Wednesday 30 August 2023

I Can See Clearly: Celebrating My New Glasses from Grey St. Opticians

Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.
— Thomas Carlyle

A few weeks ago I wrote about my appointment at Grey St. Opticians. I had a brilliant time, was treated fabulously, and left feeling excited about the new glasses I’d chosen. I promised a “frames reveal” post once I’d been back to collect them, so here we go!

Clothes might not seem very relevant but I put a lot of thought into what I wore for my first appointment. I settled on a bold LIFE IS SHORT BLOG MORE t-shirt. It gave me the confidence to be myself, discuss my needs and preferences, and — with expert guidance — choose frames that would suit my character and personality as much as my look. As I wrote in advance, “my new glasses will be a statement of who-I-am-now that I’ll be living with for the next few years.” It was a little less important for my return visit but I still wanted to present well! I chose my beloved Scottish tweed jacket and a new AnnenMayKantereit t-shirt. AMK is a German band that’s been living rent-free in my head for a while now.

I arrived at Grey St. Opticians a few minutes early and was greeted by Fran, who I’d met on my first visit. She said she’d enjoyed the blog post I’d written about that appointment and was interested to hear I was doing another. She also remembered my best friend’s name is Fran. It felt like a good omen! She had my new glasses ready for me. I was quite nervous about trying them, because I’d invested so much focus and energy into them and wanted so much for them to be perfect. I needn’t have worried. From the moment I put them on, I knew they were right. Fran handed me an eye chart on her tablet so I could perform a reading test. I also did a quick test on my phone to assure myself that near focus wasn’t going to be a problem. I spend a lot of time on my phone! Fran then checked to make sure the frames sat straight on my face and weren’t pressing into the bridge of my nose or behind my ears. It’s common for new glasses to sit differently, and was prepared for a little discomfort as they settle into place. We agreed they didn’t need any adjustment, but I know I can go back if necessary.

Grey St. Opticians are very active online. It was one of the reasons I chose them, because they engage so well with their customers and wider public. I was delighted when Fran asked if she could take a photo of me to share on their social media accounts. Needless to say, I said yes! She checked I was happy with the photo and said I was welcome to use it if I wished. Fran also kindly agreed to a joint selfie to mark the occasion.

They’d made me feel so welcome on both visits that I was sad to leave! I took a short walk through Eldon Square shopping mall, then headed to one of my favourite coffee shops, Caffè Nero at St. Mary’s Place.

If you wear glasses you’ll know what it’s like when you get a new pair. Everything appears brighter and sharper. The world is suddenly more exciting and vibrant. Ironically, it’s not always pleasant at first. It’s common to experience headaches and mild disorientation as your eyes adjust to focusing differently. Your brain also has to adapt to seeing more clearly than it has for some time. It feels especially odd with varifocals, because the transition between near focus and far will have changed and is generally more pronounced. This is certainly the case for me. As Nic had advised when he did my eye examination, my distance prescription has increased a little, but my near prescription is significantly stronger. I need to get used to how I tilt my head, to bring whatever I’m looking at into focus. It will become automatic, but it’s something to pay attention to at first, especially when walking or going up and down stairs.

Walking along the street with my focus in the distance was fine, but it was a little disconcerting when I shifted focus from the distance to near to middle and back again. The critical thing is I can focus perfectly at all distances. I’ll soon adapt to adjusting my head and eyes automatically, no matter what I am looking at.

At Caffè Nero I celebrated with a cheese and mushroom toastie, coffee, and chocolate cake. I then unpacked my every day writing kit and settled into some of my regular coffee shop activities. I caught up with my diary, posted a couple of social media updates, and set up my tablet and keyboard to do a little blogging. I also had a video call with Fran (my best friend Fran, that is!) and was happy to hear she loves my new look!

Later in the day I visited another great friend of mine, Aimee Wilson who blogs at I’m NOT Disordered. I asked Aimee to share her first impressions of my glasses. I think it’s fair to say she likes them too!

I was so proud to hear Marty was going to the optician after so long of not having his checkups because I know how important they can be, and I was really chuffed to hear how lovely all the staff were!

