Saturday 29 July 2006. The day I lost my smile.
The first day of me learning a big lesson in humility. The first day of a few months of pain. The first day of realising just how vain I was. The first day of realising how strong my faith in Christ had become and would strengthen still. The first day of the rest of my life… my life with a wonky smile!
I look at this picture below now and if I’m honest it grosses me out. It’s not a good looking face by any means but it is one that taught me so much. One that taught me about inner beauty and allowing that to shine through, rather than relying on an aesthetically pleasing face.
The photo below was taken on 4th August 2006 and you might think it is the right side in the photo that is the distorted one but actually it is the left-side. The side that was paralysed and would not move. I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t blink and I certainly couldn’t smile.
The one below was taken a couple of months later on 14 October 2006 and you can see the droop had gone and the corner of my mouth could raise a little but there was still a long way to go and a lot of physical and emotional healing yet to happen.
That first weekend with Bells Palsy was a really powerful time and I attended a wonderful service at a church near my parents, receiving prayer from the ministry team there and words from the Lord. I shed my first tears since it had happened and was even more upset to see I could only cry out of my left eye.
After a week or so nothing had changed, no improvements to my face at all and I admit I felt sad.I discovered that the severity of the palsy (or paralysis) depends on the damage to the 7th cranial nerve. The more severe, the longer the recovery period. By this point I was in agony, here is part of my diary entry for Wednesday 5 August 2006 (Day 13) –
“The pain is getting worse, I never expected this. For me I thought paralysis would be just that but no, my face on the poorly side feels like it has been beaten black and blue, just to touch it hurts.”
The doctor diagnosed me with facial neuralgia and gave me some drugs to take for it, these knock me out and stop me driving but the carbamazepine along with co-codamol and nurofen seem to do the trick and the pain starts to subside. In the end I am off work for about six weeks with the facial pain, along with the tired and scratchy eye that still hurts. I think one of the worst things was not being able to eat or drink properly; I could only use half my mouth so everything would spill and I had to use a straw to drink very small amounts. After about six weeks I went back to work as I could blink again and then finally after about four months the visual differences became less noticeable and my face did seem to be making some recovery from the physio I was having.
As I mentioned earlier it is now nearly ten years since I first had Bells Palsy and if I get too tried, ill or stressed my face starts to droop a little and you can see it more, so it is a reminder to look after myself. It took me a good couple of years to come to terms with the emotional loss of my smile and that was a hard process but it has been a joy over the years to realise how God has healed and restored my inner smile. I remember crying abundantly one night at church when I felt sure God had given me back my smile.
Do you know why I believe this happened to me? Because I was not listening to God and His will for me. I had made myself so busy and so stressed with tons of things. I needed a wake up call, one strong enough that it would get me to re-assess my life and give up some of the tasks and start to be a better wife, mother, employee, friend, daughter etc etc
It worked! I stood down from most of my roles, I took some steps in faith by applying for jobs I believed God wanted me to go for and by November 2006 I was pregnant with my wonderful twinnies. What a blessing they were. We had been trying to get pregnant since 2004 and nothing but then when I least expected it I feel I was rewarded for my faith in the Lord. I knew that all would be OK and I knew that losing my smile was not the most important thing in the world.
I’ve even got past the stage of looking at photos and hating my asymmetrical smile and you know what this imperfect face is slowly teaching me? Humility! I am very aware that I can be flawed with pride at times. In the past my sense of self-importance has been out of control but nowadays I am pleased to say that I can recognise this character defect and do work to help keep it in check!
A chance encounter with a viral illness changed my life and shaped my character and helped to make me the imperfect Christian I am today. It feels unbelievable to say it but I am glad it happened or I may never have grown in the way I have.