The Whole World Smiles Without Me

GravatarLouis Armstrong and many others have sung the words, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”

I believe in those words … I do. Smiles are contagious!

But I have not been able to smile for around 12 years now. A gift from my experience with Bell’s Palsy. Bell’s Palsy is pretty common and chances are you have either had it or know someone who has. The only uncommon thing in my case was that I did not recover and was left with partial facial paralysis on the right side of my face. I can manage a grin or a smirk, but my smile is gone.

The picture on the top right of the Wikipedia page shows pretty well how I look if I try to smile.

Bell’s Palsy was the first in a series of health scares that triggered my anxiety related depression. It took away all of my smiles, the ones inside and the ones outside.

When I look in the mirror, when I see a goofy photo of me, when I see someone else sporting a beautifully symmetrical smile, I am reminded I am different and broken. Broken in ways most people cannot see and broken also in ways most people can see.

Health issues (either mine or others) trigger my anxiety, which can then lead to depression. But if you want to know one of the most common direct triggers for my depression – it is smiling. How messed up is that?!?

I hate having photos taken by an unknowing (or maybe insensitive) friend … everyone else smiles and I stand there looking serious or stoic at best. So the photographer calls out, “Come on! Smile Jared!” … or they look strangely at the image they just captured and conclude, “Alright, let’s try that again.” I deal with social anxiety also, so you can imagine how I also hate the attention my face brings to me in situations like that.

I know it is not serious and millions of people have far more disabling and life threatening ailments … yet the inability to smile is (for me) a constant outward reminder of what often is going on inside. It reminds me of my inability to feel joy at times I should, my inability to happily face the world as many others seem to do, and the burden of living with a broken mind.

It is cruel that I can’t even fake happiness at times I want to with a physical expression of it.

In my world it is not a case of smile and the whole world smiles with you. The whole world often smiles around me … I just can’t join in … I can’t even pretend to take part in the contagious process Louis Armstrong sings about.

To be honest, I am not sure why I have even written this post. I guess I told Ruby when I joined Canvas, I need a place to write about this side of me, a place where I feel understood. So many people try to make me feel better about my missing inner smile with, “Just snap out of it, you have a good life and lots to be happy about.” Others try to make me feel better about my missing outer smile with, “I can’t even notice. No one would know.”

I don’t want to hear those words.

I KNOW I have a lot to be happy about – but there are times I just can’t!

I KNOW a lot of people don’t notice my missing smile – but I miss it … every … single … day!

I guess the most positive way to end this post is to say thank you for reading (listening) and understanding this side of me. I am not complaining so much as I am expressing.

🙂 … added that one just for the irony.

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19 thoughts on “The Whole World Smiles Without Me

  1. Oh, that’s so sad! I promise, I’ll never try to make you smile. A smirk is generally more my speed anyway.

    • Haha. Deal! Although you may have just broke that promise.
      I’m working on making the smirk the new smile. Soon everyone will be doing it!

  2. Would you like to know something I have never told a soul, and never actually had a comment on? My smile droops markedly to one side, too. Ever since my ECT (which causes me to wonder. . .), and I have just spent a maddening half an hour trying to figure out which side that actually is!

    What I found was this. There are smiles and there are smiles. For me, when I look at a picture with my girls, where I am so happy I am bursting, I see a big drop to the right (actually, I see it very mildly in all of my face, which of course makes me wonder more and more what really happened with those shocks). When I look at other pictures, where I am happy but just kind of “putting on a happy face” happy — it’s genuine, but not coming-out-of-my-ears-overflowing-so-I-can’t-control-it — it seems my smile (and only my smile) droops a little to the left. I’m extrapolating that ever since I started noticing the crookedness in my grin, I have been trying to compensate by unconsciously forcing the opposite side down.

    Obviously it isn’t anything as severe as you speak of; my face is not paralyzed, it does move. But though (as I said initially) no one has ever commented on it, when I’ve pointed it out to my mom in a few photos, she’s kind of done a double take and agreed it’s pretty pronounced.

