Can Eye help you? NuRavelry is causing severe distress for many people, but not others. Perspective from a Knitting Optometrist

Among the horrors of 2020, which are abundant and well-known, so I won’t list them, the crafting community is reeling from a design change on our beloved forum, Ravelry. This change is causing neurological symptoms among users, ranging from mild to severe.  The laundry list of complaints is long, including headache, migraine, and seizure.  Here is a link to an article (warning: it’s technical) about the issues, which are very serious and difficult to manage. Other people don’t notice that anything has changed, causing the affected people to suffer more, thinking that they are not believed.  Everyone wants Ravelry to “fix” the problem.  I have sympathy for everyone, because I know that the science is not there to identify the problem, much less eliminate it.

I am a knitting teacher and designer, but my day job is optometry. Optometric physicians are specialists devoted to fixing problems with visual discomfort – not just blurry vision, but vision comprehension and comfort.  Our job is to get the information from the eyes to the brain in the most efficient way, so the brain doesn’t expend any more energy than necessary.  Figuring out cause and effect of triggering events, visual/brain connections and therapy to improve the flow is long, hard and tedious work, done by researchers in medical and optometric schools.  It doesn’t pay well, and people think you are crazy,  unless you are one of the people who are affected and get help.  And then, you can’t explain it to anybody, so the efforts go unsung.

Let me explain this from a knitting perspective.  Many knitters have problems with intarsia, a knitting technique using multiple colors in one row side by side.  Most hate doing it, while others think it’s super easy, and what is your problem?  Big disconnect, there.  Since there was no comprehensive instruction available, I wrote “Annetarsia Knits”, breaking down the yarn wrangling and techniques, and creating some new fun stuff (working it “in the round”, with no seam) in the process.  Yes, it’s easy, but some brains don’t find it obvious and need to be shown a path.  Fortunately in this case, no vision exercises were involved.  Thank God. I still can’t get everyone to try it, and people may still not like to do it, but I have never heard of intarsia causing a migraine.  That’s the job of using mohair to knit a complex lace project…

Brains are mysterious.  Studying them requires lots of equipment, time and willingness to hit many dead ends in the search for answers.  Knitting has been shown in many studies (here is a link to a good summary of findings) to calm the brain, without negative side effects.  We can do those studies because the craft is universal, hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years and subjects are willing to sit and knit with electrodes on their bodies for hours.

Remember Virtual Reality? VR goggles? Yeah, they are still around, but they never really took off.  Too many visual issues, and making subjects sick is a total deal-breaker in research projects.  Optometry schools spent lots of money setting up labs, but the industry pretty much gave up and moved on.  3-D glasses? Same thing.  Much tweaking has been done, and they work much better now, but still some people absolutely get the type of visual discomfort that Ravelry users are experiencing with the new website.  Visual therapy could help, and protocols have been developed, but most people just accept that they “can’t” use 3-D glasses.

These failures illustrate that technology is moving so fast that researchers can’t keep up.  The New Ravelry would be absolutely fascinating to study, it might tell us a lot about how the brain and visual system work. But, it won’t happen.  Before someone can even write a proposal for the study, something will happen to make the issue go away.  We likely won’t ever know what happened, and the problem will continue to pop up again in different forms, because the cause has not been identified.

Optometrists concentrate on finding relief for sufferers. Vision Therapy is founded on science built before computers, but fortunately the exercises and tools that allowed people to read printed materials can also help many people with computer usage.

Vision therapy is very specialized, for each person, similar to any good exercise program.  Optometrists who specialize in VT work closely with the patient to determine what circumstances trigger symptoms. Sometimes it’s easy, and there is a quick fix (that was my situation). Other cases require patience, as sessions are over once the symptoms begin.   The exercises are tedious, and the therapy is not covered by medical insurance.  We have a doctor in the office who is a Vision Therapy specialist, and she mostly works with children with learning issues.  She evaluates the patient, works with parents to assess how the child learns best and what program will work for the family, as often the parent will help, at home.  She then teaches a specific exercise program, sends them home with the equipment to practice daily, and gradually changes the program as they improve.  Families are thrilled with the results, which is usually permanent as kids learn to control their eye muscles.  Therapy visits are paid out of pocket, and cost can be a barrier for many families, so our office keeps visits to a minimum and we lower the fees as much as we can.  Another barrier is that the exercises aren’t fun, they are tedious.  Sometimes it hurts to stretch muscles, and kids don’t want to do them.  Glasses can make the tasks easier, but VT actually FIXES the problem, if the patient is motivated. Personally,  I did VT in optometry school, and it helped my ability to focus from near to far more quickly.   I still maintain by doing “pencil pushup” exercise.  Here is a great video on how to do this simple exercise. A few minutes each week keeps my eye muscles tuned up.

The optical industry is developing lens technologies (designs, filters, lens materials) to act as a barrier between screens and people, and this helps in many cases. Because technology changes so rapidly, and we don’t have the scientific studies to predict and back up results, we don’t know why some things work and others don’t. This is frustrating, as we search for answers with trial and error. When options are uncomfortable, expensive or don’t work, patients are angry, frustrated and feel like no one believes they have a problem.  The doctors aren’t thrilled, either, believe me!

I don’t know what Ravelry is going to do. We don’t know what they DID, and they likely don’t, either.  I switched back to Classic Ravelry, and haven’t had issues, but many still are and we won’t know why. A developmental Optometrist who practices vision therapy can provide you the special testing needed to determine whether you are a good candidate for Vision Therapy to strengthen your system, and if there are any glasses options that could relieve your symptoms.  It won’t likely help with the immediate Ravelry situation, because that issue will be resolved one way or the other before you would see results from VT.   But the way technology keeps changing, another type of trigger may come along.  If you have binocular problems, controlling them might pay off when the next tech wave hits.  If there is any justice, it will affect different people next time, so that they can understand what sufferers are dealing with.

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