I know this is the longest blog post ever but there are just so many elements to the story, so I did my best and wrote it in segments.
You'll probably need around 10 minutes to read this.
Early July of last year, I had an event to host one late afternoon. Before I headed to the venue, I asked my mom to come with me to the ENT because I had a buzzing and deafening sensation in my ears. I also felt extra weak that particular week, and have been meaning to see a doctor. I thought it was vertigo again since I had it sometime in June, which was a pretty full and fruitful month.
Unfortunately after checking with the clinic’s secretary, the doctor was out on a convention abroad. We only allotted enough time to see one doctor that day, hoping for a walk-in appointment. So we had to proceed to the event venue for my call time. I napped in the car on the way to rest my head that felt heavier by the minute. But being the hypochondriac that I am, I urged mom to call our long-time Pedia/family friend, Dra. Elena Cua-Lobo, (yes clearly a long time, I still have a pedia! haha) just to consult with her my symptoms.
Upon parking in the venue, I retouched my lipstick in the car and NOTICED THAT I COULDN’T DO A FULL SMILE. Only the right side of my mouth would curve to form a smile and the other half just stayed still. (It was obvious since I used my bright purple lipstick that time. Kikay points for life I guess?) I panicked, showed mom what happened, and good thing the doctor was still on the phone! Our pedia is the best—that she knew exactly what was happening to me and urged us to drop everything, and proceed to the nearest hospital with a rehabilitation center ASAP.
II. MY NEW REALITY
She advised me to seek immediate medical attention because if untreated WITHIN 48 HOURS UPON THE START OF THE ATTACK, HALF OF MY FACE WOULD GET EVEN MORE DISTORTED AND PARALYZED. What I just had is called Bell’s Palsy, and this was my new reality. I had no choice but to abandon my hosting engagement. Mom went down to meet with the event’s PR and apologetically excused me from work with our sudden emergency.
We were in White Plains and the nearest rehab center was at St. Luke’s, Q.C. so we rushed despite of the rush hour and prayed that we would still make it to the last P.T. session.
III. “THEY TRIED TO MAKE ME GO TO REHAB”
It was almost around dinnertime when we arrived in the rehab center. We shared what had happened with me to the receptionist and requested for an immediate therapy session. (Hi David Kuyunjik Tobias Damian!, Yes we’re Facebook friends now… and IRL haha) At first he said he couldn’t accommodate us only because we needed a formal endorsement from a Rehab Doctor first. So we pleaded for his assistance to arrange for an appointment that very moment. Our chances were so low because it was already so late and most clinic hours were already over for the day. As I watched David make phone calls and work his magic, calling from one clinic to another... I agonized with the “what ifs” in my head and still couldn’t believe what was happening to me.
I overheard some conversations on the phone that most of the rehab doctors had either already gone home, or are abroad in a conference! (Probably the same one my ENT was at! Wow, why now?) But just when I thought my hopes of getting healed that same night would get trumped, David made one more call and learned that the Rehab doctor was still there. And guess what? Her name is Dra. Magpantay! (LOL What are the odds!) So we went to the next building to see her, and she did confirm that what I had was Bell’s Palsy. She gave her clearance to treat me right away, by God’s saving grace.
Everything was happening so fast. It was already 8pm and I was the rehab’s last “pahabol” patient. My therapist did what he had to do for the usual Bell’s Palsy patient. He laid me down, covered half of my face and the rest of my head, ears, neck, and chest with towels, only exposing the left side of my face for a heating treatment wherein a bright orange light was directly pointed at my face. They had to cover my left eye with a cotton pad too so my eyes won’t get hurt.
I found myself so nervous and traumatized on the therapy bed. I actually felt claustrophobic with all the covers, the bright light, and with just how overwhelming everything was… Especially since I wasn’t really briefed on how the therapy will go. I couldn’t blame my therapist. He was only doing his job—Treat me immediately! And I was grateful enough to have been treated that same night too, or God knows how much more worse my case could’ve been.
V. WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
So I officially had Bell’s Palsy. The left side of my face froze—From my forehead, eyebrow, eye, cheek, nose, down to my lips and chin. It was even hard to blink at the same time. There would be lags on my left eye, and it was difficult to speak, chew, eat, smile, and basically move my face.
What caused this?
Actually, it’s a pretty random kind of illness that you just get, and there’s no “one true” medically confirmed cause. But the theories you’d hear especially from your grandparents, or titas are that it can be caused by “pasma” or by having the fan directly blow on your face (because the cold is apparently bad for the nerves).
One thing’s for sure though, it can be triggered when you have a low immune system. I think this goes the same for all illnesses in general. (So... dun, dun, dun! To all my fellow millennials who know “for a fact” that they can live on Berocca or Red Bull and not rest… STOP, DROP, AND SLEEP! Haha Also eat right, exercise and never let stress take you over!)