I was kind of surprised to see Marty’s new glasses for two reasons. First because I’m obviously so used to seeing him in his old ones! Secondly, the purple tones in them. They’re very obviously a bit different, but in the most lovely way! And I think it’s a true testament to Marty’s confidence and courage to wear something that is unique!

It’s cool to think they kind of sum him up and I genuinely wonder if they’re going to become his “trademark” like me with my red hair!

Her words mean a great deal. Aimee recognises what a big deal it’s been for me to do this, and how important it was to come away with glasses that not only let me to see clearly, but also express something of the person behind the frames.

It’s been a few days now since I collected them, and I couldn’t be happier. As anticipated, I’ve had a couple of mild headaches, and I’ve needed to take more frequent breaks from my screens than I usually do. That’s probably no bad thing in itself. I’ve also experienced some discomfort across the bridge of my nose as the new frames settle into place. If it doesn’t ease up in a few days I know I can pay a return visit to have them adjusted, but I doubt that will prove necessary. Really, the only problem I have is needing to update all my social media profile pictures!

I’m hugely grateful to optometrist Nic, who did such a thorough and professional job with my eye examination and prescription; frames specialist Becks for helping me find the perfect frames when I had little idea what I was looking for; and dispensing optician Fran for bringing the experience to such a successful conclusion. You’re the best!

If you’re looking for an independent optician in the Newcastle area check out Grey St. Opticians on their website, Instagram, or Facebook. I can’t recommend them highly enough.



Wednesday 23 August 2023

Just Don't: Ten Reasons Not to Do the Thing

This photograph by James Orr caught my attention in 2020 when I was looking for the perfect image to accompany one of my blog posts. It wasn’t what I was looking for at the time but I included it in my collection of 21 image prompts for the mental health blogger. Three years on, I’m ready take up the challenge and explore what JUST DON’T means to me.

It stands in contrast to the more famous JUST DO IT imperative, which has featured in the promotional campaigns of American athletic footwear and apparel corporation Nike since 1988. The message of motivation and achievement is healthy enough in the right context, but like positivity of any kind it becomes toxic when applied without considering a person’s situation and needs. There’s an large dose of ableism in the “you can do anything if you want it enough” subtext. What if you want to do it but can’t? What if you don’t want to do it at all?

There are many kinds of achievement, as I explored a couple of years ago in an article titled For the Win! Celebrate Your Successes in Your Own Way. Saying no to the things we don’t want is as important as saying yes to the things we do. Here are ten situations where not doing the thing may be the best or wisest choice.

1. I don’t want to

“I don’t want to” is more of a statement than a reason, but it’s valid if that’s how we feel. Perhaps we know the underlying reason but choose not to share it with others. Or we’re not sure why we don’t want to do the thing, only that we don’t. I was on a call the other day with Fran. She said it was a lovely day where she lives. The sun was shining. There were at least three outdoor things she could imagine doing, any of which she’d probably enjoy. But she didn’t want to do any of them. We explored that for a few moments. I told her her “I don’t want to” was a perfectly reasonable response to a sunny day. She didn’t have to justify her decision to me, herself, or anyone else.

2. I’m scared

You may know the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers. (“Whatever you are afraid of, this book can give you the insight and practical tools to push through your fears to live the life you always wanted.”) I read it a number of years ago. It contains a great deal of information and techniques for working with our fears. As I’ve written elsewhere, we tend to tell ourselves stories about who we are and what we can and cannot do. These can hold us back from experiencing new things, so it’s worth checking from time to time to see if they still meet our needs.

But the stories, and our fears, are there for a reason. They are, or have been, protective in some way. There’s a time to push through and do it anyway but we may not be in a position to do so right now. That’s okay. Being scared or unready to face the test today is okay. I’m reminded of the poem by Christopher Logue (often wrongly attributed to Guillaume Apollinaire, to whom it was dedicated) called “Come to the Edge.”

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came,
and he pushed,
And they flew.

The meaning is clear. If we push through our fears (or are pushed) we can overcome what holds us back. The message is intoxicating. It is also profoundly dangerous. It’s not for others to push us over the edge. The motivation to transcend our fears must come from within us, albeit with encouragement and support. Author and life coach Tony Robbins has said “[c]hange happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” In that moment, we may decide to do the thing, but there’s no shame in paying attention to our fears and putting it off for another day.

3. I don’t feel safe

This overlaps with the previous reason, because if we don’t feel safe doing something we’re likely to be fearful or anxious about it. There’s a difference, however. This one says “I would do the thing if I felt safe.” There could be any number of reasons for feeling unsafe. It might relate to our physical situation, a lack of financial security that makes taking a risk unreasonably perilous, or not having a safe space within a friendship or relationship to do or say what we otherwise would. Not feeling safe is one reason people hide the truth about how they’re feeling.

4. It doesn’t feel right

Elsewhere I’ve described some strategies we can use to make wise decisions. Several rely on identifying how we feel about the options we’re faced with. It’s sensible to balance our feelings with what we think about the situation, but if you’ve a strong sense something isn’t going to work out well, pay attention to your gut. American stand-up comedian Taylor Tomlinson has a brilliant skit about making loads of mistakes in your twenties because you don’t have much of a gut to pay attention to. Not everyone in their twenties is slim, obviously, but she’s talking more about our intuition than our waistlines. I’m in my sixties and have both kinds of gut in abundance. I try to pay attention to them both.

5. I feel pressured to do it

It’s not always obvious when we’re being pushed to do something we otherwise wouldn’t, because the pressure can be subtle. We’ve all been in situations where we feel we should do something, perhaps from a sense of responsibility, duty, or because it’s expected of us. As Philippa Perry claimed in an article in The Guardian, "Shoulds are so often the assimilated wants of other people and of your culture.” Neither Fran nor I are a fan of should. For us, it’s a word that shouldn’t be used. There are times when we can gracefully accept the burden of responsibility, but acting repeatedly against our interests because it’s expected of us isn’t healthy. Saying no when necessary is a wise expression of our boundaries. It reminds us and those around us of our value and needs.

6. I can’t afford it

Not having enough money is a valid reason for saying no to things we’d like to do if we could afford it. Examples include declining a meet-up with a friend, deferring a vacation, or putting off non-essential purchases. It can be hard to say no, but it’s a wise decision if our finances don’t permit it, or if saying yes would leave us struggling to afford something more important.

7. I can’t right now

Sometimes we’d love to do the thing but can’t at the moment. We may have contradictory demands and responsibilities, or health issues that get in the way. The latter is something I’ve learned from Fran, whose primary health conditions — bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), and fibromyalgia — affect her episodically. There are times when all three conditions are operating at a low intensity and she’s more or less able to do what she wants or needs to do. More usually, however, one or more of her symptoms is in the ascendency. This can severely limit her ability to do the things she’d like to. She generally needs to allow time in advance of, and after, anything that requires significant mental, physical, or emotional energy.

8. I can’t do it

There are some things we’re incapable of doing, no matter how much we’d like to. That’s not a comfortable message. We’re indoctrinated to believe we can do anything if we want it enough and are prepared to do the necessary work, navigating or pushing aside the obstacles in our way. Obstacles such as stigma, discrimination, and oppression deserve to be challenged and overcome, but the idea we can do anything we want is naive, unkind, and unhelpful. Refusing to acknowledge our lives’ boundaries can breed dissatisfaction and resentment. It also prevents us from living our best lives. Saying I can't do that isn’t defeatist or self-limiting if it’s grounded in reality. We’re not letting ourselves down, or failing at life. Accepting that some things aren’t going to happen can bring peace because we’re no longer spending time and energy chasing things that will never be. It allows us to focus on and work towards the things we can achieve. Our first best destiny, if you will.

9. I don’t want to give up

The hardest choice of all is saying no to something that seems the best or only option, but is potentially dangerous. I’ve no personal experience of suicidal thinking or self-harm, but I’ve learned how desperately hard it can be to stay safe. Just don't might seem insensitive and naive in that context, but anything that helps weigh the scale towards safety counts as a reason not to do the unsafe thing. I’m reminded of the lyrics to Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” with its list of reasons to stay in the game, to stay safe, to stay alive.

