• SecretWorldOfaBook

I've Written a Book!

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

The Sadder Side of Me - My Bell's palsy story























It’s always the worst things in life that sneak up on you when you least expect it. When you plod along, everything feels normal, kids are happy and healthy, work is good, and you feel genuinely happy within yourself; and then bam! It hits you, but not in an obvious way, but in a sneaky, I’m going to slowly change your world for the worst and completely shatter your happiness without you even knowing I’m doing it kind of way.

That was how it was for me.

I couldn’t talk without slurring, I couldn’t eat without picking pieces apart, I couldn’t drink from a simple coffee cup and worse still, I couldn’t even smile at my children when they told me that I still looked beautiful, and to not worry mum, it's ok.

I was broken inside and out.

The morning that I woke up with the entire left side of my face paralysed was the day that changed my life and how I feel within it forever, as well as learning how my past, which I tried so hard to forget, had inadvertently affected my future.

Through doctors telling me the worst, becoming a human pin cushion through acupuncture and finally seeing a therapist I try to reverse the symptoms of a horrendous condition and work out what the root causes were to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Hey Booksta-family

So I have done it! I have taken the plunge and wrote my first book!

This is a super scary day for me, throwing out there the first three chapters of my book to the world, but I thought the best place to do that is with all of you lovely lot so here it is, my first written baby.

I had to give up my job back in June to take care of my eldest son who has been struggling with mental health and anxiety issues, seems as I was home and he was beginning to get better I thought I would finally take that leap and do something that I have always wanted to do ever since I was a child, write.

When I was around ten years old, I wrote a children's book all about a vegetable family, I added all the illustrations myself and proudly sent it off to Penguin, not realising until it was returned to me that I couldn't just whip it off in the post. The lovely team at Penguin were so nice, they sent me a note explaining that it was illegal to send manuscripts without an agent but best of luck for the future. Since then I have always had the burning desire to write a book but didn't think I could do so, but after getting back positive reviews from family and friends I feel confident enough to share my little extract with you all.

Why did I write a memoir-style book?

Well, I thought it was the best way to kick start my writing journey. A few years ago I came down with a condition called Bell's Palsy, this was an extremely affecting condition that paralysed the entire left side of my face. I had no clue that such a condition even existed until it happened to me and the doctors told me that my face would probably never come back again. If it wasn't for acupuncture and massage, I would not have my face back to what it is today and I feel not enough people out there know about it and also know that there are alternative medicines you can use to help bring the nerves back to full function or almost full function again. So awareness really, and the story just flowed from me, its not a huge book, only around 130 plus pages, but it tells my story from the moment I realised something was wrong to my journey through recovery, and also discovering how things that happened in my past, that I had tried very hard to forget, inadvertently affect my everyday life.

So if you like reading personal stories then I hope you will check out my first three chapters, and please leave me a comment to tell me what you think. I am in the process of reaching out to agents at the moment but I am still undecided whether to independently publish or not.

The cover for my book is in the process of being drawn as we speak so fingers crossed ill have this ready to show to you all very soon :)

Now that I have finished my story, I am currently prepping my beat sheet for my next book, which is fiction about love, loss and finding happiness again. I cannot wait to share it with you all!

Anyway, I have rambled on enough, so feel free to scroll down and read the first three chapters of my personal story. I can't wait to hear what you all think.

xoxo

 

The Sadder Side of Me

My Bell’s Palsy Story


By

Claire Rowden

1



It’s always the worst things in life that sneak up on you when you least expect it. When you’re plodding along, everything feels normal, kids are happy and healthy, work is good, and you feel genuinely happy within yourself; and then bam! It hits you, but not in an obvious way, but in a sneaky, I’m going to slowly change your world for the worst and completely shatter your happiness without you even knowing I’m doing it kind of way. That was how it was for me. I was happy, content with my daily life of being a wife and a mum to a busy household, I had even taken the next step and gone back to work part-time now that the kids were getting older, I was waking up every day taking life totally for granted, just like we all do.

I was, in a sense, completely clueless that my mind and body was struggling and on the brink of distress, so when this condition crept up on me leaving me feeling physically deformed and emotionally broken, I didn’t know what to do.

Over the years, I never have been able to handle stress too well, but I honestly assumed that what was happening to me was possibly a stroke or worse a heart attack, which I thought I must be far too young for, being only thirty-seven years old. But no, one morning at around four am I awoke and sat up wincing with a sharp pain that was radiating underneath my left ear, I was tired after staying up late reading that night and i just assumed it was another throat infection on the way, which I tend to get a couple of times a year, so I didn’t give it much thought and attempted to go back to sleep.

That following day I was at work, standing around in the playground supervising the children in my position as a mid-day assistant when I realized that every time the slight chilly wind caught my left ear it would cause a dull ache that was persistently getting worse, it wasn’t particularly strong wind, more of a breeze really but none the less it still made me cover my ear and shield it with my scarf. Again, I didn’t give it much thought other than to maybe make a mental note to call the doctors if it got worse, again still assuming it was just a throat infection and continued on with the rest of my shift. I watched mainly the year five group at lunch times and the banter I had with a few of the kids was something I looked forward to every day, you were not meant to have favourite’s but it’s pretty hard when they remind you of your own kids.

The rest of my day continued quite uneventfully, I picked the kids up from school, took them home and began preparing for dinner followed by an evening of reading and listening to the kids. By the time it came around to going to bed I still relatively felt ok, just a little off compared to normal, but as I mentioned before, I just assumed I had a cold or throat infection on the way.

The next morning, which would have been day two, I awoke again feeling pretty normal, I got the kids up, made my usual morning coffee in my extra-large mug, did my hair and makeup and got dressed, but when I went into the bathroom and began to brush my teeth, I noticed the first significant change. The brushing my teeth part was ok but when it came to spitting the toothpaste out into the sink my mouth just didn’t want to work properly, my lips did not want to purse together in the normal way that’s required to spit out the paste, they just gathered in a bizarre way and the toothpaste fell out rather than was spat out. At this point I stopped and took note of myself, I watched myself in the mirror as I moved my mouth around, trying to work out what was going on and why I felt weird and that’s when I realised that the left side of my face was ever so slightly looking off, it just didn’t sit right compared to the opposite side, and it didn’t feel normal either.

I didn’t have time to ponder on what was going on, I never usually have any spare time in the mornings, and I didn’t want to get myself all worked up in a fizz as I had four kids to get fed and looking respectable enough to get out the door for school, if you have teenagers then you will know that this in itself is a massive challenge, so I continued with my morning routine and pushed it to the back of my mind. I dropped my two eldest off at their senior school and then doubled back and dropped my two youngest off to the juniors before heading into work. Neither school were close to each other, the senior school was a good twenty minutes’ drive away, so I had plenty of time during driving back and forth that morning to worry, discreetly trying to pull faces in the rear-view mirror to see what parts of my face were not working properly, also mindful that I didn’t want to be late, after dropping off my two youngest it was always a sprint back to the car and get to work as I literally had about a ten minute window, I worked at a primary school that wasn’t too far from where I lived but traffic was a bugger in the mornings and considering it was my first job back after fourteen years of raising my kids, I wanted to make sure I made a good impression.

My hubby, Justin was more than happy for me to stay at home and relax and read every day if I wanted to but I felt that guilty pull of leaving the financial responsibility entirely on his shoulders, we had a largish family so was never really very flush and could do with the extra income so when I saw the mid-day position, I applied to get my foot back in the door. It wasn’t long before I had moved my way up from mid-daying to working as a teaching assistant in a room full of four-to-five-year-olds, it was my dream job, the kids all had fascinating little characters and the group of girls I worked with in my class were all so lovely, we made a really great team.

Again, though that day at work my ear ached whenever the breeze caught me as I turned my head and my face still felt slightly off, causing a sensation I hadn’t felt before that seemed to prickle under the surface on the skin on my left side. That afternoon I had promised to take the kids to McDonald's after school for a dinner treat, my mum came along for the ride as she usually does to keep me company and what I remember from those moments sitting in the restaurant wasn’t of me making happy memories with the kids while we all ate a meal together but of pure paranoia. I knew my face was acting weird and not doing entirely everything that it should be doing whilst I talked and smiled but I put on a brave face for the kids and shared a worried look with my mum, I had chosen not to eat anything but just to order a strawberry milkshake instead, I wasn’t up for eating as I was too worried and stressed about my face, when I struggled to drink my milkshake through the straw I initially panicked but forced myself to calm down and the only way I could do that was by making a joke about it to my mum. I was overly trying to see the funny side of the situation, to take some of the frantic worrying away and I knew my mum was doing the same, but when I looked up at the table opposite where we was seated i saw a small group of teenagers taking selfies and photos of each other, the phones were pointed in our direction and I instantly became paranoid that they were snapping a photo of the weird woman sitting on the table opposite with half a face that was wonky and wasn’t considered the ‘norm’ which would leave me wide open to be ridiculed, I was convinced they were poised, ready to share a snap chat with all of their friends and have a good laugh at my expense. They weren’t of course, they didn’t even know I existed, as teenagers do being totally wrapped up in their own world, it was just the beginning of a new paranoid state that I would soon discover would never leave me.

