Thursday, December 18, 2014

Noticeably improved accommodation in myopic right eye

I noticed it this morning when looking at the oven timer.  I noticed that the sharpness of the double images are becoming somewhat equivalent.

For the longest time this wasn't the case.  My right eye is myopic, and since I'd been doing vision therapy, I became aware of the second visual stream.  Then I noticed that the second visual stream wasn't as clear on the right eye as it was for the left eye, particularly for far away objects.

But today I noticed quite a lot of improvement.  Diplopia with tDCS is really working it seems.  I guess it just surprised me that the game would improve my accommodation.

It sort of makes sense if you think about it.  Strabismus shuts off one of the eyes in software to avoid visual confusion.  As a result of that, the brain stops actively using that eye, causing it to become more or less like a limp limb.  Therefore, all of the functions of that lazy eye are going to not be so hot, including mobility and accommodation.  So if you force it to start working with training, it makes sense that vision therapy can improve accommodation, and thus, acuity.

It's just weird that I'm noticing it now.  Perhaps vision rehabilitation is a bit like the development of a baby.  For instance, doctors say that it's normal for kids to develop different abilities sooner than others.  So one baby may develop speech later than others, while developing motor skills, running around, and burning energy.  Different aspects of the baby develop at different times because of the way that their bodies have to manage energy.  But in time, the different abilities tend to catch up, and they become more or less equal.

Perhaps something like that is happening with the eye, and as mobility and coordination improves to a certain point, energy is made available allowing the development for accommodation.  Just like a developing baby.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

More improvement

Not much to say, other than my vision is continually improving.  I don't know when it's going to be fixed, but I don't care.  I'll probably never stop playing Diplopia even after I've recovered stereopsis, simply because I don't ever want to lose it.

What's changed?  The double images are coming closer together.  Also, I notice that there are times in which I can notice both of the visual input streams simultaneously for more than a moment.  My vision is literally coming together.

I've been vigilantly playing Diplopia while undergoing tDCS.  I do some kind of variation of one-off, one-on.  I'm getting quite good at Bricks.  I got to the level with the almost indestructible bricks for the first time.  I have to say that it's pretty exciting.  The Space game is fun.  It's a little irritating how sensitive the controls are.  I am sort of tempted to purchase a Leap Motion controller so that I can use my hands to control the spacecraft.  The ultimate in nerdy goodness.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

My Oculus Rift unbroke :) :) :)

I finally got the HDMI connector that Oculus's support Fedexed me, plugged it in, did some finagling, and to my amazement it worked.  I just put in 40 minutes of Diplopia yesterday.  I am super happy right now.

What else... I was surprised by how big and depthy everything was.  I still didn't pass most of the vision integration tests, but it does seem as though my vision has improved a lot in the past few weeks without playing Diplopia.  Even one of my diplopia tests seems to indicate progress (looking down at my double left foot).  What's going on?  Why is this happening?

Well, maybe it's because I took a good long break.  But I think even more than that, it's a combination of two different habits I've recently formed.  I do 20 minutes of meditation while undergoing tDCS in the morning, upon waking.  That, and I've also been doing a lot of reading using the modified reading techniques that I've described in previous entries.  This means that I minimize saccadic eye movements by maximizing the use of my peripheral vision.  

By doing meditation and tDCS in the morning, I'm priming my brain for changeability.  Meditation is known to improve learning.  tDCS is known to do the same.  Then later in the day I read with the new reading technique to improve the peripheral vision.  It does seem that I've improved the peripheral vision of my left lazy eye quite a lot.  It seems to have very good mobility as well, in order to avoid diplopia.  When I was walking down the hallway I noticed books to my right, and was surprised by how close the double images of them appears.  It really felt like I was beginning to get an understanding of what objects look like in three dimensions.  It kind of left me thinking 'whoa.'. 

What else... I found a much better way to use my Iontophoresis.  I got fed up using the crappy cables that I had created to interconnect the Ionto's weird leads to the banana plugs I use for the electrodes.  They kept corroding, which caused the Ionto's impedance detectors to go off.  I ended up finding leads with the correct 'Safety Leads', which connect to a pin-to-banana plug adapter.  I also bought a bunch of plastic pipettes for soaking the electrodes with saline.  This has made tDCS much, much less cumbersome.  That's a big deal, when you have this giant ski mask-looking thing (Oculus Rift) attached to your head, with a hairband underneath, with electrodes strategically placed--with headphones on to top it off.  

It does feel like I'm getting closer.  I know better than to guess when, but I'm not sweating it.^90719330893-sku^671+0059@ADL4SCRIPHESSCO-adType^PLA-device^c-adid^58890930013

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Oculus Rift broke :/

Yeah, it was pretty stupid.  The HDMI cable seemed to be bad, so I replaced it.  It worked--for a while.  But because you have to open an access panel, it left some of the innards exposed.  Well, some saline from a cathode dripped onto the HDMI connection and the video went out.  It's still an Oculus Rift.  Everything about it seems to still function--all except for the video.  I'm in the process of getting a replacement.  I hope they replace it, or are able to provide a solution of some sort.

Folks, if you get a DK2, be very careful.  There do seem to be some problems with the HDMI connection, which have been reported by several others.  There may be nothing that you can do about it, but to be on the safe side, handle your Rift with great care.

Regardless, I'm going to get a replacement.  The question is whether Oculus is willing to replace it (there's no warranty as it's a beta device--it's sold 'as is'--understandable), or whether I should wait for the commercial version.  They say that it's going to be released 'within months'.  It makes no sense to get another DK2 if it ships in six weeks, and then another four weeks later the commercial version becomes available.  I am miffed.  But I'm also happy because I know that the Rift is an effective tool for vision therapy, the best thing out there so far by far, in my humble opinion.  I'll get another Rift and back at it, fixing my vision with Diplopia with hopefully only a minor hiccup.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

More progress with Diplopia

It's the end of the weekend.  I just did a 40 minute session of Diplopia with tDCS.  I noticed quite a difference from the last time I played (three days ago).  It started me off with Bricks.  Immediately I noticed that things are bigger and seem closer to me.  I still failed the initial visual integration tests that begin before you're immersed into the game.  But I did do better than ever.

What else, my driving has improved quite a bit.  I am much more aware of what's going on around me.  This must be a result of decreased suppression.  Driving is actually kind of enjoyable when your eyes work properly.  I did notice, yesterday in particular, that my lazy eye seems to be doing extra work in terms of mobility--like my brain is whipping it into shape by saying 'hey, we're using you now, so start behaving like an eye.'  Laziness will not be tolerated!

I do have some anxiety as my suppression continues to decrease.  Are all of the pieces going to work themselves out?  Or am I going to break my vision?  haha!  Pretty nerve wracking.  This is a sentiment that I know is shared by Robert (mentioned in previous entries).  He's worried, in particular, about reading.  Are the words going to match up and properly overlay on top of one another so that he has a true singular view of the page?  Or is it going to be a confusing non-aligning mess in which he's unable to make sense out of anything?  Man.  It takes a lot of balls to do vision therapy.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

I think combining tDCS and Diplopia (game) is working

I did get a warning from a friend who linked me to a Sovoto post where someone mentioned that the game Diplopia had given him--well--diplopia.  No doubt, I do have diplopia, and have always had diplopia.  It just got stronger when I started doing vision therapy.

The diplopia has indeed gotten stronger since I've been playing Diplopia, and much stronger when I started incorporating tDCS in the Diplopia routine.  But I'm not worried about it because the diplopia  means that my brain is ignoring my left eye less and less.  As long as that happens alongside improved mobility and coordination of that eye, then we're good.  And that does seem to be what's happening.

Some of the metrics that I use for measuring alignment are definitely showing indications of progress.  For instance, taking pictures of my eyes while tilting my head down while looking up at the mirror shows significantly less hypertropia than before.  Also when I looked down at my left foot for the double left foot, the double images are almost single.  Also, driving has improved quite a bit--just my confidence in changing lanes and knowing what's there.

Also, I'm really kicking ass at the Bricks game.  But there's still quite a bit improvement to be had. What seems to work best for me is two days on (with tDCS), two days off.  I really wanted to do Diplopia yesterday but I made myself not do it because I knew that I would benefit from the rest.  And indeed the next morning my vision looked great.  Vision therapy is sort of like weight training.  You don't get stronger while you're working out.  You get stronger during the time off.  Well, break time is off for now.  I've got two more days of intense training.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

So I tried playing Diplopia while undergoing transcranial direct current stimulation...

... with positive results.  It was inevitable for me to try this.

The Bricks game is generally very difficult for me.  But this time I did extremely well.

It's hard to say whether I'm getting better at the game because I'm learning how to interpret what I'm seeing in the game, or whether it's because my vision is improving.  Likely, it's both.  Usually with Bricks, I'm pretty bad, especially when the ball comes at me on the left side (my suppressing side) and in the mid-left side.  My judgement really stinks in that area.  But this time I did extraordinarily well.  I have never got past the second level.  This time, I got past the fourth level.  My judgement just seemed to be very good.  Is it because of improved vision?  I don't know.

