Struck With Bell's Palsy! My Recovery Process and Celebs Who Had It
NOTE: Even though I have worked in the medical field for 21 years typing medical reports for hospitals such as neurological institutes, I am not qualified to give advice, but I can share my own present experiences with Bell's palsy.
June 22, 2021 - I woke up to find something odd about the way my mouth moved. I stuck my tongue out with my mouth closed and my frenulum (that dimple above your upper lip) moved to one side strongly.
As I had no headache, no confusion, no difficulty finding words, and my left arm and leg were working great, I recognized immediately what I was dealing with.
Bell's palsy is an annoying temporary condition that can scare a person for its similar presentation as a stroke. It should be evaluated by a professional as other conditions, such as stroke, could be the explanation.
One side of the face droops with paralysis so that the eyelid on that side cannot close or blink, the eye gets dry, that corner of the mouth droops so that you drool easily.
Within 24-48 hours it hits its worst. For me, most people wouldn't realize I had an issue unless I had to smile or make an expression, then the asymmetry would show. My speaking voice, as well, sounded sputtering like Elmer Fudd. The eye on the left side was droopy so much that the upper lid area was blocking some of my vision.
Classic way to tell if it's Bell's Palsy - the affected side of the face's forehead won't wrinkle when you squint.
My mother and sister both had Bell's palsy in the past and so I recognized it quickly. It can tend to run in families, the propensity. I had a week earlier had an oral herpes lesion on my lip that popped up. It is extremely rare for me to get these, so I recalled it immediately when I had problems on the same side of the face.
(above - a great template for measuring your recovery)
Celebrities have also had this and are back to happy normal. You can get this at very young ages, as well (more on that and the celebs later in this post)
Angelina Jolie George Clooney Sylvester Stallone Pierce Brosnan Roseanne Barr Terrence Howard
Here's more info -
Mayo Clinic:Although the exact reason Bell's palsy occurs isn't clear, it's often related to having a viral infection. Viruses that have been linked to Bell's palsy include viruses that cause: Cold sores and genital herpes (herpes simplex) Chickenpox and shingles (herpes zoster) Infectious mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr) Cytomegalovirus infections Respiratory illnesses (adenovirus) German measles (rubella) Mumps (mumps virus) Flu (influenza B) Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (coxsackievirus)
The nerve that controls your facial muscles passes through a narrow corridor of bone on its way to your face. In Bell's palsy, that nerve becomes inflamed and swollen — usually related to a viral infection (for me a cold sore on my lip on that side just a week to a few days before). Besides facial muscles, the nerve affects tears, saliva, taste and a small bone in the middle of your ear.
VeryWellHealth: The chances of recovering from Bell's palsy are very good. Many people recover in as soon as 10 days. About 85% of people will recover within three weeks, although recovery can take months in some cases.
TIPS FROM MY EXPERIENCE
Eating/Drinking: For me, I accepted that I need to take time to eat and drink. It helps to use a straw, but even then I need to physically hold the straw with my fingers as my lips don't coordinate well to hold it in place. Sometimes I had to move my lip out of the way to bite into something and eat it, but with no sense of taste on that side of the tongue and chewing on that side awkward, I ate from the right side.
Eye: I use eye ointment at night. I am using Systane lubricant gel. I wear an eye patch when I sleep, but I also during the day wear it for periods of time. It stays moist under the patch at night and with the gel and in the daytime since I can't blink away irritants, keeping it on now and then keeps stuff out of the eye. I also use eye drops during the day. I avoid being near fans and because I can't squint against bright sunlight, I am avoiding the outdoors and if I must go out, dark glasses!
Emotional state: It's really easy to get depressed with this as you are uncomfortable, feel unattractive, can't do things you normally want to do, and worry about whether you regain your face any time soon. Just know that you will get back to your life and this will be a distant memory, sort of like the flu. You are bedridden for a time, but know life goes on after recovery.
Time off: Patience has been key for me. I told everyone I work with and friends and family that I would be taking several weeks off. I would not be available online except emergencies. I would not be going out and doing things. The lack of stress and relaxation helps the inflammatory process too.
Supplements: I chose to do 1000 mg of B12 every other day, zinc, echinachea, multivitamin, and 2000 mg of vitamin c, some turmeric and ginger in warm water with black pepper and some coconut oil. I seek to try to reduce inflammation as much as possible, as quickly as possible, so those were my personal choices.
Exercises: I was immediately doing facial exercises 3 times a day and also blowing bubbles and practice chewing gum on that side. I later did some research and inquired and found I should NOT exercise the face early in the condition, as it can cause synkinesis (moving out of sync), but I should just massage the face. This is kind of like twisting your ankle and it swells. When it's inflammed, you don't want to start doing exercises or you extend the length of the injury.
