I think I'm ready to talk about my facial appointment last week (a week ago today actually)....
The appointment was great in many regards, and I choose not be discouraged by the news, but I must admit, it was tough on me, and I cried a little after it.
I displayed my underwhelming, though admittedly miraculous, little right-side smile to the doctor, to which he exclaimed, "that's OUTSTANDING!" This sounds like a good thing, but in my mind, it only served as validation that the current, little-excuse for a right-side smile may be all I am left with after all this.
I've come to the realization that it IS sad and worth crying about, and maybe it's taken this long to come to a real sense of mourning the loss of my old face.
I have never been one who cared a whole lot about my appearance (in MOST regards - if I'm honest). My Mom always had to gently remind me to put on makeup before I ran out of the house. It wasn't that I was a tomboy, I've always been quite girly, but worrying about my appearance, in general, is just not a natural tendency for me. Ironically, through the years, I literally stumbled into the beauty pageant world (don't you hate when people say things like that!?--but it's true!) and later made a decent little living being a commercial model (for catalogs and retail stuff--I was not walking the runway that often--I like chocolate too much for that!) in my late college years and early years in LA. Perhaps I took my appearance for granted since things in that realm always came pretty easy for me. I suppose after having such significant facial paralysis, a large part of that nonchalant attitude was sort of called into question.
Granted, in my long list of issues post-stroke, my face being paralyzed obviously fell far below my inability to walk and inability to eat/swallow. Yet, over time as those issues became more manageable, the facial paralysis issue began gaining greater prominence in my emotional processing of my life after the AVM. I recently met with a woman who is dealing with facial paralysis subsequent to a brain tumor removal. The facial paralysis is her main issue, and it has literally changed her life so dramatically that she sought out my story based on that common denominator we now share. (You are my sweet new friend, J, BTW). I told her that in a weird way, having so many other issues to deal with was kind of a blessing as it made my facial paralysis a little more palatable, rather than having to bear this strangely painful experience solely by itself. I do think perspective is key in all of our lives, and I was hopefully able to give my new friend some perspective on her situation, as I've had many others give me perspective on mine.
I've mentioned Stephanie Nielson ("Nienie") on here many times (a well-known blogger and mother of four who miraculously survived a near-fatal small plane crash right around the time of my stroke). Her journey and struggles, though different than mine, have often provided me with much-needed perspective as I've processed what it means to no longer have something that I had previously taken for granted. Very sadly, most of Nienie's body and face were severely burned after the plane crash, so much so that several of her small children literally could not believe that she was their mommy. I have definitely been able to look at her circumstances and be so grateful that her issues were not mine. Nonetheless, having perspective doesn't mean that you still can't fully process the reality and struggle of your own situation because that is truly where the depth and growth as a person comes from.
About a year after my AVM rupture, Jay researched potential routes for repairing facial paralysis. He then found out about the set of radical surgeries that I have undergone. I think to a certain degree, I was pretty out of it at that point, and yet, I still recognized that I did not want my face to be motionless on that side forever, so I chose to move forward down what would be a very painful and uncertain road. At that point, and somewhat to this day, I have had experiences that I honestly never had before my stroke--having the child in the mall come up and ask what's wrong with my face, having a well-meaning friend awkwardly suggest I put on my sunglasses for the picture, or looking at myself in the mirror and feeling utterly sad at what I see in it. It has certainly presented me with much deeper questions about who I am. If I have never really cared much about my appearance, why is it so painful now that it has changed so much? Is it OK to feel sadness about things on the outside not looking how you want them to look? Have I gone to such extremes to regain my smile for vain purposes, and moreover, was all of that (a total of over 25 hours of surgery and 2 weeks in the hospital) for nothing?
I am still working through these questions and more, but I do think that even when our identity is firmly set in who we are in Christ, the Lord knows we are still human and live out our lives in this natural world, full of beauty and full of pain. The struggle is always a part of our journey here, but the great news is that there is hope beyond this present body and these present circumstances.
Since going down the path with the reconstructive surgeries, I think I still had an undying sense of hope that my restoration would surely include my smile and my very animated face coming back to normal on the right side. Those results were never presented to me exactly like that, but I think like most of us do, that is what I wanted to believe. I still have hope that the smile God gave me will make an appearance again, but I am OK with the fact that it may not be a mile-long smile that it once was, and that the overly animated face of my youth may not be able to express quite the range of emotion that it once did. I honestly don't feel all that beautiful on the outside sometimes, but I know that my guys, the "J's"-- Jesus, Jay, and James, think that I have never looked more beautiful.
* * *
I call this "Bridezilla"--told ya I was animated
Maternity pics by this talented Santa Monica Team
This shot was taken just a month before my stroke with my lil guy.
*I should mention that my sweet friend, Michelle, and I had lunch today and she commented on how good my face is looking and how the surgeries are really starting to take effect!
BTW--I got a new haircut and am now parting my hair on the opposite side of my face. I think it really makes a difference...don't you?