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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Good Ugly

Heather Curlee-Novak

Many of us have a bit of vanity and as we age and wrinkles show up we either give up and go with it (which I think is healthiest) or we start buying those $200 neck crèmes and trying botox.  At my solid age of…‘marvelous’ …I am grateful to be a good ugly.  I say good ugly because my face has had a Bell’s Palsy adventure I do not wish upon any of you.  Being uglier has taught me many things I’d like to share.

If you do not know, most do not, Bell’s Palsy is a mystery.  It is a disease that makes your face look like you are having a stroke.  Half of your face becomes paralyzed and it can last weeks, months, years or never heal completely.  I headed to the ER on March 11th apologetically explaining I thought I was having a stroke.   They did the scans and the tests and diagnosed Bell’s Palsy.  I’ve only heard of that from author and speaker Rachel Hollis who has had it several times. (I KNEW I was just like her!)  I was given a pile of prescriptions and went home to Google myself into a panic.

I won’t bore you with it all.  You, too can google.  I’ll share I had trouble eating, my affected side eye wouldn’t close so I wore unsexy eye patches and I felt like garbage for two months.  I didn’t work and actually couldn’t even visit with friends or talk on the phone because even 20 minutes of conversation wore me out.  My face had to compensate for the paralyzed side and would ache terribly.

I am a person who talks for a living.  I do motivational and keynote speaking, I am active in my work at church welcoming and connecting people.  My smile and red lipstick is who I say I am to the world.  My spark felt extinguished.  I grew depressed.  I slept a lot. I did all of the therapy Blue Cross and Blue Shield could buy: massage, physical therapy, acupuncture.  I drank organic juices, slept, avoided stress and cried at my ugly face.  I got dozens of sweet get well cards and beautiful gifts and soup.  A facebook Group for facial paralysis was a valuable group for me.  At one point early on I learned to apply my red lipstick unevenly so that my mouth would actually look more even. 

When I spoke, children would stare and adults would give double takes.  I looked weird and realized people would think I was…what? Less than?  Developmentally disabled? Ugly?  Would I be dismissed?  Had I dropped from the good place in life I held as an educated, somewhat attractive white woman into…normalcy?  Was I below normal now?  Instead of completely panicking, I saw this as a gift.  I could see what it was like to be treated differently.

I started to watch how people interacted with me.  For ogling kids I immediately said “Isn’t my face crazy?  This side is paralyzed and lazy!  Can you grimace-smile like this?”  It broke down the barriers for them (and their parents) and I was able to educate.  When I saw people out in public who were ugly like me, or had something “other” about them, I observed them. I tried to grimace-smile reassuringly and knew that their mind could be just like mine on the inside. I worked harder for my words to connect with people since my smile was gone.  Without the light in my eyes conveying warmth, I looked a bit scary when I tried to smile. 

Feeling trapped in my broken face reminded me we are all people who matter.  We all want to look nice and be liked and we all have something to give the world.  I believe I am kinder and more patient with strangers than before Bells’ Palsy made me a good ugly.  I gave up waiting for my face to get normal again and decided I had too much to do to wait for healing.  I started working again as I felt stronger. I spoke more, I wrote more.  I thought more about what I wanted to do with my life, with this whisper of time I have to be alive and connecting with other people.  I thank God for letting Bell’s Palsy happen to me, for making me a good kind of ugly.

Now I have some slight movement in my face coming back after four months of struggling and I’m grateful.  I’m thrilled to see eye wrinkles because it means my mouth is getting the smile muscles working all they way up through my cheek.    I’m exited to maybe wear eye makeup again soon and feel prettier…and I will never forget this good ugly life lesson from Bell’s Palsy.

Music: "Broken and Beautiful" by Kelly Clarkson

Heather Novak's professional history includes sales and customer service training and troubleshooting for businesses, but she loves motivational speaking best. Heather leads church events for youth, singles and women, has spoken for Chicago Apartment Association and many organizations throughout Indiana. Nowadays Heather is just another stay at home wild mama trying to loose some weight, keep some sanity and enjoy her life. She is being raised by two little girls named Portia and Libby and is indulged by a guy named John who was gracious enough to marry her. Heather blogs about F Words: Feisty Faith, Fumbling Family, Fairly Healthy Food, Failed Fashion and Fabulous Friendships. You can find her at