Mum-of-one Catherine Parr was diagnosed with facial paralysis as a child – and since then it hasn’t ever gone away.
At school relentless bullying took its toll, leaving her too scared to go out. But now Catherine, 28, from Enfield, North London, faces a new ordeal.
She’s refusing to let her daughter Roseanne, three, start nursery over fears the toddler will be bullied because of HER “clown face”.
Here, she tells her story:
When I was about two the left-hand side of my face suddenly dropped.
At first it was put down to possible nerve damage due to an eye infection. My mum kept going back to the doctors but was repeatedly told not to worry and that it would sort itself out.
But when I was five, and due to start school, mum went back to the doctors and was finally told it could be Bell’s Palsy, which is facial paralysis.
The doctor said that they would look at it again when I was 18 so between the ages of two and 18 I had no specialist care.
I’m angry about that as I think if it had been treated earlier I could have recovered.
During that time it would slowly get a bit better, but then every time I hit a stressful time it would worsen.
I carried on like this until I was 23 when I woke up screaming. The pain down one side of my face was indescribable and I couldn’t move at all.
I looked in the mirror and wept.
At hospital it was confirmed I had recurrent and severe Bell’s Palsy. I received a course of steroids, had an MRI – a deep scan of the brain – and saw a neurologist.
But I was over 18 there wasn’t an awful lot they could do, unfortunately.
The lack of childhood support from the medical profession really affected me.
I feel my Bell’s Palsy could have been resolved if it had been addressed with I was younger. As I never taped my eye or used drops – treatments used to address it in children – my eyesight suffered.
When my teeth came in they left pretty quickly as food pocketed and subsequently the amount of plaque I was suffering from rocketed.
I now have dentures but I only wear them for family occasions.
I’ve been bullied my whole life, which has never helped my self-esteem. Primary school was not easy but when I enrolled in an all-girls school it got a lot worse.
I remember when I started the girls would practice their makeup skills on me.
Could they make me even? Fix me? Make me pretty and normal?
But when they realised they realised they couldn’t they bullied me I was called ‘wonky’, ‘clown face’ and other nasty things.
I began to loathe myself, comfort ate and ballooned to more than 26 stone. I was so unhappy, I didn’t care.
I think I care more now because I’m looking at myself through my daughter’s eyes.
My three-year-old daughter Roseanne is meant to be going to nursery but she isn’t, mainly because of me.
I am very worried about how the world will treat my daughter because of me.
I previously begged my partner to deal with it all – the school runs, parents’ evenings, plays and sports days.
But he pointed out how untenable it would be, how restrictive I would risk making her life in doing so.
She could feel that I’m not interested in her schooling, not willing to be open to her friends or the life she was building.
If I took that path, I could become reclusive to the point I would probably restrict her friends visiting and play dates. Basically it would be 13 years of offloading and restricting, a strain no mother, daughter, or even couple could withstand without consequence.
So I know I have to face it, but with that there is secondary guilt… the bullying she could face because of me. The questions she will inevitably be asked.
That’s why now more than ever I’m willing to undertake any surgery to my face. Just so she doesn’t have to face the life of bullying, discrimination, and harassment I have.
I’m pushing myself to get referred to absolutely anywhere because I believe, if I can smile, semi-smile, properly by the time she’s five she won’t have trouble with bullies at school because of me.
So I’ve got three years to pursue every avenue, any referral, examination and surgery possible. Most recently, I have had my first follow up with neurology, where I wanted to discuss my options.
I was told I’m not suitable for Botox and that I will be referred for plastic surgery. A bittersweet surprise bearing in mind I was told cosmetic surgery wasn’t going to be an option.
Today I’d say the Bell’s is more moderate than severe. But I know it could get worse again… it’s a horrible place to be in. I just want my daughter to be happy.
Catherine was supported by the charity Facial Palsy UK. Go to www.facialpalsy.org.uk for more information or support.
What is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s palsy is the most common cause of facial paralysis, but is still rare, affecting one in about 5,000 people a year.
The condition causes temporary muscle weakness or paralysis in one side of the face, and occurs when the nerve that controls facial muscles becomes inflamed or compressed.
While it is not known what causes this inflammation, it is thought that herpes or another virus, such as syphilis or Epstein-Barr, could also be responsible.
People with diabetes and HIV are thought to be at higher risk of developing Bell’s palsy.
The symptoms of the condition vary from person to person, but develop quickly and reach their peak within 48 hours.
According to the NHS , these are the key warning signs:
• Difficulty closing your eyelid one side of your face, or your mouth drooping on that side
• Irritation of one eye, such as dryness or increased tear production
• Earache or pain underneath the ear on the affected side of the face
• A change to your sense of taste
• Increased sensitivity to sound in one ear
• Drooling from your mouth on one side
• A dry mouth
• Pain around the jaw
• A headache
• Ringing in one or both ears
• Difficulty eating or drinking
• Impaired speech
The NHS advises that if you experience facial weakness or paralysis it can indicate a more serious condition, such as a stroke – so call 999 or visit your nearest A&E department immediately.