I found out that past the first week, you can do some gentle exercises where you use the hand to help the movements. Only 5 repetitions of each exercise twice a day. These are so helpful.
It is what it is. As I was under mores stress than any human being should ever have to handle and had a cold sore on the left upper lip, I realized this was a bomb waiting to happen and so reducing stress is critical. I had to say - I am suspended from my duties until I get my face back online.
Me time. I have pulled out movies I love to watch, books I meant to read, spending the day on the couch with breaks to get on the elliptical and gently exercise. Basically, I've had time to do things for me instead of others.
Gratitude is important.I say thanks every day to God for allowing me a condition I can recover from and for all the great things going on in my life. I have found that gratitude is a fast healer. Each muscle twitch or change and I say "thank you, thank you, thank you!"
NOTE: I will update (below) as I know how others with the condition like to hear how people have resolved the issue and the time period they resolved it in. It helps get through the days to stay focused on the recovery.
Day 8 smile
Thankful for small things. Excited because I can raise the left eyebrow a bit, muscle on left side near nose to mouth corner is moving. Seems to be right on track, though tedious. I will be happy when I can talk more normally without puffing air out of the corner of my mouth as if I'm on Novacaine, and no more drooling when I drink and having to use a straw. I suspect by Day 12, I should be having a huge jump. I will keep this updated -
Day 13 smile
Routine. I don't want to say I've gotten used to the routine, but it does become routine. Gel and eye patch at night, vitamin C, zinc, and B12. Testing now and then to see if anything changed. I have movement near the side of my nose, eyebrow a bit, and even with movement near the corner of the mouth, it won't turn upward yet in a smile. So, I go through my days knowing that as soon as the inflammation lessons (the seventh cranial nerve outlet is near the ear), I will get more signal to the face. It's like a garden hose that's clamped and water won't flow.
How long? It helped me to learn that there are about three types of this disorder - each a different degree. A great many are the superficial one that lasts perhaps 3 weeks to a month or so. The next level up can take 3 months to 6 months and the worst can take a year or slightly more to fully recover.
Frame of reference. I reflect back to 2008 when I had my Achilles surgery. I wasn't walking for a few months and then with a boot and eventually when I was allowed to walk, I had plantar fasciitis, extreme muscle loss, and had to work my way back to a strong right leg again. If I had known beforehand how long it would take, I would have been depressed, but in your day to day life you adapt to limitations and then with determination make big gains. I figured this face thing was going to be similar in persistence and completion, no matter how long it takes!
Here's a great reference - celebs who are just fine now-
Angelina Jolie had it in 2016
had it in middle school (common)
(even though she recovered, there is a trace of it in her smile which makes it kinda naughty looking)
(had it in the 1980s while filming and had to move camera angles to hide it)
(had it at 3 years of age)
(had it in high school - and just look at that handsome face!)
The takeaway - it can hit any age but is most common from 16-60.
Medications. Doctors offer steroids and antivirals to help hasten the natural process, but I have a family with very bad reactions to steroids, so I opted to do the wait. I watch my nutrition, rest, pushed aside all stress, and found zen outlets like meditation and drawing on a giant chalkboard to keep me centered. A huge priority is the protection of the eye from drying. I use eye drops and the patch on and off all day, avoid going out in sunlight or wind, and use the ointment gel each night with a patch while I sleep.
A photo would look similar to the last.
No Comparisons: But, I can say that it's tempting to surf around YouTube looking at vids done by people who recovered, but sometimes it makes things worse. You see someone younger than you who nine months later is struggling still. Then, you see someone who was through it in 3 weeks. You aren't sure what your timeline is and you really aren't sure if you recover your old face again. I have confidence that it will all be back in place and no one would know, except me and I will watch those tiny tiny things until they finally get right again.
Patience: There is definitely no rush when it comes to this. It's not like a diet and an extra hour of exercise or cutting calories gets you there faster. The body heals how the body heals. You can take supplements, rest, do exercise, but each person is an utter snowflake so stop comparing your case with others.
Progress on Day 18: I am starting to get some itching here and there on the left side of my face and as I go to scratch it, I realize I didn't have any such sensations before. I can see a bit of wrinkling on the forehead if I frown and that tiny patch of wrinkles makes me smile. The skin feels warm and alive now instead of cold and still. I get muscle twitches here and there, aches which seem to be part of this.
