Following the news that Justin Bieber has been diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a Derbyshire-based business owner, Gary Parsons of People Consultancy Group Talk Staff, has spoken about his experience of being diagnosed with similar Bell's Palsy causing facial paralysis around his 18th birthday.
In 2001, after retiring to bed with a sore head, Gary woke being unable to activate the right side of his face and simply thought “I’ve slept on my face, in the same way we all get a numb arm if we sleep on it”. Reality quickly set in upon a visit to his local GP when he was diagnosed with Bells Palsy.
The diagnosis completely disrupted his education, studying at West Cheshire College for both an AVCE in IT and Business, resulting in him unable to complete his final year. His part-time work in retail also required him to take sick leave.
Gary explains the impact on his own mental health during this time:
“At such an important age to develop our independence, I was completely thrown by the sudden onset of Bell's Palsy and whilst my employer was fantastic, all my confidence disappeared overnight. I would hide in the car when my Mum took my sick note into work, I didn’t see my friends and struggled to leave the house."
Whilst the condition was manageable, Gary had to tape his eye closed at night and spent months drinking from a straw. Support was limited but came through an appointment with an NHS Physiotherapist.
After the traumatic experience, from which most people recover, Gary has spent over 20 years avoiding the topic and masking signs of Bell's Palsy that haven’t gone away for him. It took until the lockdowns of COVID-19, when it was difficult for Gary to look back at himself on Zoom calls, to publicly talk about his experiences and has since been talking openly about the subject on social media.
Charity, Facial Palsy UK, has supported Gary and recently signposted him to a specialist Facial Palsy Clinic based at The Royal Stoke Hospital. Their support is still ongoing and whilst his full smile won’t fully return, nor will one of his eyebrows rise naturally, the signs are that the treatment is working and making it a lot comfortable for Gary to talk about this condition.