Putting on the electrodes was a pain in the ass (like always), but particularly so because I have to situate them around the HMD.  I guess what gave me the idea to try Diplopia with tDCS is because tDCS is known to help with fatigue.  One of the things that I've learned in my vision therapy journey is to take breaks, especially if you have high-intensity workouts.  A friend had visited for a few days and during those days I did not play Diplopia.  Those days I saw visual improvement.  So I think I'm going to do a two day off, two day on schedule.  However, this is the third day, but I figured that I could get through it if I combine it with tDCS since it's known to help with fatigue.  But since I can do it with tDCS, I may as well do Diplopia with tDCS since tDCS is also known to help with vision therapy exercises that focus on breaking through suppression.

The Diplopia workouts are definitely good even without tDCS, so I may mix and match sessions with and without, but if I had to guess, they do combine quite nicely.  I'll be doing this in future sessions for sure.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

An update on progress with Diplopia

I mentioned in previous entries that I stopped doing ordinary vision therapy after I got my Oculus Rift.  Now all of my vision therapy is done via the Oculus Rift through the game Diplopia.  I've been playing Diplopia for almost two weeks.  Here's where I currently am with it.

I am making progress with Diplopia, although it's not as fast as the progress which others have reported.  One of the test subjects, Dillon, reported seeing depth immediately after putting on the HMD and playing the game for a bit.  James said that it took around five sessions for the game to correct his vision and to get flashes of stereopsis.  Diplopia seems to work very quickly in general, but not as fast for me, probably because my brain sucks. :/

That said, I am making quick progress.  It's hard to explain exactly how I'm making progress, just that I am.  I suppose you could say that my double vision input streams are converging on one another.  Also, when I look at something close up, I'm very aware of the two input streams.  So the suppression has come down.  With decreased suppression comes more overt diplopia, although it's not very bothersome for some reason, probably because the input streams are converging pretty well.

Playing the games is still tricky.  I'm kicking ass at Space.  I've figured out that game pretty well, and I'm able to fly the spacecraft through the rings with good facility.  It's enjoyable.  Sometimes I lose track of the spacecraft because I can only see it with my left eye.  I can tell that the game is really working my vision. 

The other game, Breaker, I'm getting better at.  It's still tricky, however, especially when I have to whack the ball in certain areas.  Around midfield on the right side I almost always whiff.  My depth perception still sucks in the game Breaker, while it seems to be pretty good at Space.  

Anyway, it's still early.  It's only been a bit more than a week.  We'll see where it takes me in a month.   

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Diplopia beta has been released to those who opted in (FINALLY!!!)

So I got Diplopia beta.  I played it for around 40 minutes yesterday.  You can consider this an informal review of the game so far.

The first impression that I have of the game after starting the executable is that it is very smooth and apparently polished.  There's also no anti-aliasing so some of the edges are pixelated.

It does a number of vision tests for suppression and visual integration, and then you get launched into the game.

The two games I've seen thus far is a Breakout-type game, and another game where you're flying through space blasting asteroids with a spacecraft.  The first game that I started (I didn't select to play the game, it just chose for me) was the spacecraft game.  The game starts with a timer set for 20 minutes (your vision therapy session length).  Your goal is to get as many points as possible by picking up items that you see.  You have to figure out where they are by gauging depth and space.

After playing for about five minutes, I could tell that the game was definitely doing something to my vision.  I could tell that the game was trying to force me to see in stereo.  It felt like I might have made the sudden shift at any moment, although it didn't happen.  It was definitely a strange sensation.  It was almost like I had approached a portal through which a different world resided, and I was so close to passing through.  That's the best way that I can explain it.

It's a fairly stimulating game--both the spacecraft game and the Breakout game.  You can tell how it works.  It forces both of your eyes to work in order to play the game by making certain elements only visible to each eye.  So with the Breakout game, you have your paddle which you can only see with your left eye, and the ball, which you can see only with the right eye.  In order to play and be successful at the game you must use both eyes.  Because of my suppression, this game is difficult.  I sort of have to guess as to where the paddle is in relationship to where the ball is.  But it's very satisfying when I can whack it because it gives me instant feedback as to where things are in 3d.

It's a brilliant game.  It solves so many problems at once.  For one, because the Oculus Rift has a giant field of view that means that the game can exercise the peripheral vision.  Another thing is that stereoscopic effects aren't produced by an active shutter mechanism, so the composite image is very bright and high quality.  The Oculus Rift DK2 also has positional and orientation tracking so that the vestibular system is engaged with the game (Diplopia has made good, smooth use of the DK2's positional tracking).  Finally, the games are very engaging and stimulating.  They're not boring.  The 20 minute sessions go by pretty quickly.  It's challenging.  You are really paying attention and engaging your brain in order to reach the target goals.  This is what vision therapy should be!

After I did the initial 20 minute session I tried to go back to the spacecraft game that I was playing before, but couldn't.  There's no choice to select the game that you play.  Instead, it took me to the Breakout game, which I played around with for quite a while.  One thing I noticed is that you have to be logged in before you play the game.  I wonder if the guys at Diplopia are tracking you to make sure that you play the spacecraft game for only 20 minutes per day.  You can't play the game if you don't have an active Internet connection.  We'll find out.

For a while I was tempted to make vision therapy games (since I have an Oculus Rift developer kit), but it's hard to see how this can be improved upon.  But maybe that's just a copout.  Major props to James for creating such a powerful use case for VR HMDs.  It's amazingly well put together for a beta.  I'm going to try and contain my excitement and just see how things go for the next week.  Thank you, James!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An interesting way to read

I learned about a tip for increasing reading speed while reading Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Work Week.  Try to limit yourself to two saccades per line.  The way you do this is by training your peripheral vision.  So for instance, you start each line by looking at the third word and using your peripheral vision to see the beginning.  Then end each line by looking at the third to the last word and finishing the line with the peripheral vision.

This is very tough to do if you have strabismus, and thus, are suppressing.  Reading in general is tougher if you have strabismus.  But in the week or so that I've been training myself to do this, I've changed the way that I read quite a bit.  At first it was incredibly difficult and distracting, because I normally read with my right eye.  However, now I alternate.  When I begin a line, I start with my left eye.  Then as I make my way to the end, I go to the right eye.

By doing this, I noticed that my right eye is quite a bit stronger than my left eye.  Starting the line is harder than ending it because starting it requires using the peripheral vision of my left eye, which I guess is my lazy eye.  Honestly, it's pretty exhausting.  But I think it's actually quite beneficial to try and expand the vision in the eye in this sort of way because it's forcing that eye to be stronger and command more resources from my brain.  It has increased the power of my VR experiences quite a bit.  I have been tired, sleeping a lot, and a bit edgy.  These are things that usually come with fruitful changes in the brain in my experience.

I haven't done actual vision therapy in at least a month or so for now.  I've been doing mainly VR games.  I've been anxiously awaiting for James Blaha's Diplopia to come out.  I keep hearing that it's coming soon.  James actually spoke in the Enter VR podcast a week ago.  It was an excellent interview.  It blew my mind listening to such a great mind talk.  One of the interesting things he said that stuck with me was that he said his goals aren't per se about fixing strabismus, but improving people's perception(s).  I highly recommend giving it a listen.

That's it for now.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Random thoughts on clinical depression and strabismus

There's going to be a lot of ignorant and wild speculation in this episode so brace yourself.

A link between clinical depression and strabismus is a topic which repeatedly comes up in conversations among people in our DIY Vision Therapy group.  It does seem that there are higher than average levels of clinical depression in those with strabismus based on my ignorant and wild guessing.

My understanding of what depression is, for a lot of people, is the result of the mind running amuck.  Everyone has an internal dialog, but for depressed people, their internal dialog is particularly repetitive, active, and impulsive.  The parts of our brain which do thinking are connected to the parts of our brain which do emoting, so every time we have a thought we have an associated emotion.  So if you have constant, repetitive thoughts that are negative, the result can be chronic negative emotions which can become clinical depression (as opposed to transient depression).

This link between the thinking and emoting parts of the brain is what cognitive behavioral therapy is based on.  The purpose of CBT is to break the constant cycle of negative thinking and the related negative emotions, and thus, stop depression.  This is also what many PTSD treatments are based on.  People who have PTSD symptoms suffer not simply because they suffered a traumatic event.  They suffer because they're repeatedly experiencing the same traumatic event again and again in their minds.  When you revisit old traumatic memories, the brain and body don't realize that what they're experiencing isn't real.  So you really are reliving the experiences again and again, and your body is paying the toll of constantly activating the sympathetic nervous system and the cascading stress effects.

This cycle causes brain damage, substance addiction as a result of people trying to manage the pain, and mental collapse.  It's no doubt largely responsible for familiar picture that Americans have of homeless vets.  There are new treatments which use LSD and MDMA, which are supposedly very effective for PTSD.  The purpose is to allow the patients to experience the traumatic memories without the associated negative emotions, and thus, stop the pain and constant grating on the body's fight or flight systems.

