During the holidays I had the opportunity to visit my best friend in Los Angeles. I don’t venture to the West Coast often because it is a really long flight for me and usually there is enough to entertain and tempt me on the East Coast. At any rate, it was wonderful to escape the cold winter and have some sunshine in December. It had been a long time since I’d visited, and I was just amazed how blue the skies are in LA. I couldn’t believe how warm it was in the dead of winter. It was glorious to eat lunch at sidewalk cafes and go hiking in a tank top and shorts. What a thrill to do something like that in December!
One thing I noticed on my first morning there was how sensitive my eyes were to all that sunshine. I felt like a mole! Where I live now, it is often cloudy and rainy. I acted like a vampire upon waking up on my first morning in LA, pulling the covers over my head and howling about all the brilliant light. I was so happy to see the sunshine and the bright blue skies, but they felt like they were killing me. Sunshine and blue skies are a game changer for my mental well being. I am immediately happier and more energetic when I see a blue sky. I of course always wear sunscreen and stay in the shade, but a sunny blue sky lifts my mood ten fold. I was conflicted with how happy I was to see blue skies and with how much my eyes hurt with all that sun. My body was telling me to hide in the darkness and my heart was telling me to get outdoors.
Many years ago as a kid, the eye doctor told my mother that I had very light pigmentation around my eyes and I am hypersensitive to bright light. With blue eyes, fair skin, and lighter hair, I was preconditioned to be sensitive to sunlight. Combine that with my already small eyes, if you put me under the sun my squint goes into overdrive. I have referenced on other pages on our site how I hate when people ask me why I am squinting. My sensitivity to light kind of blurs the lines – am I squinting because I have poor vision, because my eyes are really sensitive to light, or because I have BPES? People always used to assume I was squinting because I have such small eyes. So many eye issues! I believe that I was mostly squinting because my eyes are super sensitive to bright sunlight.
About ten years ago, I finally invested in a quality pair of prescription sunglasses. Thankfully my prescription hasn’t changed too much over the years that I can still use this same pair. I would be dead without them. I cannot function in bright natural outdoor light. It hurts my eyes to the point that I feel blinded and unable to focus my vision. I was reminded in LA that I really have to wear my sunglasses or I will be uncomfortable in all that sunlight. What a problem to have for a woman with BPES who LOVES the sunshine.
I had the opportunity to travel to Singapore this past November. I haven’t spent that much time in Asia, so this trip was really impressionable for me. I was delighted by the mixing of so many Asian countries and cultures within Singapore. In addition to enjoying getting to explore a new place, eating amazing food, and soaking in the warm weather, I was very curious about how others perceived me. During my college years, as I’ve mentioned in other pages on our site, many people told me they thought I was Asian based on my eyes. It used to be insanely frustrating for me when people assumed I was of Asian descent. As I roamed through the indoor malls and outdoor parks in Singapore, I kept wondering – do people think I am part Asian?
When I travel, I like to fit in and not stand out. My goal is to be a respectful tourist and just blend in with the background to observe day to day life as seamlessly as possible. You’ll still find me at local tourist spots, but I won’t be standing on the corner with my map open, while in line waiting to jump on the open air city tour bus. As an aside, with the utility and subtlety of SmartPhones now, I suppose the classic tourist “two handed open map study on a street corner” is a thing of the past. I think I was self-conscious because I couldn’t blend in as a local as I usually try to do in my travels. It was very clear that I was not a native Singaporean based on my pale skin tone, light brown hair color, and oodles of freckles!
It’s funny to me that in the United States we really are a melting pot at times. I love how you can walk down the street in a major city in the US and you’ll have no idea based on someone’s appearance and dress whether they are a citizen, an immigrant, or a visitor. I was so conscious in Singapore that everyone knew I wasn’t from there. I am not sure why I thought this and why it bothered me so much. It was clearly all in my head. Never was I treated poorly during my trip and never did anyone call my background or appearance into question.
Earlier this year, I traveled to Thailand and I don’t remember being as self-conscious about my appearance for whatever reason. Maybe this was due to me being with my friend and Bangkok being a larger city or that we did more touristy things. While in Singapore I had more time by myself to wander the city and I was overthinking, as I tend to do. I fully recognize that these are all just thoughts invented in my mind, but…what a funny BPES problem that when Asia, I inwardly called my own identity into question. Probably more a product of my childhood and college years where so many people challenged who I was and practically argued with me that I must be Asian. Surreal. I know exactly who I am, but weird when other people try to tell you that you are something you are not. I appreciate the world is more globalized than it was 15 years ago in that no one said a thing to me about my eyes or heritage during my entire trip. What a thrill that I could walk down the street in Singapore and be accepted as a tourist exactly as I am, in all my BPES small eyed glory!
With BPES, a unique issue I have is that since my eyelids don’t open all of the way, they are more exposed to the sun. This is something that most other people don’t have to worry about as much. I have learned the hard way several times that I need to always take the time to put sunscreen on my eyelids.
Those times I have forgotten or not put on sunscreen carefully enough, my eyelids have turned bright pink. It almost appeared as though I had on pink eye shadow. They became hot and swollen, which made it even harder for me to keep them open.
I tried to find a picture that would illustrate this, but I could only find one where you can kind of see. Shockingly, I did not allow my picture to be taken when I was badly burned. 😉 This picture was taken 13 years ago at Daytona Beach, FL. It is hard to see my eyelids, but it is clear that I have a sunburn (also see my earlier post about how awkwardly hats fit on my head). If you look closely, you can see how my eyes are barely opened. This is a result of swelling from burned eyelids.
But having this happen a couple of times was enough, and I am very careful now. I have learned to apply sunscreen to the eyelids very meticulously, because trying to rush it has resulted in getting lotion in my eyes, causing them to sting. I found another picture from a more recent trip to Sarasota, FL where you can see a slight sunburn on my face, but my eyelids are unscathed and my eyes are open to admire the gorgeous sunset!