And so it starts…

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Today was my first session with the facial equality charity, Changing Faces. I had my assessment in December and such a lot has happened to me since that time. In some ways as I travelled into London I was trying to remind myself why this seemed like a good idea! I’m always amazed at how easy it is to bury pain at times… I can switch my emotions off quite quickly when necessary and as I journeyed there, I knew I was very detached from myself.

I got the tube and for the first time I didn’t really think about it as such a big deal. I’ve only been on the tube 6 times, so for me to take it more within my stride, is really encouraging. Every time I do it, I feel slightly more empowered.

It was my first time of meeting my practitioner. For the purposes of this blog, her name is Maria. She is a counselling psychologist just finishing her PhD. She looked younger than me. She has a facial difference herself.

This is my third time in the head office and I could tolerate looking at all the pictures a bit easier. The reception area is full of these advertising campaigns. Normally I just look away and feel slightly queasy- today I could hold it together a bit more.

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Fortuitously, I did not find Maria’s facial difference difficult to look at. So that was good. I felt she got the gist of me very quickly and she released me from all pressure to make improvements or get better. She kept encouraging me to take this process very slowly. I am grateful for that freedom.

The greatest gift Maria gave me today was to just ‘let me be’. I weeped, I was silent, I was wracked with shame… And she just let me be. She didn’t try and make it better, she didn’t pretend it wasn’t as awful as it is, she didn’t offer platitudes… She let me be.

I have blogged before about the pain of emptiness and loneliness I constantly battle with. Nothing to do with the number of people I know, but that awful isolation that comes from feeling misunderstood. That terror that comes upon you when you feel like no-one in the universe can understand just how awful this moment is. I know many of us feel this about other things in life we have experienced. Today I was able to get a momentary glimpse into this consequence of having facial difference.

Two things were significant for me. Firstly I have very clear memories of trauma related to my face. I can picture and articulate exact conversations, incidents and time lines. For other area of my life which have been equally tricky I can be very fuzzy about chronology and accuracy of events. Today I re- lived experiences with the clarity of a first hand account.

Secondly, I responded differently to myself. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes if I am very distressed I start pinching and scratching my face. Sometimes it is because I am so repulsed by my face, I want to scratch the skin off, sometimes it is because I want to bleed and let some of the pain out. I HATE my cheeks. They are fat and round (mainly induced by years of taking steroids- I can’t bear the mole like features… So sometimes I try and literally squeeze all the fat out. In the session I began attacking my face. I had to get it off me.

Maria led me in a safe space visualisation. I find visualisations very difficult as I can’t picture myself… But I went with it. As she led me through my safe space I realised I had begun to stroke my cheeks gently. They were very sore from where I had been hacking at them… But I began to caress and stroke them. I have never done that to myself ever. I stayed with it and tried to soothe my raw skin. It was a moment for me that I was able to let be.

I don’t know where these sessions will take me. I can’t imagine feeling different about my face. But 2 years ago I couldn’t imagine all the things I have been able to do since starting DBT. My goals are deceptively simple. I would love to not feel physically sick whenever I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror or in a photo. I would like to be able to hold eye contact with new people- especially men, without looking away. I would like to feel different about the way I look. I can’t be more specific than that at this point, as I’m still at the stage of, is this as good as it gets? I hope not.

Who knows, maybe I might cope with my face on a poster at some point?

Thanks for listening.

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