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For most of us with a facial difference, it’s a lifelong journey towards self-acceptance. Part of that journey is developing the language to understand and express our experiences, to the world and, more importantly – to ourselves.

I was born with right facial palsy. A difference, at first glance that seems minor, but has housed years of pain, misunderstanding, and minimization from doctors, specialists, and even family members. Something that many individuals with differences, unfortunately, know all too well. As a child in the early nineties, facial differences were focused on and primarily viewed in terms of correction and treated as medical deformities. A large portion of my childhood and adolescence experience was characterized by “how do I hide or compensate for the visible pieces of myself that are permanently broken.”

Those are hard feelings to have at any age, and although I had an incredibly supportive and loving family, I was still a scared, hurting, and alone child swallowed by emotions I both didn’t understand nor had the capacity to voice. Looking back now I can see how hard it was for those who loved me and how hard they tried. I can see now how my parents struggled, feeling responsible and desperately wishing they had a magic wand to ease the pain of their little girl. Living in a small town, the accepted approach was to avoid discussing anything different and to pretend it didn’t exist. So I never talked about it and did what many children and teens in my situation did. I internalized it as my fault, that I wasn’t deserving of love or worth unless it was earned. I took it on as my burden to carry the unwritten obligation to be strong for those around me. There was a lot of love and joy in my childhood and adolescence but sadly, it was always shadowed by these bigger feelings.

It has taken me a lifetime to build enough safety and compassion within myself to reach those feelings that have been so deeply buried. To keep holding onto the bright light and love inside me that helped shine me through all the darkness to the light of today.

While I still have a long way to go, there is a growing movement in the facial difference community devoted to sharing stories and giving voices to the impact of our experiences. I am proud of being a face in that movement, to help others keep holding onto their light. My love of artistic expression and psychology finds me working towards becoming a psychotherapist, with the goal of specializing in the further creation of safe spaces, community, and validation for those with facial differences to find their own ways home, the way I and many others have.

I am whole just as I am, I am not missing any pieces I don’t already have.

I am going to be misunderstood, judged, and rejected, but I know that I’m not on this earth to prove anything to anyone but myself.

I am loved, and I am on a mission to love myself more than I did the day before.