In a new essay for Marie Claire, Britt says that she developed a scary eye disease triggered by the stress of her internet infamy
ESPN reporter Britt McHenry became a near-household name last year after a now-viral video surfaced, showing her berating a parking lot attendant after her car was towed. Not only did she say insulting things like, “Lose some weight, baby girl,” but she also made fun of the woman’s education and workplace. At one point in the video, she went so far as to say, “I would never work at a scumbag place like this. Makes my skin crawl just being here.”
In the aftermath, Britt was suspended from her job for a week. But now, in a new essay for Marie Claire, Britt says that she developed a scary eye disease triggered by the stress of her internet infamy.
After the video went viral, Britt said (via her essay) “an avalanche of posts and tweets followed,” and “with each new post, I felt like my life was imploding all over again. ... Soon, more than 30,000 new people had started following me on Twitter, tweeting threats and insults I can't repeat. I truly feared for my life, so much so that I eventually filed a police report for my protection.”
Britt posted an apology on Twitter around the time the video first made the rounds and tried to get back to work. “Every time somebody questioned why I still had a job, my goal was to break news and show them why,” she said. “I put blinders on, concentrating on the next assignment, not letting myself unravel.”
But Britt says the stress of being hated by people who didn’t even know her took a toll on her health, causing the vision in her right eye to grow cloudy. “I could no longer see clearly; everything was a blur,” she wrote. “I went to a retinal specialist, who diagnosed me with CSR, a condition in which vision is impaired, often due to trauma or extreme stress. Neither medication nor time helped alleviate the problem.” She’s since had to have a series of injections in her eye to try to help her regain her vision and stop the damage.
CSR, which stands for central serous retinopathy, isn’t super-common, but it does happen, says J.P. Maszczak, O.D., chief of advanced ocular care service and a clinical assistant professor a Ohio State University. It occurs when fluid builds up between two layers of the retina (the back of the eye), and if the fluid gathers specifically in the macula, which is responsible for fine vision, then blurred or distorted vision can occur, he says. “It may also result in reduced contrast sensitivity and decreased color perception. [But] most cases result in mildly blurred vision.”
Francisco Burgos, an O.D. with Katzen Eye Group, says CSR is more common in men than women, but it typically impacts people between the ages of 20 and 50. There is no known cause, he says, but there is a link between CSR and being in a high-stress environment. “Type A personalities are at a higher risk, as well as people with hypertension,” he says.
Corticosteroid use (like hydrocortisone or prednisone) has also been linked with CSR, and any form of the drug—oral, inhaled, or topical—can increase a person’s risk. “I've seen CSR in a patient using a topical corticosteroid ointment for eczema,” says Maszczak.
Luckily, Maszczak says that most cases of CSR go away on their own without treatment. But if symptoms last beyond three to four months, a person may need laser treatment or intraocular injections (i.e. injection in their eye) to try to help. And if they get it again, it can lead to permanent vision changes, adds Burgos.
As for Britt, she says she’s been told that her vision may never improve. But it sounds like she’s learned from the experience, saying, “I blame myself for this.”