At 21 years old, you think you’re invincible…until a horse flips over on you and lands you in the hospital. On October 27, 2012, I sustained a severe concussion from horseback riding when the horse I was riding reared up and fell over backwards. I was released from the hospital the next day, but I was pretty out of it for a long time. The most persistent symptom from my concussion was double vision.
The double vision refused to go away. A few days after the accident I had another CAT scan, which did not turn up any residual brain damage. I went to my eye doctor in December 2012, who insisted that the double vision would simply go away after a time (it didn’t). I went to a chiropractor in the spring of 2013 who adjusted the vertebrae in my neck, which made the double vision go away except for a corner in my right field of vision. After that, I assumed that I would always have it, which affected my ability to work in my chosen field – training horses and working in a barn – in such a negative way that I was starting to think that I would have to quit riding altogether.
I persisted in bugging my eye doctor until he told me about something called Vision Therapy. I looked it up and read a lot of information about how it is used in children with learning disabilities or people with visual disabilities; there was not a lot about head trauma. But by this point I was willing to try anything, so in January 2014 I started Vision Therapy with Dr. Davis with CJ as my therapist. Now in July 2014, the double vision is almost entirely gone, and I now have the tools and abilities to improve my vision if fatigue makes the double come back.
The problems with my vision were such that I could probably have lived with them, though not very happily. I could still drive and function fairly normally, though if I got tired, the double vision became worse.
And, of course, I could not jump the horses as easily because it was difficult to focus on a specific point and hold that point as I galloped towards it. If you have ever jumped a horse, then you know that it is a critical part of jumping to see the top of the fence and hold it in your focus, because that is how you see the “distance.” At best, I could hold the entire fence in my vision and hope to hit a good stride; at worst, the jump blurred in my sight and then I really had to kick on and hope for the best!
Obviously, this was not an ideal situation for a young rider who hoped to compete at the highest levels in eventing. My coach told me very seriously that he could not in good conscience send me out on a cross country course without knowing whether or not I was seeing double. So with a lot of support from family and friends, I pursued vision therapy.
Dr. Davis specifically designed my sessions with intensive activities that targeted my issue: head trauma, as my double vision was a neurological problem. The activities focused first on strengthening each eye separately – monocularity – then on making the eyes work together in binocularity. Throughout the sessions, I became more aware of how my visual system worked and affected my interactions in the world around me. My ability to absorb my periphery without becoming overwhelmed increased significantly. Even before my concussion, I was always the kind of person who had a system overload if I went into a big store like Costco; there was just so much to look at and take in, in such a large space that I was totally exhausted at the end. Now, though, I can go into Costco and come out in one piece! A small outcome of vision therapy, and not nearly as important as the elimination of my double vision, but it was still amazing to note that it was my vision therapy that had changed that.
Vision therapy must be approached with an open mind. The doctors and therapists use a lot of technical language and unusual techniques, and it is difficult to see any improvements in your vision at first. There is a lot of talk about the vestibular system and spinning and binocularity, terms that I can understand objectively but have no real significance in my life. I just wanted to see straight!
But I kept going to sessions, and I kept doing my home therapy exercises, one of which involved reading a chart of numbers on the wall while wearing an eyepatch and walking on a two-by-four. (I got a lot of teasing from my roommate for that one.) After a few weeks of once-a-week therapy sessions, though, I suddenly realized one day that the double vision was receding.
Damage to the visual system from a concussion may not even be so prominent as double vision. It may manifest as dizziness or an inability to focus your eyes as easily. These are minor problems, that could easily be lived with…or easily addressed with vision therapy. The option is there and is not as difficult to access as one might think.
Head trauma is such a broad and unknown area of injury. It can manifest itself in many ways. For me, Vision Therapy was absolutely the solution to my lingering concussion symptoms. I want Vision Therapy to become a more widely known practice; I had never even heard of such a thing until I literally pestered my doctor about my double vision. No one should have to struggle with vision when there is another option that has been so successful.