A damage/injury to the seventh cranial nerve and you are left with facial paralysis – for some, it may be temporary (Bell’s Palsy), but for many it is permanent (post brain tumor surgery). Once you have acquired facial paralysis, your life changes to 360 degrees because the condition not just attacks you physically but also mentally, emotionally as well as psychologically.
All of a sudden you are left broken with a face that is no more the same – neither functionally nor aesthetically. Imagine the plight of a young 19-year-old girl (in her college) who could not move her one side of her face (the lips, the eyebrows, the cheeks, the eyes) soon after she was treated for her brain tumor. Visualize the agony and anger to suddenly grasp the fact that she could neither smile nor move her one side of the face, along with the truth that although she was free from her 4.5 cm tumor and very much alive, her one side of the face would now be lifeless.
Imagine the trauma of watching that face in the mirror, the crooked smile, the oddness, and all the more, not being able to move her face for what is so normal for every other human being you see or come across. That’s precisely what I had to go through. So, if you are suffering from partial or complete facial palsy now, I can empathize with your situation.
With facial palsy, everything seems broken – the self-confidence, the positive attitude, the boldness and, socializing of course – who would want to go out to answer those hundred eyes who are so new to the strange and rare face. It is still not so common and back in 2004, it was quite rare in India. And when people start to look at you with pity and sympathy, you become all the more miserable. Imagine, a strong confident person being looked at with pity or once a haughty brat being looked at with sympathy? That’s the last thing any person with facial paralysis or any not-so-common condition would ever want.
However, let’s skip to the good part – Things really were difficult for the first year and the next year but gradually things started to get better. And now, after living with my facial palsy for more than 1.5 decades, I can assure you that no matter how difficult things seem initially, gradually it becomes better and you become all the more confident with the new change that looked so very damaging earlier.
Change Your Mindset – It is not that simple, but not difficult either
The day I realized I couldn’t move the left side of my face; I took the entire hospital by storm. Although I was informed about a confirmed life-long problem in advance related to my ear, I wasn’t told about facial paralysis, perhaps for good.
My neurosurgeon (one of the best in Mumbai) however not only calmed me but made me realize how the only way to remove the tumor (acoustic neuroma) was the surgery that came with a cost (facial palsy!). He constantly reminded me how I should be happy that I am out of danger and tumor-free – nothing beyond. Something that most therapists, gurus (spiritual and religious), and life-coach would say and agree with, right? Nothing new? but that’s precisely how you shift your attitude/focus/energy from self-pity to strength and power.
Change your thoughts – Think, your Acquired Facial Paralysis is not a sign of your crooked face but in fact, a symbol of your victory and the mark of your strength. With this approach, you are no more a victim but a warrior.
Nothing is Permanent – Not Even Your Acquired Facial Palsy
There are various types of medical procedures that can help you in building your facial symmetry with time. A quick consultation with a plastic surgeon and soon you will be guided to the best possible solution. However, there is no one surgery and you have to go through multiple surgeries, but trust me undergoing them is no less than a miracle. Well because, post these regenerative surgeries, you can close your eyes properly (which becomes difficult in facial palsy), get away with the droopiness and can also smile aesthetically, if not perfectly. Fortunately, the surgery makes the face look much better and the crookedness is no more unpleasant.
I had to go through 5 such surgeries and from the very first, my confidence started to build up. And what a relief it was to finally close my left eye completely after months of sleeping with them half-opened only to be closed by my hand or the eye aplicap. Fortunately, people having acquired facial paralysis now do not need many surgeries. Thanks to new research and medical advances in this field. Also, botox comes as a blessing for individuals having permanent facial palsy.
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Surround Yourself with Positive People and Positive Environment
Read survivors’ stories, watch them on YouTube, and mingle with them on their social media. It is okay to feel sad, unhappy, and even depressed about your situation, but engaging in a conversation with a survivor or a warrior or perhaps reading a book on their recovery journey can encourage you to be a fighter as well.
Back then, I had read ‘It’s Not About the Bike’ by Lance Armstrong – a moving story about recovering from cancer and his way back to becoming a cycling legend. No matter what career mess Lance Armstrong might be in today, I cannot deny how the book gave me strength, power, and courage right from my Brain Tumour recovery to managing my facial paralysis.
Also, choose your friend circle and associates wisely. I have had the best set of people around me – my family, my friends, my classmates, my teachers, and my beau back then who never made me feel like an odd one out.
I also remember how two of my friends in my post-grad days used to encourage me to eat sandwiches and burgers in food outlets and would ask for plenty of tissues so that I would eat slowly and if the mayonnaise would ooze out of my not-so-functional lips, the tissues came handy. For my convenience, they would also choose a seat where I could eat without any shame. Every time tears would drop from my eyes while eating, nobody would seem like that was unnatural or odd.
That’s the people you need around you – supportive, caring, and understanding ones – those who can empathize with you not sympathize.
Get Out of the ‘I am a Victim Mode’ – How? Listen to Your Haters
I’m so very grateful and thankful to my haters and critics at each stage of my life as they have timely boosted my confidence, and strength, every time I felt powerless. Haters never pity, sympathize, or feel bad about you. So, while you might have trouble believing yourself, they have the capability to ignite all the fire within you. Moreover, they have this habit of constantly challenging you, and that’s quite constructive especially when you are down and depressed.
Yes, they are the ones who will never allow you to go in the I-am-a-victim-mode. For them, you are blessed, you have all the advantages and you are everything that they are not. Isn’t that a booster? Imagine feeling worthless and having self-doubt because of your sudden health misfortune yet overhearing your colleague having a grudge over you because of your ability and brilliance? No, no, I’m definitely not having a sadistic pleasure here (lol!) However, do try, to perceive my perspective and see how things can change in a productive manner.
Let their words and opinion either give you the power and/or challenge to do things better.
Everything is Possible, if you Think, Believe, and Take Action for your Acquired Facial Paralysis
Now, this sounds straight from a manifesting lesson but trust me, your healing, your surgery result, and the route to your fast recovery depend a lot on the way you think, believe, and act. Doctors will do their job, but the results and recovery vary from person to person because of how you and your bodies react.
So, when you are not confident about the end result it is always better to think and believe that things are in your favor and it will turn out the best for you. Simply, imagining the worst and implanting the same in your conscious and subconscious mind is of no use. Even if you have acquired facial palsy and know it is going to take time to recover, do imagine yourself in that beautiful smile of yours, visualize things are becoming better and things will indeed become better.
Over the period of time, your acquired facial paralysis will be much better and since time is the healer of all wounds, it would no more be a matter of insecurity – In fact, another attribute of your strength, brilliance, and endurance!
This Survivor Story is penned down by Deepti Verma, a brain tumor survivor, and a facial palsy warrior. You can ask her more by following her at Tumour Survivor on Instagram.