    But, my friend, I guess I smile mostly with my eyes, so that’s what people look at when they look at pictures of me.

    In any case, I sympathize with you for another reason. From about age 11 to age 19 (when I started caring for the Artist), probably no more than four or five pictures of me exist, except for a few when I was a bridesmaid and had no choice. I don’t know why I was so phobic of having my picture taken, I look back now at the few photos I have and see what a lovely girl I was. It’s kind of a shame, which is why I now never shy away from having my picture taken (though I still don’t jump in to shots!).

    I guess my long and rambling point is that perhaps you might try to let a few photos be taken of you every now and again, for your family, if for no one else. Growing up my father was always the one behind the camera, and so when I do find pictures of us together, no matter how absurd I think either of us looks, they are like rare jewels to me. They are not just pictures, they are memories. Your wife and children see you every day, in almost every way, regardless. When they look at a picture of you with them, they see nothing but the man they know and love. I promise. 😉

    • Thanks Ruby. That is interesting and certainly have never noticed … and if you don’t mind me saying, from the photos of you I have seen, you do indeed smile with your eyes. They have a sparkle!

      You are right about the family photos. I try to get in them when I can – but like your dad, I am often on the other side of the camera. My right eyebrow does not move at all, so when I smile, the left eyebrow naturally comes down and I have to practice in a mirror before any family photos to ensure I apply the appropriate amount of lift in the left eyebrow to keep them both balanced.

      My oldest kids occasionally will enjoy a joke with me about it. But little Miss Emma, who has never known me any differently has never asked or questioned about it.

      You know … I do miss it every day. But a month or so ago (after something happened at a party) I was really down about it. I was pretty low for a few weeks, but writing seemed to do the trick. As soon as I finished and scheduled this post I felt a release and my mood lifted gradually 🙂

      Happy to be blogging!

      • I don’t know if I’ve ever had someone tell me anything that has made me happier to provide them an outlet in which to blog, Jared. Nor something I so needed to hear just now. Keep at it, most especially when you need to let something out.

        It’s kind of really amazing what kids do for us, isn’t it? I’m grateful I’ve gotten to be a parent, in my way.

        Oh, and as for my eyes, they aren’t just the windows to my soul, they’re the doors to the whole kingdom. It’s a little scary to look at pictures of me during the years I had them shut. But thank you for your words, dear friend.

  3. Jared, I totally hear what you are saying. Due brain damage from a birth injury, aggravated by numerous head traumas, my face is partially paralyzed on one side (funny, since I see in in reverse in the mirror and in photos, and I am phobic about looking at it, I couldn’t tell you which side it is!). If you look at our pictures and videos from Faces of Mental Illness you can see it. My fourth grade school picture is the funniest: I am wearing one earring–the other one had gone missing–so not only did my smile look off balance, but my whole face too! My crooked smile is a reminder of how much I don’t fit in, how different I am from almost everybody else. People have tried to tell me, “Oh, that just shows how unique you are,” but to me it shows me ” how isolated I am, how alien I am.” So I GET what you’re talking about, except since I’ve had it from birth I think I must be more used to being “crooked,” where for you it must have been more of a shock to have your inside feelings all of a sudden displayed to the world. I’m sorry that happened to you. But when I get all bummed about it I try to remember the nursery rhyme,
    “There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile
    He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile
    He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse
    And they all lived together in a crooked little house!
    Which makes me smile my crooked smile and laugh my crooked laugh, and then I feel better about the whole thing.

    • Laura, you are awesome. Such a wonderful encourager and you made me laugh my crooked laugh reading that rhyme! 🙂

      Yeah. I had to wear an eye patch for about 4 months and then also kept a tens machine on my face most days at work for about 6 months in addition to heaps of physio facial exercises – all to try and prevent muscular atrophy for a good 18mth before I basically gave up.
      I still sleep on my right side, so that I can be sure my right eyelid is closed by the pressure of the pillow as I sleep.