Progress on Day 27: Forcing a blink is easier on the affected eye and the muscles around it loosened some so I feel less like I'm looking out through a hood. The eyebrow goes up and down at about 70% of what it used to and the brow wrinkles on that side now. The muscles around the nose and corner of the mouth are active. When I smile now, instead of the corner going down, it stays straight and when I smile, my dimple shows in the cheek. There is still a fair deal of dead feeling in the cheek area, but it does move somewhat when I smile. I've been taking good care of the eye, protecting it from bright light and wind, lots of lubricating eye drops, and wearing blue light-blocking glasses to shield it, as well as occasionally wearing the patch during the day and always putting in gel and wearing a patch during sleep. My attitude is a bit better. I feel very far behind on all the irons I had in the fires, but I did realize that for all I was doing and all the immense stress I've been under the past few years, I needed to slow down and focus on health and well being. I am being much kinder to Sharon now.
Progress tends to be rather slow, but I have learned a few things. Doing photos each week shows the progress of my smile and other movements. It seems as if I go nowhere and then something new is possible the next week. I always take photos on Fridays.
Here's a one week's smile comparison -
About this time you start to feel even more doubtful and depressed as you see other's stories of 3 weeks, one month... and you are still feeling like you're doggy paddling to shore and they took a speedboat. Just breathe. It does repair itself.
I continue my supplements - D3, lysine, zinc, echinachea, B12, and Vitamin C. I put pepper, coconut oil and turmeric in my fresh veggie/fruit smoothies. I do gentle massage 5 times a day and twice a day I do 5 repetitions of gentle exercises, not pushing too hard as I don't want to confuse the face coming back online and end up with synkinesis (when you get some motions tied together like your eye waters when you smile).
I have had issues with puffy/swelling around the outer eyelid and the corner of the mouth area. It has been rather firm and that's the inflammation. It dawned on me 40-something days into it to try a cold pack a few times a day, but it's one that is in a fabric bag that helps keep from burning the skin. It seems to have made the swelling more puffy instead of hard.
I have to concentrate hard to be sure the mouth clamps onto the corner of a cup so sometimes I get lazy and use a straw again. I blow bubbles. I chew gum on the affected side. I have upcoming speaking engagements in October and November. I feel I should be completed before then, but the more I hear 3-6 months time period, I fret. Then, I recall the mantra - everyone recovers on different time and different way.
I am putting together a video about this progress and tips and showing what it's like for an average person. I will insert the video on here when it's done. Awaiting full smile again to call it time to assemble and share.
I take Friday comparison shots of the same movements to see how it's changing. Sometimes, you feel like you're getting nowhere and seeing a week's progress changes your attitude. On the left I did a blowing motion and my frenulum (folds above the mouth) moved to the side and the lips themselves moved to the side. One week later (right) and the frenulum shows that the mouth is entered and the left side of face is helping move those lips into central.
The eye is blinking on its own with the other and closes nicely. It still waters a lot and I hate the mornings because the gel I put in it to keep it moist at night takes forever to move out.
The brow moves up and down like normal, wrinkling the forehead. The frown lines between the brows are about 75% to 80% folding nicely.
Deep in the cheek where a dimple would be, I can feel the muscles moving there. When I smile now, the corner of the mouth stays even, but deep in the cheek I can feel the muscle pull and move. The lips on the left still cover the teeth if I do a toothy smile.
I can flare the nostril about 75-80% of normal.
It's such a slow process and I get so exasperated and worrying at times. It's perfectly normal to be depressed or concerned. But, since the three-month mark seems to be the majority and six months to be completely normal in the details, I figure me complaining as I get near the 2-month mark is being silly. I'm doing the supplements still - zinc, B12, lysine, and D3. I am doing the gentle massages five times a day. I am doing 5 repetitions of exercises twice a day. The only thing I haven't been winning at is stress-free or resting enough.
It's natural when things are put on hold or perhaps you aren't working or can't interview for jobs because of the awkwardness of speech and expression, to feel as if you are falling behind in everything. Who can afford to take a few months off? Heck, if we take a week's vacation we come back to triple our work load.
But, I am listening to my body now for the first time in a decade. I can tell when I've done too much, when I need rest, when I have to quit dogging myself mentally. Who can heal with someone nagging them, bullying them, telling them "have to," "must," and "should"?
At this point in your recovery, consider this -
When someone wants to lose weight, it takes tedious time, days, weeks, months, sometimes a year to get to goal. But once they get to goal, they forget how they got into the overweight condition in the first place and they fall back into that cycle.
With Bell's palsy, the stress on the immune system happened and you got this warning from your body. If you rest now and meditate, take vitamins, stay optimistic, and drop all responsibliities that were stressing you out, you can't go right back to that again after you recover.
Your immune system gave you a warning it's stressing and when an immune system is weakened, things like autoimmune diseases and cancer can take over.
I look at it this way, Sharon first. Rest? Hydrate? Supplements? Exercise? Pacing myself? And, most of all, quit riding myself about every possible scenario that can go wrong and feeling overly responsible for everyone and everything.
Truth be told - the world was here before you arrived and it'll be here when you're gone. It's not that you're deeds aren't that important, it's just that you ARE that important.
Day 64 and Day 3!
A couple days ago I woke up with Bell's palsy on the right. The Bell's on the left was mostly recovered except the corner of the mouth still needs to go up further. I rushed to the ER to find out I was one of the very rare cases. Starting over now with Bell's on the right. If that didn't plunge me into depression, the doctor found my BP was high and my blood sugar. He put me on antivirals, lisinopril for blood pressure, and Metformin for blood sugar!
It threw me for a loop! I had lurking issues that might be contributing to my inflammatory situation. Stress was the very top of the list! You can't run that kind of pace and expect your body not to respond desperately to keep up. And inflammation leads to diseases that I was beginning to show in my 50s from decades of mad pace.
On a dime, my life turned 180 degrees. I had to stop my work load, give up working the rest of the year to try and salvage my health. In that weird way that bad things happen so you can learn from it, be motivated by it, or simply grow stronger, I was going to need to change my life drastically. Ironically, all I ever wanted was a health-focused lifestyle as an organic grower, lover of health supplements, and enjoying physical activity. But the life I was leading was not lined up with that obsession at all.
I was leading a frantic life not in sync with the health-loving artist that I am.
Although it's very hard to eat when chewing is awkward on both sides and I now need to consider salt and empty carbs, I did come up with a list of things I can eat more easily that align with my health goals.
Smoothies - pureed frozen veggies, tart apple, spinach, celery, water and some frozen berries and ginger root for inflammation.
Low-sodium bone broth and soups
Tofu, salmon, eggs, sardines
Low-sugar Greek yogurt
Refried beans with melted cheese
A friend had me look into chaga mushroom tea and I ordered some as it has some really amazing health benefits for all that ails me.
Chaga mushrooms grow on trees in the north, like birch. They are parasitic and take nutrients from the tree. They are super super high in antioxidants (31 times higher than blueberries) and are really great at reducing inflammation, also helpful for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, heart health, cancer fighting, and more.
I am back at square one in a lot of ways but this forced time away from stressors has really helped me to remember exactly what I should be doing - organic, healthy living.
It's funny how only adversity makes you realize what matters.
I grew up with two homes, a main home and a summer home. Mother got a half a cow and a huge pickle jar of honey with honeycomb from him. We grew vegetables at both homes and had nut trees (black walnut, hickory, pecan). We gathered crabs, clams and oysters at the summer home. We picked berries, cherries, pears, apples, persimmons, grapes, and more on our properties. Mother grew a tea garden. She knew many tea remedies from her mother who was a Depression Era Appalachian midwife and medicine woman.
My whole life, I've been fascinated with the benefits that come from the earth and the seasons that guide the crops. I've tried about every supplement I can think of in a desire to see the benefits and to utilize certain ones during certain health times in my life.
I was always a healthy kid, couldn't even catch chicken pox when I tried! I was a super athlete into daily hours of freestyle rollerskating, skateboarding, tennis, basketball, swimming, diving, gymnastics....
Mom was into health supplements and took me to a hippie-owned health food store as a kid. I loved the smell of incense and the aisles of tiger's milk and teas.
As an adult, I grew and made my own tea mixes and considered my diet to enhance health by eating whole grains, oily fish, hard cheese, and other Scandnavian-based foods I grew up on.
But, feeding a meat and potatoes man and raising a child, I gave up my own tastes and needs to make American meals that made me gain weight for the first time in my life and had my health sluggish.
So, given my "surfer girl" dreams and my obsession with health, outdoors, growing foods, and cooking, I can see that this is my time. It's a forced time because I didn't have the commonsense to slow down and demand it before, but at least this health crisis has forced me to become who I always wanted to be - health oriented.
I watched my family die of lifestyle-related disease at young ages - dad of heart disease, mom of emphysema, sister of complications of stomach stapling for morbid obesity, brother of alcoholic cirrhosis. As the baby of the family, I should learn from their weaknesses.
So, expect me to bring on my health-oriented posts on hree a lot, showing progress, my weight loss, my bikini shoot goal (lost 20 pounds so far with Bells), and encouraging others to get off the gerbil wheel and live in the sunshine, outdoors, farmer's markets, taking walks, meditating, supplementing, and being fully engaged with a 20-year-old's energy and enthusiasm.
Day 85 (left side) Day 24 (right side)
Well, in the bigger scheme of things, I am 1" away from a healthy waist size and 17 pounds from a healthy BMI. I have lost 5 inches in my waist and 30 pounds. I am adhering to my program and doing my facial massages daily and exercises.
The left side of the face is almost at the 3-month mark. Eyebrow raises great, nostril flares, eye still doesn't completely close, smile is about 2/3 of the way there, but the muscles are so weak from months of no use that I am having to practice smiling and tightening and releasing.
My speech and eating are still rough. I can speak well exxcept certain sounds like "p," "b," and "v." I cut things up into tiny tiny pieces and have to chew on the better side, but still use my finger on my cheek to push the food around properly in there since the other side of the face is flaccid.
The right side of the face is almost at the one-month mark but I can feel faint stirrings in it. The pains that you get the first weeks (aches in ear and base of skull) are gone. Ear is doing some pressure change stuff which tells me the bones in there that are affected are maybe getting some signal and doing something.
Having it on both sides of the face and this going on so long and finding out I had BP and blood sugar issues put me into crisis mode. I need to look for a job but being unable to speak clearly and needing to rest and heal and not stress out is tough because not having a job is stressful. I am focusing on health now. My life made me stop and pay attention.
If you don't believe stress can cause disease, it's pretty much the root of almost all diseases.
I had the doctor prescribe Zoloft to help me sleep and get some control over depression and anxiety that happen in situations like this where you are prolonged out of the circuit and feeling like you're getting nowhere.
I know that Bell's heals, but for some of us it is a long haul. I believe most people heal 3-6 month time frame. I am certain the left side will be fully functioning by Thanksgiving, but the right side might take into the New Year.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH BELL'S PALSY
Stressing about it can affect your immune system and your healing, so I strongly suggest you find ways to destress. I have found that lying back on the sofa in the afternoon, soft music playing, and meditating is super helpful to go to a bright, exalted place where all your whirling thoughts cease and you are timeless and nothing is personal, but instead universal - that's a huge help.
Sometimes, a cold wet cloth (wet it, wring it out, put in freezer 1 minute) can feel great or a hot wet cloth (wet, wring out, put in microwave 8 seconds).
Don't be afraid to ask the doctor for something to help anxiety and depression. Even the most perky person begins to lose hope and feels suddenly disabled. It can affect sleep, being able to function, and relaxing so you can heal.
Watch funny videos. I have become an addict for news blooper videos and funny dogs.
Be sure you take care of your general well being. Take your vitamins/supplements, medications, get some movement in your day, start a creative project, correspond with family and friends, and work on weight issues, blood sugar issues, cholesterol issues, whatever else might be going on creating an inflammatory state.
Patience. Bell's palsy is kinda like pregnancy. Until you have a baby, the first time it's all weird. Is this normal? What's going on now? Why is this milestone not here yet? Every patient with Bell's palsy has a different recovery period and degree of recovery. Just know that your face will come back online and you will be smiling in your pictures again. I actually keep this pic around to remind me of that smile I miss and to compare where I am now with where I should be when I'm done -
DAY 96 (LEFT) 35 (RIGHT)
Sometimes it seems like with Bell's that the days go by so slowly and they become weeks, then months, and you feel you have no improvement. You do have improvement, it's just a subtle process and I've found the longer this takes to recover, the more muscle loss so when you do get movement, you need to do some resistance work to rebuild.
The left side of the face (eye wide open, corner of mouth going up) is animated completely, nostril flares, eyebrow raises, eye closes, smile dimples. It's still weak though. I can't smile enough to show upper teeth and I can feel it takes all the muscle I have to get what I get out of it. So, it takes a bit of resistance, pushing very gently against the muscle as you use it. Use it or lose it.
The right side of the face is still basically paralyzed. The eye muscles are still tight (see how it looks squinty?). As the camera is on selfie mode, it seems like that should be the left side of my face, but it transposes positions. I feel a tiny bit of movement near the nostril area and can almost falre it. The eyebrow doesn't seem to move yet, but the muscle above the eye goes up and down. This eye for some reason never had issue with closing. It actually closed better than the left eye. Because both eyes are affected, I put eye gel in at night and then a sleeping mask so I can get up during the night and not be patched over both eyes and blind.
I do my massages 5 times more more a day. I do the exercises twice a day and sometimes 3 times, but I do them gently, thoughtfully, and only 5 reps.
I'm sure everyone recovers muscles in different order. For me, it seemed to be the muscle beside the nostril and the eyebrow then the smiling mechanism. Getting that band muscle around the lips to loosen and work is the hardest part. Even hough I can smile pretty big on the left, I still can't seem to get the lips to lift. I do an exercise I found very helpful.
Open mouth in a big "ahhh" (as if you're showing the doctor your tonsils), then try to pucker them together like an "ooo" and then pull the mouth wide like an "eee"
I give a little extra attention to loosening the lip area and the eyebrow area when massaging.
My speech is still rather awkward. I practice sounds. You find as you animate your face and muscles are atrophied, if you talk too much during the day, your face is tired at the end of it. You're building up muscle. It's a good thing. Chewing gum has been another help, as is blowing bubbles.
The letter "P" is especially tough. This time has forced me to slow down and concentrate on my health. It wasn't easy, as I need to find a job, but I also want to present to an employer that I can speak clearly and do the work, as well as being healthy and able to handle job stress.
I get up early in the morning and head outside to do landscaping work in the front yard so the HOA is happy and also to create a yard that is maintenance free with cactus and desert plants, gravel, and no need to water.
I go into the backyard and work on the fruit trees and veggie garden as growing organic food is hugely important to me. I chase butterflies and photograph them.
Once I blow some bubbles into the air, carrying my dreams to the universe, I head inside to work on script writing for my tv series.
As a caregiver, I still have my house and cooking chores, but being rested at night and invigorated by exercise, I get them all done with less exhaustion. Being 30 pounds lighter makes a difference I can't explain, but I will be sharing the health crisis process in my "Health Crises in Your 50s" series on here. I have 20 more to go and am whittling myself so I can do a bikini photo shoot December 7th. That goal means my face and body need to be ready and that gives me a focus of discipline each day. I want to prove to myself I'm a better swimsuit model now than I was in my early 20s.
My weight melted off with a simple few things -
1. Eat off a dessert plate
2. Put half my normal portion on the plate (can go back if I need to, but I never do because I do #3)
3. Eat very slowly. Set down fork between bites, chew well, sit back, relax, read, watch a show. Pick up the fork again in a few minutes. Try and take 20-30 minutes to eat your half portion.
4. Keep sugar grams under 24g a day.
5. Watch salt.
I figured the French have a good idea - they eat super quality but rich foods, but they eat socially, taking tons of time, eating from a small plate, savoring it. For me, I realized eating man-sized meals, eating all of a fast food portion, and gobbling fast made me fat and unhealthy. Doing the reverse brought me back to my baseline.
In 20 pounds I will be smack dab in the middle of the healthy weight for my height on the BMI chart.
Frame can be measured by wrapping your fingers around your wrist. If they overlap, you are small framed, if they touch you are medium framed, if they don't quite touch you are large framed.
Mine do not touch. I am large-framed. I could weigh 154 pounds and look stick thin, but a small-framed woman the same height could look overweight at that weight. We need to stop comparing ourselves for weight or dress size. If I wear a size 8, I look like model thin, but if my 5'1" friend is size 8, she looks very overweight. We are apples and oranges based on muscle, height, and frame size.
These women are same weight, different heights -
I succeeded at weight loss when I never could before because before I saw it as a beauty and character issue. Faced with very real health issues, I realized I wasn't lacking motivation, I was lacking worthy benefit. Being attractive is nice, but not incentive enough when faced with mortality.
I finally stopped doing what most women do by making weight be a character flaw. It's not a character flaw, it's a technical execution flaw. It's logistics, not weakness. It's priorities, not wishes.
DAYS 108 (LEFT) AND 47 (RIGHT)
What do I say after all this time? Well, the left side of the face is completely animated. The muscles are still weak. I do some resistance on them, pushing against the muscle as I smile and such, to try and regain the muscle after 3 months of paralysis. The problem is, with this side not completely strong, the right side of the face has trouble even getting an eyebrow raise yet.
Between the speech sounding like Sylvester Kitty and the eyes constantly watering so much my vision is blurred most of the time, and days and days going by without what seems like any discernible change, I have days where I just go back in my bedroom and cry. This is normal. It's part of it. Have faith. Faith is that people recover their muscle movement over time, most 3-6 months. I'm at the 3-1/2 month/1-1/2month phase right now and utterly sick of it. I need to interview for a job, but I just can't do it in this condition and it would be wrong to ask an employer to wait for my eyes to stop tearing so I can read the screen.