’Cause you have friends.
You’re not beaten yet.
I know you can make it good.
You still have us.
’Cause somewhere there’s a place where we belong.
You’re not the only one.
We’re proud of who you are.

My favourite version of the song is Gabriel’s duet with Kate Bush, but his 1990 performance with Sinead O’Connor carries fresh poignancy after her recent death. Every person and situation is different, but staying safe is likely to involve more than not doing the unsafe thing. It very likely involves choosing to do something protective, such as seeking help and support. This in itself is an act of courage and deserves to be recognised as such.

10. I did it and I want a medal

A funny one to finish with. If you’re planning to do something just to look good or brag about it afterwards, maybe JUST DON’T. It’s not a good look, as Ellie Taylor relates in this excerpt from the BBC’s satirical news show The Mash Report. It opens with the line, “A man has sorted out one thing and now wants a fucking medal for it.” Joking aside, it’s worth examining our motives if we find ourselves doing things performatively just to boost our egos or elevate ourselves above others.

Over to You

In this post I’ve shared ten reasons not to do something. Can you think of an occasion when you had to decline an invitation, or say no to something you wanted to do? What about times when you felt obligated to do something you didn’t want to do? How did it feel? How did you handle it? Fran and I would love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Photo by James Orr at Unsplash.


Wednesday 16 August 2023

Six Reasons Your Friend or Loved One May Hide the Truth From You About their Mental Health

Mental health campaigns stress the importance of talking about how we’re feeling, especially if we’re struggling or mentally unwell. Whether it’s a trusted friend or family member, medical professional, counsellor, therapist, or crisis line, the message is clear: talk to someone. Fran and I believe in the value of genuine, honest, and open communication. It’s the foundation of our friendship and the central message of our book, our blog, and everything we do in the mental health arena. But it’s not always easy, or even appropriate, to be completely open with everyone all the time. All of us fib about how we are sometimes. Even me and Fran, even with each other.

In this post I want to look at why our friends and loved ones aren’t always completely open with us about their mental health. Understanding why this happens can help us to be more compassionate towards those we care about, and ourselves. As well as my own experiences, I’ll draw on contributions submitted in response to a request I posted on social media. I’m grateful to everyone who shared ideas, thoughts, and experiences. This article is richer for your insight, courage, and honesty. There may be any number of reasons for someone not fully disclosing what’s going on for them, but I’ll focus on six.

  1. I don’t want to be a burden
  2. I’m not sure you’ll be there
  3. I don’t feel safe
  4. I don’t want you to think I’m weak
  5. I don’t want it to change us
  6. You’re not who I need right now

Let’s look at these in more detail.

1. I Don’t Want to Be a Burden

Not wanting to be a burden was mentioned more than anything else. It’s an understandable concern, and one I recognise in myself. It’s clear that in many cases this is done with the intention of protecting the other person from worrying.

Maybe they’re not telling you for a reason that’s good towards you, like they don’t want to burden you, or don’t want you to know about things like self-harm or suicide or rape. [AW]

I tend to hide my mental health issues from people close to me for several reasons. [The first is] I don’t want to worry them, especially my partner, when I feel they’ve already had enough reason to worry about me. [The second is] I feel such pressure to put a brave face on and show that I’m being positive (which I am most days) and I don’t want to burden people by allowing them to see that I’m having a bad day. [CB]

From the “caring friend” perspective, it’s hard to think that people would hold back because they didn’t want to burden me. I can’t think of a single occasion I’ve felt any of my friends was a burden. There have been times I couldn’t help someone immediately, but I’d rather they checked in with me to see if I have capacity to listen to them than assume I’m too busy or too involved with my own problems. That said, it’s important for me to recognise this can get in the way of people opening up to me.

I feel that other people have their own mental health issues to contend with and haven’t got room for mine, because that’s how I often react to people saying they’re depressed or suffering from anxiety, as I feel like I’ve got my own problems. I then feel bad for not having more empathy, so I don’t want them to go through the same thought process. In other words, I don’t want them to have the same dilemma of wanting to be supportive but just not currently having the capacity. [CB]

This last point was picked up by another contributor, who highlighted the effort involved both in opening up and in being there for someone else.

The feelings associated with mental illness can feel so heavy and explaining these to an acquaintance or stranger or even a friend can feel too much to even know where to begin. Most people don’t really have the capacity to bear such an enormous burden or be there for a mentally ill person for the duration. [AR]

2. I’m Not Sure You’ll Be There

The apparent simplicity of the “talk to someone” message fails to recognise the enormous commitment opening up to another person represents. It’s a commitment not only in mental and physical effort, but also vulnerability. We need to know, or at least trust, that the person we talk to has the capacity to accept whatever we have to share, without rejecting us or responding in ways that exacerbate rather than ease our situation. It’s also true that being there for someone involves more than taking time to hear them out. As the previous contributor noted, it can mean being there “for the duration.”

Whether it’s caused by physical illness or mental, feeling so depressed does make people feel useless and this makes it harder to ask for help. [CB]

I’m not saying I’m suicidal, not by any means. But I realise its best to save the energy I do have to talk with those who can hear me, read me, and instinctively know when to shoot that wing underneath. [MH]

When that trust is there, the rewards can be incredibly valuable, and the effort — on both parts — ultimately worthwhile. This is something Fran and I have found many times, but we’re certainly not alone.

For my cousin, it was a matter of a long time, finally feeling comfortable enough, trusting enough, and vulnerable enough, to share his mental illness with me, and coming to me for support and help when he wasn’t mentally feeling well knowing that whatever he shared with me would only stay between us. [TA]

3. I Don’t Feel Safe

It’s clear that sometimes trust isn’t there, or has broken down, leaving us feeling unable to open up to certain people.

I find my family of origin has no interest at all in my mental health, no interest in my heath at all actually. They see me as strong and they aren’t interested in knowing anything else. [VR]

I thought when I was finally diagnosed it was wonderful. I could tell the people that knew me what I had and that would explain about me and they wouldn’t think I was crazy. But that backfired and they thought I was even crazier. Some didn’t believe me. I finally quit telling others I had Bipolar Disorder until a long time later. [CR]

If there’s no helpful or supportive response it’s easy to understand why someone wouldn’t want to risk opening up to them again. This applies as much to professionals and crisis or support lines as it does to friends and family members.

4. I Don’t Want You to Think I’m Weak

Guilt and weakness came up several times. It’s easy to say that we shouldn’t feel guilty or weak if we’re struggling, but the reality is that these feelings are real. In many cases, they’re reinforced by stigma and societal expectations, but they can be internal too, related to our sense of self-esteem and self-image.

There’s still so much stigma around being mentally ill, especially by older generations who see it as weakness or an excuse for nonproductivity. It often made me feel ashamed and less than, and I stopped reaching out or talking about it to friends or family. [AR]

I don’t like people to think I’m not “strong.” For instance [after chemo] I didn’t leave the house other than to go to the hospital until my hair started growing back and I put a bit of weight back on because I wanted people to see me as my “normal self.” I didn’t want people to see me moping about in my pyjamas and feeling dreadful and full of morphine because that would have been showing weakness (in my mind that’s what it would have been). [CB]

Guilt is another factor, both on the part of the person who’s struggling and the person they’ve shared with.

If people do share their mental health problems, they feel guilty that they can’t do anything for them, or can’t do more. While the person sharing often feels guilty that they haven’t been able to deal with it on their own, and guilty that they may be putting additional stress onto someone else. [When] I was extremely low and struggling psychologically, it was exacerbated by feelings of guilt and complete uselessness. [CB]

These feelings can affect anyone, but they’re especially pertinent to men.

I think men are definitely more at risk of their mental health problems escalating. It’s sad that men asking for help is seen as “being sensitive” which is still viewed by many as a weakness or “feminine.” [CB]

I don’t have a mental health diagnosis but as I’ve explored in blog posts such as Return to Down and THIS BOY GETS SAD TOO, I’m much more aware of my mental health than I used to be. Blogging is part of how I choose to talk about it, as well as conversations with Fran and other friends. I’ve learned to be more honest about my physical health too, as you can read in How International Men’s Day Inspired My First Doctor’s Appointment in 30 Years.

