Donna’s Story

A diagnosis of Bell’s palsy made Donna re-evaluate her life. She went from working in the corporate world to being a yoga teacher and becoming a body positive advocate.

DonnaOn the night of my birthday I went out and had a glass of wine and everything was fine, but I woke up the next morning with an almighty headache. I thought, surely it couldn’t be that one glass of wine that had affected me in this way! My eye kept feeling as if it was watering, I kept wiping my right eye and getting what felt like an earache and an ache just round my jaw, so I thought I was might getting a toothache. Something was just not right all day.

I visited my grandparents and kept asking them if my eye was watering they said no, but I kept having this urge to wipe my eye.  As I felt like I was coming down with something I thought I would go home and try to fight it off by going to bed early.

I woke up the next morning and felt perfectly fine. I went into the bathroom and turned the light on. My face had drooped and initially I thought I’d had a stroke, so I rang my family. My Grandfather said, “no you haven’t had a stroke because if you’d had a stroke it would be the entire right side of your body.”

I rang my boss to say I wasn’t coming into work and he said it sounded like I’d got Bell’s palsy as someone he used to work with went through a similar thing. So, after I finished speaking to him I Googled my symptoms and he was right it did look like Bell’s palsy. I had private medical health care, so I was able to ring the Medical Clinic and was told to go straight in. The doctor did diagnose it as Bell’s palsy.

DonnaThey gave me steroids and antivirals and recommended that I go and see a Consultant immediately. Because it was private, they were able to get me an appointment with a Consultant in London that same afternoon, and the doctor confirmed it was Bell’s palsy, but not how bad it was. So I didn’t know how severe it was, as I didn’t know anyone that suffered with this condition. In the notes that I got later, it did say that it was quite serious, but he didn’t tell me that at the time.

I went home as I was told to rest and there was nothing that I could really do. I had to get an eye patch because the right eye wasn’t closing or functioning correctly, so I was told to make sure that the eye didn’t dry out and get infected.

When I went back to the Consultant there wasn’t much he could do and there wasn’t much improvement. I remember getting lots of comments from other people who knew someone who had Bell’s palsy and recovered. But mine didn’t recover at all.

When I had the Bell’s palsy initially I didn’t tell anyone other than my family and close friends. I just said I wasn’t well. I really down-played it, and when they saw eventually saw my face, they were shocked because they didn’t know what to expect.

I didn’t make excuses not to go out. I still went to salsa. I wasn’t bothered about those that were not close friends.

DonnaI had four weeks off work and was made to go to Occupational Health. They said as I wasn’t physically ill and I wasn’t in a front of house position, I could return to work.

So, I essentially had it for about five years, and I changed as an individual because it’s a very visual illness. I used to love being in front of the camera. But suddenly when I spoke I had my hand up over my mouth and avoided cameras as much as possible.

I was given the option to have plastic surgery. Botox was mentioned to me to help the eye, but I dismissed the idea.

I think I’d just given up and accepted that it was for the rest of my life. They didn’t recommend any holistic treatments or anything else, other than the treatments that they gave me. No-one mentioned acupuncture and I wasn’t much into yoga at the time or knew anything about holistic treatment. I trusted the doctors implicitly. I’d gone to the top Consultant and he’s telling me this, so there’s nothing else I can do.

I was having issues with my knee years later, a totally unrelated problem and receiving Reiki treatments The practitioner asked if I wanted to recover from my Bell’s palsy. I said I would like to, but as far as I knew there was nothing I could do. She asked me if I’d tried acupuncture and I said I had tried it once, a while ago.  A friend of mine who was a physiotherapist did a short course and put about 6 needles in my face and it didn’t do anything.

AcupunctureShe said she knew a Chinese acupuncturist who is really good and I should give it a go. I decided I had nothing to lose. So I went to see this acupuncturist about my knee and I mentioned the palsy. She said if I had come to her earlier there would have been a better chance of recovery. But as it had been dormant for years it had probably been getting worse. The face was not being stimulated to help the damaged nerves to be regenerate. No-one had said to stimulate the face.

I did a little research but didn’t believe that it could be cured. I took the viewpoint that the body would cure itself. But a Chinese acupuncturist knows all the different meridian points, and she applied an aggressive treatment.  The very next day I had tingling in my face so I knew that something had worked. Nothing had happened in that part of my face before.

I’d got used to people looking at me. I wasn’t aware how shy I’d become, but people who had known me said I always putting my hand over my mouth when I talked or laughed.

That was about eight years ago and gradually my face has improved. I haven’t got full movement yet but my face has realigned and we still get improvements.

Even today I still get improvement, so I would say to anyone to never give up on your body healing. The acupuncture has really helped my Bell’s palsy to improve. Anyone who looks at me now can’t tell.  It was gradual, but as time went by people could see the improvement.  No-one mentions my face now.

When I first went for acupuncture my eye wouldn’t even close completely and now it is closing.  It doesn’t stop me doing anything now and sometimes I forget I’ve got it. I still have the acupuncture treatment, its about getting blood to the nerves. I went to a cranial osteopath as well, because of the misalignment of my body, I was starting to get functional scoliosis.  The cranial osteopath worked to help my body to become re-aligned and also helped to treat my Bells Palsy.   Between the two of them they helped me tremendously, and that’s why I say to people, the body is an amazing tool, even when you think it’s shut down it can recover with the right treatment.

I still can’t raise my right eyebrow, but my smile is almost back to normal. I now don’t feel I have to put my face in a certain way to make it seem more aligned. I’m just me and I’m happy to talk about it and tell everybody that they too can heal and not to give up.

The right treatment for me was key to my recovery.

DonnaThe Bell’s palsy for me came at a time when I wasn’t happy with my job, and then I was made redundant. So I went down the yoga route which is how I was able to start looking at holistic treatments.  I have been having acupuncture for eight years now. I think I got six NHS sessions and then paid for the rest of them.

I think the yoga – in fact the whole mind, body connection, has had an impact on me.  Allowing me to accept myself as I am. I changed career and am now a yoga teacher.

I appeared in a video for the Be Real Campaign. I’ve become a body positive advocate, because there’s a lot of people that have body image issues. In the video I had to tell my story and the reaction was amazing. I was completing a yoga course in LA for nine weeks and no one was aware of what I was going through. That’s because it doesn’t define me– I didn’t let it define me.

It helps other people if I talk about my story. There was no Facial Palsy UK when I was diagnosed. There were limited resources.

Now I have more feeling in the right side of my face when I have acupuncture, the needles hurt. So the Bell’s palsy had dulled my feeling/sensations, as before the needles were not painful.

My hand’s not over my mouth any more.

Disclaimer: Please note that views expressed are person’s own and should not be considered a recommendation of particular medical treatments, therapies or surgeries. We would always advise you seek advice from a health professional with experience in facial palsy who can assess your individual needs.

Last reviewed: 28-02-2019    ||    Next review due: 28-02-2021