My experience healing from Ramsay Hunt Syndrome
Nine months ago I lost mobility on the right side of my face (the left side of this photo).
The above photo on the right was taken a few days ago, and on the left is a side-by-side comparison from the hospital to show the progress I have made.
This is not an easy post for me to write. I made a promise to myself to share my experiences while I move through them rather than afterward when they are all shiny and I can reflect on them through rose-colored glasses. So here I am. This is my story, this is where I am at right now.
Memorial Day Weekend 2017 . . .
Nine months ago, after experiencing severe pain through my jaw and ear, I went to the emergency room at Memorial Sloan Kettering. After three visits, I was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. Within 24 hours I lost full mobility on the right side of my face. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life, and a battle I am still fighting to this day.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was putting in 12+ hour days at work and was under more stress then I had ever been (see this post for more insight into what was going on at the time). I was keeping up with my self-care practices but forgetting the most important one of all: truly listening to what my body was telling me.
I was in the hospital for two weeks. I have had my fair share of pain, but a nerve-related virus in my face presented an entirely new level of pain for me. For the first few weeks, I was in complete denial. Unable to close my right eye, lift my eyebrow, or move my mouth/cheek at all, suddenly my speech was slurred, my right eye was so dry I had to wear a patch, and my level of discomfort was off the charts.
What became worse than the physical pain was the emotional pain. I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror, and for months I cried when I saw my reflection. I questioned every choice I had made that had brought me to that point, and some days I felt so depressed that I struggled to just get out of bed.
I had a lot of time to think during those first couple months of healing. The lesson that kept coming up for me over and over again was the emphasis I had been putting on my physical appearance and all the ways I had been hiding. I had been hiding because of my weight for years, waiting until I reached some ideal number before I fully expressed myself and shared the outfits I loved to put together. Then suddenly, the stress I had been under manifested itself on my face and I struggled to connect with my self-expression. I was faced with the hard reality that this was a lesson I needed to learn.
It has taken me some time to fully connect with what it means for me to come out of hiding. I continued to feel ashamed, sad, and scared of what others might think of me for the first six months. I questioned the way society views beauty and wondered if I would ever feel beautiful again. Despite all of these emotions, I eventually made the choice to show up and begin taking action. I realized that I needed to push past my fears and get back out in the world, launch The Dreamerie, talk about what I was going through, share myself online, and embrace myself as I was. This step was crucial in my healing process.
I came to terms with the fact that these were the cards I had been dealt and it was up to me to choose how I would respond. I could give up and fall into defeat, or I could hold my head high, meditate, pray, rely on my support system, self-care practices, and TRUST. And that is exactly what I did.
These are the self-care practices that are supporting my healing process:
Facial Exercises + Massage
After going to physical therapy at NYU, I was given a series of facial exercises to complete 1–3x per day. On top of that, I fell in love with facial massage; not only does it help relieve pain and tightness in my face through massage of the muscles and nerves, but it is a chance for me to show my face + skin love. Morning and evening, I look forward to my facial massage and skincare routine.
I had only had acupuncture a handful of times before this experience, but my appreciation for this healing modality has grown exponentially. In the beginning, I attended appointments 1–3x per week, but as the recovery process was slow, I began going once per week. Facial acupuncture was quite painful at times because of my heightened sensitivity, but I saw improvements after every session.
My meditation practice has been crucial. It supports a balanced mental state, gives me energy, a deeper connection to myself, and, because of these benefits, it is easier to keep my face relaxed in support of my recovery.
The power of mantra and affirmations. A few of my favorites include:
I am strong, healthy, and express myself fully.
I am bountiful. I am blissful. I am beautiful.
Protein + Leafy Greens + Healthy Fats
After working with my friend and nutritionist Kristin Dahl, I have been focused on adequate nutrition and consumption of all essential amino acids to give my body the support it needs.
I have been incorporating a variety of herbs that support nerve healing through daily adaptogenic lattes. Lion’s Mane, Mucuna Pruriens, Ashwagandha, and Mesquite have been daily staples, and I typically add a ½ teaspoon of each into my morning matcha with a teaspoon of coconut butter.
I have been intaking different supplements throughout the past few months to support my healing—a daily probiotic (I am using this one), Juice Plus from my dear friend Lauren, and most recently (and after extensive research) Tru Niagen to help with cell regeneration.
Sharing these photos is not easy, but I know how necessary they are. I have learned many lessons from this process, one of the most important being that patience is crucial to healing. We cannot rush our bodies to heal. We can show up for ourselves, practice self-care (in whatever way that means for your unique mind/body/soul), ask for support, and be kind to ourselves through the journey.
Another vitally important aspect is that of mindset. I have had my share of days when I felt trapped in my body, wondered if I would ever feel like myself again, and cried when I looked at myself in the mirror. I give myself those moments, but then I pick myself up, pray, and visualize myself healed, healthy, and vibrant. I call a friend, do the work I am so passionate about, and continue forward with my goals and dreams.
No matter where you are at in your healing journey, nothing is more important than your self-care and mental state. Tap into your strength, ask for support, and have faith. Be grateful for all that your body has stuck with you through, and show yourself love and kindness. I promise, it goes a long way.