I am Proud of How Far I've Come
FEBRUARy 20, 2020
I have made the conscious and deliberate choice to not share photos of my full face since my accident. That is MY decision, MY prerogative, MY elected course of action — for this is MY body, MY healing, MY recovery that I alone navigate.
Until last week, photos of me since returning home post-accident only existed on my phone, as I have respectfully asked others not to snap images from the front, when they have either asked or wanted to do so from close proximity. I haven’t been obsessive over this preference; I spoke at an event in January and people took photos from the audience, some of which I saw on social media, though simply never shared or reposted myself. I didn’t take my usual selfies afterwards, though engaged in meaningful conversations with students and adults all the same. A friend took a series of photographs of me in December from afar, to capture a particularly beautiful setting and moment, though did so on my phone, per my request, with complete understanding. It may sound vain or ridiculous to your ears, but I really don't care. These are my choices and feelings about realities and consequences with which I must live, and do not need judged by anyone else.
It has now been twenty-four weeks since my accident — nearly six whole months with multiple invasive surgeries, countless painful procedures, costly ongoing treatments, various filler injections, many medications, diverse doctors, and full dedication to healing, therapies and recovery of body and brain. I should hope I have something to show for it! When speaking in public (and on select outings), I've worn a full face of makeup (non-organic makeup, may I add… shock!) because I wanted full coverage to camouflage my scars, even skin texture, fill in a missing brow, and replace pigment. I'm happy if others think I am doing well from the outside, from afar, from a point of complete or partial ignorance. But they don’t know what was, what is or what happens inside. In addition to personal reservations, I have learned the importance of tempering expectations as to not let people down time and time again, which has compounding negative ramifications — for there is infinitely more than meets the eye.
Choosing to not take or share photos of myself is no absolute statement that I think I am hideous, unattractive or deformed — which I would never claim. Outward appearance does not matter to me that much, nor have I ever allowed myself to be shallowly defined by how I look, nor do I plan to start with superficiality now. And I’m still me, for those whose (perhaps loving) curiosity pushes them to pressure or pester.
When I accepted and followed through on an invitation to speak publicly last week, an occurrence that was once my norm though has only happened a single time in the half year since my accident, I knew full well I was taking a risk, but also viewed it as taking a step forward on my recovery journey. I painstakingly weighed all sides of the decision and came to the conclusion that this forum held great personal and global importance, my voice could add unique value, and I was as ready as I will ever be for such an event. Amid the audience of 150 or so invited guests, it was made clear there would be diplomatic teams and multimedia press with both still and video cameras, with which I made peace.
Word quickly spread that I was there, as did a few images and video. I received numerous WhatsApps from people, many of whom I know and love, with comments about how ‘good’ I looked, sending me photos of myself, and remarking that they didn’t understand why I wouldn’t be showing my face widely across social channels. As the pictures made their way into the ethers, I also heard from strangers, with multiple commenting how it was ridiculous (!) even dumb (!!) that I hadn’t posted them, considering such images already exist, if people know where to look. Thanks. Listen, if you're so compelled, which I sincerely hope you are not, go ahead… but you know how it makes me feel and where I stand on the issue (and where I stand period, as I’ve taken more snapshots of my feet in distinct locales than ever before).
I'm not upset in the slightest that photos of the event were taken, posted or shared; I was entirely aware that would be the case. I even took a selfie — when a friend and colleague, who was such a wonderfully familiar face far from home as I first walked in, held up his phone instinctually. While I gulped and froze inside, I didn’t turn away or ask him not to take the photograph. For the first time in months, I allowed someone else to snap a picture up close, albeit from the side of my face unaffected by my accident. I felt exposed and vulnerable, but I surmounted those fears and challenging emotions — and just did it. What irritates, disturbs and aggravates me however is others’ declarations of what is proper, right or optimal for ME. My comfort, readiness and healing have nothing to do with outside forces or external opinions.
I am proud of how far I have come, proud of where it seems I'm headed, proud I can speak and show up with messages that are received well on their own merits, not overly hindered or disrupted by my ongoing recovery. That is where I choose to focus my energy primarily. If I sound frustrated, it’s because I am — and the stress and tension this generates is not beneficial or helpful whatsoever. I'm not angry at anyone, nor is it all-consuming, rather currently unnerved by an uptick in subtle and not-so-subtle remarks about how I “should” or “need” to act, whether related to appearance or any element of my physical or psychological healing.
This woman is alive, capable and engaging with the world, more so each day, though on my own terms and timeline. While not yet desiring or ready to share photographs of myself for various reasons, I'm confident it will happen. And you can be certain that when I am, I (Erin!) will be the one to share such news right here with you.