A little while ago I was listening to a fascinating conversation between Sam Harris and Joe Rogan on Joe's podcast about the topic of mindfulness.  Sam was talking about the irony about how most people have an internal dialog, which, if it was uttered aloud, they would appear to be completely insane to any observer.  The only difference between a 'normal' person and an overtly mentally ill homeless man talking to himself is he's making his internal dialog available to everyone around him.  Most of our internal dialog is a repetitive, futile waste of brain cycles--and not to mention, harmful to the end user.  Sam asked the question 'Why is it that we consider this normal?'  Indeed.

This is sort of interesting to me, because it's only recently that I've started to get serious about meditation (the past four months).  I'd read about all of the benefits from recent brain studies, like increased brain mass, improved learning, and focus.  Since I was hearing so much about it from legitimate sources, I thought I'd give it a try.  I'd done it a bit in the past, but stopped for whatever reasons, so I already had some idea of what I was doing.  In revisited experience, 10-15 minutes of meditation--even somewhat crappy meditation--since I'm still bad at it, is extremely beneficial to my mood, and focus during the day.

The main things that I've noticed is that I'm much calmer, and seem to have an almost unlimited focus.  My drifting is very not much.  It's resulted in me doing a lot of cleaning and organizing.  One of the interesting things I've noticed since I've started doing meditation again is that every once in a while I'll get a nice high, whether while doing meditation, or while doing nothing, or waiting.  Yesterday I was at the gym doing squats, waiting between sets, not doing anything.  I was relatively mentally silent.  All of a sudden, everything seemed to go quiet.  I was suddenly aware of my body, the music playing in the gym, and all of the other bodies moving around, doing reps and moving their legs in circular motions.  It felt like a real high, and a lot of happiness of being right there, right then.

My morning routine is 15 minutes of meditation before I go out of the door.  One of the things I've noticed is that I can know very accurately how well my day is going to go depending on how well I do with meditation.  I occasionally meditate very crappily and my day will consequently suck.  Other days I know that I did very well, and the day will be excellent as a result--regardless of what happens.  It seems to be a very good predictor.  If meditation goes well, I can't have a bad day.  I still do drift, and I still do have some insane inner dialogs, but I'm aware of it and I think to myself 'Oh, Andy, you know better than that.'  I suppose that's the whole point of mindfulness.

You might be wondering what this has to do with strabismus.  Here's where I'm going with this.  If there is a link between strabismus and clinical depression, maybe it's because visual processing takes up a lot of brain power.  After all, the visual cortex is a giant part of the brain.  People who are using only half of the available visual input via suppression thus have more brain cycles which can be used for other things--like dysfunctional thought.  For people who have normal stereoscopic vision, there are fewer spare brain cycles available for repetitive thought, and thus neurodysfunction.

It does seem to me that people who have normal vision are more 'there'.  They're more engaged and part of what is going on around them.  Therefore, they're going to have less going on internally, and fewer repetitive, dysfunctional thoughts.

When I'm having a conversation with someone, it's not uncommon for me to look at him in the eyes and wonder about what he is seeing, and what his experience of consciousness is like.  People on, average, do seem to be very much 'there' and in the moment.  Like, when people watch sports, their eyes are very intensely trained on what they're seeing, and it seems like the whole system is working in synergy to recreate what they're seeing and participate in the event.

One thing that comes to mind is something Heather said.  She's someone who had strabismus, but recovered full stereoscopic vision through vision therapy.  She said 'I feel that the world is more real.'  It sort of goes hand in hand with something Susan Barry said, something like 'I feel like I am now in the world.'--like more of a participant.  They say that seeing in stereo is a fundamentally different experience.

People like Heather are important to me because she's one of the very few people who understand what it's like to live in both worlds.  There is a Reddit AMA that linked to in previous entries that I'll repost here.  It's some guy who recovered stereopsis via surgery.  He said
woah.... you mean to tell me the doctor literally pulled and tugged your eye into place? damn thats nuts
whats the most beautiful thing / amazing thing you have seen now?
[–]souobixo[S] 164 points  ago
He literally did just that. It's hard to name just one thing that stood out. I would have to say trees have been the one thing that comes to mind. They have SOOOO much depth and detail. There is a national park not too far from where I live that has absolutely amazing colors in the fall. Even little things like chairs in the kitchen, or people walking around in a crowded room still make me stop and just look.
He's completely stunned by the visual phenomena, and just seeing people walk around in a crowded room, still adjusting to all of the visual information.  Maybe it would be harder to be taken away by dysfunctional thoughts when you're so occupied by what's so violently grabbing your visual attention.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

18 days with the Rift

I haven't done any 'classical' vision therapy exercises since I got the rift.   This is because I think of using the Oculus Rift as vision therapy--just a lot more fun.  I've explained in previous entries why I think it works so I won't go into it too much.  Basically, I don't know, but it's hard to ignore the input of the suppressing eye when I'm in VR.  My stereo vision is improving every week.

I guess I've been thinking a bit about Benjamin's approach to vision therapy, which is sensory fusion--giving the eyes corresponding input, and using that in conjunction with eye movement exercises in order to get the brain to align the eyes.  The Oculus Rift is actually quite well suited for such an exercise, which I believe is what it does.  The visual information is planted right in your face, it integrates the vestibular system, and it provides moving input in full stereo.   I can't ignore the input.  Not only that but it's giving me the correct sterescopic input, so I'm pretty sure that it's training my brain to see in stereo via sensory fusion.

Every time I go into VR it seems more immersive, which is probably the result of my brain integrating both eyes more.  In Half-Life 2, for instance, there are load screens where the screen suddenly freezes.  It's a jarring experience, almost like getting kicked in the head.  The deeper you are in VR, and the more convinced the brain is that what it's seeing is real, the more jarring it is.

The Oculus Rift is really the ideal vision therapy device.  On top of all of all of the things it does, it's designed for games.  That was another thing that Ben and I talked about that I didn't mention in the previous entry--how boring vision therapy is--and how there is a need to make it more fun and interesting.  Well--Oculus Rift.  It's also much, much cheaper than classical vision therapy.  The DK2 is $350, and the games are dirt cheap.  Palmer Lucky, the founder of OculusVR, says they're going to sell the hardware at cost.  I anticipate the commercial version to cost around $300.  They plan on making no money with the hardware.  They just want to get VR onto as many heads as possible.  That's great news for people who want to rehabilitate their vision.

What else.  I had an email conversation with James Blaha.  The team that is developing Diplopia got their DK2s.  I explained to him that the alpha he gave me doesn't run with my DK2.  He explained that he expects to have a beta released soon which will allow for use with the DK2.  I am pumped.  Diplopia is one of the main reasons why I jumped for the DK2 and didn't simply wait for the commercial version of the Oculus Rift.  I want stereo vision now--so I can move on with my life.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

An interesting chat with Benjamin

I was recently contacted by a member of the group named Benjamin.  He was interested in me because of my blog entries about the Oculus Rift.  We talked for quite a while on Facebook about vision therapy and strabismus.  I decided that I wanted to have a voice chat with him about it.  So we talked for around an hour today.  He's quite an interesting guy with a pretty fascinating story.

A lot of the strabs (we really need a better word) that I've met through the group have congenital strabismus--they've always had it.  Or in the case of Emily she gradually developed strabismus.  At one point in her life, the eye just started pulling out, which she says is a trait which runs in the family.  Benjamin, on the other hand, got strabismus via LASIK surgery.

LASIK is surgery which uses a laser to reshape the cornea--the non-accommodating outer lens of the eye which provides most of the eye's optical power.  One of the biggest and most important lessons that I've learned about in my vision therapy journey is that of the accommodation reflex--the connection between accommodation and eye vergence.  As the eyes diverge, the lens gets thinner.  As the eyes converge, the lens gets thicker--automatically--and overriding this reflex is difficult.  This reflex is part of what is responsible for accommodative esotropia.  If one has an accommodation insufficiency, in particular, hyperopia, the result can be strabismus.  This is why eye doctors usually first try to treat strabismus--often successfully--with spectacles in order to correct refraction, and thus restore alignment.

That's what appears to have happened with Benjamin.  In a sense, the surgery was a success.  His vision acuity greatly improved with the surgery; however, it was at the cost of a high degree of eye turn-in--I think he said 30 diopters.  Interestingly he said that he never had diplopia, which means that he must have learned how to suppress extremely quickly.  So he got the acuity, but he also got severely misaligned eyes, and the loss of stereoscopic vision--not to mention terrible headaches, eye strain, and the social problems which come with strabismus.  This LASIK-induced strabismus is actually something I mentioned a few entries ago.  It is a risk.  The visual system is complicated and one can never know who is going to respond poorly to a sudden change in its refraction.

This all happened when he was 25.  He's now 39, turning 40 this week.  He said that the timing was terrible and that the surgery ruined his life.  With his severely downgraded vision everything was much more difficult--reading, studying, working.  He said that his new cosmesis caused people to turn him down for jobs and take him less seriously.  He mentioned that if he was at a party he could be talking with someone for hours outside with his sunglasses on.  Then when it got dark and people would go inside, he would be talking to the same person, but the person would be very distracted by the eye misalignment and awkwardness would ensue.  He said that the strabismus put his entire life on hold for 15 years.

