Welcome back. Thank you to everyone that reached out to say they had no idea, or to make sure I am doing ok. It is also amazing how many have their own stories to share. It amazes me every time.
This week is the conclusion to last week’s story. If you missed it, please check out Part 1.
It had been 7 days since my attack of Bell’s Palsy had started. I didn’t know it at the time, but the worst was past me. While I couldn’t move anything on the right side of my face, it hadn’t gotten any worse since the 4th day. It’s like those dreams when you are trying to run but nothing happens, except this is with your face. I returned to work. Everyone was curious what had happened, wanted to make sure I was ok. I didn’t want to talk to any of them. I was not fully aware what my depression looked like yet, but I was pretty deep into it now. I was wondering how I was supposed to do all the things I had wanted to do with only half a face; would never act again, never want to talk to people. How was I supposed to get a job with this kind of face.
All of these concerns were secondary to my really big concern; I still had a 14 day deadline. I just needed some kind of movement. Every night I would stare into the mirror, focusing on my right side, and trying with every fiber in my being to make some movement. I would strain until I cried. For 8 days I did this and nothing happened.
Until that 11th day.
Every day I stared in the mirror, trying to smile. To move my cheek. To blink. To smile. I tried so hard I thought I had almost forgotten what it felt like to move those muscles. Then it moved.
It wasn’t much, just the smallest, most wonderful, flex you’ve ever seen. I did it again, just to make sure. With a huge effort, I could make a small movement, barely a tic, in the middle of my right cheek. I watched it one more time. I asked my wife and father, who was visiting to help us move, if they could see it. They could. 11 days, and recovery had started. It continued from there, in small little steps. There were irritating parts, to be sure; my right nostril would begin to feel like someone was tapping it, I would get a sudden pain in my right cheek, or my eye would become dry and scratchy.
As I continued healing I noticed a few weird effects. The first, and most comical, was my eye would begin leaking when I ate. As if I was salivating out of my eye. Which, come to find out, was essentially what was happening. Often, when someone is experiencing issues with the nervous system, a bizarre series of secondary issues, or sequelae, will follow. This is due to a miswiring of the nerve with the muscle. How does this occur? Great question. The simple answer is, that it just does; it can often occur just because the nerve is trying to heal and gets confused on where it should go. The nerve that was supposed to go to my salivation gland had instead gone to my lacrimal gland. But hyperlacrimation (which has several names, my favorite being Crocodile Tear Syndrome, which I think is unfair to crocodiles, as they almost never cry when they eat.) wasn’t the only sequelae I developed. I also discovered that my eye shuts when I try to smile, my cheek tics when I shut my eye, and I experience a roaring in my ear when I close my eyes, which makes it just a joy to try to sleep.
The process of trying to recover from this is still continuing; I found that massage helped me to recover a ton of movement, that practicing things like drinking with a straw in the middle of my mouth, puckering, has helped. That swishing water in my mouth is best practiced in the shower. That as much as I talk about it, I am terrified of acupuncture. I also discovered that depression is made worse when you feel like you’ve lost yourself. After we moved, I spent six months unemployed, mostly because I was afraid to go get to interviews and be rejected. I didn’t want to talk to people. I was embarrassed because this thing I use to communicate and convey meaning, was only half working. But life continues and things get better.
After six months, my confidence had improved to where I did feel like I could go to an interview. I ended up with a great job, and wonderful friends. I still have the weird secondary issues, and probably always will. I still have issues forming percussive sounds, the “P’s” and “B’s.” Almost no one notices right away any more. I still have to put drops in my eyes, especially when it is cold out. My face gets tired after long days, and it still hurts sometimes. I also live in constant fear that it is going to happen again. No one is sure what causes it, but they do know that an attack increases your chances of it happening again.This is just one more thing that is unique about me. One more part of the puzzle. There are moments that I realize it is affecting me; my face hurts or I catch someone staring a little too long. Mostly I notice that it isn’t my smile any more, that my eye isn’t right and my mouth isn’t coming up like it should and that my cheek isn’t as rounded as it should. I notice these things, but others don’t. They see someone smiling.
And that’s why I wanted to talk about it. After three years and a million miles of recovery. After depression and therapy and work. After finding out more about myself than I thought something like this would bring, I wanted to tell people about it. I wanted people to know that scary things happen, things outside of our control. Things that we never expected or never wanted, can lead us to places we needed to go. Because you are not alone in this world. The more we think we are alone, the more the world will show us that we aren’t.