VI. MORE TO HUSTLING AND HAVING FAITH
So what was next for me? GET WELL ASAP! I still had work to do, places to go and dreams to fulfill! Why was this happening to me in the first place? I couldn’t help but wonder and ask God… Why? And although I know there are way worse cases out there, why my face? Something I need to use everyday especially with the work I have.
As a relatively new believer, I knew this was a test. And I know God wouldn’t give me anything I can’t handle. June of that year was amazing, maybe one of my favorite months ever! So many new opportunities and career milestones were unlocked and the plan was to just keep on hustling. “Hustle and Have Faith” is one of my favorite go-to mottos, but maybe God wanted something more from me. What was I hustling for anyway?
So I trusted Him and his bigger plans… much as it pained me to reject my work proposals that month, even one abroad. There was one commitment, end of July though that I simply couldn’t pass. I was confirmed to be one of the hosts for the Mr. And Ms. Chinatown pageant to be televised on ABS-CBN. (Hi Alexis Go Alvin Kingson Tan!) I already signed the contract, had my gowns fitted and prepared with the designers I’ve collaborated with (Ryan Madamba Hannah Kong), and was just so set to take this opportunity to host for the Chinoy community.
VII. NEEDLES AND ELECTRIC STIMULATION
So my focus was to get better, especially with my deadline. I went to therapy every single day at St. Luke’s. But having to travel there everyday would exhaust me too, until I just requested for a home service PT. To make my recuperation faster, mom brought me to the herbalist she goes to for her alternative medication. His name is Dr. Tan, a legit Chinese herbalist who also specializes in acupuncture, which is said to be great for Bell’s Palsy.
So I braved the NEEDLES ON MY FACE, (which were surprisingly very relaxing) and had my acupuncture sessions alternating with my Electric Stimulation therapy. East meets West medication, because I was so eager to get better. Mom even bought me my very own ES machine so I can treat my face more at home. I had to do facial exercises regularly too, to stimulate and wake up half of my frozen face.
Might as well put on make-up and dress up a little to lift my spirits up!
I was determined to get better each day, took B complex vitamins for my nerves, western medication with steroids (that made me bloat and feel hungry all the time... aaahh…), had herbal medicine twice a day, slept on time, and took all the rest I could… what else was there to do right?
My friends would know I’ve always been an idealist, never failing to see the silver lining in all situations... but I couldn’t help but find myself bawl in tears on some nights. I couldn’t smile, I looked like a Picasso painting when I laughed, I couldn’t even frown right when I needed to. I NEVER THOUGHT I’D MISS SMILING, FROWNING, AND EVEN FURROWING MY EYEBROWS THAT MUCH!
I remember ranting and crying (hagulgol levels) to my family asking, “WHY?!” I’m such an expressive, happy person that some of my friends would call me Ms. Pure Energy, Jolly Janeena, and once I was even called out for being too happy. I felt as if I lost the essence of me. Why take away what makes me, me? I felt so empty inside. I missed going out, being with friends, doing the work I love, and just craved for normalcy back into my life.
IX. PURPOSED-DRIVEN ROAD TO RECOVERY: “BE NOT AFRAID”
I had to lift my spirits. It was the only way to recover faster. So I continued reading my Purposed Driven Life book by Rick Warren, and serendipitously found myself in the chapter about pain. It said, when God allows pain to enter in your life, it’s His way of calling you back to him with a megaphone. It was just what I needed to read. God simply wants us to be closer. He wants me to experience this particular challenge, in this particular time of my life so I can share my story to those who need to hear it the most.
Good thing I live on the same street as our village church so I’d walk to mass every Sunday as I always do… but this time, I was afraid to face people. For the first time in my life, I never thought saying “peace be with you” to the people around me would be so difficult! My mouth wasn’t right, my blinking was extra twitchy, my eyebrows were distorted, and my hearing was muffled… aaahh THE STRUGGLE WAS REAL.
Despite the struggle, I still found solace. All the homilies and songs I heard when I went to mass during that period pierced right through my heart. One particular song that left me bawling was “Be not afraid.” So even though I was terrified… who was I to doubt my God when He tells me to be not afraid?
X. CAN’T STOP, WON’T STOP
I felt so uneasy carrying myself outside of the house. So it was really house arrest for 3 weeks straight. Except for 2 commitments I really couldn’t cancel, and thought I could still wing. (Yes, I know. LOL) But of course, they were all with the clearance of both my doctors.