The good news, however, is that he learned about vision therapy.  He read Fixing My Gaze.  He saw a few vision therapists and learned a few things from them.  But he quit since it's so expensive--around $125 for an hour session.  Vision therapists are largely reserved for the affluent.  Plus, he got the impression, as I did, that seeing vision therapists is mostly a waste of time and money.  But it doesn't seem like it was a complete waste, because he now has a sort of protocol that he's following which he says is fixing his vision quite rapidly.  He says that his eye fatigue and cosmesis are both improving every day.  He said that he went from a 30 diopter deviation to 10 diopters--which is a tremendous difference.  His vision is improving in all aspects.

He said that he's using glasses with stick-on prism lenses to correct the perceived visual misalignment so that he can get fusion.  Initially it was a very large diopter prism to accommodate for his large deviation.  Then, like me, he would invent exercises.  For instance, he watches TV and practices doing saccadic movements, tracing the outlines of actors' bodies or faces.  By doing this, and by giving the brain correct corresponding input for both eyes, he's rebuilding the wiring--reinforcing old forgotten neural pathways--renovating them, if you will.  By restoring the pathways, the brain then naturally wants use them with everyday activity, and the brain gets the information that Benjamin is training it to want by aligning the eyes.  The consequence of the brain aligning the eyes is that over time he needs less prism refraction in his vision therapy exercises.  And that's indeed what's happening.  I guess you could say that he's using the sensory fusion approach to vision therapy and in his case it's very effective.

It looks like he's going to achieve his goal of completely restoring his vision.  And funny enough, when he does, his vision may be better than it ever was, because he's going to have the improved acuity which was the whole point of the LASIK surgery, with normal stereo function--something he never had together.

Even though I've only very recently got to know Benjamin, it makes me extremely happy to see him succeed in this way.  I can partly relate with him.  Unlike him, I had congenital stereoblindness (partial stereoblindness now).  I adapted very well to strabismus.  Aside from always having performed poorly at coordinated sports and being somewhat clumsy I was fine.  Strabismus had a much greater negative impact on Ben.  When he says that the LASIK surgery 'ruined my life' I don't think he's being dramatic.  I think he's being honest.  Plus, it's consistent with what I know about other people who have strabismus.  For some people it is a truly hellish condition.  I've heard several different people say that they have contemplated suicide as a means of escaping from the symptoms.  It can be that bad.  To see him conquering this problem that plagued him for 15 years is just... well let's say that it makes me very, very, very, very happy to put it inarticulately.

I asked him whether he thinks the protocol he uses can be applied to others.  He said that thinks it definitely can.  Heh, he said 'it's not rocket science'.  I think that's true.  I do think a lot of people have the ability to wrap their heads around how the vision therapy works and how the visual system works enough in order to rehabilitate their own vision.  Of course there are risks involved in doing vision therapy on your own, and you're going to hear the screeching of vision therapists 'You don't know what you're doing!  You need us!!!'.  Of course.  It's simple self-preservation.  They wouldn't be good organisms if they didn't take that stance.  People like myself and Ben accept the risks involved in undergoing vision rehabilitation.  We're fixing our own vision without going broke (as opposed to the year that I spent seeing a vision therapist, going broke, and not making progress).

As we talked, I realized that Ben knows quite a lot about vision therapy.  There were some holes in his knowledge.  He didn't seem to know how LASIK caused his strabismus.  I told him that I think the changed refraction of his cornea caused the esotropia via the accommodation reflex, which he didn't seem to know about.  That kind of surprised me.  But one doesn't need perfect knowledge in order to learn to change a system to one's will.  We both work in IT as engineers so we know this firsthand.  Overall I get the impression that he is more sophisticated than me.  I was impressed by how much he seemed to know.  I told him this and he responded 'I didn't have a choice.  I simply had to learn all of this.  Everything else was on hold.'.

There's another guy in the group named Keith who has a deviation which very strongly resembles Ben's before he hit upon his protocol and became proficient at vision therapy.  Ben explained the protocol to Keith.  We're talking about documenting it so that it becomes accessible to the group.

We're both very interested in how technology can be used for vision rehabilitation.  We talked a bit about the Oculus Rift and its potential to cure strabismus for a ton of people.  We talked about why it seems to produce powerful stereo effects even for people who have stereoblindness.  There's something about it that encourages the brain to use both eyes--probably the fact that it's so up close, and your lens is at its thickest, perhaps freeing up energy to allow the use of both eyes.  Who knows.  There's an article about it here.

Anyway, it was great to talk with Ben and hear about his story.  I'm sure there will be more mention of him in later entries as he approaches the finishing line.  It was great talking with you, Ben!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Oculus Rift arrived

It's awesome.  It was quite a pain in the ass to get set up since it's a dev kit, and the software needs debugging.

With my nVidia 3d Vision system I've been able to get some pretty powerful stereo effects, but not nearly as powerful as what I get with the DK2.  I haven't been able to get Diplopia working with my DK2 as they're both still in early stages of development.  Diplopia is still in alpha, and will not run on my desktop.  I've been able to get most of my demos working on the DK2.  I expect to have a working copy of Diplopia within a month or so.  I'm not sweating it.  However, even without Diplopia, I think I am getting vision therapy benefit from doing normal VR games.

Once you get it working, it's pretty awesome.  There's one demo that has you at a desk with a plant and cards in it that's pretty slick.  Because the DK2 has positional tracking and not just axis tracking, you can move your head around.  Because you're in a small environment in which you can't locomote, moving your head position around to get a view of different objects is particularly cool, especially because the plant and card house both have complex geometry.  You can see them from different angles as you move your head.  And also because all of the objects are close to the observer, stereopsis has its maximum effect, which is partly why I think the stereo effects that I've had so far have been so powerful.

I've invited a number of people over to try it--all who have normal stereoscopic vision.  They were all pretty amazed.  I watched intently for what is called the 'Rift face', which is what it sounds like: a goofy, mesmerized expression people make when having their first virtual reality experience.  They all had it: mouth parted, jaw relaxed, sometimes combined with a grin, barely able to believe what they were seeing.  They all remarked about how real it felt.  One of them expressed his surprise about how the rollercoaster made him feel movement--acceleration.

It took me about a week, but I think I finally have my 'Rift legs'--I no longer experience nausea while using the Rift or afterward.  Most of the people I showed the Rift to experienced nausea, especially when doing the rollercoaster or swing ride demos.  The games and demos that I have are all extremely basic and experiential.  Most of them aren't even games--just environments that you look around--one is Pantheon, which is what it sounds like.  You get to walk around and explore the Pantheon, look at the decor, and look up to see the coffered dome.  Another one is called the Tuscany demo where you look around at a Tuscan villa and go outside and look at a fountain, and seaside.

So it's going to be particularly awesome when content is actually created, when drivers, firmware and software are developed... when the commercial version becomes available.  VR is definitely going to be huge.  I'm having fun with it now, but I'll definitely be excited to see what Diplopia brings when I get a viable copy of it.

It looks like UCSF is taking Diplopia seriously.

Diplopia Working With UCSF On Pilot Study

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

#375 session

Not too much to report.  I did about four sessions between the last proper entry and this one.  I've been doing substantially less.  Sometimes I take off two days in between VT sessions.  My vision on Sunday was excellent.  I noticed a lot of improvement.  I'm hoping that Diplopia speeds things up quite a bit.

My Oculus Rift shipped on Sunday.  The ETA is Wednesday.  I already have the Diplopia beta.  All I need is for the hardware to come and I will be able to run the game.  Diplopia is supposed to be able to support nVidia 3d Vision, which I have, but the beta version I have doesn't seem to support it.  I haven't messed too much with it yet.  I'm going to really start getting into it once I get the Rift.

I won't deny it.  I am excited and have high expectations.  From what I've heard, it's extremely effective.  People who've tried it say that it produces a lot of strain on the eyes that they can notice for a long time later.  One of the guys says that he started seeing depth within a few seconds of using the game (having had congenital stereoblindness).  He's someone for whom vision therapy was ineffective.  James says that for himself it took a very slight amount of time in the game in order to start seeing depth.

In a podcast James Blaha, the creator of Diplopia, said that the Oculus Rift is revolutionary because it allows us to have absolute control of what is coming into our eyes.  He envisions lots of applications for the headset.

It makes me think that classical vision therapy may be extremely comparatively weak, and that we may soon have much, much more powerful options available for fixing strabismus, as well as other visual conditions.  I've done vision therapy for 3.5 years and logged at least 1,200 hours of continuous vision therapy.  I will very soon have a new tool which very well might allow me to achieve my goals in a few sessions.  Um... yeah, I'm excited, for myself, and for potentially everyone.  The next post should be interesting.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Random thought

I ran out of contact lenses for my right myopic (-.075) eye last week, so the result was that I used no contacts at all for about seven days.

When I got myself prescribed for the lenses it felt like it made a substantial difference in the quality of my vision, because it did.  I notice that without corrective lenses when I'm looking off in the distance with my right eye, my vision kind of sucks compared to the quality of the image when looking right the left eye.  Even when I closed my left eye to avoid any kind of rivalry or influence, I couldn't get my right eye to accommodate enough to get the image to come in clearly.

