When my youngest son Riley was little, he loved to stare at people. We tried to teach him it was impolite to stare. But as he got older and I started realizing he was a LOT like me, I saw that he wasn't staring really. He was observing and taking in people's actions and what they were saying. He was always my social butterfly. I just knew he'd be the cute kid that got abducted because he simply refused to not talk to strangers! I always kept updated photos of him for the milk carton just in case. Geeze kid.
But as much as he liked to "look at you", he HATED for anyone to stare at him or even just look at him. He went so far one time as to turn around in the seat at church when he was 3 and peered over the back at the couple sitting behind us who happened to be good friends. He was squatted in his seat, with just the top of his head and his eyes visable to them and his little hands perched on the back. I could hear them giggling at him and whispering "hey Riley, whatcha doing?" Okay, so Riley was never very good at whispering. His whispering consisted of basically him still talking out loud but with a whisper tone to his voice. It was quiet but still loud if that makes sense. So I hear him respond to our friends with what he thought was his whisper voice "don't look at me....I don't like to be looked at." Which resulted in the back left quarter of the church giggling because they all heard it too. That child, I swear.
So when I got Bell's Palsy initially, I completely understood where he was coming from. I would watch people to see how they looked at me. But I didn't want them looking at me. I never really felt sorry for myself and I knew I was going to be okay somehow, but people are human. And human nature triggers that "Ohhhhh, let me just look at you" knee jerk reaction when we see someone who doesn't look like us or that has what we've deemed something wrong with them. Your face looks different so I need to stare and see if I can process what is going on. I will always hold something my best friend Jessica said to me shortly after I got my lovely paralysis. She and her little girl had come to see me at work and I just couldn't look at them straight. I would talk but keep my head down or turned away. She said "You think we (and other people) think you look like a monster don't you? But we don't." And she hugged me. That was all she had to say. No explanation because the heart felt love she said those 2 sentences with made it all okay.
I know lots of peeps who've gotten Bell's Palsy, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, strokes, or something that has caused them to have facial paralysis over the years. And I know you guys have felt this same way. You want to tell people "don't look at me...I don't like to be looked at." And I think that stems from our self consciousness telling us that our crooked face or crooked smiles define us. But it doesn't. And don't let it! You are NOT the monster that you think others might see. I promise.
The strength and empathy I have learned from this experience has been nothing short of amazing. I never really think about my inability to smile like others much. And when I do, I think of it in a way that there are others out there that need me. They need to know they aren't the only one who has a lopsided smile or that their eye is droopy. Plus, I've mastered the Rock eyebrow raise.