No I am not talk about dodgy men in raincoats. These flashers are worm like blobs of intense, pure-white light which wriggle or zoom across my vision like fireworks before disappearing. They occur with my eyes open or closed. I used to see brief flashes of white light inside my eye like a flash bulb going off. It felt just like someone was taking sneaky photos of me when I wasn’t looking. I read up and realised that it was my doolally, slightly incontinent, retina discharging electrical impulses at random.
I was quite frightened by my private light show. Each burst seemed to be the swan-song of a cell dying in my retina. A furious, ostentatious death that said, “Hey! Look at me, I’m not going without a fight”. Then after 20 years of flashing, I thought a more positive way at looking at it, would be to believe that my retina is just hungry for missing information. Instead of putting its feet up and getting lazy, it is putting on a pretty display instead.
The lights are more obvious when I cough, sneeze, yawn or blow up a balloon. RP has turned my retina into a sensitive little flower. A mere sneeze creates enough pressure or jarring to make it dazed and see stars, like a cartoon character after a sharp blow to the head.
I sneeze and there is no time for a ‘bless you’ – a dozen white lights shaped like curved lozenges are already moving in front of my vision obscuring bits of the whatever I am looking at. The fat glow-worm shapes move with purpose in all directions at a steady speed until they burn themselves out and disappear.
The lights have a unique neon intensity – a bit like what you might see if you could look straight into the sun. It has a purity that reminds me of reports by people who have survived near death experiences, who describe a blinding, serene tunnel of light.
I don’t see anything as trippy as a subway to heaven or glowing angels, but I do wonder whether seeing this special intensity of white light is something that happens when the eye is low on oxygen. Certainly my light show seems to ramp up if I am: struggling to breath; exercising heavily; leaning down too suddenly; or when I have a heavy cold. All these things probably cause my eyes to be starved of oxygen because the blood flow to my retina is narrower and less efficient than everyone else’s. I just have to wait, and when the blood flow gets going again, the lights will stop for a while.
After a particularly spectacular light show my vision feels patchy with after effects like those you get when someone takes a flash photo too close by or when you are dazzled by a torch.
I never thought I would get ‘flasher envy’ but mine do seem quite boring compared to those that some other people with RP describe: catherine wheels; swirls; smoke rings; half moons; and volcanoes in all kinds of fancy colours. These sound so much more exotic than ones shaped like plump maggots!
Damon Rose wrote this fascinating article about his experience of total blindness being full of colour and light, rather than blackness.
This set me thinking- my eyes certainly plays some weird tricks on me. Sometimes sitting in the dark, I will see a glow out to my sides in the blind bits of my vision. I feel surrounded by light as if someone has put a lamp on, or the sun has suddenly risen. I sometimes feel that the lights are on, even when they are not. I won’t notice if someone flicks the lights on or off, because to me it’s already bright round the edges. It is very strange, as if the dodgy bits of my retina have solar panels and are firing up in the dark all by themselves.
Some people with RP describe waking up in the middle of the night convinced that it is morning because sunlight appears to be pouring into the room. They might even get up before realising that it is actually still dark outside.
This is the paradox of sight loss. As my eye stops seeing, the blind bits manifest more as sensations of light than darkness. Things are slowly changing. I am losing something but also gaining a whole new dimension that other people just are not aware of.