But as the week went by, the difference in the quality seemed to be less.  My myopic eye still isn't quite up to snuff with the left eye for viewing distant objects, but it seems that like it improved substantially in only a week.  I wonder if my distance accommodation improved over the week as a result of using my eye more.

Before when I was getting prescribed the contacts, I was suppressing quite a lot (simply not using), so it would make sense why accommodation might suck for one of my eyes.  But now I'm suppressing quite a bit less, and thus, I'm using both eyes more.  So when the brain gets the signal that it needs to contract the lens to make it thinner for distance accommodation, it works harder to do it, because now the brain is using that eye.

Kind of an interesting thought.  I had heard that one can use vision therapy to improve accommodation--you know, improve long range and short range acuity with vision exercises so that you don't need glasses.  In other words, people can train themselves to not need glasses, or LASIK, or whatever.

I just got my contacts again, but I think I'm going to continue vision therapy without them for now.  The last week seems to have been very productive.  My vision is really getting quite good.  It seems as though suppression has gone down very substantially in the past week.  It's weird.  It seems like the less vision therapy I do, the more progress I make.  Heh, it might be an indication that I've way overdone it in the past.  Lately I've been doing a one-off, one-on schedule.  I may even do less: two days off, one day on.  We'll see.

Friday, July 18, 2014

#368 session: Finger Monster success and Oculus Rift anticipation

I go back and forth in terms of the kinds of cues I use for gauging progress.  Sometimes I judge progress by checking on the spread of my diplopia by looking down at my left foot.  Sometimes I judge by actually looking at the straightness of my eyes (although this doesn't seem to be the best indicator.  My eyes can get crazy looking when I'm tired or hopped up on caffeine--even if I'm doing well with vision therapy).  Lately, it's come to my attention that the Finger Monster exercises are working for me.  My performance on the exercises have improved markedly.

When I began doing finger monster exercises for the first time I noticed that as I slowly moved the monster from one side of my visual field to another, there was a point at which I suddenly shifted eyes.  I must change eyes at one point, because at the extreme of either side, only one of my eyes can see the monster because my nose blocks the other eye's view of the monster.  But for people who have normal binocular vision, this isn't so much changing eyes as it is losing an eye as the nose blocks the other eye's view of the monster.  As the monster comes back, the other eye seamlessly comes back in tandem.  Before for me, the 'switchover' would happen much sooner than necessary.  As it moved to the left, the power of the stimulus would hit a critical level for the left eye, and the left eye would take over, even when the right eye could still see.

Well, after months of doing this, this has changed a bit.  There's no real switchover now if I do it slowly.  As I move from the left I see relatively well with the left eye as well as with the right eye.  Then I move to the right and the switch appears to be seamless (there still is a switch), but it's quite unnoticeable.  It's getting closer to how it would work for a person with normal vision--no switchover, but there is simply a loss of stereo when one of the eyes loses sight of the monster.

I also noticed something when the monster creeps from the extreme right to just the point where it comes into sight for the left eye.  A few months ago, the left eye's view of the monster would be very significantly unaccommodated and out of focus.  I still have that, but it's wayyy down from where it was before.  Before, actually, when the left eye's view of the monster would come in, the rivalry would suddenly make the right eye's view of the monster (which was sharp before) blurry and unaccommodated.  Now I can keep both pretty accommodated and sharp as the left eye's view of the monster comes in.  Basically what this all means is that my eyes are becoming more like a normal person's eyes.

What else... I'm going to try a one day on, one day off schedule.  Because of the high power of my exercises I'm getting the impression that two consecutive days may be too much.

What else... OCULUS GOD DAMN RIFT BABY.  I've been waiting for this for years, and it's finally coming--not the commercial version, mind you, but the second developer kit, which is supposed to be hugely improved on the first developer kit.  I got an email from the Oculus guys saying that the DK2s (2nd generation developer kit) are going to be shipping next week.

I am super pumped about VR and the Oculus Rift, and what it's going to do for us.  I see huge potential for its uses with therapy, and vision therapy in particular.  I've done a fair amount of reading and research on the game Diplopia, and from what I can tell, it appears to be the real deal.  It's going to help restore vision for a lot of people.

I should get my DK2 (as well as a steering wheel peripheral G27 for racing simulators) sometime next week.  I will also be getting Diplopia when it finally becomes available.  The website says SOON, but I haven't seen anything definitive yet.  You can believe that I'm going to have some exciting new posts coming in the near future.  I AM EXCITE

Thursday, July 10, 2014

#364 session: VT vacation

I didn't do any VT for about seven days.  I had gone to New England for a family reunion.  I brought my VT gear with me, but I was so sleep deprived (bad hotel beds) that I knew that any VT I did would be useless.  So I didn't do any.

But that break from vision therapy did seem to have a positive impact.  It was around the fourth day that I was looking around a table at my mother's aunt's birthday party, and I noticed that it seemed that my left eye was turning on.  I knew at that moment that if I did some exercises, the feedback would have indicated progress.

I think every three weeks or so I'm going to try taking off four consecutive days for long term recuperation.  I have suggested in a previous post that my current regimen is pretty hardcore.  I think it's probably true with vision therapy, as in learning and lifting weights, that you get stronger during periods of rest.  So it's good to take mini breaks (one day off between two days), as well as a larger breaks (perhaps four consecutive days) every two or three weeks.  It just seemed so striking how much my vision seemed to improve while I was doing no vision therapy--as if my eyes finally had a chance to adapt to the constant load I was giving them.

To be clear, my current regiment is (while undergoing anodal tDCS stimulation on o1 and o2):
  • Tracking the finger monster in the closet, while standing on a wobble cushion for ten minutes.
  • Clown Saccades for about two minutes.
  • 20 minutes of antisuppression solitaire.  
In particular, I've noticed that my accommodation is getting quite better with tracking the finger monster.  It's usually quite hard to get both input streams accommodated simultaneously while looking at the monster on the right (this is not a problem on the left for some reason).  But now it's getting a bit better, especially if I move it slowly from the extreme right (such that the nose blocks the left eye's view of the monster) to the left.  

Today I was looking down at an energy drink and some of the things that were near me.  Yep.  The stereo cues were there, and stronger than I remember them ever being.  Things are still moving forward. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

#360 session: pretty good accuracy

It's been another good week.  My progress is continuing.  In particular, I'm noticing that my eyes are pointing where they should be.  I'm seeing more things.  It's enjoyable.  Just keeping on keeping on.

Friday, June 20, 2014

#354 session: glorious left dash

Pretty nice looking dashboard, eh?  I'm noticing it quite a lot more now that the suppression is going way down--especially that little window way forward.  It's taking a little getting used to because I'm not used to seeing so much.  It's like I'm seeing it, but my brain hasn't yet realized that it's in conscious view.  It's hard to explain, but very pleasant.  There's a whole other side!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#352 session: good freaking day yesterday

Yesterday was a really good day.  Everything looked really big and bright.  In particular, I'm noticing that my visual field is quite large and I'm now able to see detail that I couldn't before see on the left side.  I don't know what to say other than that.  I'm getting a better and better idea of what it's like to have full vision.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

#349: session: pay dirt

I'm still doing the two days on, one day off (the one day comprised of five minutes of Finger Monster).  I recently got a wobble cushion for loading the exercise.  It works surprisingly well.  I blew it up partially, and got on it.  It's pretty difficult to stay stabilized even with two feet.  I need to use one hand on something nearby in order to keep in place.  We'll see if that increases the rate of progress.  Heh, what a weirdo I must appear to an outsider--standing on a wobble cushion in my closet with electrodes strapped to my head, while tracking a red finger monster around from one side to another.

That said, vision is definitely improving.  I am seeing more.  It's the subjective cues that are improving--not so much the objective.  What I'm noticing is greater presence.  Objects and cars especially seem bolder and more there--as if there's this underlying reality that I was missing before, and still am missing.  It's just underneath a layer whose presence I'm becoming more aware of with every passing day.  I just have to strip off the layer and then I will see a truer and better representation of reality.  That's a pretty good explanation of what is actually going on.  The layer to be stripped off would be the suppression.

It's nice and rewarding.  I have calmed down quite a lot in the past year regarding vision therapy progress.  I was just so gung-ho and obsessive about getting it done.  Now I'm doing quite a bit less vision therapy--although I'm still very consistent.  I'm only doing about 25 minute sessions four times a week.  Before I was doing more than an hour every day.  I was waaayyyyy overdoing it.  That, combined with the fact that my exercises weren't very effective or targeted resulted in anxiety and lots of self-loathing.  Now I'm much calmer, and I have an attitude that 'it's going to happen when it happens', just focus on progress and honing and improving my regimen.  I'm not worried about when I recover stereopsis, because it's not taking up an inordinate amount of time.  I can still go about my normal activities.  Plus, I am experiencing the benefits of vision therapy as I do it.  The veil is coming off, bit by bit.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

#342 session: sweet spot

I've been experimenting with different amounts of stimulation.  I think I may have hit a good amount of exercise.  It's definitely possible to get too much.

