I have spent many years being ashamed of the way I look.
I often get stared at when I’m out, because I have an amputated face and four prosthetic limbs. Also for a while I had a trachaetomy punched through my throat, breathing stents protruding from my nose and other visible wounds following facial surgery.
I hid away at home for quite a while, I felt so marginalised and I had a deep well of grief inside of me for what I had become. In the film Starfish there is a scene showing me walking into Rutland Water and to be honest with you at that time that’s what I thought would be best. I just wanted to disappear.
But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I was and am so deeply in love with my wife Nic, she had been so incredibly kind and patient throughout the trauma, and despite everything, I also wanted to be a better Dad to our children than my own father was. I know exactly what it’s like to grow up in a house without a father, I couldn’t leave my kids in that position.
So, I walked out the front door, I got myself a minimum wage job, I learned to drive again in an adapted car and I started taking Freddy & Grace on the school run.
That was a steep learning curve. The young children stared at my ravaged face, pointed, made jokes. There were a lot of very embarrassed and apologetic mums & dads at the school gate.
But nobody died. I learned to make light of it and found a positive way to respond.
I’d mesmerise the kids with my myoelectric hands, turning them around 360 degrees, and back again. I told them I’d been to Hogwarts to learn how to magically make my hands spin. We laughed about it together.
Then, I started to change the way I felt about my face. Instead of it being deformed, I persuaded myself to think of myself as special, and in some ways unique. This inspired me, and I decided that I could feel confident in public, in some way representing other sepsis survivors and of course, all those hundreds of thousands (millions?) who didn’t survive the condition.
So here I am, with my ugly face, but perfectly happy.
I walk out on stage and speak to audiences of up to 5,000 and send out messages of resilience, survival, defiance. I’ll be doing lots of it in September, during Sepsis Awareness month. It’s a lot of fun.
I wonder if you have something that makes you want to hide away? Some feeling or experience that has grounded you, creating difficulty, filling you with sadness, insecurity, fear?
Stand with me. We deserve our place on this earth, in this life.
You and I have done brilliant things, we’ve loved, we’ve tried our best all our lives, we’re part of the wonderful way things are.
My body is beautiful, broken and scarred and amputated as it is. My mind is at peace and I am in love with the life that is left. Here’s hoping that you feel the same way.