The issue of weakness came up for me last year when a close friend challenged me on something I’d written about crying in an open letter to my father. Examining my thoughts and feelings brought a key insight: while crying certainly isn’t a sign of weakness, weakness itself is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.

5. I Don’t Want it to Change Us

Talking to a friend or loved one about how we’re feeling, whether that’s a long-term mental health condition or something more temporary, risks changing the nature of the relationship. You can’t unsay — or unhear — something once it’s been spoken.

There are times when I keep things to myself because I know I’ll move through the situation in less time than it’ll take my friend and I to process it collectively. Once shared, the problem or issue can become a thing in itself which needs time and energy to manage. Discussing things with someone can also take me in directions I’d not have gone if I’d handled things myself. This new perspective can be useful but that’s not always the case. Something I might have handled myself in a matter of days or weeks can become something needing months to navigate.

Our friends or loved ones may hide what’s going on because they don’t want us to treat them differently. We may bristle at that. “Oh, I wouldn’t treat someone badly because they’re struggling,” we might say. But that’s not altogether the point. The point is that our loved ones might feel that way. We might too, in their situation. As one contributor put it, “I like people to treat me the way they always did before I became ill.” Fran expressed this powerfully in the early days of our friendship, after I told her I saw her as my friend, rather than as “someone living with illness.”

That is the point, Marty! It is how you are with me. People do not usually treat me that way once they know I have illness. It is a powerful thing. It has helped me see that I am not just my illnesses. I have value and gifts to give.

6. You’re Not Who I Need Right Now

I think there can be a sense of entitlement on the part of friends and family, as thought the person struggling owes us the truth. I don’t see it like that. If we create a safe space, people will tell us what they feel safe telling us, but only if it’s going to help them. That’s especially at a time of crisis. This is something I’ve learned over the years, and it wasn’t an easy lesson. As someone who cared deeply about my friends, I wanted to be there through thick and thin, whatever they were going through, offering everything they needed. It took a while to recognise that I can’t be everything to everyone, and that sometimes I’m simply not who my loved ones need.

I think it’s important to get across that as close friends, we can feel a bit like we have an obligation to know certain things and then it can upset us when we are not told what’s going on. And we shouldn’t feel this way. Regardless of the strength of the friendship, when someone is struggling, they might not act as they normally would, might not reach out to the people they normally would etc, and they still need to not be pressured by anyone. As friends we need to understand that and not take it personally. I know I have felt low about things like that in the past and it’s not a good thing. We have to understand that everyone has a team, and having a team is healthier than having just one person. [LD]

The team analogy is something that’s helped me a lot. I have a role on Fran’s team, alongside her other friends, doctors, and other professionals, but I’m not needed on the field at all times. Likewise, I’ve come to recognise the importance of having a support team of my own. What matters is that people are able to reach out to and access the help and support they need, when they need it. It doesn’t always have to include me.

So What Can I Do About It?

I’ve described six reasons why our friends and loved ones may not always be completely open with us about what’s going on. There will be other reasons too. Everyone and every situation is different. But what can we do about it? What is most helpful? The starting point is not to take it personally.

We have to learn that it’s not a reflection on us if someone is struggling [and doesn’t tell us about it]. It doesn’t mean that we’re not providing enough fun or support etc. It’s just something that’s happening to them. [LD]

Something I’ve found helpful is what I call supportive disengagement. Simply put, this means holding space while someone deals with whatever they’re going through in their own way. It means letting them know you’re there without pushing your need to be helpful on them unless and until it’s asked for. Ultimately, it’s about trusting our friends and loved ones, and supporting them with care rather than worry. The phrases “I worry about you” and “I care about you” are often used interchangeably, but there are three important differences. This is one of the first and most important lessons I ever learned with Fran.

I’ll close with something I’ve just written to a friend.