It works out to a two day on, one day off schedule.  The days in which I do VT, I will spend 11 minutes in the closet doing Finger Monster exercises, about three minutes with Clown Saccades, and then another 11 minutes doing antisuppression solitaire.  I do that two days in a row.  On my day off, I do five minutes of Finger Monster.

This seems to be the sweet spot.  Man, antisuppression solitaire was looking good yesterday.  It's a great feedback exercise since it lets me very clearly see the suppression (manifested as black).

Today is a pretty good eye day.  The last few days have been, actually, particularly when I get home in the evening, walking to and from my house, looking at the cars in the driveway, and feeling their presence, proximity, and realness.

I've been getting some irritation lately from the contacts.  I get some major red eye, particularly on the astigmatism left eye.  I've been only using a contact lens on the right eye as a result.  That seems to make the biggest difference, since that eye is myopic.  There are no issues for objects near me, but things don't seem to get sharp as they should for objects far away.  So I keep it in.  Plus, I want to keep my refraction relatively constant while I do vision therapy.  We know that refraction can screw up alignment via the accommodation reflex.

This is something I actually heard that LASIK can do--cause strabismus by altering the refraction of the eye.  All of the systems are tied together.  So I'll try to keep my contacts in, keep the refraction constant, until I achieve my goals.  I'll probably always use at least the negative lens on my myopic eye unless I get LASIK.  If LASIK gives me strabismus again, at least I'll know how to fix it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#338 session: good weekend

Yeah, I'm on the right track.  Yesterday and today seemed to be pretty 'good eye' days.

It does seem that in the past week or so I have been particularly moody: up and down, which is not very normal for me.  I try not to let it affect my behavior, especially towards others, but I mostly notice it in my internal dialogue.  One day I'll be very happy, and then another day I'll be really irritated, and I'll allow for negative feelings to take control--except it doesn't really feel like a choice.

Also, this weekend for some reason I was extremely exhausted and I slept a ton.  And even on one of my days in which I slept for around 11 hours, I still wanted to sleep later on in the day.  Now that I'm in the week, I probably was so tired because I needed the sleep.  I think it's probably because vision therapy, especially productive vision therapy which is actually doing something in the brain, is exhausting.

I've heard that vision therapy can do this, and it can also cause mood swings.  It makes sense why this could happen.  You're causing non-trivial changes in the brain.  You're opening a channel through which a flood of new information will enter permanently.  Susan Barry talks a bit about these non-trivial changes in Fixing My Gaze, and how she perceived that vision therapy changed her brain's laterality.  Now a flood of new information is coming through, and accommodations have to be made for that.  I can easily see how that might have cascading non-visual-specific effects on the brain.  She mentioned greater ability and facility in processing information in a left-handed way (detail-oriented), and right-handed way (big picture, holistic) simultaneously.

That's actually another reason that I want to recover stereopsis which I didn't mentioned in this post, Does stereoscopic vision really make that big of a difference?: experiencing life with a stereo brain--not just the stereo vision, but all of that which it entails; having a fully-functional brain, made as nature intended.

We talked a little bit about that in DIY.  It was suggested by a member of the group that people with strabismus may have higher levels of anxiety than people on average.  I should really keep my mouth shut, because I don't know of any data which suggests that this is true.  But if I was forced to guess, I would say that it's true.

When hearing about the experience of people who recovered stereopsis, one of the most common things I hear is something along the lines of 'The world feels more real.  I feel more confident in navigating through the world.'.

If you feel more confident, you're going to have a greater sense of control.  I'm no psychologist, although I'm really interested in psychology.  It's my understanding that having a sense of control over one's environment is extremely important for a person's psychological health--and this is not just for humans, but all animals.  And if you're less confident than others on average, I could easily see how this could increase the likelihood of one developing different neuroses.

Anyway... enough speculation.  Off to the closet.

Monday, May 19, 2014

#333 session: my exercises are pretty hardcore

Things are moving along at a brisk clip, it seems.  I'm currently in a phase of rapid progress--not at all a plateau.  I had a really good day on Saturday.  At one point I was doing an exam (CCNP ROUTE).  One of the test administrators came in (interrupting me) and asked in broken English about a woman who was taking a test.  He was gesticulating in the air, pointing past me.  It produced a fairly powerful stereo effect.

The exercises I'm doing seem to be fairly hardcore.  That is to say, the power of the stimulus is high and to get the full benefit of the exercise, I need to allow the body and brain to adjust--just like lifting weights or learning any skill.  You can't master a skill in a single go.  It takes training, stimulus, feedback, rest and recuperation, stretched out over time.

I've noticed that my 'good eye' days usually happen on days of rest, or a day after my day of rest.  I'm going to try and run with that idea a bit by doing vision therapy on a day-on, day-off schedule: give my system a lot of stimulation, and then give it a break for a day, and just keep doing that.

What else... anything interesting to say?  No.  Not really.  I'm still doing tDCS, I need to make more saline and change the battery.  I'm currently doing 15 minute sessions of Finger Monster in the closet.  I do another 15 minutes of antisuppression Solitaire.  The Eye Can Learn website got rid of Clown Saccades!  Damnit!  I have to find another way to do saccades.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

#327 session: understanding exactly what it is that you're doing can make all of the difference in the world

In previous entries I played around a bit with the idea of vision therapy exercises teaching you how to use your eyes.  They provide you with feedback showing you how your eyes should be working.  I've also played around a bit with the idea that intellectualizing what you're doing has a lot of value in doing vision therapy, especially if you're someone for whom vision therapy does not bear immediate fruit.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I was doing vision therapy in my closet.  The ceilings are too high for me to get near a good source of light in my room, so I stand on a chair in my closet so that I am able to get close to the light bulb.  Then I do about 15 minutes of finger monster, tracking it across my visual field.

The exercise is improving quite a bit.  Both of my eyes are not yet fully trained on the monster.  I notice that one of the images still wants to get out of focus (unaccommodated).  When I move the monster to the right, I see more with my right eye and it is sharp.  When I move it back, I notice that the left-eye input is somewhat blurry.  I can sort of will for it to come in sharp, but it takes a lot of concentration and it can take several seconds.  An easier way for me to get it to accommodate is to move it all the way to the left so that only my left eye can see it.  Then the left eye is going to automatically get it in focus because there's no competition.  It also works halfway too, so instead of just using brute force will to get the left-eye input sharp, I can make it somewhat easy by putting it closer to the left side of my visual system, making it more difficult for my suppressing left eye to ignore.  I can use this technique as a sort of stepping stool, while I ramp up the ability of my left eye to be able to focus with the other eye simultaneously.

By doing this I'm recalibrating the accommodation reflex, tuning it so that my eyes can both accommodate while pointing at the same spot in space.  When I move the finger monster across my field of vision, as long as one of the input images wants to get out of focus at some point, this mechanism is not yet properly tuned.  So in this way the exercise provides both feedback and tuning stimulation.  I've found that by putting my focus on understanding exactly what I'm doing my exercises become particularly effective.

By intellectualizing what you're taking away from feedback exercises you can build an accurate model of what's going on with the visual system.  You can then use those models to guide more effective vision therapy.  That's why it's so important to be intellectually engaged during exercise.

Monday, May 5, 2014

#325 session

There's nothing particularly interesting to report.  Vision does seem better.  I took two days off--Saturday and Sunday. I am still noticing some of the out-of-sync accommodation-ness, and I suspect that it will be there until the very end.  One of the things I noticed is that my eyes are automatically pointing to where they should be pointing.  Antisuppression Solitaire is looking great. It's surprising when I look at the cards through my anaglyph filters because I'm seeing quite a bit less black (the result of suppression).

The meditation seems to have made a big difference in my life in general.  It's easier for me to focus on what I'm doing, I'm less anxious, and everything seems to function better.  That's about it.  I may make a video in a week or so.

Monday, April 28, 2014

#318 session: good stuff

It's been another good week.  I had a particularly 'good eye day' on Sunday.

It's often said by vision therapists that it's a good idea to do vision therapy for about six days a week with a resting day.  I wonder if it's a good idea to have a resting day to allow for the eye to recover from the stimulation from the exercise.  I normally do vision therapy every day, without exception.  When I skip a day of VT as a result of being busy I feel guilty and lazy.  But I'm starting to think that taking a day off may actually be beneficial to making progress.

I spent the night at a friend's house on Friday *cough* and spent the next day recovering and doing other things.  So I skipped VT.  I also did some intermittent fasting and protein cycling on Saturday through Sunday.  I ate a small meal at 4pm on Saturday and only ate small snacks with no protein content for the next 24 hours.  By the end of the 24 hours I begin to feel a little dizzy.  Intermittent fasting and protein cycling is shown to trigger autophagy--it helps trigger the body to clean up unrecycled proteins in the cell.  There are a lot of health benefits from this, which is why I do it.

Sunday I noticed good changes.  In my experience, I think giving the body stress and different experiences helps with learning and changes in the brain.  My fasting, sleep deprivation, physical exertion, break from VT I think made a difference.  The experience of my vision was more intense, and I could tell that I was suppressing less with antisuppression Solitaire.

