Today is the last day of my radical sabbatical. By that I am referring to a two week period where I have been unable to wear my contact lenses due to upcoming eye tests, leaving me even blinder than usual. I thought the term radical sabbatical was ironic and humorous considering I was originally meant to start my second graduate degree last week. I felt that booking my radical sabbatical to coincide with, what would have been, my first day of graduate orientation was both practical (in terms of my work schedule and the need to get the tests done quickly) and symbolic.
A sabbatical is usually thought of as a time when an academic takes leave from their usual teaching duties to “get shit done”. What makes my self-coined sabbatical of the radical nature is that, although I did need to take this time off work (considering I am blinder than usual), my sabbatical was more of a brain vacation as opposed to studying at a different university or writing a book. More to come on this topic at a later date.
I have worn contact lenses every single day of my life since I was about 15 years old. That’s 12 years or 4,380 days! Minus the days I’ve spent in the hospital and that one time I had an eye infection. That’s still a large number of days. And I do not even own glasses!
I have been very surprised by how these two weeks of interrupting the daily ritual of putting my contact lenses in and taking them out truly disrupted me. I am someone who generally puts their contact lenses in only second to turning on the kettle and who removes them just before I close my eyes to sleep. Each morning and evening of my radical sabbatical I had this overwhelming feeling that I had forgotten something important, even though I knew what that something was. At night I would sit on the edge of my bed with the sensation that my day was incomplete.
I have developed a very specific routine centred around my contact lenses, I have learned. As soon as I get out of bed I grab my case and a hairband from my nightstand, flick on the kettle so the hot water begins to boil and ready my kitchen table. I wash my hands and sometimes my eyes if I am still sleepy and dry both on a clean piece of paper towel (sorry, environment). I take another piece of paper towel to use during the process and then I am ready. I used to pour my contacts and solution into a bowl before I placed them delicately on my finger, but somewhere throughout the years I decided I was too expert to use a bowl.
I have deviated from my careful routine on some occasions, which I do not like to think about. An example would be a camping trip where I was so cold I did not want to leave my sleeping bag to a) wash my hands and b) find paper towel. I do not recommend this method. When I went to Europe I even brought a small, sealed, plastic baggie full of clean paper towels just in case the hostels did not have them available (spoiler alert: they did not). I feel like I should state that I am by no means a germophobe, but in writing this blog I have realized how particular I am about my process.
Looking back now, I had only momentarily thought about a change to my morning and evening routine. This was in the context of telling my mom that I would have to put my contact lenses away somewhere safe while I was on radical sabbatical so I do not lose them or accidentally put them in my eyes without thinking and cause my radical sabbatical to be for naught. I have taken my morning medication without realizing I did so on more occasions than I would like to admit. When this happens I have to actively stop and attempt to retrace my steps on this particular morning to determine if I did, in fact, take them this morning or was it yesterday morning I am thinking of? Or the morning before?
Does this sound familiar to any regular medication users? And yes, I have a weekly pill box. It’s pink and very practical but I often feel the need to rebel and go straight from the bottle. Life’s little liberties.
I was prepared for the fact that not wearing my contacts for two weeks would be a big and potentially difficult change for me, after all my vision is significantly altered without them. What I did not foresee is how my radical sabbatical would alert me to the highly specialized contact lens routine that I have developed over time and that has unknowingly become so central to my morning and evening activities.
What is especially fascinating to me is that I have studied and analyzed routines and rituals from a sociological and anthropological perspective and the impact of recognizing and disrupting these patterns of behaviour. Yet, my own experience, of what one may consider to be an inconsequential act, still surprised me.
Maybe I am just really bad at my job or maybe it is more difficult to recognize the rituals you participate in on a daily basis without reflecting upon them. It has led me to wonder, what other habits, routines or patterns of behaviour do I exhibit without realizing?