does that make anyone else feel uncomfortable? Even though this hasn’t happened to me in several months, it brings back all the emotions of experiencing this sort of thing a million times throughout my life.
But do you want to know how to take something that is justifiably “uncomfortable” and make it 10x worse? Let me show you the thoughts/emtions that take you there.
- “This is uncomfortable” (discomfort)
- “I hate my eyes” (loathing)
- “I wish that I were different” (sadness)
- “Everything is hard with strabismus” (discouragement)
- “That lady is so rude” (anger)
- “I can’t believe she would make fun of me like that” (judgement)
- “I will never be able to make any new friends because of my lazy eye” (hopelessness)
For some reason, we take a situation that could have simply been a little uncomfortable and set our brain loose to turn it into something that is much worse.
Do you want to know what is worse than discomfort?
Feeling loathing, sadness, discouragement, anger, judgement and hopelessness added on to discomfort.
What if you interrupted your brain next time this happened?
What if you just thought, “this is a little uncomfortable,” allowed yourself to experience the discomfort and then moved on. The human experience is going to be uncomfortable at times, what if you allowed it instead of letting it spiral?
Prepare Ahead of Time
If you are teaching a class or going to meet new people, be ready with thoughts and words that will help you be the person you want to be.
Here are a few scenarios and some of the ways I have chosen to manage them, but these might not work for you or your personality. Give it some thought and plan out things that would work for you!
When someone looks over their shoulder, what do you want to think, say or do?
- Their brain is just figuring out what my eyes are doing, they will figure it out in just a few seconds, I can wait.
- It’s fascinating that all human brains respond to a lazy eye the same way, with a quick backwards glance.
Helpful Words (said with confidence and love, not snarkiness)
- “Oh, I am looking at you, I know it can be hard to tell, this (point to straight eye) is the eye that works.”
Two weeks ago I was at Wal-mart and I was talking to a cashier and found myself automatically looking over my shoulder. While I was turning my head back, I realized my mistake and after looking more closely at her eyes I realized that she was like me. She had strabismus, a lazy eye.
I felt awful.
How could I commit the unpardonable sin of looking over my shoulder when talking to her? I KNOW BETTER! I have been on her side and I hated making her feel how I knew she was probably feeling.
I tried to make up for it with lots of eye contact, compliments, and friendly conversation.
But I learned something really important. Our brains are computers and when they see something out of the ordinary, they immediately try to make sense of it, before we even have time to respond. People looking behind themselves is not rude, it’s an automatic response.
If we can think of it in that way, how much better does it feel??
When someone asks “Are you looking at me?” how do you want to respond?
- This person cares enough to ask
- They may be insecure and questioning their own self image
- It is hard to know, I’m glad they asked instead of just walking away or avoiding me
- “Yes I am, just ignore this eye over here.”
When someone teases you, how do you want to react?
- I am lucky that my eyes help weed out people like this and invite people who truly don’t care which way my eyes are pointing into my life.
- They must not understand strabismus
- They feel uncomfortable and are doing the best they can to handle it….and their best really sucks
- I don’t have to surround myself with people who are negative
- I think the most powerful things to do is just give a solid “I am confused” look to them. You know, head tilted, eyebrows up, eyes squinted.
- Agree with them. If they say “your eyes are so weird!” Don’t get defensive, just say, “Right? I have strabismus.” If you agree and move on, it takes the fun away and kills the teasing. All of those amazing comebacks that we think of while lying awake at night are NOT going to make these situations better, I promise.
- You don’t have to say anything, just walk away and FIND NEW FRIENDS!
De-emphasize your eye-turn with a head tilt
If all the touchy feely, “change your thoughts” ideas aren’t ringing true for you, here are a couple practical solutions to make your lazy eye less noticeable.
If you take a lot of selfies you may already know these things, but turning your head slightly to the left or right can really make a huge difference in how your eyes appear.
In general, just turn your head slightly in the direction that your wandering eye points. So if it is pointing out to the left, move your head slightly left, if it is crossing right, turn your head slightly to the right. This balances the eye turn between the two eyes making it appear less obvious.
These pictures were taken after my strabismus surgery in August, but before my surgeon adjusted my sutures so my eyes were pointing in quite a bit. My eyes were SUPER gross and goopy so I did B&W to spare you the details. (click to read about the surgery and sutures)
So my right eye (left in the pictures) is my eye that is problematic. Notice my ears in each picture to be able to see the slight head tilt. Depending on how I moved my head, my eye turn looked more and less obvious.
These pictures were taken before I had surgery when I had exotropia.
Super obvious because my head is tilted away from the lazy eye angle. Less obvious because my head is turned slightly towards the lazy eye angle.
This is something you can play around with. When my eye went out, I discovered that in pictures and in real life that if I could stand on the left side and turn my head slightly to the right, towards the direction of my lazy eye, it was much less obvious.
This isn’t something to obsess over, but it does make a difference.
De-emphasize your eye-turn by looking at the right place
This is another little trick that I discovered once I got into full selfie mode with my website and instagram. It is similar to the head tilting and has the same effect, but it feels a little more natural.
I realized that if I looked directly at the camera vs just to the left or right, it totally changed the way my eyes looked. Again, it’s not going to make it go away, but it takes away the confusion from whoever you are meeting which can relieve some stress for you.
Less Obvious More Obvious
For exoptropia (eye turned out) just look at the opposite eye. For esotropia (eye turned in) look at the same eye.
If your right eye turns out, then look at their left eye.
If your left eye turns out, then look at their right eye.
If your right eye turns in, then look at their right eye.
If your left eye turns in, then look at their left eye.
This is such a small thing, but it does make a difference. When your eye turn isn’t as noticeable, people can easily tell that you are talking to them and you can avoid a lot of those issues.
Hopefully, you were able to find something in this article to help you.
Turning your head, or looking at an eye that de-accentuates your eye turn can make new greetings less uncomfortable, but you are still going to experience some discomfort and that is okay! That is part of being a human. It’s hard for me too.
Be ready with helpful thoughts that will generate feelings of peace, understanding and gratitude and I PROMISE you will feel better, no matter how that conversation goes.
How can I fix my lazy eye (strabismus)
Strabismus and lazy eye are extremely complicated eye conditions and there is no one right solution. Combining vision therapy and surgery is a great way to get lasting results. The surgery makes the eyes physically straight, and the vision therapy teaches them to stay in that position and work together. Different combinations of these two disciplines are needed for different cases, find a developmental optometrist and pediatric ophthalmologist that can help you!
How can I make my lazy eye look better in pictures?
Use the same principles of head tilt that I discussed in this article and it will make a huge difference. Instead of looking directly at the camera, look just to the left or right (depending on the eye turn). For a left eye that turns out or a right eye that turns in, look just to the RIGHT of the camera. For a right eye that turns out or a left eye that turns in, look just to the LEFT of the camera. These are slight adjustments, nothing crazy, but they should help!