Bell’s attached is adequately common, arresting about 40,000 bodies a year in the United States. Among its victims are a few acclaimed faces: Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Wendy Wasserstein, Allen Ginsberg. In best cases, Bell’s is temporary, abiding about three months. For some, though, it can abide and alike be permanent. Ruhl and I abatement into this closing category.
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For me it all began on an accustomed morning, two months afore my additional daughter’s due date: I awoke to acquisition the appropriate ancillary of my face absolutely paralyzed. I couldn’t blink or allege clearly. My face was an ugly, deadpan mess. Although I was alone in my 30s, I affected I’d had a achievement and went to the emergency room, area I was both adequate and anxious to get a analysis of Bell’s palsy. I am a able accompanist and facial expressions are a allotment of my livelihood.
Ruhl had a agnate experience. Shortly afterwards giving bearing to twins, a lactation adviser accidentally commented “Your eye looks droopy.” Back Ruhl looked in the mirror she was abashed by the angel that stared aback at her: “The larboard ancillary of my face had collapsed down.” She approved to move her brows, eyes, mouth, but could not: “Puppet face, strings cut.” She felt, immediately, as I did, that her character had afflicted in an instant. “Before attractive in the mirror, I was the aforementioned person,” she writes, “After attractive in the mirror, absolutely different.”
Ruhl, a backstab Pulitzer Prize finalist and the almsman of the MacArthur “genius” Fellowship goes on to account the abutting 10 years of her journey, or as she puts it, “the adventure of how I abstruse to accomplish my way back my analysis chock-full abject my heart.”
The medical adventure complex abounding approaches that, it charge be said, are bare to best Bell’s attached sufferers: acupuncture, chiropractors, therapists, neurologists, options for Botox and anaplasty (neither of which she utilized) and transformative concrete analysis that resulted in a revised smile that, although not like her above one, adumbrated advance and acceptance. Ruhl’s assistant alike accepted affecting above adolescent care: Her Buddhist ethics and philosophies accepted badly accessible in Ruhl’s healing. Ruhl may acquire had admission to added assets than most, but her struggles nonetheless feel universal. And that is the cilia that binds this beautifully accounting story.
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The affiliate “Still Face and the Tony Awards” was decidedly acute — and for me hit actual abutting to home. Ruhl and I both aggregate the attraction of “not actuality able to smile absolutely back” at our babies and the anguish that a burst face would appulse their affecting growth. Afterwards all, the analysis was bright on the accent of a mother’s face and announcement on development. Ruhl describes these apropos with her audible bluntness: “The aftereffect of the still face on children, the psychologists proved, is, in a word, bad.”
Like me, Ruhl abhorred accepting her photo taken during those aboriginal postpartum months. Best mothers who acquire an anthology abounding of aboriginal memories booty them for granted, but those of us who lose a smile appetite annihilation to do with cameras. As it happens, during this aforementioned aeon Ruhl would be against alike added photographers: Her comedy accustomed a celebrated Tony choice and thus, she was accountable to adapt for the abominable red carpet. Photographers pleaded with her to do article she physically could not, one alike against her: “What’s amiss with you — can’t you smile for your Tony?”
Life with Bell’s palsy, as I can attest, is abounding with abounding moments like those. It feels like an aeon of continuing naked in the snow, toggling amid actually not absent to be apparent and a atrocious admiration to be arresting in the ambience of one’s above cocky (packaged in a hardly altered container). Actuality bare of one’s face — a attribute of vanity, announcement and character — is a accident about too aching to describe. Those of us who lose our face generally archive it like the timeline of Jesus. Both Ruhl and I were aloft Catholic, and both of us, although no best practicing believers, nonetheless prayed to that God back we were disturbing with Bell’s. There is a abrupt “before BP” and “after BP” of our existence, and the about-face is palpable.
For Ruhl, acclimation a accessible life, motherhood and the demands of assignment brought to the ahead some axiological issues of the changeable experience. Ruhl explores the “complex and bond rules” on “whether and how long” a woman smiles and area and when. Every woman who has been asked to smile by a drifter — and that is every woman — will chronicle to Ruhl’s observations. Imagine ambidextrous with that back you actually can’t smile.
When the months canyon and there has been no change to the bugged aspect on the advanced of your head, the all-overs (as if you didn’t already acquire enough) absolutely begins. The tests. The neurologist’s channelled brow. But the bulletin is clear: Sorry. Your fretfulness are absolutely destroyed. There’s no activity. They may regrow slowly, but they don’t acquire a path. So in about 18 months you will end up with article alleged synkinesis. This is area the analysis of your face synergistically and consistently contract, and alike aggregate up. (I acclimated to alarm the hypertrophy on my face a mini Arnold Schwarzenegger). For example, back you try to smile, your eye will close. You will attending absurd (or as Ruhl calls it, “tiny eye”). They say, “there’s annihilation added we can do,” and by that, they additionally mean, “there is annihilation added your allowance will cover.”
Ruhl may acquire absent the face she already knew but she reminds us that “in truth, we don’t acquire to win to be grateful. We can consistently acknowledge the bodies we love, the bodies who advice us, alike back we don’t win an award. We generally aloof balloon to.” That’s the affectionate of simple desolation that elevates this book.
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For this adventure is additionally a adulation story. Throughout, Ruhl’s husband, Tony, is a colonnade of backbone and empathy. Afterwards 10 continued years aggravating to “fix” her face, Ruhl, now 47, has appear to agreement with it in its bigger but still agee state: “I would like to acquire my face, my story, as it is accounting on my face, with joy.” For we are added than our faces, added than our smiles and we are beholden to those who absolutely see us. Or as Ruhl’s adolescent babe tells her mother: “I consistently anticipation of your face as a admirable house. A bank aback fell down, and you approved to clean it, brick by brick. And you couldn’t quite. And all you saw was the wall. But all we saw was the house.”
Heidi Moss Erickson is an opera accompanist who continues to adore a advancing assuming career (despite her neurologist’s predictions). She is additionally a scientist and articulation teacher, a assistant of articulate analysis and analysis at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a common academician in the neuroscience of singing.
SMILE: The Adventure of a Face
Simon & Schuster. 241 pp. $27
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