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Phil’s story: “I’ve been able to discover who I really am”

Phil has experienced bullying and discrimination because of his birthmark, but Changing Faces has enabled him to embrace everything that makes him "Phil”.

I’m Phil and I was born with a birthmark that covers three quarters of my face and parts of my body.

Growing up, my family didn’t talk about my birthmark. It wasn’t until I was eight years old, when I was taken to try out camouflage make-up, that my visible difference was really acknowledged by those closest to me.

At first, I was quite excited, but I got bored while the make-up was being applied. I found it too much hassle and so never really wore it.

It was at this time that I began to experience bullying at school. This got progressively worse, especially when I moved up to senior school.

It was horrific. Relentless. I would have people throw things at me, call me names, and draw my picture on blackboards. A teacher once tried to step in, but they got berated by the other students. That was the only time I ever remember a teacher trying to protect me.

For many years, I didn’t realise the impact that these experiences had on my mental health.

Poor treatment because of my visible difference continued into my work life, and I faced a variety of discrimination.

I had an interview at a company that fitted satellite dishes and TV aerials. The man interviewing me said ‘I can’t employ you. I couldn’t send you out to a customer with a face like that.’ I found that really upsetting.

I also once had an interview with a water company, where I was asked ‘is that anything that can get in the water?’ in reference to my birthmark. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job. At the time, I stayed professional and polite, but it wasn’t until afterwards that I realised I was being discriminated against.

Day-to-day life was a stressful experience, with people doing double takes as I walked past them on the street, and children asking questions about what was wrong with my face.

I’d avoid being seen and walk with my head turned away or I’d take a different route that wasn’t so busy. It made me very introverted and shy.

For many years, I didn’t realise the impact that these experiences had on my mental health. In my 40s, I began to face challenges in my relationship with my wife. We went to counselling and many issues seemed to stem from experiences connected to my birthmark.

It was such a relief to be able to share all these feelings in a safe environment, where I knew I wouldn’t be judged or ridiculed.

That’s when I decided that I needed to seek specialist help and face my feelings head on.

Reaching out to Changing Faces’ counselling service enabled me to confront the many thoughts and feelings I’d locked away in my mind regarding my appearance.

The more I spoke, the more doors in my mind unlocked. It’s like one issue provided the key to the next. From talking about the stares and comments I receive daily to the bullying I went through and how my son has been treated due to my own appearance, everything came flooding out.

It was such a relief to be able to share all these feelings in a safe environment, where I knew I wouldn’t be judged or ridiculed. I didn’t realise how much I needed this outlet until I had it.

I’ve been able to discover who I really am aside from my visible difference with the help of Changing Faces.

I’m a joker who loves to have a laugh, and I’ve only developed the confidence to show this because of the support I received from Changing Faces. It gave me much-needed strength.

One of Phil’s passions is ballroom dancing

My birthmark doesn’t define me – my personality, skills and interests mean so much more than my appearance. I’ve been ballroom dancing for nearly 30 years, I make medieval lanterns, and I take part in re-enactments. Those are what make me “Phil”.

Since becoming an ambassador, I’ve found being able to meet other people with visible differences to be hugely beneficial.

Having the opportunity to speak to other people who know exactly what life can be like with a visible difference has been a great source of comfort to me. While not a ‘support service’, being an ambassador has been therapeutic in itself. I know I’m not alone and that I have a community that I can connect with. That’s so powerful.

I’ve been a spokesperson for the charity regarding both workplace discrimination and hate crime. Having never reported the abuse I experienced myself, instead carrying that weight with me, I want to highlight the importance of speaking out through my work as an ambassador, so others don’t push themselves to their breaking point.

Being an ambassador has allowed me to use my voice for good, and hopefully I’ve made people facing similar challenges to me feel validated and less isolated. It’s been great to turn my negative experiences into something positive. I’ve found that it’s never too late to seek help and discover your community.

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