All I can do right now is focus on what I can do. In terms of the physical, I am making extraordinary strides. I bought the bikini I want to model on Dec 7th when I am determined to do a bikini shoot, my body is getting in shape more and more each day, my BP and BS are amazing. I feel young again physically and once the face is back to normal, I will feel about 35.
All I can say for long-term healers is - take this time off to really play in your mind, all you have done in your lifetime to better understand your amazing experiences and qualities and to get a sense of who you are. Find the things you can control and work on those. Audio books, exercise, nap time, gardening, walking, and anything that inspires you. As I said, my focus is on my physical strength and health.
Day 130 (left) and Day 69 (right)
Day 139 (left) and Day 78 (right)
Day 163 (left) and Day 102 (right)
It's the little things that count. The left side has been well and truly mobile and happy. The right side (camera was on selfie mode so the sides look a bit backwards) has finally on day 93 shown movement. The right cheek and nose area is moving quite a bit now, but the muscles are 3-months atrophied, so it will take some time to build them up enough to stop slurring my speech. The brow still isn't raising. But I now know that, no it's not permanent (something many sufferers worry about when movement hasn't started).
I did a radio show with the slight lisp-sound when I say my "b's" and "p's." I found it rather liberating as I've been sharing my progress on LinkedIn, as well as Facebook and Instagram. I believe that it's good to set an example of dignity with this affliction and also because sufferers rarely know someone else with it, so it's comforting to hear another's journey.
I was pleased to get all my testing back. The labs were flawless. No signs of autoimmune or viral issues. All the numbers were great. The doctor commented on wishing he had my cholesterol counts.
The EKG and head CT were fine. There was absolutely nothing going on, except the cold sores that precipitated the two sides going down. With them going down 2 months apart and no other issues like Lyme disease and such in play, it was decided this was likely not a genuine bilateral Bell's, just weird timing but ignited by the unknown diabetes.
My weight is down about 40 pounds from the start of summer. I tried on all my summer shorts and had to donate them.
My blood pressure is too low, around 90s/60s with head rushes when I stand up or bend over and straighten up, so the medicine had to be halved with us preparing to wean me off when I reach target weight in another 10 pounds.
To know that my health is excellent and to be gaining muscle renovating the house, I feel rather invincible. The face will follow. At this rate, I expect my target bikini shoot to be in January once the smile is strong enough as I have earned the bikini and the smile!
Day 168 (left) 107 (right)
Keeping in mind that in selfie mode the right side of my face is actually the right side of this photograph, that is the healing side.
The left side has done well. It's actually almost too strong as the muscles can tighten a lot during the day. There is a crinkle on the chin where the muscle is weak and twitches, and when tired the eye twitches when I smile, but that is all a matter of muscle strengthening and when the other side is stronger, I suspect things will move along quickly. That eye closes well and no real watering issues anymore (thank goodness)!
The healing side has a stronger smile, but not enough to show my teeth when I do an open-mouth smile and you can see the strong side is pulling the mouth to one direction. But, the movement is great on the healing side, just 100 days weak.
The eye, however, is a sticking point. The brow won't raise, the muscles around the eye still clamping, and it waters a lot, stings....
It seems like massage and hot compresses are the way to go for some time now. I think with this progress, I expect no one to notice I have this issue by Valentine's Day. That will have made it about 8 months total for the whole face, but hey at this point I remind myself that I am progressing. It's different for every person, but it happens. Even the stupid eye will have its day. The smile, oddly seemed to happen almost overnight. That was odd, but welcome.
Speech has been a bit rougher sounding lately because the healed side can tighten up and that distorts even more so I sound like Cindy Brady at times depending on the letter I'm trying to pronounce. I have found that overall the fine mouth muscles are the very very last thing to loosen. When I rub the muscles around the lips, they can contract and spasm hard. I can tell they are very tight. I waited about 4 months to see my teeth for the first time when I used the healed side's smile. That was a goofy marker that made me so happy.
It's the little things. As I work with this temporary disability, I have increased my health and well being to the highest level since I became an adult. It's rather late coming, but finally I had a reason to slow down and take care of me.
MARCH 9, 2022
(8-1/2 MONTHS AND 6-1/2 MONTHS)
I have to say that the last months have been excruciating in that, the finer motor movements of the mouth area are very slow, but definitely progressing. Patience is definitely the rule here. I found by doing photos once a week of certain movements, it helps me to realize how far I've come.
At 6-1/2 months in on the newest side of the face affected by Bell's palsy, the eyebrow is finally lifting a bit and making one wrinkle on the forehead. I massage many times a day and work on various movements to loosen tightened muscles.