I’ve been going over my blog post — the one you contributed to about why people may not tell us what they are going through. All the reasons make so much sense to me — in fact, it’s amazing that anyone tells anyone anything! I think all we can do really is hold space for people to trust us with what’s going on for them, and hope that others are there to do that for us when we need it.

I don’t tell my friends everything but I have people who are there for me when I want or need to. As another friend put it when I thanked her for listening when I was talking about some things I was dealing with at the time. “You’re welcome. Always got your back!”

Over to You

How easy do you find it to talk to someone when you are struggling with your mental health or other issues? Do you tend to keep things to yourself, or are you able to discuss them with people you trust? Does it help? How do you handle the idea that people you care about may not always be completely open with you about what they’re going through? What helps you handle situations like that? Fran and I would love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Photo by Ángel López at Unsplash.


Wednesday 9 August 2023

To See and Be Seen: My Visit to Grey St. Opticians

Our key to transforming anything lies in our ability to reframe it. — Marianne Williamson


I’ve worn glasses since I was eleven years old — that’s fifty-one years for anyone counting! I’ve had my current pair for a dozen years or more. They’re still fine for distance, but over the past twelve months I’ve found it increasingly difficult to work on my laptop, phone, or tablet without headaches and eye strain. After some research and asking friends and colleagues for recommendations, I made an appointment with Grey St. Opticians in the centre of Newcastle. As I write this, my appointment is one day away.

The crucial thing is to see clearly again. That’s largely the optician’s responsibility, to perform the eye test and prescribe the correct lenses. I’ve had issues in the past where I’ve been prescribed glasses that were so wrong they were unusable. That’s partly why I’ve kept my current pair as long as I have. But choosing new frames is also important. That bit’s down to me, and it’s the part I’m most nervous about. I’ve never been cool or stylish, or even had much of an idea what those words mean. My new glasses will be a statement of who-I-am-now that I’ll be living with for the next few years. I want to get it right. I’m hoping the folk at Grey St. can give me some advice and suggestions.

There’s more to it than just my appearance, though. I’ve been thinking more generally about who I am at this stage in my life, how I see myself, and how I would like to be seen. One friend expressed it perfectly. “It’s about perception,” she said. “And looking at your world with different eyes.” Two words that keep coming up for me in this regard are reframing and vision. From the moment I begin wearing my new glasses, I’ll present differently to family, friends, and colleagues. The world will look different to me too. In sharper focus, hopefully, but also literally re-framed. In a different context, reframing (specifically, positive cognitive reframing) is a term from cognitive behavioral therapy that Fran and I know well.

In simple terms, it involves being aware of our negative, harmful, or limiting behaviours and thoughts; assessing them for relevance; and where necessary changing or adapting them to better meet our needs. It reminds me that we all have patterns of thinking and behaving that we tend to repeat without confirming they still serve our best interests. This is something I explored in Rewriting the Stories We Tell Ourselves. Some stories will still be valid, but most are little more than strategies we’ve evolved to keep from expanding our horizons. What stories am I telling myself these days, that limit or no longer serve me? It’s an ongoing process, but I’ve uncovered a few that could stand rewriting, or deleting entirely.

Vision isn’t just about seeing things clearly. It’s about how we perceive the world and our role in it. Fran and I once wrote a vision statement for our mental health work.

Our vision is a world where no one is too far away to be cared for or to care.

I stand by that, but it doesn’t go far enough. I’ve explored this before, most directly in Connection, Creativity and Challenge: In Search of My First Best Destiny. Two years on from that piece, I remain uncertain of my place and purpose but I’ve not given up, on myself or on the world. Looking harder hasn’t worked. Maybe I need to look differently.

Revision (re-vision) invites us to look at the world from a different perspective. I know something about this, because I tend to live vicariously through the lives and experiences of my friends. There are pitfalls, but it offers ample opportunity to see things from points of view other than my own. As a writer, revision also suggests to me revising or editing. I have a blogging workflow that helps me craft my rough ideas into a finished piece of writing. The same process can be applied to our narratives about the past. Like the self-limiting stories I mentioned earlier, the way we think and talk about the past affects how we see and relate to things in the present.

