the eyelid

June 14, 2013 in essays, nonsense by Carolyn

Two weeks ago I developed a twitch in my upper left eyelid. When I mention this to people, they raise their eyebrows and look
at me like I’ve just told them I’m planning to adopt a seventh cat, or that I am psychic. I’ve clearly crossed a line.

“That’s stress,” they say, their brows floating upward and jaws dropping to emphasize the seriousness of the diagnosis. “I know,” I reply. My eyelid spasms.

I am a complainer. My ideal conversation is one in which I detail the ways people have inconvenienced me through ignorance or spite, describe how I am struggling to function under the burdens I carry, and rant about how expensive it all is. The other person may nod or make sympathetic noises during the most moving passages. But no matter how Job-esque I appear, my tales of woe never elicit the kind of response I get when I tell someone my eyelid is twitching. The physical manifestation of the pressure I’m under is more impressive than anything I might say about my life, probably because instead of listening sympathetically, they’re waiting for their turn to complain. (I can’t blame them. If you want to watch me collapse in on myself or possibly time-travel, get me complaining about listening to people complain.) The twitching eyelid is a real-life example of the old writing advice, “Show, don’t tell.” It conveys the essence of my situation to someone without all the tiresome prose. (Bless you if you are still reading.)

The day it started, I asked James if he could see my eyelid moving. He gave me an appraising look, and the lid instantly fell still. “Nope,” he said, and looked away. It resumed its flopping.

“How about now? Look now!” I said. He looked. It played dead.

It was taunting me. Not only was the twitch a symptom of stress, it was itself an antagonist bent on steadily eroding my patience and sanity, like Chinese water torture. To the casual observer I would appear normal, but gradually I would become trapped in the prison of my mind. My cell would have two windows; the blinds on the left would be constantly fluttering.

Turning, of course, to Google, I discovered that the top five causes of twitchy lid syndrome* are stress, tiredness, eye strain, caffeine and alcohol. Well, there you have it. It’s a wonder I’ve never encountered TLS** before. I like to think of myself as a complex person, nuanced as a fine wine, but this list comes pretty close to capturing me. I was a little confused about the caffeine and alcohol, since I had recently cut way back on coffee in order to save money, and my alcohol consumption has been practically nonexistent since I became a parent. Maybe the eyelid demons keep track of past use and hold it against you?

To cure a twitchy lid, one needs rest, relaxation, time away from the computer, and a reduction of caffeine and alcohol intake. I also read that drinking tonic water can help. Since I was feverishly working to submit my last packet of schoolwork for the semester, there was no chance I could rest, relax, or look away from the computer. (I do mean feverishly, because I had managed to get sick, too. As I said: Job-esque.) Because I had already all but stopped drinking coffee I was pretty sure that couldn’t be what was causing it, so I started drinking it again. I figured that no matter how much I drank it would be moderate compared to my previous levels of consumption. Also, I needed it. I wasn’t drinking any alcohol either, but I couldn’t think of a way to justify upping my intake, so I left it alone.

On Monday, my body failed me. I woke up with a terrible headache and decided to stay home. I tried to revise a paper for school, but every time I looked at the computer my eyelid went into a frenzy. I spent the day lying on the couch, reading a book. On Wednesday, I finished my packet and sent an email to my advisor. Immediately I felt the stress melting off me. At last, I could go to bed at a reasonable hour and get some rest. Instead, I celebrated by going out with some friends. That’s relaxing, right? I also drank two rather strong gin & tonics. If they weren’t exactly eyelid-healing, at least the beneficial tonic water canceled out the negative effects of the alcohol.

I haven’t gotten rid of my twitchy eyelid yet. I think it’s getting better, but I can’t be sure. It was bad while I was writing this, but then again I’m staring at a computer screen at 12:15 AM, beer in hand, stressing out over how to end this piece, so I’m not sure I should have expected anything else. Maybe I should see a doctor about it, but it’s so damned expensive.

*Not a real syndrome.
**Again, not a real syndrome.

If you want to see a fantastic animation of a twitchy eyelid, click here. Scroll down a bit. You’re welcome.