My nasolabial folds look strong now because the muscles get exhausted and remain tight a lot. When I lie in bed at night, I have to concentrate to let the muscles go or they are locked up as if I'm smiling.
(above) me attempting my open-mouthed smile. The good news is that a couple months ago, the first side stricken, couldn't show a single tooth smiling. Now it shows the teeth nicely, but the newer side stricken is still working the muscles to pull up a bit more and meet the other side. When I do smile open-mouthed, the corners feel so tight, I can't make a wide smile, but I can also tell that's a matter of muscles rebuilding and not a movement issue.
In fact, one of my best indicators for recovery is my neck muscles. I tighten them and on the oldest side, you can see the ligaments standing out. On the newest side, not quite yet.
So glad the eye thing is over. Eyes close, blink, don't water excessively or sting anymore, but I have kept up the eyedrop practice because I live in the desert and it's just good for them.
This whole thing really had me realizing the things we take for granted. When I speak, my mouth moves tightly and some sounds are still hard, eating is still awkward. I have to put my hand over my mouth to keep food from falling out and moving it around in the mouth is a bit odd. I know with strengthening and practice, I will get there.
I've found not only was stress reduction critical, but the slow down made me go outdoors, feel the sun, plant my garden, blow bubbles, try blowing balloons, bouncing a straw between my lips as part of my recovery.
Manifesting is critical. Recall who you were and know one advantage of an active recovery is gaining facial muscles in ways you never took the effort to do. You can gain a less awkward face and a more graceful thoughtful one.
I have many good things coming to me now that I'm not driving my life with a foot on the gas and one on the brake. I'm in the moment. I'm aware of my health and well-being. I don't throw fits or get upset that my face isn't healing fast enough. After many months of no or very little movement, it needs to regain muscles and they aren't like arm or leg muscles you can easily build.
Massage. Breathe. Exercise the movements. Rest. Keep a video or photo diary to help. When I scroll up here, I realize how far I've come.
I know a lot of doctors don't understand what this condition is like or even exactly why some people get it while others don't, but I would have been relieved to realize a few things.
When movement is about to take off, you often times sense itchiness there. You go to scratch it and realize there's life there. When muscles get tight at the end of the day, you need to massage them loose. When you are about to gain new movement to a better degree, the muscles often spasm if you rub them. You rub, they tighten hard in response or twitch. That happened to me before I made big breakthroughs, like seeing my teeth when I smile. Before that happened, if I rubbed my bottom lip or corner of my mouth, it would pull tight like a rubber band. Perhaps the hardest movement left is to pucker/kiss. Drawing in the corners of the tight mouth is tough, but it does loosen over time and massage and exercises.
Start taking note of how things unfold and you can feel the signs of improvement. When I started this journey, it was just one side of my face and I was telling people, "a couple weeks and I'm over it." Nope. Then, a second side went down, but two months later, so not really a true bilateral. Both were preicipitated by high blood sugar (unknown diabetes) and a cold sore on that side of the face.
No matter how you got it, find your own milestones to make you happy. I wanted these things -
1. Forehead wrinkle
2. Smile with teeth
3. Curl my tongue
4. Make a kiss pucker.
And they are all unfolding now nearly 9 and 7 months later!
11 months one side/9 months the other
It feels sometimes like everything is at a standstill with recovery. I still can't open-mouth smile much. The lips are still rather paralyzed so when I talk, they don't shape the sounds. The right forehead (9 months along) barely makes a wrinkle and the eye is still rather locked compared to the normal left. I can smile closed-mouth fine. Chewing is still awkward, usually having to cover my mouth since lips can't stay closed well.
I finally got a referral to a neurologist and hope to see what more can be done. I know both my sister and mother took one year to recover. My sister said she just woke up one day and it was normal again. I hope I can be so lucky. Both mother and my sister smoked heavily all their lives and I am a strict non-smoker.
I continue massaging throughout the day and practicing exercises. I see some subtle changes, but the mouth is really my biggest frustration. I am known for my big smiles and happy expressions and I'm tired of looking angry all the time.
Patience and diligence. I cannot wait to post a pic of a big smile. If you are suffering, go onto Facebook. There are some great groups for those with Bell's palsy.
Whether the vaccines precipitated the outbreak of cold sores that started this condition or not, I did notice that after the booster, my progress nearly stopped. I hope I did not offend my immune system in some way and I still believing the vaccines were more important as I have pre-existing conditions and age that could make me at high risk if I caught the virus, as well as being a caretaker for someone with grave conditions.
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