Thursday, February 10, 2011

Journey, Part 3

(Continued from here)
Depression was something that I'd been warned about.  But, like, warned about in passing.  The surgeon mentioned it to me once while he was telling me about how many rubber bands they were going to put in my mouth (at one point we got up to 15, by the way)) to keep it from opening.  "You might feel a little depressed while you are healing.  Don't worry, it'll pass," he said.  Sure.  No problem.  I can totally handle that.

Except that what he didn't mention is that it would come slamming into me like a freight train.  That one minute I would be feeling ok, sitting on my parents bed watching silly reruns and the next I would be crying about god only knows what.  And this would have been fine—after all, I was entitled to a little cry since my face had been broken just weeks before—except that when it happened I was home alone, sobbing, unable to open my mouth.  Which meant that (sorry everyone), when I inevitably got all snotty I couldn't breathe.  And then because I was all snotty I got all post-nasal drippy and so I started coughing.  But remember, I couldn't open my mouth, so coughing wasn't so much coughing as choking to death.  Naturally, I panicked, but because I had only had 80 calories to eat that day in the form of a syringe full of Gatorade (plus, you know, the depression) I couldn't form any sort of rational thought to calm myself down.  I just kept thinking, “I can’t stop crying, I can’t stop crying, HOLY SHIT I CAN’T STOP CRYING.”  I remember calling my mother and somehow mumbling out that I couldn't stop crying and I couldn't breathe and please oh please couldn't some one come home immediately and help me?!  It was awful.  Honestly, some of the worst moments in my memory.

That summer was, without a doubt, the most trying of my life.  Very few pictures of that time exist, something I made sure of.  I was adamant about the no-photo policy.  As a joke, friends would try to sneak a shot of me and, like a ninja, I would dodge the camera.  I didn’t want to see myself.  I could look in the mirror and that was enough.  Because when I looked in the mirror, what I saw was a disfigured Ashleigh, swollen beyond recognition.

And still, after all of this, the hardest part was still ahead of me.  Because by the fall my jaw was no longer rubber banded shut and a lot of the swelling had gone down (which was awesome), revealing...someone I didn't recognize.  I would literally look in the mirror and have to remind myself, "Don't freak out. This is what you look like now."  It was awful.  I felt so lost and awkward in my own skin.  At first, I avoided mirrors all together, stopping only to make sure my hair wasn’t totally out of control.  But then I’d catch a reflection in the car window and I’d have to remind myself that the person I had just seen was, in fact, me.  I cried a lot, often at the drop of a hat (I still wasn’t eating a ton, mostly just instant oatmeal and miso soup, so I constantly had low blood sugar which kept me on edge).  Then I would stare at my face in the mirror, turning it this way and that, trying to find some piece of the old Ashleigh in there and always coming up short.  The image of me in my head was a complete 360 from what I saw in the mirror.

(I should also mention that, in the middle of everything, I transferred to NYU, which I’d been dreaming about for years.  And once I got there I felt like no one knew the real me because the real me's face was gone.  It was a very confusing time.)

Now, as time went on, I finally got used to my new face.  My beautiful friends from home didn't really make a big deal about it (bless them) though I did have someone I knew from high school (and honestly didn't really enjoy) see me in a coffee shop about a year later and say, much to my chagrin, "Oh. My. GOD. You look so different!" which wasn't exactly something I liked hearing.  The swelling kept going down and I kept getting used to my new look.  I wouldn't get as freaked out when I looked in the mirror.  And I was noticing that I was feeling better.  I didn't feel as insecure about myself anymore.  Things were good.

And then I saw a picture of myself pre-surgery and I just about dropped to the ground.  Who was that girl?  Surely that couldn't be me.  I'd finally accepted the way I looked, only to be unable to recognize my former face.  I was (and, honestly, still am) embarrassed by the way I looked.  It is one of those things that, like my new face, I am slowly coming to terms with as well, but the process is a lot slower, probably since I don't have to look at that old face every day like I do the new one.  

So, here I am, 4 and a half years later.  The swelling has gone down and I outwardly show no signs of major change (though I still have numbness in my gums and lower lip, which means I tend to drool at inconvenient times).  Do I still feel insecure about my face?  Certainly.  Do I still have moments where I don't recognize myself in the mirror?  Absolutely, though the lag time in remembering is much shorter.  Do I get that uncomfortable-flip-floppy-embarrassed-stomach feeling when I see pictures of myself before the surgery?  Totally.  Do I recognize myself in pictures from high school?  Usually, but it takes a moment.  I give my friends and family all the credit for how I feel now—they have been unwaveringly supportive and generous with their love, something for which I'll be forever in their debt.  To those people, you guys are absolutely the best thing that has ever happened to me and I thank you, from the very bottom of my heart, for dealing with my crazy and helping me really see myself.

I have no idea what the future holds or how long I'll feel the way I do, but I know that my support system will be there with a shoulder and a glass of wine, and that is what gets me through all the insecurity.  And really, what is better than that?


  1. For the record, I have never seen you drool so no worries there =) I would be your friend if you had three arms and a clown nose because you are for a fact one of the most interesting people I have ever met. You deal a good dose of sarcasm and have unyielding honesty. You melt when you see a puppy or small creature and have a big heart. You would not be the same as you are today without having visited "the depths of despair" and surviving.

    Death by drowning in your tears does not sound like a good way to go.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. oh my God ...... i know exactly what you have felt. The struggle of the new you, the one that you didn't really ask for. And to be so surprised that you lost the other person you had been for all those years....... very hard , and never fair . but you are here and you r beautiful ( you always were).......
    we are both here, different , better....... and very lucky to have our families
    you r bravo!

  3. just read this after this long beautiful day today and afterward I took a long satisfying deep breath. so grateful to have you in my life still. and i think you're beautiful inside and definitely outside. and I think this was incredibly brave to put it all out here like this.

    you're a keeper Miss Ashleigh.

    lots of love.

  4. Hey, so, I don't know you. But I just stumbled upon your blog and spent the last 20 minutes reading those three installments and I felt I had to say thank you so much for sharing this! I know it's tough to write about hard times and even tougher to put it out there in the world, but it's greatly appreciated.