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.


1 comment:

  1. It’s interesting Marty, that you are looking for your purpose now. It literally seems to be staring you in the face.