Coping with middle-aged eyes

I don't need reading glasses yet, but the future is staring at me and it is looking kind of blurry

One of the small irritations of married life is how I have become my husband's keeper.

Keeper, that is, of his wallet, his XXL-size smartphone and his glasses - sunglasses, reading glasses, driving glasses and, more recently, progressive glasses.

Before I got married, all my handbags were small, about half the size of a piece of A4 paper. But I could comfortably fit my wallet, lip gloss, compact, car keys and smartphone in them.

That was all I needed when I went out. I felt light, free and easy.

Since marrying H, I've had to upsize my bags.


ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

It started with a "can you hold onto my wallet", which I had no problem with, not even when I had to store his phone too.

But it irritates me to have to take charge of his glasses. There are too many pairs and it doesn't help that some of the cases are huge. His Oakley sunglasses case is the shape and size of a baby papaya. Try fitting that into a micro-bag.

What's worse is how he is constantly switching his glasses.

Take last week when we were out shopping. It was a very hot day, so he drove with his sunglasses on. Once we parked the car, he handed them to me for safekeeping.

Inside the mall, he asked for his reading glasses to check out price tags. He gave them back to me when he was done.

When we headed back to the carpark, he wanted his sunglasses as it was a bit of a trek to the car and the sun was blazing. I had to dig into my handbag for them.

Inside the car, he decided to use his driving glasses and so we did another exchange.

By then, I was glaring at him in exasperation. Since when did I become his personal butler?

Maybe you should carry your own bag with your glasses next time we go out, I said.

You know, I continued, we are acting like a truly middle-aged couple. Old people are always fumbling for their specs. You never see young people passing glasses back and forth.

At the moment, it is only him who needs these multiple pairs of glasses.

He used to have perfect vision, but when he was in his mid-40s, he started needing reading glasses. In the last few years, he's also become slightly myopic and was prescribed distance glasses, which he sometimes uses when driving.

An optician recently suggested progressive glasses, so that has joined the family.

I don't wear spectacles, but I know it is a matter of time before I do.

Over the past few months, my vision hasn't been as clear as it used to be.

It is especially wonky in the morning when I wake up and look at my phone. My eyes take a longer time to adjust than before.

Then when I get into the office and read the newspapers, the letters don't seem as sharp and I have to strain my eyes to read properly.

I like to think the reason is poor lighting or that my eyes are tired from too much staring at computers and my smartphone.

But, in my heart, I know it has to do with ageing.

My eyes, like every other part of my body, is breaking down.

Presbyopia - or what is known as lao hua yan in Chinese, or old-age eyes - is part of that process.

Presbyopia happens when the lens inside the eye thickens and becomes more rigid, losing the flexibility to focus on objects close and far away. Reading at near range becomes more difficult.

There is no cure for presbyopia. Implant operations that can help you read better aren't mainstream yet, as far as I know. The best option is wearing reading glasses.

The thought of this depresses me on two fronts. The first is the idea that spectacles will once again play a big part in my life and the second is how I am ageing.

For 35 years of my life, I had myopia and a severe case at that.

I started wearing glasses when I was eight and by the time I was an adult, the refractive power for my right eye was 775 degrees and 825 for my left.

If you stood an arm's length from me, I wouldn't have been able to make out your features. It was horrible living in such a fog.

I went through countless pairs of glasses. I can still remember the weight of thick frames sitting heavily on the bridge of my nose and the pain when metal nose pads cut into the skin.

I remember the panic of accidentally breaking my spectacles, which always happened at crucial moments like just before an examination. I remember the discomfort of my glasses fogging over in the shower.

Then there were the long years of wearing contact lenses, the endless bottles of cleaning solution and the eye infections.

In December 2007, I went for Lasik surgery to correct my myopia.

To this day, Lasik ranks as the best thing that has ever happened to me. I look back with fondness at the operation. The experience was almost pleasurable.

I had opted for monovision in which my left eye was fully corrected for distance vision and my right eye a little under- corrected to accommodate near vision.

Monovision meant I would be able to stave off reading glasses for more years than if I had both eyes perfectly corrected.

It has been more than eight years since my Lasik surgery and I have been very, very happy with the result.

The ability to see clearly - both near and far - without the help of spectacles has been magical. Not a week passes where I don't feel grateful to the surgeon who operated on me.

In fact, it took three to four years after the surgery before the novelty and wonder of having good vision finally sunk in and I was no longer afraid that I would wake up with hazy vision.

But as I said, something is happening to my eyes.

In the last few months, my left eye has more problems focusing when I'm reading, while the vision in my right eye has become more blurry when I look at faraway objects.

Because my mother is at risk of glaucoma and I always worry I might get it, I went to get my eyes checked (not the surgeon who did my Lasik).

The doctor found no signs of glaucoma, but said that my left eye (the one with good distance vision) has presbyopia of 150 degrees.

He gave me a prescription for reading glasses, but the slip of paper is inside a drawer at home.

I tell myself that if I can still read a book and a menu without squinting, I will postpone getting reading glasses for as long as I can.

It's not just the inconvenience of living with glasses, but because, let's face it, they are the most visible sign that you are growing old.

There are many ways you can fight ageing or hide it.

You can colour your grey hair, you can exercise to fight middle-age spread, you can have filler injections to plump up your face and you can slap on anti-ageing face cream.

But once your eyes grow old and you can't read, there's nothing you can do but wear glasses.

A colleague who started wearing reading glasses when he was 46 put it this way: "Life is always giving you little signals that you're getting older. Having to wear reading glasses is the strongest signal because sight is the most important of our five senses."

Having presbyopia has changed his life. It dictates the sort of books he now buys - he has given up on small-print books - and the type of lighting he uses. It has also made him more vain - he admits how he spent quite a bit of time choosing the right rims.

Another friend says he is really frustrated about having to wear reading glasses because he had perfect eyesight all his life.

Of his old-men glasses, he says: "I try to make the best of the situation by wearing hipster specs." He has many pairs - one in the car, one in the toilet, one in the bedroom and another in the study.

For sure, vanity is one big reason I'm not surrendering to middle-aged eyewear.

I look geeky in spectacles although I've read that wearing glasses in middle age has some advantages. The right eye frames can help hide the wrinkles, rings and bags under your eyes.

There's also the matter of how to carry those reading glasses around. Should you perch them on your head? Wear them on a chain round your neck? Clutch them in your hands?

But I am whining.

I know what having bad eyesight is like. I have nothing to complain about now and, in fact, so much to be grateful for.

The day will come when I will have no choice but to get reading glasses, but so be it, that's life.

I will be in the same boat as H then. I suppose I have to start preparing to carry even bigger handbags.

•Follow Sumiko Tan on Twitter @STsumikotan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'Coping with middle-aged eyes'. Print Edition | Subscribe