“Smile Em,” my sister instructs from behind her camera.
I’m sitting fully masked (posing as directed) with my nieces and nephew standing at the required COVID distance.
I roll my eyes sarcastically and muffle, “Seriously Bec, smiling with a facial palsy’s hard enough! Now I’m doubly challenged with this mask!”
Hiding behind my eyepatch and bandages was once quite comforting earlier on in my stroke recovery. I could internalise my emotions. Botox masked my wrinkled lopsided expressions. My tears were plugged as my tear ducts no longer worked. My vocal cords were damaged so I couldn’t moan or whinge.
In fact, this was probably quite convenient for those around me, as it was harder to decipher my negative emotional response and see the impact of their behaviour!
I very much adopted a “victim mentality” where I told myself that “I could only be content and smile again, when my facial palsy went”. But in adopting that mindset, I convinced myself that until that symmetrical grin was restored, I couldn’t be happy.
Over time, It became quite evident to me that I needed to ‘step up’ and gradually form ways of externalising my emotions. Devising new outlets was integral in my recovery in managing and maintaining my emotional and physical wellbeing. It enabled me to achieve better outcomes and simultaneously educate others. Despite those around me not seeing my inner grin, deep down I knew I was smiling . Just knowing that helped lift my mood.
I adopted other gestures like using my hands and shoulders to show that I was happy about a situation. I worked on my voice intonation to make it more upbeat and less monotonous. I began to take more care of my appearance, wearing brighter clothes and tried to improve my eye contact.
“There’s no point smiling.”
“‘Why put in the effort when no one can see!”
These are definitely thoughts that haunt me and that I hear others articulate.
But surely in that mindset we are basically implying that until this pandemic is over we will not smile again.
How you are feeling right now is so valid. I find it helpful to consider other ways of conveying these emotions and expressing myself. Whether it’s an eye patch or a mask, there are ways that we can still ensure that whilst these accessories are protecting us they aren’t compromising our mental wellbeing.
Let’s choose to smile behind our mask – it’s something that we can do now that will positively lift our mood and the mood of others.