Why I’m Not Fun At Parties: On Facial Trauma by Jennifer Schmohe
During the somewhat recent episode of Mental Illness Happy Hour featuring mortician Caitlin Doughty, Doughty describes a widow’s request for her husband’s prosthetic eye so that the widow may personally keep the item. Until Doughty presented this idea via the podcast, such a bizarrely compelling sentiment never crossed my mind. Few advantages remain when you have lost an eye to trauma, but the thought of my partner hypothetically caring for such a distinct part of my body after death is strangely comforting.
These useful moments of small epiphany are tiny treasures in the otherwise bullshit pile of afternoons spent involuntarily crying in doctor’s offices, movie theaters, on buses, public sidewalks, or with the infrequent comfort of a warm shoulder.
On the morning of August 25th, 2010, I was in a car accident that led to severe head and facial trauma. I was twenty-one years old. I have undergone approximately ten surgical procedures as a result; my cheekbones and left eye socket are now titanium. My left eye is shriveled up inside its titanium socket like a monster inside a dark, red, fleshy cave. I have scars on my cheeks and nose, my tracheotomy scar decorating just between and above my collar bones. I think of the new wideness of my crushed nose, the cartilage from my left ear that was used to heighten it, the fact that my nose was shattered to a point that it could have never been reconstructed to look how it used to. My temporary lost sense of smell, how for months I had to sleep on my left side because I could only breathe out of one nostril. The bright blue stitches that were taken out of my face, the brown stitches that dissolved, the stitches in my gums that I slid over with my tongue and that I must have swallowed like barbed wire, the bands I had to wear as if I were a teenager with braces all over again, the screws inside my jaw that dug behind my fleshy lips and were taken out with a sterile screwdriver. My tear ducts that didn’t work properly and left me with a tissue in hand at all times: how metaphorical the involuntary tearing was to the first year of reflection and mourning.
The day I sneezed and consequently felt that a third of my head was shaved. How my parents had to convince the doctors I didn’t belong in the psych ward, despite my disobedience, the scars on my left arm from when I was fourteen, and my eating disorder history. The restraints I pulled at with such force that my right wrist ached for weeks afterward. A drill in my skull, blood in my brain. The full month of hospitalization and hallucination. The face I now live with that I may never recognize in the mirror as more than a Picasso-esque impression of my former self. A long-winded recovery whose primary objective is facial acceptance.
I have recounted this narrative many times with varying levels of physical and emotional gore, the most frequent being the ‘bare bones’ recollection I must gather together each time I see a new physician, optometrist, or ocularist.
There are three words frequently used to describe my facial injuries: disfigurement, difference, and trauma. ‘Disfigurement’ stings. ‘Difference’ seems lofty and dismissive. I prefer to use ‘trauma’ as it seems to be the only option that also confronts the mental upheaval that occurs when the physical version of yourself you absent-mindedly believed would be around forever is suddenly remolded haphazardly without your permission.
Facial trauma is something I cannot pack up into a neat package and forget about for days at a time. Each morning I still see bad memories in the mirror and am forced to dissociate while I ready myself for work, trying my best to not wallow in the ‘before’ or worry about the potential lingering eyes of strangers that may unexpectedly force me into an unwelcome flashback.
One of the cornerstones of PTSD, I am told by my therapist, is overwhelming anxiety propelled by a heightened awareness that something unspeakably terrible is capable of happening at any moment. I have learned how important it is for me to keep to a routine in order to combat feelings of anxiety that may otherwise contribute to a sudden panic attack. Spontaneity is not my strong suit and I’m okay with that fact, though I am consistently working on my desire to control my surroundings. I may not enjoy the spontaneous nature of parties, but being alive to drink my morning coffee?
Check out more of Jenny’s writing at: https://notfunatparties.