3 days after being diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy I still went through with my advertorial campaign shoot for Fujifilm Instax Philippines and Chalk Magazine. I said to myself, “Kaya yan!” I’ll just do small smiles, and reserve my energy… anyway it was only a half day shoot. I tried hiding the fact that I had Bell’s to the team shooting with me that day, but couldn’t hide the fact that something was wrong. (Hi Muriel Vega Perez!) I just told them my nerves were weak and my immune system was low.
See photos for reference.
Not being able to control your facial muscles was such a struggle both behind and in front of the camera.
My default projection face was half “pa-aura” and half worried because I couldn’t smile so much and open my eyes so wide. I did my best, and went on with the show as I promised my designer friend. Mom and Jess were there to support and make sure I was okay too, of course.
Just kept showing my good side and still couldn't do a full smile.
Then came July 31st… My deadline. Internally, I felt a little stronger but up until the last minute my family and I kept second-guessing if I could actually deliver and perform my hosting duties. I looked alright in person especially since I was glammed up. But you’d notice something was wrong with me when I started to speak. It was still difficult to fully enunciate, and there would also still be lags in blinking my left eye. I could still remember the pressure of not only having to host well (both in English and some Mandarin), but also having to worry about looking “normal” both in person and on camera.
I remember seeing Tweets from random trolls saying that I looked “matamlay” or “nakakadepress” if I remember correctly (because I muted them already haha). I wanted to reply so bad, “You have no idea!!” haha But now, I could finally tell my story.
To say this whole thing was a humbling experience is an understatement. Some may say it was only a month… but each day that I couldn’t properly hear, speak, blink, talk, smile, laugh, chew, or even frown right was such an agonizing, and imprisoning feeling. Having Bell’s Palsy made me realize how important it is to NOT FORSAKE THE “LITTLE THINGS” and TO NOT SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF.
It made me value how I express and present myself to the people around me. Now I find myself cherishing every full smile I get to flash to the world. It made me value my health and energy, making sure I use every waking moment having a balanced and productively healthy itinerary, while every hour allotted for sleep is sacred.
The fact that we are unparalyzed is so empowering. Being able to function well and right as a human being is already such a gift to begin with. So to those who feel limited… to everyone feeling overwhelmed, scared, or just stuck in their own versions of limbos… You are stronger than you think. You are more capable than you think you know. And when you just carry over all of your worries, anxieties and fears to the Lord, you’ll be surprised by how He will lift the weight off of your shoulders. All he wants is for us to seek Him and learn to worship first before worrying. Us humans get weary, but He never does. He can handle it, so let Him. PSALM 28:9
XIII. WHY WOULD GOD ALLOW THIS?
Strength. Fortitude. Trust. Character.
Pain, challenges, obstacles… are all there so we can strengthen our relationship with our Creator. It’s His way of pulling us closer to him in our truest, most vulnerable naked souls. Maybe I was merely hustling blindly before, maybe I was moving too quickly, failing to listen and respond to His deeper calling. But now, having experienced the pain and the pressure, and being saved by His Grace has made me more resilient, humble, sensitive, faithful and grateful. Simply put, it added more meaning and purpose in my life. They say adversities are tests of character, and I’m just so happy to have discovered more of myself and my loving God in my lowest of lows. (JAMES 1:1-13)
God won’t give us anything we can’t handle… And that is precisely why we have our angels on earth. Thank you again to all my doctors, my PT Ramjo Sacdalan, David Kuyunjik Tobias Damian of St. Lukes Rehab, Dra. Cua-Lobo, and of course to my family and dear friends for the support every step of the way.
They say, “WHAT GOD GIVES TO YOU, HE WANTS TO GIVE THROUGH YOU.”
So this is me responding and doing my part of giving back, hoping to raise awareness, spark some insight, or even help a distant friend who may need to read this at this very moment.
I admit I was hesitant and even embarrassed to share this story at first, but I owe it to Him. We all have our own tough battles… some are just better at hiding them. But it’s so important to speak up, and share how these trying times ultimately put things into perspective in the daily blur of our lives.
I hope this reminds you to never take for granted how much God blesses you abundantly in more ways than our minds can comprehend… even in the littlest details that may seem so “normal” or mundane. I know it’s so easy to get distracted, being caught up in our activities, to-do lists, IG stories, and millennial matters. But never be too busy to live your own versions of what it means to have a truly unparalyzed life… Whether it’s finally being unafraid to share your talents even if you think it’s too late, being more patient and understanding with everyone you meet, or just living a healthier lifestyle altogether. Do it for yourself, do it for the people who love you, and most importantly do it for His Greater Glory.
Hope you're all having a blessed and meaningful start of the week everyone!
P.S. To those who already know about this prior to my "status announcement" and helped encourage me to share my story... here it is guys! Love you all! And to everyone who shared this original post over on Facebook, and extended their concern, empathized and shared their own stories of faith and struggle, thank you.