      Because it doesn’t droop, maybe the bright side is that when I am older, the right side of my face will benefit from this natural botox 😉

      Thank you!

      • Well that’s a positive isn’t it! Somehow I didn’t get the impression you were the Botox sort, but you never know ;-P

        Too bad I didn’t get hold of you with my magic needles at the outset. I have (or rather the Great Spirit has, using me as a tool) cured and I mean CURED tens of people with acute Bell’s Palsy. It’s a matter of getting rid of the pathogen and the inflammation, then rehabilitating the nerves and muscles. Takes about six to eight weeks all told with twice- weekly treatment if you catch it early. I might still be able to help your nerves and muscles start talking to each other again, after rehabbing the nerves themselves. Acupuncture is amazing, amazing. I’ll write a few posts on my acupuncture miracles after I get done with bed bugs and horses ;- D

        • Oh yeah. I didn’t mention the acupuncture. Tried that as well for about 6mth – maybe not soon enough though … it was one of those last resort things (maybe 6-9 months after it happened).
          It really was fascinating because I did get a little movement back when I had the needles in place and shortly after each treatment, but ultimately the cost and lack of sustained improvement also led to me abandoning that also.

          It’s possible the guy I was going to was not as experienced a some other practitioners. But being new to it myself at that time I did not understand the varying degrees of knowledge and competence.

          I have tried acupuncture effectively for some other things since (sports related injuries) and am absolutely a believer. 🙂

    • Cheers mate! And thank you for letting me know that.

      I like writing about these things. In some ways I also learn by working my thoughts and feelings into something coherent. Well … at least something more coherent than how they feel in my head at times.


  4. I understand completely as PD more often than not makes anything more than a smirkish grin impossible or an arm or leg that doesn’t go when asked or a bad physical resemblance of a slow mime. Oh well here I can smile all I like 😀 so can you.

    • Thank you Benjamin. I am sure Parkinsons is far more challenging than the depression triggering vanities I have complained about. I like your perspective – and we can indeed smile here.
      You do some awesome art BTW. Just popped over to your blog and love (envy) the freedom in your work. Will be sure to come back and check it out some more.
      All the very best!

  5. My Gran had Bell’s Palsy, and while over the years her face has improved, now that her dementia has really set in, the progress has reversed. She was in hospital and I know my Dad was thinking that the staff thought she might have had a stroke, because of the set of her mouth. But when she’s awake and with it, her smile isn’t a traditional smile, it’s a wide open mouth and exclamation of “oh! how lovely to see you!” and her eyes really light up. In fact, I reckon she’s made laughter her smile. Maybe you could too?

    • Yes. Why not 🙂

      Thanks for sharing about your Gran. She sounds like a lovely soul if laughter is her smile, despite the difficulties she is up against with dementia and the other challenges of aging.

  6. Expressing very well, I’ll add. While I don’t suffer the physical ailment you do, I do share the related frustrations you do.

    Not feeling joy when I should, not happily facing the world like everyone else – it’s a terrible, godforsaken state to be in. As you are, I suspect (hope?), I’m doing what i know to do to overcome those as well as I can… but it ain’t happenin’. Or it is, but excruciatingly slow. SSG will tell you how difficult it is to coax a smile out of me. All that is to say, I know I’ve not walked one step in your shoes, I’m confident I understand partially. That, and that you’re not alone – for whatever that’s worth.

    • I’m sure you do understand very well and I hope for you it is excruciatingly slow improvement rather than ain’t happenin’. But as you would also know, progress can be a 2 steps back, 3 steps forward thing – hard to see or absorb at times.

      The Bell’s Palsy is worse for me as a reminder of my mental condition, than it is as a physical ailment.

      Oh … and I am sure if anyone can coax a smile out of you, SSG would be right up there with the best of them 🙂

      Thanks mate and take care!

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