My Bell’s Palsy Journey: From Pity Party to Really…Slow…Recovery

It’s been a year since I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy likely caused by whatever virus caused all my other issues last spring. In the first few weeks after onset I spent a lot of time searching for answers, treatment options, and medical professionals who had experience treating Bell’s Palsy. I didn’t have much success with any of this. Relatively speaking, very few people are diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy in the U.S. each year. Experts estimate there are less than 200,000 cases per year. The most common advice I got from well-meaning healthcare professionals, friends, and family was “Rest a lot and be patient.” So, I took a lot of naps and I tried to be patient.

It took a few months for my smile to start to come back, and once I saw some improvements, I got more hopeful about a full recovery. Recovering my blink, regaining my full sense of taste (other than sweet), losing my super sensitive hearing, and other issues took longer. Today, after one year, I’m not yet fully recovered. I still experience weakness in my left cheek and eye, which are only noticeable to me. I get tingling in my cheek every so often, which may mean the muscles are slowly “waking up.” And my left eye is still less open than my right, but maybe it’s always been that way? I’m not sure. All I am sure about is how thankful I have recovered so well.

There are a few people who stand out for what they did for me during this time, starting with my kind, loving, patient, thoughtful husband Scott. He said all the right things on days when I was prone to crying jags, and on “better” days he’d joke about “eating with Cookie Monster.” Yes, it’s true. For a few months it was hard for me to chew and keep food in my mouth. Good times. Not really.

My friend and client Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak’s kindness and encouragement also had a profound effect on me. She invited to join her for a webinar presentation just 17 days after the onset, telling me my voice sounded fine (It didn’t; I sounded like I was drunk, slurring my words and frequently slurping up the drool always threatening to fall from my droopy mouth in the early days.), that my expertise was valuable (Okay, she’s right there. I know my stuff!), and that I should continue my public speaking even if it made me uncomfortable given how I looked and sounded. The webinar was recorded, but I never listened to it. Even in the best of times I hate watching myself on video or listening to my recorded voice.

My brother Paul was also extremely comforting and encouraging. He’d been affected by Bell’s Palsy 20 years earlier, and his empathy was so reassuring. His sense of humor also helped boost my moods on days when self-pity was more likely than laughter. Just thinking about Paul’s story about calling his wife, just a few months after their wedding, to try to tell her he’d gotten “da Paul-zee” makes me smile or sometimes even laugh out loud.

I sometimes claim I was “lucky” to have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 7 years old because it led me to choose nutrition as a career path, one that’s been challenging, engaging, energizing, and endlessly interesting for me. I can now think the same thing about getting Bell’s Palsy. Going through this experience has taught me how to give myself grace, slow down, be more grateful, and even be a wee bit more patient. It also led me to research resilience, which prompted me to share what I’ve learned with colleagues through a series of webinar presentations. It’s been cathartic to share my personal experience and inspiring to share the research findings.

To everyone who provided support, encouragement, and kind words during the past year, THANK YOU!