How do I look?

I was in an induced coma for four months after my Sepsis, and when I woke in April 2000, I found that my face had been amputated from my eyes downward.

In fact, it took a few days for me to realise this: I was extremely confused and disorientated, my memory of my past life and who I was had all gone, and I also had to deal with the loss of my hands and feet.

Mentally, it was devastating – nearly, to the point of no return.

The look in their eyes

New nursing staff would breeze into my side room, then their mouths would drop open when they looked at me. I’d already worked out that there was something terribly wrong with my face, but it was the look in their eyes that conveyed the full horror.

Alone at night, I was obsessed by the thought that if I had no face, it meant the end of my life. Because, how could I stay married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and be a dad to my children, if I couldn’t show my face? This prospect haunted me.

Fast forward

For a decade, surgeons tried to rebuild my face. I was introduced to the most experienced plastic surgeons in the world – they took pieces from the rest of my body, reconstructed a cosmetic nose, tried to sculpt a chin and to smooth out my cheeks. Frankly, it was terrifying.

I went along with it, hoping that if they could build me a face that didn’t frighten people, I’d be able to get back to work. If I could do that, it meant I could hold on to my family. That’s all I ever wanted.

It all ended at the London Hospital, where the plastic surgeon told me that although my face was half re-constructed, nothing more was possible. They couldn’t give me a functional nose, nor lips, or even make it so people wouldn’t stare.

For a while, even as a 40 something tough guy from Essex, I was heartbroken. But after a month or two, I snapped out of it. I summoned up the courage to start looking at myself in a mirror. Then I reached for the car keys, went to the front door, drove to the local call centre and got myself a job.

They were so kind to me there, they didn’t bat an eyelid. I was completely accepted – face or no face. Most of my fears about how other people would react to the way I looked were unfounded.

Our Value Goes Deeper

This week, the Bishop of Gloucester hosted a conference on Body Image Anxiety. She referred to YMCA research showing that one third of 11-16 year olds are willing to do whatever it takes to ‘look good’. She pointed out posters on the London Underground encouraging us to have a ‘beach ready body’, and reports by The Children’s Society & The Girl Guides Association suggesting that many young girls are so unhappy with the way they look that it affects their mental health. The Bishop says:

“It’s about the messages young people are being bombarded with about their value coming from their appearance. But our value is much deeper than that. We need to build up the resilience of young people by changing the messages we give, telling them that they do have choice and control over the way they use social media. And change begins in small ways, in the messages we give each other in our own spheres of influence and that can ripple out. Then we might not feel so overwhelmed by things we can’t control.”

That word control resonates…

I decided early on in my own journey, that I’d simply stop looking in a mirror – and I haven’t done that, to this day. I am what I am. Other people can deal with me on my terms. What we dwell upon grows, and I choose to feel good about the way I am inside, not out.

So tell me… how do I look?