This isn’t an argument for rewriting history to suit ourselves. The things that happened in our lives and in our relationships happened. We can’t edit them out of existence. Our histories were nevertheless written in the language of earlier times. Reviewing them in the light of our present situation can bring peace, forgiveness, and a more compassionate undertanding of ourselves and others. In the words of novelist and poet May Sarton, “Revision is not going back and fussing around, but going forward into the highly complex and satisfying process of creation.”

New glasses won’t magically change my thinking or grant me a new perspective on life. They can help, however, by reminding me that I have a say in how I present to the world and perceive it. That’s a potent, and scary, thought! As American author Marianne Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” I’d like to feel at least some of those things again.


It felt important to capture how I felt about this whole “getting a new pair of glasses” thing before my appointment, but if you’ve read this far I’m sure you’re wondering how I got on. Did I need new glasses? Did I find frames I’m happy with? Did it change my life? In short, yes, yes, and it’s early days but maybe! I’ll do a “frames reveal” post in a couple of weeks when I collect my new glasses but I want to share how the appointment went, because it more than met my expectations. I’ll start with a huge thank you to everyone at Grey St., especially Nic and Becks who took such great care of me and guided me through every step of the process.

Given that this was all about finding a pair of glasses that fit my personality, I’d put some thought into how I presented. I chose my black and white LIFE IS SHORT BLOG MORE t-shirt. I figured it would provide a neutral tone if I was trying on coloured frames, and also express an important aspect of who I am. It was a good choice. It gave me an opportunity to talk about the blog, my friendship with Fran, our book, and some of the other things I’m into. It also helped explain why I spend so much of my time in front of a screen! I told Becks I was planning to blog about my visit, which I hope didn’t put her under any undue pressure!

She began by asking about my current glasses, how long I’d had them, any issues I was having, and what style of frames I was interested in. It helped that I’d checked their Instagram account in advance and had screenshot a few that caught my eye. Nic then took me downstairs for my eye exam. I won’t go into all the details, but I can’t recall a more thorough or comprehensive examination. He described each test as we went along, and explained the results in some detail. I loved seeing the retinal scans, especially the 3D model of the inside of my eyes. Not for the squeamish, perhaps, but I found it fascinating. He explained how my eyesight has changed since my last exam (a natural degradation in some areas, a little improvement in others) and what differences I can expect from my new glasses when I get them.

Nic handed me back to Becks for what I imagined would be the most difficult part of the whole process: choosing the frames! While I’d been downstairs, she’d selected maybe a dozen frames, and we started by whittling that down to four or five contenders. It was a really good way of working, and something I can’t recall from visiting other opticians in the past. Becks offered suggestions and guidance, but I never felt pushed towards a particular pair or rushed to make a decision. I finally brought my selection down to two frames. Either would have been good but we both preferred the same pair. I took a deep breath. The decision was made!

We then discussed lens options, coatings, etc. This was another important step but the decisions were far easier for me to make. The final bill came to more than I’d anticipated, but that was down to my preference and decisions, all of which I was happy with. I still am, a day later. I can’t wait to get the call in a week or two to say my glasses are ready to collect. Given my experience with other opticians in the past, there’ll be a tiny bit of doubt in the back of my mind until I know the prescription is right, but I trust Nic and Becks and have every confidence my new glasses will be perfect.

After my appointment I celebrated by visiting one of my old haunts, Caffè Nero at St. Mary’s Place. Over coffee, a mushroom toastie, and a blueberry muffin I thought through everything that had happened. What meant so much was that they took time to get to know me and what I wanted, even when I was unsure of that myself. I felt valued, heard, and seen, which is really what it was all about. I noticed later that a photo had been posted to the Grey St. Instagram account. It showed the first set of frames Becks selected for me to try, together with my business card. The post said “Helping Martin pick his new glasses was a cracking way to start the day!” It was the perfect close to what had been a great experience for me too.

Thank you!

If you’re looking for a great independent optician in the Newcastle area check out Grey St. on their website, Instagram, or Facebook.


Photo by Bud Helisson at Unsplash.