A woman who suffered facial paralysis credits pole dancing with helping her regain confidence. 21-year-old Lily Robinson from Launceston, Cornwall, tells her story...
I’d heard it all before.
‘Cheer up,’ a random bloke teased while I was having a quiet drink with friends.
I knew what he was laughing about. It was my sunken smile. See, months before in September 2014, I’d been diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. It’s a form of facial paralysis.
I’d been eating breakfast when I’d felt a searing pain behind my right ear. Then shortly after, the right side of my face felt stiff.
There’s no cure for the condition, but it improves for some people over time. Instead of feeling upset, I saw the funny side.
‘I’ve got the moody look,’ I joked to mates, when I struggled to smile in selfies.
I began a course of steroid injections as well as acupuncture. It helped, but in April 2015 my face suddenly went stiff again. Only this time, I didn’t find it funny.
‘I just want my smile back,’ I sobbed to my mum, Madi, 49.
As well as a droopy face, my right eyelid struggled to close. It made it itchy and dry. And whenever I drank, water would dribble from my mouth. I became so self-conscious, I hated going out.
The only time I could be myself was when I was doing pole fitness. I’d started going to classes in 2013. It became my escape. When I was twirling around on the pole, I could forget about my face.
Then in May 2015, I was contacted on Instagram by a TV producer. She’d seen my post about the charity Facial Palsy UK.
She explained they were filming a new series called Never Seen A Doctor. I told the producer about living with Bell’s Palsy.
‘I have to tape my right eye closed at night, so I can sleep,’ I admitted.
Although I’d seen a doctor, they thought the fact I’d been struggling for years made me ideal for the show. When the camera crew arrived at my flat weeks later, I was nervous.
How would I cope with showing my face to the world?
But I soon relaxed. Then in November I had an operation to help my right eye close. A small platinum weight was inserted into my eyelid. I was amazed at the results.
‘No more eye tape!’ I laughed.
When the show aired this May, I felt so proud of myself for being brave. Since then, my face seems to be so much better.
And for the first time in ages, I can really smile again.