The first steps into adulthood are often an uncertain time for young people: many changes are happening such as applying for jobs, moving on to further education, meeting potential new partners and socialising in a more adult environment.
For a young adult with facial palsy, all of these life changes present additional challenges.
Going for a job interview is daunting for anyone, but for someone with facial palsy there is the additional worry that the way they look might prevent them from being considered for the role. There is the dilemma as to whether to explain their facial palsy or whether to assume it will make no difference.
Certain career paths may be limited or unavailable to someone with facial palsy. If they wanted to be an actor for example, then they would need to portray a character with facial palsy. Musical instruments that involve movement of the mouth can also be difficult for someone with facial palsy to master.
Young adult experience: ‘I went for a mock interview, it was part of a careers training day arranged by my school. The interview went okay-ish; the man said I was fine in personality, but I looked sad. He said I was a difficult person to explain because I was extrovert in personality and introvert in my looks, because I had everything going for me yet I had my chin down and hardly ever smiled. Huh?! Still, I couldn’t expect him to know I can’t smile properly…’
Young adult experience: ‘I had a job interview today, got ready, turned up, but decided I couldn’t go through with it as I was having a “no-confidence” day and couldn’t face meeting new people. I was in two minds whether to put what happened to me on my application form, but when I filled it in I was having a good day and decided not to do it as it shouldn’t make a difference. But I now think that if I had, I would have felt better about going through with the interview. I have missed an opportunity.’
People with facial palsy are often guarded when it comes to showing emotion, because they know it makes them look different. Sometimes they cannot show emotion at all and they realise this can make them appear unfriendly to strangers. Some people may even assume that someone with facial palsy is drunk.
Young adult experience: ‘I am too scared to line up for a club as the bouncer might think I am drunk because of my face and turn me away.’
Today’s world of modern technology and social networking websites means nights out with friends are often captured on cameras and mobile phones; the fear of having your photograph taken can have a detrimental effect on the enjoyment of someone with facial palsy. Not everyone with facial palsy dislikes having pictures taken; people learn how to position themselves more favourably in photos, but having facial palsy means you tend to be less spontaneous in your reactions. People with facial palsy may also fear being around strangers who have been drinking alcohol in case they say something unkind.
Young adult experience: ‘The thought of going out doing normal young person things scares me. I do not go out drinking as the thought of a drunken person saying something about my face would send me over the edge. I now feel embarrassed a lot of the time; I would prefer to hide my face away.’
Young adult experience: ‘I used to hate it when men thinking they were being clever would tell people I was winking at them. I wasn’t winking; I just couldn’t blink one eye.’
Seeking a partner
People with facial palsy often find it difficult to accept that others still find them attractive. Friends and family often say it is not that noticeable but this is hard for the person with facial palsy to accept, because often they have never seen another person with facial paralysis. Meeting others with similar differences can help to normalise facial paralysis so people better understand why their family and friends say they don’t notice it that much.
Young adult experience: ‘I felt absolutely ugly for many many years and thought that I would never find anyone who would find me attractive. I didn’t feel like a “proper” person.’
Many people with facial palsy have reported difficulties knowing how to approach online dating websites. Most people upload a photo and short description about themselves. The temptation is to upload your best photo that doesn’t show your facial palsy, but if you find someone online who you later decide to meet, it is difficult to know how to approach the subject of facial palsy. Because it is such a rare condition, most people have not met anyone before with this kind of paralysis, so they may imagine it to be worse than what it actually is. This is another reason why it is crucial that more people are made aware of what facial paralysis is, so it demystifies and normalises it. Having facial palsy does not make someone less attractive, it makes them different.
Young adult experience: ‘There are a lot of nice people out there to whom facial palsy doesn’t make a difference, but with online dating you see a photo first and it is that initial look that either makes someone want to read your profile or not.’
Where a person’s mouth is affected by facial paralysis, it can make simple actions such as kissing more difficult due to the lack of function on one or both sides. Where a person’s mouth is completely paralysed they will have to allow the other person to kiss them.
Young adult experience: ‘The first kiss scares me, I can’t pounce on anyone like I used to. I have to be kissed now, I have no power, and I had to ask my boyfriend last year to kiss me.’
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Private Facebook support group for parents and carers of children with facial palsy, operated by Facial Palsy UK.
Last reviewed: 31-05-2015 || Next review due: 31-05-2017