There was a conversation a while back in our DIY Vision Therapy group about yoga.  Someone mentioned that she noticed a connection with the quality of her vision on days when she did yoga.  She wanted to know whether anyone else had a similar experience.  Michael Lievens said that there's a scientific explanation for why this would be the case: yoga activates the body's parasympathetic nervous system, which can help with a whole slew of different body functions.

I think this is probably true of meditation as well.  I don't know of any hard evidence that 10-15 minutes of meditation would improve vision therapy results, but I suspect that it would.  There is building evidence that meditation is really, really good for one's mental health, and by extension, health in general.  It's been shown to increase brain mass and improve learning.  I've recently incorporated ten minutes of meditation in the morning regimen and can tell a very significant improvement in the quality of life that it engenders.  I know that it's only going to get better as I get better at meditation.  I'm going to stick with it.  It doesn't make sense to not meditate.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

#310 session: my vision is definitely improving

My vision has improved quite a bit in the past few weeks.  It seems as though at least once every week I have a particularly 'wow' day--when I've noticed a particular lot of new information coming into the eyes.  I think it was Tuesday last week.  I still have some very small hypertropia, but it seems to be diminishing rapidly.

My new regimen seems to be very effective--doing particular emphasis on Finger Monster, and antisuppression Solitaire.  When I move the finger monster across my visual field from left to right, I've mentioned before that there is a point where I make a distinct shift from one eye to another.  That shift is becoming less and less pronounced.  I try to pay a lot of attention to the way my eyes work as I move around the 'hot' zone where my brain tends to want to shift from one eye to another.  I do a lot of work in that area, so as to try and completely get rid of the shifting behavior.

This time around with doing antisuppression exercises I seem to know better how to do them.  A few years back I used to put in a crazy amount of time into antisuppression exercises like AS Tetris as well as bar reader exercises.  AS Solitaire is essentially the same type of exercise, but I now know how to do it, and I also now know what I'm seeing when I do it.

One of the issues which presents itself in AS Solitaire is the out-of-sync accommodation issue.  It's difficult to get each filtered eye to see its input clearly simultaneously.  There is still the dominance, and the non-dominant eye gets blurred out a little--even if I consciously choose to unsuppress it momentarily.

Now I know how to fix it.  Consciousness and attention are key.  I try to stay calm, focus through both eyes.  Sometimes I'll switch eyes so that I can have an idea of what 'sharp' means for the other eye, and then I'll try to change back to focusing with both eyes.  When I do this what I'm essentially doing is overriding my accommodation reflex, trying to get it to accommodate in the right way so that I'm able to focus with both eyes simultaneously while looking at the same spot in space.

This can be done.  People do this all the time when doing those Magic Eye hidden autostereograms.  They are overriding their accommodation reflex: accommodating their eyes on the page, while diverging their eyes pointing at a spot in space which is behind the book.  Now that I know that's essentially what I'm doing when I try to unsuppress for antisuppression Solitaire, it makes a significant difference.  If I'm not able to accommodate both eyes while looking at the same spot in space, then there will be a corresponding lack of attention on the input of the non-accommodating eye.  That lack of attention will correspond to continued suppression.  So moving forward will mean tuning my accommodation reflex by overriding its natural tendencies.  This relatively new understanding (3-4 months now), I believe, is responsible for the very recent improvement in my vision.

Monday, April 14, 2014

#305 session

I had a really good eye day one of those days last week.  I'm still plugging away--every day.  I'm doing 15 minutes of tracking finger monster and five minutes of clown saccades under stimulation.  I'm doing another 15 minutes of antisuppression solitaire with some Metro 2033.  Every day.  My eyes are becoming aligned.  It seems progress has sped up.  There's not a whole lot to report.  Hopefully there will be more soon.

Monday, April 7, 2014

#298 session: successful experiment

That experiment with taking the week off from Syntonics and just doing the finger monster exercise, saccades, anti-suppression Solitaire, and Metro 2033: Last Light in stereo 3d seemed to have paid off.  The improvements are very obvious.  I am going to run with the experiment for another week to see where it puts me.

But yes, all progress metrics that I use are pointing in a positive direction.  The double images (my left feet) are continually moving towards one another.  Suppression has gone down significantly.  Playing anti-suppression Solitaire has gotten quite a bit easier, and I'm noticing more luster.

One of the interesting things I'm noticing with the finger monster exercise is this: when I track from the right side to the left side, and finally to the extreme left (so that only my left eye can see) there is a point where I make a distinct shift from one eye to another.  It is when I make the shift that I am definitely looking with the left eye, as opposed to with the right eye.

Since I've started doing this exercise I noticed that the shifting has changed a bit.  The change from one eye to another, while it's still there, is not as distinct.  My attention sort of flows gradually from one eye to another until I'm actually focusing with the eye that's closer to the monster.  It's interesting to notice.  I try to play around a lot with that shifting area and I try to stretch it so that both eyes are always on.

I do realize what I'm doing when I do this.  I'm making it very difficult for my suppressing eye to ignore the input by putting it so close.  I'm basically not giving my visual system a choice but to use the eye, and then allowing it to integrate with the other eye by moving the monster back into the range of the other eye.

This idea of giving the suppressing eye an extra powerful stimulus is a way to recover stereopsis.  This is the idea of the visual therapy implemented in this study.  They give the subject a noise channel (random arrows) on the fixing eye and a signal channel (arrows moving in a single direction) on the suppressing eye.  They then increase the contrast of the signal channel to such a high degree that the suppressing eye can no longer ignore the input.  The suppressing eye, over time, becomes more sensitive to the signal, and the researchers can bring the contrast down.  At that point the subject will have functional stereopsis.  This has been shown to be a very effective therapy.

This principle is applied to the game Diplopia by James Blaha.  James Blaha was an amblyope who fixed his vision with Diplopia.  The game uses an Oculus Rift, which provides each eye with different input.  The game forces you to use both eyes.  Presumably you program into it which eye is your suppressing eye, and then the game gives that eye an extra powerful signal, preventing the suppressing eye from ignoring the input.

It's pretty amazing to think he
  1. Understood the principles involved in stereopsis recovery and was able to translate those principles into creating a game to fix stereoblindness.
  2. Recovered stereopsis on his own with technology of his own making. 
  3. Is now working with eye doctors to make this game available to the public.
I'm pumped about it.  It's exciting to think that we may soon have really good tools for fixing this condition.  It just sucks that I wasted so much time experimenting with different vision therapy methods which could have been used on other things.  Oh well.

It's hard to not like the guy, eh?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

#290 session: taking a week off

I'm going to take a week off from Syntonics.  I'm going to instead do 15 minutes of finger monster and five minutes of saccades under stimulation.  Then in the evenings perhaps spend another 20 minutes doing antisuppression Solitaire and Metro 2033: Last Light in stereo 3d.

I stopped doing light tube exercises for about two days while upping finger monster.  That actually seemed to make a very significant difference.  Maybe it's because light tube exercises are intensely stimulating, and thus exhausting to the visual system and doing it every day is just overloading.  Perhaps there's a good reason why people often do vision therapy three days a week for 20 minutes.  Perhaps it's possible to have too much of a good thing.  We'll see how this experiment pans out.

Oh yeah, vision is better than ever in the past two days.  My stereo perception has improved in a noticeable way in the past week, and past two days in particular.

Monday, March 24, 2014

#284 session: moving forward

Yup.  Still here, still moving forward.

There are a few new tricks that I've learned, I think.  One is a trick that I learned while doing that finger monster tracking exercise.  I've been doing my best to be receptive about the way my eyes feel while doing the exercise.  When I move the monster to my suppressing left eye side it feels a bit uncomfortable and strange.  I should be able to see it very well because it's inches in front of the eye, but I can't because that eye is effectively blind (suppressed at the cortex level--not actually blind-blind).  

So I focus on that area quite a bit and I try to focus and see it as much as possible even though it's difficult.  Through the week I've been doing that I've noticed substantial improvement in control and the range with which I can look at objects with both eyes.  I actually do that exercise for ten minutes now that I've come to the conclusion that it's really doing something valuable for me.  I'm going to keep doing that until I've absorbed the exercise so that it's no longer uncomfortable and awkward.  It shouldn't feel awkward and it shouldn't be difficult to see something that's right in front of my face!

Another thing that I started doing is about five to ten minutes of anti-suppression Solitaire.  I see quite a bit of black, which means that I'm still suppressing quite a bit.  It's been a while since I've done anti-suppression exercises like this since I haven't found them to be useful in the past.  But I suspect that now is the time that I start doing it because my eye control is much better than it used to be so, in theory, my brain should be able to roll with the exercise better.  Before what I think was happening is that I would do the anti-suppression exercises, but because my eye control was pretty bad, I would still get a lot of visual conflict, and so that visual conflict would trigger suppression.  One step forward, one step backward.  But because now as a result of my much improved eye control, my visual conflict has gone down, I'm thinking that it might be the right time to start doing this type of anti-suppression exercise.  One step forward, another step forward, and so on, without the backtracking, is my reasoning and hope.  

