Teaching with Bell's Palsy
2017 was a year of growth. Aside from my workload, I bought a house, sold and moved two homes and became a full-time care-taker for an elderly person in a wheelchair with substance abuse issues. I was not physically, emotionally or mentally prepared for any of the mentioned endeavors, but I survived.
My colleague, Basil Chelemes said, "We are only given what we can handle." I believe his statement to be true.
There were many times I wondered how I was going to make it through the semester. I gave it an A effort, but it was not my A game, as there were many things I could have done better. On the positive side, my grades were submitted on time and I did everything I could to be present for my students. My greatest challenge of 2017 was learning how to connect and communicate through Bell's Palsy.
I never realized how far a smile went until I could no longer smile. The smile is the first sign of welcome, humor and approachability. Without it, students, co-workers and humanity had no idea how to receive me. Bell's Palsy provided poor vision, a speech impediment, extreme fatigue and auditory sensitivity issues. Bell's Palsy made every activity painful.
Due to poor vision, grading took four times longer. I had to verbally explain my disposition to the class, as they could not physically read it in my face (Nobody knew when I was joking). I had to work twice as hard to be understood through the speech impediment. It was exhausting. Through the ordeal, many people assumed my physical deformity also included mental impairment; they were surprised to find an articulate person behind the frozen face.
As time passed, I gained a greater understanding for the challenges students with disabilities have in the classroom and how hard they had to work to overcome them. I also experienced the pain my mother and nephews endured with their auditory sensitivity.
Although my face has mostly recovered, the effects are still present: I have to make a conscious effort to move both sides of my face. When I am not consciously working on my facial expression, my face droops; misleading people to believe I am angry or tired. It has affected my relationships at work, as I am not as naturally welcoming in expression as I once was.
I am now in a space where the dust has settled. I have better organization opportunity and renewed mindfulness. I look forward to an improved 2018 and a greater understanding of communication and connection with my students and colleagues.
Although the journey was difficult, I would do it again. I learned more about myself and communication this year than all other years combined. As an added bonus, an India technical crew stalked my Facebook page and used many of my Bell's Palsy pictures in a "short film" to introduce me as a presenter at the World Peace Conference. The video can be found in the "About" section of this website. It will forever be cemented in internet land.
While in India, I had the pleasure of speaking on live television and in front of 10,000 attendees. During my speech, my face unlocked several new muscles. The end result was a tick-fest of uncontrolled facial movement, adding flavor to my extreme close-ups.
It can only go up from here.