2


I have never been the most confident of girls. As a teenager I was forever on a diet of some sort or another, never confident within my own skin and always worrying what others thought of me but as I got older, became a woman, a wife then a mother I gradually cared less about what others thought and started to be more confident in my choices and wear what I wanted, regardless of whether someone else liked it or not. That doesn't mean I had a total overhaul. I still would not go on the school run without my make up on or without doing my hair, both simplistic tasks that shouldn’t really matter if they were done or not but it was my daily armour that I used to feel a little more confident, as far as I was concerned no one needed to see me in the morning without my face on, as far as I was concerned the kids on the school run would run screaming with fright if I didn’t make that effort, or so I told myself anyway. Either way, in my mind if I looked nice and well-presented then I would have a good day.

But that armour wasn’t working to well now. My shield was cracked and a distorted version of myself was peeking through. That evening I managed to get a doctor’s appointment to get my face checked out, after examining me she swiftly told me I needed to see a dentist not a doctor as it was probably an abscess on one of my teeth as she couldn’t find anything physically wrong with me. luckily, I also managed to get an emergency appointment at my dentist, both only being five minutes away from each other shortly after leaving the surgery, only to be told when I was lying there in the chair that there was nothing wrong with my teeth, everything looked fine and that I should go back to my doctor.

It was late by this point and I was getting slightly irritated and frustrated that no one seemed to know why my face and lips were acting a bit off, so I went home, sorted dinner, and carried on with our evening as usual whilst trying to convince myself that if there was actually a serious problem then surely one of the professionals I had just seen would have picked up on it. I gave my sister a phone call once the kids were in bed to voice my concerns, I explained what was happening and how I was feeling, just to verbalise my worries more than anything else and to have a bit of a moan about all the running around I was doing and that no one seemed to be taking my concerns very seriously, as she usually does she talked me down from the ledge I was balancing on and told me she would have a look to see what she could find out online.

When I woke up on the third day, I still felt relatively normal, thinking back now I didn’t realise what had happened had even happened until I looked in the mirror, I guess having just woken up my brain didn’t register that something was seriously off. I walked the few steps from my bedroom into the bathroom, went over to the mirror and realized with devastating clarity that the entire left side of my face was gone. Paralysed from the top of my head all the way down to the base of my neck. I couldn’t necessarily see a droop in the mirror, I was more horrified that when I spoke or tried to smile the left side of my mouth just stayed in the same flat line position. As you can imagine I was pretty freaked out, there was no point calling Justin as he was at work and if I’m honest I wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening, so I carried on with the chaotic morning routine, fed and took the kids to school, keeping my face covered as discreetly as possible and talking as little as I could get away with so as not to freak the kids out. I kind of figured that if I didn’t look directly at them then they wouldn’t notice.

My nephew is in the same year at school as my daughter, so when I pulled up at the junior school and walked over to meet my sister as I usually did every morning, she instantly knew something was up. She knows me better then I know myself sometimes and always has that sister-dar on high alert whenever she can see that something is bothering me, even if I act like nothing is wrong, she always knows, even to the point where now I don’t even try to pretend around her that I’m fine anymore, she doesn't give up till I tell her what’s wrong anyway, which even though at the time I don’t want to discuss any problems I might be having I always feel better afterwards for opening up. She knows this and is very good at it. It's just one of the things that make her such a good therapist in her daily job. I always said that I gave her all the practice she ever needed by having me as her little sister!

I was hiding my face in my scarf and clearly had written all over my face that I was in full on panic mode. ‘I’m freaking out Kelly, look at my face, it’s totally paralysed, I don’t know what’s going on’ I say this as I’m desperately trying not to cry, which is becoming increasingly harder standing in a street full of mums on their morning drop off. You would think that they would all be preoccupied with just getting their little ones into school, checking last minute water bottles are packed and lunch boxes haven’t been forgotten, but anyone with a child of school age will know that this isn't always the case and playground drama, and gossip can be rife with some of the mums that love nothing more than to talk about someone else’s misfortune. ‘Claire, I think you really need to call 111, I think you might have Bell’s Palsy’

‘Bell’s what? What is that?’ In my mind I was panicking as I had spent most of the morning thinking that I was having a stroke, I had never heard of bell’s palsy before, and this threw me completely, but I was somewhat a little relieved to have another possibility other than a stroke, even if I didn’t know what it was. “I googled your symptoms last night and that is what kept popping up, it’s worth a call just to be sure as there is a seventy-two-hour window for treatment.” I was already on day three by this point, so I gave my sister a hug and said I was heading straight home to give them a call.