I do that for about ten minutes followed by playing some Metro 2033: Last Light in stereo 3d.  This is by far one of the best games I've ever played, period.  It renders in stereo with zero glitches or weird graphical artifacts.  The visual quality and atmosphere of the game is on a level that I haven't seen in any other game.  To be sure, it is a GPU killer, especially while rendering in stereo 3d.  The good thing about playing games in stereo is that they are designed to stimulate the binocular depth neurons, and so they are very good at producing powerful stereo 3d effects--even more than what you'd normally see in real life.  So even with someone like me who is stereo-challenged, I can still get a reasonably decent stereo effect as a result of the high power of the stereo cues.   So when my eyes improve, the gaming experience improves quite a bit, especially when playing the game immediately after doing anti-suppression Solitaire.  It's something to look forward to.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

#273 session: less suppression, better control

I saw quite a bit of improvement from Saturday to Wednesday.  I've noticed quite a bit less suppression and control that is quite improved.  This may be a result of making the switch to the bright red/orange Alpha Delta filters.  It's hard to say exactly how my vision has improved over that time, except that objects seem more real, it feels like more information is coming in, and double vision has improved quite a bit.  My eyes (my cosmesis) look better than ever too.

A number of entries ago, I said something about having "developed a binocular 'instinct'."  It's pretty bad wording because instinct actually means the precise opposite of what I meant.  Instinct, by definition, isn't something you learn.  But it doesn't matter.  I think it's pretty clear what was meant.  What I meant is that binocular vision is beginning to make sense to me.  Seeing in stereo is starting to make sense.

Lately I've been thinking of my visual system as a single channel, and I'm trying to squeeze all of the available input into that single channel.  That means paying attention through both eyes, and noticing the particular way it feels while I do that.  Of course, I do that while trying to keep the light tube image accommodated and single.  This is what I call practicing good binocular posture.

But that feeling, and that binocular way of using the eyes is becoming habitual.  It's pretty easy to get into that mode while doing the light tube because that's all I'm focused on.  It's sort of similar to meditation in that sense.  The more you do it, the better you get and the more quickly you can achieve the meditative state.  I can tell that this practice is spilling over into how I use my eyes during the day because of the improved vision.

One of the ways I've noticed this is that it's becoming easier to read print with both eyes simultaneously.  Normally this is not permitted because of the out-of-sync accommodation problem.  When I try to read with both eyes, both sets of print can't get into focus, so the result is a blurry mess.  If only the blurry set could get on the same page as the sharp set, it would be great.  That's still the case, but it's gone down significantly.  I can only imagine how good it's going to look once the accommodation reflex is fully calibrated.

Also, I'm noticing that the range with which I can look at objects with both eyes simultaneously is widening substantially.  There are a few hard spots, such as to my bottom left, and top left, but they're getting much better.  The past five days or so have been quite good.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Does stereo vision make that big of a difference?

I remember having a conversation with Ewa, a member of DIY Vision Therapy, a long time back about the visual difference between having stereopsis and having stereoblindness.  She asked the question 'Does it really make that big of a difference?' or 'I wonder if it really makes that big of a difference.'  I made some long response (heh), about how yes, it makes a giant difference.

The first hint that I got that they are very different ways of seeing is when I was a child and when my brothers and I were sharing a View-Master (one of those red things that shows you joint pictures with stereo disparity cues).  When they looked in, they were in awe, clearly impressed by what they saw.  When I looked in, I was like 'okay, there's a picture of a car... it looks fine, what's the big deal?'  Of course, my brothers and I were like three or four years old and so lacked the vocabulary to explain the difference.

Then when I was around five or six on vacation with my family I saw a row of people watching a 3d movie at Universal Theaters.  The entire row was freaking out as though things were coming at them within inches of their faces.  When six year old me watched the movie, everyone around me reacted similarly.  I just sat there.  What the hell?

Later in life when I learned about my condition, and had read Fixing My Gaze, I became aware of all of the different accounts of those who had been stereoblind and through one method or another recovered stereopsis.  These people describe the difference between the two ways of seeing as fundamentally different, with stereopsis being vastly superior.  A common response is 'This is how normal people see?!!'  Then they want to re-look at everything, go to art museums, and look at sculptures.  They become fixated on trees (people often talk about how amazing it is to look at trees after they've recovered stereopsis).

Here is a quote from a Reddit AMA from someone who recovered stereopsis via surgery.
woah.... you mean to tell me the doctor literally pulled and tugged your eye into place? damn thats nuts
whats the most beautiful thing / amazing thing you have seen now?
[–]souobixo[S] 164 points  ago
He literally did just that. It's hard to name just one thing that stood out. I would have to say trees have been the one thing that comes to mind. They have SOOOO much depth and detail. There is a national park not too far from where I live that has absolutely amazing colors in the fall. Even little things like chairs in the kitchen, or people walking around in a crowded room still make me stop and just look.
Someone that I know online named Heather explained the difference saying (paraphrased) 'Things are not the way that I thought they were.  Walls that I thought were straight, actually are not, and vice versa.  I feel like the world is more real now'.

Here is a long quote from Oliver Sacks's book The Mind's Eye, which I scraped from Michael Lievens's review of the book.  He has a great blog with a lot of good book reviews.  He's linked below.  
One has to lose the use of an eye for a substantial period to find how life is altered in its absence. Paul Romano, a sixty-eight-year-old retired pediatric ophthalmologist, recounted his own story in the Binocular Vision & Strabismus Quarterly. He had suffered a massive ocular hemorrhage, which caused him to lose nearly all sight in one eye. After a single day of monocular vision, he noted, “I see items but I often don’t recognize them: I have lost my physical localization memory.… My office is a mess.… Now that I have been reduced to a two-dimensional world I don’t know where anything is.”
The next day he wrote, “Things are not the same at all monocularly as they were binocularly.… Cutting meat on the plate—it is difficult to see fat and gristle that you want to cut away.… I just don’t recognize it as fat and gristle when it only has two dimensions.” After almost a month, though Dr. Romano was becoming less clumsy, he still had a sense of great loss:
Although driving at normal speed replaces the loss of depth perception with motion stereopsis, I have lost my spatial orientation. There is no longer the feeling I used to have of knowing exactly where I am in space and the world. North was over here before—now I don’t know where it is.… I am sure my dead reckoning is gone.
His conclusion, after thirty-five days, was that “even though I adapt better to monocularity every day, I can’t see spending the rest of my life in this way.… Binocular stereoscopic depth perception is not just a visual phenomenon. It is a way of life.… Life in a two-dimensional world is very different from that in a three-dimensional world and very inferior.” As the weeks passed, Dr. Romano became more at home in his monocular world, but it was with enormous relief that, after nine months, he finally recovered his stereo vision.

Susan herself describes the sensation of stereopsis as 'touching with the eyes'.  Objects are suddenly in your face.  Seeing is now intensely stimulating.

In her book, Susan talks about the experience, and how even though you've essentially gained another eye, it's not quite enough to say that your vision has improved by a factor of two. A person with stereopsis has vision that is much more than twice as good as a person who has stereoblindness.  It has to do with way that the two eyes are used together. This, I told Ewa, is because of evolution.  Evolution is all about optimization, and optimizing a function with what is currently available to work with. That is why the mammalian eye, even with all of its flaws, works pretty well.

If we dare anthropomorphize evolution, we might imagine evolution asking 'How can we improve situational awareness?  We've got two forward-facing eyes.  Each eye sees well.  Are there any inferences we could make by combining their input?  Would that enhance situational awareness?'

When we look at something, we direct our eyeballs, pointing at that object with our foveas.  The fovea is the dead center of our retina.  It is the area most densely packed with photoreceptors.  The area of our fields that we look at with our foveas is quite small.  If you extend your hand out in front of you looking at your thumb, the size of your thumbnail represents your foveal viewing field.  It's pretty small.  Everything else is seen with our peripheral vision.  We're not aware of how low-resolution everything else is because filling in gaps is one of the primary jobs of the brain.  When we switch our attention to something that was in our blurry periphery, we put our foveas and attention on the object, and then suddenly that object is in sharp focus.  Everything else is back in our blurry periphery and out of our attention.

But the periphery is a giant part of our visual field.  What if evolution could take advantage of the massive peripheral overlap between the two eyes to make some valuable inferences about the environment?  Well, that's precisely what it did by evolving specialized neurons to do that job (binocular depth neurons).  This is why building peripheral vision is an important part of stereopsis recovery.  It's because peripheral vision, while beneficial on its own, becomes vastly more beneficial when the giant overlap between the eyes can be combined to make inferences about the environment.

So even though the visual information coming in from our periphery is low-resolution and it's not providing a ton of information, the real benefit comes from the special sense of depth inferred by binocular depth neurons via processing both foveal and non-foveal visual input of each eye.  This, I suspect, is a big part of why a person who has stereopsis has vision much more than twice as good as a person with stereoblindness.  This is why people who have recovered stereopsis are stunned by how different and how wonderful things look.  The massive difference between the two ways of seeing is why I've put so much time and investment into fixing my vision.  That's why when Ewa innocently asked me 'Is it worth it?  Is the difference between stereopsis and stereoblindess really that big?'  I answered with conviction Yes! and Yes!