Hannah before Bell's PalsyAs little girls, most of us are told that being pretty is as important as being clever. As we become women, hopefully we realise that confidence in oneself is the most beautiful trait of all. Still, most of us spend a huge amount of time on how we look and feel lost when we lose control for any reason. The term Bell’s Palsy generally refers to weakness of the facial muscles, mainly resulting from temporary or permanent damage to the facial nerve. Gorgeously gutsy Hannah spoke to StyleAble about her experience with Bell’s Palsy and shares her top tips for dealing with it (with a smile)…

“When my gorgeous daughter smiles at me, I can’t help but giggle – the poor thing has a wonky smile and this is down to me. Her somewhat lopsided smile perfectly matches mine. This isn’t because of my wicked sense of humour; it’s because I have a condition called Bell’s palsy which paralysed the whole right side of my face. A couple of years ago, my husband Dan and I had just returned from a wonderful weekend in Devon. We spent time walking around, Dan surfed a bit, and we generally had a lovely time chilling out. The morning after our return, I woke up and felt a weird tingling sensation down the right side of my face. All weekend I had been having pains behind my right ear and I had just brushed this off, as you do. It was only when I had tried to brush my teeth that I realised that my face had gone numb. I looked in the mirror and the right side of my face had dropped and my eye was unable to close – I looked like I had had a stroke. I was seven months pregnant at the time, so the idea that I had just had a stroke was really scary. After a visit to my GP and 10 hours in the hospital, I was finally diagnosed with Bell’s palsy. I was given a course of strong steroids.

Hannah with Bell's PalsyWhat worried me was being told that the condition ‘should’ resolve itself in a few weeks, but that it could take up to a couple of months. The word ‘should’ was not what I wanted to hear. I looked like Quasimodo! What if I stayed like this? My cheek and jaw had slumped and my eye would not close. Also, I couldn’t speak properly, it really sounded like I was drunk – even though I couldn’t actually drink without dribbling! When I tried to smile I looked horrendous, lopsided and sneering. I couldn’t even kiss my husband. If I could, I would have hidden away at home, however whatever I did would potentially affect the health of my unborn baby. In short, my vanity had to take a back seat. I could put up with anything, the dribbling, slurred speech and eye patch as long as the baby was healthy. I had to make a choice, I could be the weird mum in the back of the playground or I could be a pirate with an eye patch!

The cause of Bell’s palsy remains unknown. Sometimes it comes about due to a viral infection which can be heightened in pregnancy; this along with fatigue and stress and it can affect one in 5,000 people. (This made me feel really special.) Initially I was lost and I felt very lonely. Family and partners are great, but there are only so many times that you can hear, ‘But it’s so much better, I think it’s coming back!’ whilst you dribble your way through another drink. As soon as my daughter was born the symptoms lessened and the feeling started to return. I still carry straws with me everywhere I go, but I can close my eyes and smile slightly. Six months ago I thought I was going to be a pirate with my eye patch; now I’m just Han with a slightly wonky face who winks if I eat on my right side – multitasking or what!

It is funny what life throws at you – you either sink or swim. My way of dealing with this is to keep my sense of humour. A sense of humour and a great family really will fix anything.”

Hannah’s Top Tips:

1. Don’t panic, you have not had a stroke.
2. Take your steroids.
3. When your doctor tells you that there is nothing you can do and that it’s just a matter of time, do not nod, say thank you, and go home. Ask to be referred to a physio as soon as possible.
4. When the doctor says it can take up to three weeks to recover, don’t get down if six months later you’re still the same: everyone is different.
5. Take photos of yourself: it will help you track your progress, however small.
6. Buy straws: dribbling is not fun.
7. Buy dressing tape and eye patches, and take sunglasses with you everywhere, even in winter: you will look like a diva but squinting is a pain.
8. Do nothing and relax for your ‘special time’. Or get some nice facials.
9. Talk about how you feel to your nearest and dearest; don’t bottle anything up or you will explode in a teary and hysterical mess and your partner will think you’ve had a breakdown (sorry, Dan).
10. Laugh. Laugh at yourself and your situation, remember it feels like you are Quasimodo, but you could still be much worse.
11. Remember that it will get better over time. Keep up to date with physio appointments and do your exercises.
12. Smile. It may be wonky, but it’s yours. Don’t feel shy or ashamed about your appearance, the experiences you go through make you who you are.

For more information about Facial Palsy go to: www.facialpalsy.org.uk