3

I drove straight home and as soon as I got in, I threw my coat to one side and dialled 111. The lady on the other end of the phone was absolutely lovely, I told her all my symptoms and she also agreed it sounded very likely that it was bell’s palsy. She advised me to go straight to A&E as I was nearing the seventy-two-hour window for the viral medication to be successful.

My panic mode just upped a notch at this point, luckily my mum was home, so I grabbed her on the way, and we headed off to get my face checked out. I was praying this was going to be a quick fix, that they would send me home with some medication and I’d be right as rain by the weekend, but like all emergency rooms the wait was very long and boring, which led to lots of googling about my symptoms. I now know that my mum was also panicking on the inside, assuming the worst like me that I was possibly having a stroke, whilst playing it cool on the outside, she is good at that! Whilst I obsessively searched my symptoms it occurred to me that I might not have bells but there may be a chance that I might have Lyme’s disease instead.

Three months previously I had been bitten by two ticks, both at the same time over the local field that was behind our house whilst trying to fetch the kids football out of the trees. I wasn’t directly in the tree line but the grass along the edges of the bushes hadn’t been cut and the grass was still quite long, as I was standing just inside reaching up, I felt a sharp sting on the front of my leg. We never did get the ball down but I had been bitten by two ticks, both had bitten me on the same leg a few inches apart, I did the usual, drew circles around them to make sure I could see how far the red area around the tick bites grew and I contacted my doctor, after realising that one tick bite could be bad enough and I happened to have the luck of getting the twins of the tick world take a snack on my leg for the briefest of seconds that I happened to be standing in the long grass reaching for the ball! Once the doctor had checked me over, she advised me to keep an eye out for any symptoms of Lyme's, which unfortunately takes up to three months to make itself known. That would have roughly been around my time frame so on went more googling, even more panicking as the long-term effects of that could also be disastrous, but not all my symptoms were matching up, I had some that were similar but there were many that didn’t go with how I was feeling. It was at this point my mum took away my phone, handed me a coffee from the vending machine and told me to just wait and see what the doctors had to say. So, we sat, and we waited.

The chairs were typically uncomfortable, and the room was almost full to the brim of people all needing medical attention. I kept my head down as much as possible, trying not to make eye contact with anyone, if I wasn’t attempting to talk to mum, I was watching the news on the big tv suspended on the wall beside us. The volume wasn’t on, so I had to read the subtitles which always annoys me as they never give you a word for word play by of what’s is actually being said.

After what seemed like a lifetime I was finally called into the department where I was to be assessed. I can’t remember the doctors name he was a lovely man who was very patient and thorough. He did every check he could think of and finally told me what I was dreading to hear, yes I had bell palsy, quite severe, no they don’t know what causes it or why it affects the face the way it does but predominately stress is a huge factor, but don’t worry I was being given the strongest viral medication to take, we was still within the time frame, albeit barely, and this was the part I held on to with dear life, it wouldn’t get any worse. In fact, I should be back to normal within two weeks by which point I will have a follow up appointment with a consultant doctor over at the Ear Nose and Throat clinic. Two weeks! I could handle that.

So off we went, medication in hand and some surgical tape to help keep my eye closed during the night as it wasn’t blinking as it should, which meant it would dry out during the day. I was feeling a little bit better about the whole situation, I wasn’t jumping for joy at being told I had facial paralysis, but the doctor said it would only be around two weeks and that I was at the worst of it, I allowed myself that little bit of relief, even if it was only minuscule. We drove back to mums for a coffee and had some lunch, in my case something that I could pull apart and place in my mouth as I could only eat on the right-hand side. Biting into food such as sandwiches was no longer possible.

Over the next two weeks I took my medication religiously and tried not to get myself worked up over the fact that I wasn’t seeing a significant improvement, I left the house only to drop off the kids and then I would be back home again, hiding behind the safety of my front door, but by the time my two-week appointment had arrived I was a mess. My face had got increasingly worse, I could no longer drink from a cup and had to use a straw on the right-hand side of my mouth to drink anything at all, which by this point was mainly water as all the taste buds on the left-hand side were also completely gone. Eating was already an issue but on top of having to only eat food I could place in my mouth in small pieces, now I had to be careful not to chew the inside of my left cheek as it was constantly getting caught within my teeth as I chewed. It was the weirdest thing, if I chewed a piece of gum on the right side of my mouth it was all minty fresh, as soon as I pushed its over to the left it was like chewing a bland piece of rubber. It was entirely tasteless.

