My Smile Was Not My Own (My Fight With Bell's Palsy)
Bell's Palsy...what is it? Where does it come from? How do you get rid of it? All questions no one has the answers to, even doctors. Fewer than 200, 000 cases per year, treatable by a medical professional, requires a medical diagnosis and testing is required but no absolute cure. So what is it, how do you cure something when you're unsure of how it comes about? It can be described most simply as hemifacial spasms, a rare neuromuscular disease characterized by irregular, or involuntary contractions on one side of the face. It has an element of surprise to it.
One day a few weeks ago, I was taking a break from my workout and decided to grab a protein shake to regain some of the energy and stamina lost to finish up my workout. Raspberry, peanut butter and banana smoothie was what I ordered, but what happened next was something I wasn't prepared for. Numbness of the lips and tongue began to occur after several sips, it was as if I had a dental visit, and Novocain had been distributed evenly across the gums. I didn't worry so much at the time that something was wrong, I thought to myself, maybe the powder in the shake was outdated, maybe it was something or maybe it was nothing, so I didn't worry to much about it.
That night I had an appointment for drinks with friends, as I walked into the place and took a seat at the bar, I felt different, it was almost as if I didn't own my own face, my reactions to laughter and things said were not my own. In that moment I was at war with losing my smile. I had spent the previous hours leading up to this encounter studying my symptoms, trying to figure out what was happening to me in this moment but to no avail. So I pushed through the awkward moments of wasted beer and smothered laughter, because I no longer owned my smile or the rate of speed in which the blink of an eye took place. Bell's palsy in that moment had began to take over my smile.
Still unsure about what was actually happening to me, I ordered food to go. There was no way I was going to attempt to eat in front of someone when I couldn't so much as swallow a sip of beer. After making it home I attempted to eat my burger as I engaged in conversations with my girlfriend but that quickly changed. I realized in that moment that I couldn't even open my mouth wide enough to take a bite of the burger and I couldn't talk for extended periods of time without my jaw attempting to lock up on me. After several conversations with my aunt and mother about going to the ER immediately I decided to go. In and out in 30 minutes and my diagnosis was complete, I had been suffering from bell's palsy. The doctors told me that I was lucky that I came in within 24 hours, because if I had waited any longer I could've inherited more damage to the facial nerves.
They sent me on my way with scripts for medicine and a pamphlet of what to do when dealing with Bell's Palsy. In so many words, I needed to get as much rest as possible. The doctor said that my onset possibly came from stress and the over extension of self. See I love to work, I always have my hand in something, trying to cultivate and create something to leave behind. When you're in a rat race with yourself, sometimes you only envision the completion of goals that you've set for yourself, I haven't learned how to enjoy the process yet and for that I've paid a dear price.
I woke up the next morning broken, I didn't recognize myself. My eyes were swollen, one of half of my face didn't belong to me, I didn't recognize who I had become overnight. Every attempted smile let me know that my smile was no longer my own. Every day I woke up attempting to rehab my condition through facial massages, placing hot towels on the affected area, taking prescribed steroids and antivirals and a lot of Seinfeld to take my mind off of the things I could no longer control . I attempted to make light of the situation but after staying in my apartment for a month, hidden from the rest of the world, not doing the things that make me feel alive, it was then I realized that I was losing this fight...hell...I had all but given up on myself.
After spending a month as a recluse I decided to step out and take my life back. I started by going to the gym again, back to where it all started, I felt that It was time to take the first step on getting back to normal, I didn't drink another shake though (laughs at self). After my first workout was complete I did a few videos of my condition and the progress to make others aware of it, to let them know you don't have to lay down and accept this condition, but you can still live. The six weeks that it takes to get back to your full self do not have to be spent inside the four walls of your room. You don't have to live alone inside your head, you don't have to stop doing everything that you love to do. I wanted people to know that even if it's not at 100 percent you still own the rights to your smile and nothing can take that away from you.
For a month I had given up on podcasting, photography, social outings, all things that I love to do. Essentially I had given up on life, on myself and everyone around me. I had never given up on anything so easily in my life for vanity's sake and I didn't want to be guilty of giving up now. Someone once told me that all bad things happen to test our mental fortitude, to build character, to tell a story that will eventually motivate or save someone else's life. So whose life are you going to save today by telling a story or experience that needs to be shared?