the road to confidence

I know that I’m probably wearing everyone out with my Bell’s Palsy talk.
But this condition is truly wearing me out physically and emotionally.
You just never think that you’ll wake up one morning to look and feel like a completely different person. You join all these support groups of people who have had this condition for YEARS and it’s hard not to wonder if you’ll ever get your face back or if you’ll ever come out of this looking the same. I mean it sounds vain, but come on. It’s my FACE. The first thing people see when they look at me. It’s a pretty big deal for something so drastic to happen to it. So this won’t be one of those super uplifting and positive blog posts.
This is more for those who are…
1.) interested in my Bell’s Palsy journey and recovery
2.) struggle with some kind of sickness, condition, or physical distortion and feel insecure about it
3.) bored to tears and want to read about my many woes (lol)

It’s now day 6 since the onset of my symptoms and I’m really struggling on every level. Where I had a little bit of facial control on days 1-3 (nothing more than a semi-crooked smile and slightly drawn face), now it’s gone completely. I have zero control of anything to the right of my face.
My nostril on the affected side is collapsed so I have to wear Breathe Right strips to keep it open so that I can breathe. My eye will not blink without using my finger to help guide it. That means that I will need to wear an eye patch full time, especially outdoors. The ear and neck pain along with migraines are extremely painful. I am having a really hard time eating and drinking. All of my food has to be cut into small pieces and I have to drink out of a straw. Something as simple as eating a meal is tiring because I have to try way harder than normal to eat and drink. My speech is slurred and it’s difficult to talk since one half of my lips won’t cooperate with the other. I’m experiencing a lot of fatigue. All of the above make it hard to stay happy, so my mood and emotional health are suffering pretty hardcore. Any small bit of stress sends me over the edge and then my face feels tighter and hand starts to tremor.

Here’s my smile. Starting with the day before the onset of symptoms, then day 2, day 4, and day 5. It looks worse in person, especially when I’m talking because you can really see then that the right half does not budge no matter what facial expression I make.

Insecurity has definitely set in for me. Two days after my diagnosis, I ran into an old friend and the grocery store and apologized for the way that my mouth was moving while I talked. I am NOT easily embarrassed at all, but I knew how ridiculous it had to have looked.

Three days after the diagnosis, my best friend came and asked me to be her matron of honor in her wedding. I had to physically try as hard as I could not to smile big or cry because I knew how it would look. That moment should have been so much more joyful than it was, but I wasn’t comfortable enough to smile. Not because I thought they might look at me funny, but because I have myself convinced that my smile is disgusting.

We went to eat yesterday and I found myself more insecure than I have ever been. This was the first time I had been out in public since my face had really gotten noticeable. I couldn’t help but to think of any time that I had seen someone who looked different, whether it be some kind of facial deformity, disability, loss of a limb, scars, anything that would make someone look physical out of the norm. It’s human nature to double-take or let your glance linger a little longer than normal. I’d think to myself, “Man. Better her than me” or “Jeez, that would suck.” And now I was the subject of that double take. I was that person in the room who you looked at and thought, “I wonder what’s wrong with her face?” “Something is weird with that girl’s face.”
I’m the type that smiles at strangers. But instead of smiling, I wanted to break down and cry. I didn’t want anyone there to see my face. So instead of being friendly like I usually am, I kept my eyes down. No eye contact, no smiling, no interaction. I didn’t want anyone to smile at me because I could NOT smile back and let them see how ugly. Just 6 days in and I’ve already developed a reflex to cover my mouth at the first sign of a smile. I feel like I can’t smile at my kids or husband even though the kids haven’t seemed to notice and Sean is constantly reassuring me that I am beautiful and trying to keep me feeling positive.

If you know me, you know that I love to laugh. I love to make people laugh and I feel like if I can make someone laugh, that’s my good contribution to the world. Humor is my saving grace. I can get through almost any hard time or bad mood with a little laughter. So now that my smile is completely disfigured, the instances when I DO laugh are quickly stopped or masked with my hand. For someone like me, not feeling comfortable smiling and laughing is so hard and if I’m being honest, it’s extremely depressing.
I won’t try and pretend like I’ve got it all together and that my outlook is as positive as it could be in this situation. It’s one of those ‘it gets worse before it gets better’ circumstances and right now, I’m in the middle of the ‘worse’ category. I’m trying my best to have an enthusiastic outlook. Making jokes about it is just about the only thing keeping me from breaking down. One minute I’m having fun with it and singing Hell’s Bells (get it… Bell’s Palsy 🙃) and the next minute I’m looking in the mirror wishing I could fast forward to the point where all of this is behind me. It’s just hard when you’re already someone who has had struggles with not feeling pretty enough, only to be met with a facial deformity that could last anywhere from two months to a year.

But I will get there. I have faith in myself that I will be able to look in the mirror and not be disgusted. I will be able to smile back at someone and walk with confidence. I will get to the point where I can confidently say, “have Bell’s Palsy. It doesn’t have me.” But I’m not there yet, and that’s okay. It will take time. (A big part of me hopes that by the time I’m confident with it, I’ll be well on my way to having a ‘normal’ face)

So if you’ve made it this far, first off, thank you. And secondly, take time to compliment someone today. You never know what people are going through and one compliment might be the difference between them going home feeling like garbage or getting a little bit closer to being able to smile.

-ASL 🖤

Just an FYI.
In case any of you have Bell’s Palsy and are reading this, I’ve found that Excedrine Migraine almost completely eradicates the intense head and neck pain.
I’ve also made up a roller bottle blend of FrankincensePanawayPeppermint, and Copaiba that I apply to the affected side 3-4 times a day (taking extra care not to get it near my eye!). It is extremely soothing and helps to relax the tightened facial muscles. I like to apply that along with a hot compress.

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