Reverb16 | December 20 | Achievement

Achievement. Tell us about one thing you did or overcame this year that you are really proud of.

This year has been a long list of failures and false starts.

And I am not used to failing.

So not used to it, in fact, that this year when I didn’t get a job that I didn’t even want, I was still mad that I wasn’t their first choice so that I could, inevitably, turn them down. Super mature, I know.

But I am used to quitting. In an effort, I think, to save myself from eventual failure. Like, if I see failure coming, I quit. Or at least lower my own expectations of myself.

It’s not the person I want to be, but it is the person I am.

That sort of changed when I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. And it probably seems weird that a relatively benign illness can have such a profound impact on a person, but it does. And where it really comes from is those few hours you don’t know that it is benign and harmless. Those hours you debate what is better to face*: a stroke, a tumor, or multiple sclerosis. Those few hours in the ER have dramatically impacted my life– the way I approach novel or scary things and the ways I want to spend my time and energy.

Even upon learning that it was “just Bell’s,” the truth was no one knew how long I would be dealing with it. For some, facial paralysis clears up in just 3 weeks. For others, 6 months or more. Many of us have lingering effects that aren’t as dramatic as facial paralysis, but still require a significant amount of adaptation. I suffer from constant ringing in my ear and an inability to modulate volume in my right ear– meaning background noise and the conversation happening right next to me all come at me at the same volume and I have a really hard time picking out the pieces I am supposed to be hearing and ignoring the pieces I am not.  I am also missing the “low vowel sounds” in that ear. A’s, O’s, and U’s. My left ear compensates outrageously well in normal situations. So much so that in a November hearing test, 6 months after the initial onset, I cried because it was the first time I realized those sounds were gone.

All this to say, “just Bell’s” is not as simple as it sounded in that first week.

Early on, I knew I had a choice to make. And I really made it in that first 12 hours when I bravely decided to go into work with my face paralyzed. That choice was not to hide from the things that are hard, and to stop quitting. Everyone said, “Oh, if this happened to me, I would stay home until it cleared up!” But after feeling like I might be facing numbered days, I certainly never again felt like I had 67 days to waste waiting to not be scared anymore. I hope I never do.

I just lived into it.

I went to work. I went to social gatherings. We traveled. People stared. People asked a lot of questions. I took pictures of myself and proudly half-smiled in the pictures others took. I dribbled a lot of beer down my shirt. We laughed about it. I was honest about it– the good and the bad.

And then, when life served up more shit sandwiches, I lived into those, too. It wasn’t always easy, it wasn’t always fun, and it wasn’t without heartbreak or loss.

But it was good. It was so, so good.

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*no pun intended, but it certainly is a good one! 

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