I hadn’t gone back to work after all of this had started, I was far to self-conscious and embarrassed, plus I could not handle any high pitch noises at all, as you can imagine working in a school playground is full of happy kids shouting and squealing at the top of their lungs so that was out of the question, not that I would have gone in with a paralysed face anyway, and like I mentioned before my confidence was literally dragging behind me on the floor by this point, so after the original appointment at the hospital I had signed myself off for the foreseeable, which wasn’t looking just like two weeks. The head at my school was really understanding, she had had a friend go through the same thing and didn’t put any pressure on me to rush back to work. Just the sound of stirring a teaspoon around in a cup of coffee would hurt my ear, it was like all the low sounds were fine, but any kind of high pitch noise just hurt to the point where I was constantly covering my left ear until I could get hold of some cotton wool to stuff in there to block out the noise, it was the strangest sensation. Imagine having a horn held right next to your ear and then being blasted in short bursts, that was what it felt like, it literally hurt that much that I would have to hold my head to one side.

Other aspects were included in this ear sensation also. I could not submerge my head under water, in the bath I would have to hover my head just under the surface enough so I could rinse off the shampoo out of my hair otherwise if I held my head underneath the water, gradually a dull ache would begin deep inside my ear and it would linger for at least half an hour afterwards, showers were trickier, any water that ran inside my ear would immediately cause the same ache which again lasted long enough for me to not bother with them anymore and just stuck with the baths as it was almost impossible to avoid the water running down into my ear.

The following year we were all meant to be going to Cape Verde for our annual holiday. It was the first all-inclusive abroad holiday on a plane that we were taking the kids on and every one of us was super excited. Hot sandy beaches, whale watching and baby sea turtles laying eggs at midnight were all on the agenda, what I hadn’t told them was what if I couldn’t fly? I couldn’t handle any pressure under water so was concerned that being in an airplane with cabin pressure might be the same. The problem with my ear dragged on for months after and as it turned out, I needn’t have worried anyway, covid put a stop to that trip.

Like the A&E doctor had predicted, my eyelid wasn’t closing or blinking correctly so every night I had to tape my eye shut. This comprised of tearing off four even strips of medical tape and applying them over my eye in the shape of a plus symbol. Every morning I would wake up dreading that when I slowly peeled off the tape, my lashes would all be removed, stuck to the tape glue. You would think being at home surrounded by your family that love and care for you unconditionally, you wouldn’t really care how you look, but I did. I felt embarrassed in the morning if anyone woke up before me and came in to see the tape over one eye, I even hid it under an eye mask, so it wasn’t so apparent. No one needed to see me first thing in the morning with one eye taped closed looking like a deformed pirate, I certainly didn’t like looking at it myself so I would try to spare the others. They said and did all the right things to try and make me feel better. The kids were heartbreakingly beautiful, telling me ‘It wasn’t that bad’ and ‘come on mum, smile it will get better, your smile is still beautiful’ but every time I wanted to smile as I kissed them goodnight or talk to them about something that on any other time would make me laugh or smile, I instantly felt like some kind of hideous gargoyle.

God, I loved them for trying but the more they tried the more I wanted to just crumple and sob. I would regularly find myself behind the closed door to my bathroom, repeatedly punishing and tormenting myself by standing in the mirror and attempting to smile, to get some kind of movement, any movement at all, just so that I didn’t look like a distorted version of two face from the batman movies, but it wouldn’t move and every time I would end up silently crying in the mirror at myself because how ugly I felt I looked, which would make me cry even harder as the more I twisted my face up through sadness the worse I felt I looked. I couldn’t win either way. On the inside I was in a pretty dark place trying my best to act like it’s not that bad, telling myself its only temporary, for the kids’ sake as well as my own, but who was I kidding, it wasn’t improving at all. In fact, it was only getting worse...


 

Well, there you have it, the first three chapters of my story are about quite possibly the worst thing that has happened in my life so far. I have been brutally honest about my feelings and emotions in this book and also opened up about things that happened to me when I was younger that I haven't told many people at all, for me this was very scary as it isn't something I want everyone to know about, but to write this story, I had to be honest with myself and open up as one thing has a knock-on effect of another and really there wasn't any way I could avoid writing about it in order to explain how it has affected my life today. No one likes talking about the rawest parts of their life but I found writing it all down has actually helped me in a way digest it a little better.

I decided to add a lotus flower underneath every chapter, not because it looks pretty, I mean, it does, but mainly because of what it represents.

The lotus flower is seen as a symbol of purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth. Its characteristics are a perfect analogy for the human condition: even when its roots are in the dirtiest waters, the Lotus produces the most beautiful flower.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my sample, like I said, feel free to leave me a comment below telling me what you thought, or if you like it enough please share on your social media using #TheSadderSideOfMe

Claire

xoxo


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