Leanna Benjamin comes to terms with the fact that her illnesses have now caught up with her looks
“Did you know you’re very pretty?” has been a frequent question I’ve heard. Although I never thought I was ugly I wouldn’t say I’m a supermodel either. The one thing I was thankful for when I started using a wheelchair is that I at least had my looks, and maybe one day someone would look beyond my disability and see who I was.
This all changed a few months ago when another illness decided to camp at my door. I had very little energy and spent most of the day wanting to sleep. While I was watching TV one day, I called out to my sister in the other room. I couldn’t say her name properly. Panic crept in but the calm side of me forced me to look in the bathroom mirror. I stared to go through the alphabet and slowly, in shock, I saw my mouth wasn’t making the right shapes. I cried out: “Not my face, please God not my face!” I called my mum and once she calmed me down it was decided the new medication may be causing my symptoms.
At 2am I discovered that I was bleeding from where I’d been operated on recently. Also my eye was very swollen and my mouth looked worse. Reluctantly I was taken back to hospital and seen by a helpful doctor who told me I had Bell’s palsy, resulting in the left side of my face being paralysed. My left eye wouldn’t close so I had to tape it shut at night and put false tears in. My speech was slurred, which was very difficult to deal with because my voice had always helped me with my voluntary radio work, socialising and communicating to doctors how I feel. The doctor told me it should get better but it was possible my face may not fully recover.
I was started on a high dosage of steroids and got an appointment with the specialist for the next day. The speed of getting the right diagnosis and treatment amazed me, considering it took nearly four years for my ME diagnosis.
It had been a long time since I felt I couldn’t cope and I was amazed those same feelings returned. I felt deformed, unlovable and for the first time, ugly. It only lasted a few days before I decided that, like the ME, irritable bowel syndrome, unstable bladder and tinnitus, this new illness was not going to stop me enjoying life.
A week later I was back in hospital for something else. I was on a ward with women with various health problems, three of whom had breast cancer. Two of the women told my mum I was very brave. They had had mastectomies yet were encouraging one another and laughing about who had the least fluid in their drain. I never heard one of them complain or ask “why me?”.
In hospital I saw something else, their true beauty which lies deeper than our skin or body parts. It’s at the core of who we are. Despite the dodgy food and unpleasant procedures I was able to reflect on beauty. No matter what happens I will always be beautiful in God’s, my mum’s and my own eyes. Anything more is a bonus.
Leanna Benjamin has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair