I’m Bethan, I’m 25 years old and I have facial palsy on the left side of my face caused by a tumour at birth. Since then, I’ve had various reconstructive surgeries to give me some horizontal movement on the left side of my mouth.
For a very long time, I’d just considered myself lucky that I didn’t really experience much bullying at school because of my visible difference. Sure, I had the odd not-so-nice comment, but no significant bullying by and large.
Throughout school, I loved singing and dancing, but acting always made me very uncomfortable because I didn’t have control over what half of my face was doing. When I was with friends, I’d let photos be taken of me, but I would pose in certain ways to make sure people got my “good” side.
I always avoided wearing brightly coloured lipsticks so as not to draw attention to the fact my mouth made different shapes, and usually sported a side fringe to help hide the left side of my face somewhat. Hiding felt so natural and normal to me, that most of time I didn’t even consider it hiding.
I went on to study music at university. But I quickly became very uncomfortable performing as a lead vocalist on stage, even though singing had always been a huge passion of mine.
I knew no one in mainstream music who had a visible difference, and I felt like I didn’t belong there. I decided to pursue singing in areas where I didn’t have to be seen. Except I didn’t even have the confidence to do that anymore either.
I felt so ashamed of what my face did when I sang that, by third year, I had dropped all my performance modules. I couldn’t even step on stage without having a full-blown panic attack. This experience took a real toll on my mental health, and it was the lowest I’ve ever felt.
When I left university, I told myself I just didn’t have the mental energy to attempt a career in music. Besides, how was I going to pursue music when I couldn’t even get on stage without bursting into tears.
In the last six months or so, I’ve begun to thoughtfully consider the effect my facial palsy has had on my life. When I look at it now, it’s actually much more significant than I’d ever realised. I stopped doing something that used to bring me so much joy because I felt like I didn’t have a place in that industry. I couldn’t even do music as a hobby because I felt like I was wrong.
This realisation sparked a fire in me to re-find the enjoyment I get from music. And, for the first time ever, I’ve found the confidence to not care what I look like while I’m doing it. I feel confident in my skin and it feels fabulous. It’s had a positive impact on other areas of my life too.
Whenever I notice people staring now (it usually bothers my fiancée more than me), I’ve actually started saying hello to them and engaging in polite conversation or just smiling. Some people are embarrassed they been caught staring, and others will have a chat with you. My thinking is that if I’m polite and kind, hopefully they will remember that the next time they meet someone else who looks different.
This is all down to reconnecting with my love of music and, while I’m not expecting to have the next Christmas Number one, I’d be very happy with the odd performance in the local pub. Frustratingly, being in the middle of a global pandemic has meant that I can’t actually do much performing!
But the fact that I even want to be out there and be seen doing something I love is a huge step for me. I am so excited to see where this newfound confidence takes me.