Shortly after my diagnosis, my then-boyfriend uttered those very words. He must have seen me look at myself in a critical manner one too many times since returning home from a two-week stint in hospital, wondering if ‘MS’ really was written on my face.
Even though I don’t usually give in to superficial words like this, and don’t necessarily follow fashion to a T, hearing his words did wonders for my mind. The relationship didn’t stand the test of time, but sometimes I still say those lines to myself. Nine years ago, his words became a quick-fix mantra to pick myself up when I needed a boost.
Bada bing, bada boom!
Although now reduced in effectiveness, every so often, those words just ring in my ears. Of course, there’s better advice out there someone with a chronic illness wants to hear, but sometimes you just want to find solace wherever you can find it first.
In a world of selfies and size zero clothing, a negative body image can weigh heavily on healthy people, never mind disabled people. Being ill in itself often makes you feel less desirable. In the world of MS, where wheelchairs spread doom and gloom to those that get hit with that tag, body-image requires a whole new level of acceptance.
I firmly believe beauty is limited to time and space. In addition, it only runs skin deep and definitely doesn’t reveal true worth. I was happy with my big blue eyes, clothes size and height, but I never had America’s Next Top Model aspirations and nor did I ever think I was. But oh, how did my body take centre-stage five weeks before my definite diagnosis.
Sick… I knew I was sick. My old – emphasis on ‘old’ – GP kept on misdiagnosing me for 5 months and I had been in and out of work, not getting anywhere, save from feeling sicker as time went on.
It was time I became proactive and did something drastic: check myself into hospital via Accidents & Emergency, bypassing my old GP and whichever department he was thinking of sending me to next. If the mountain didn’t want to come to me, I was hell-bent on action, and I would go get that mountain myself. I do love a bit of anarchy every now and then.
Then and there it hit me. I ogled the mirror after one consultant, accompanied by a battalion of students in medicine, asked me to stick out my tongue to them. “With pleasure” I thought, “it’s not every day a doctor asks me to do so.” Afterwards, he asked his students to look at “her face, intently look at her face.”
One of them replied “Left side.”
What did they know that I didn’t about my cheeks?
Left side, what is wrong with my left side? First my tongue, now my face.
Don’t touch my face, mister, I need to talk, do lots more of it the next few years! Talking, yelling even!
As soon as the army of doctors left, I ran to the bathroom to watch my face, to look for “that left side.”
The chill of that moment still makes me shiver. There was a clear difference in tissue/muscle texture, the left side thinner, not even thick enough to squeeze between my thumb and index finger. When I put both hands on my cheeks, tears started welling up because I could clearly feel the difference.
I was sick.
My face had changed and I never even noticed. At that moment, my body-image was altered.
Something was eating away the left side of my face, so I had to reclaim that lost part of my body. Suddenly the body I had been comfortable with for a very long time, took centre stage.
I couldn’t pass a mirror anymore without quickly looking if the rest of my face was still there.
Nine years later, my left cheek is still thinner than my right cheek, but I’m not that worried anymore about the squeeziness of my cheeks.
My boyfriend beat me to it with magic words. And every so often, those words still ring in my ears.
©Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner are strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.