Stop staring at me, please

One of the most difficult aspects of living with facial disfigurement is the constant fear that people are staring at you. And they are… then again they may not be.

The main point is that your ability to lead a social life is dominated and inhibited by YOUR perception that others will stare at you once you step outside your front door. I have lived with facial disfigurement for many, many years, and a part of me is on alert every time I get on the bus, or go shopping and on holidays. I’ve learned to live with it because I’m a lot older, wiser and contented. My face is my face. It shows people who I am physically, though not what I am as a person.

Taking that bus, going to the cinema and concerts are normal experiences for most people because they don’t lack (usually)  confidence. From the perspective of the facially disfigured, these social experiences can be painful and we occasionally avoid them because we fear those prying eyes.

It has never bothered me when children stare. They’re naturally curious anyway, so when they spot me their eyes tend to fasten on to me with a sense of wonder, and their eyes almost asking, “hello, what’s going on here?”  I usually smile back, a great icebreaker,  and that ends the eye contact. Some have even come over to me and asked me straight out “what happened your face?” usually stroking their chins as they do so. It’s not threatening or hurtful and I’ll tell them the truth. That satisfies them and they toddle off.

Teenagers respond in a quite different way. If a few girls are walking together and one turns around and sees me she’ll usually whisper to her friends who will then look behind, stare at me and laugh. I understand part of that reaction, because it’s a juvenile response fed in part by a world that colours their perception of what is normal. Strangely enough, male teenagers don’t behave in the same way.

Adults, who should know better, are the most irritating. A few stare so brazenly that it can really annoy. I’ve developed a response now that usually works. If I realise one is looking at me I’ll let it pass; if it happens a second time, I’ll prepare for action; and when the third incident occurs I’ll lock him (and it’s usually a man) in a  stare until he cops on I’ve rumbled him and looks away.

As a teenager I never met anyone who looked like me. I remember mum saying they existed but that they were probably kept at home. And she was right. Over the last 20 years I have met scores of facially disfigured survivors. I was not alone anymore. That helped, especially when I saw others had similar experiences – the constant staring, loneliness, fear, social isolation.

So, to those of you whose faces are free of blemishes spare a thought for the rest of us who dislike staring. So the next time you see me why not smile or say hello. I’m a human being just like you and I have feelings too.

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3 thoughts on “Stop staring at me, please

  1. I know a T.D. Who fell into a fire when very little. You get used to it very quickly and when talking to him don’t notice his scarred face at all. It’s the person he has become you are talking to.

    1. Unfortunately, everyone’s life experience is different. Depends on so many factors. Many never accept the way they look, fear takes over and it restricts them in so many ways.

  2. Tom, Thank you very much for starting this blog.

    A few days ago – after I’d written that the only Irish blogger I read regularly is Greg Canty – someone (probably Eoghan O’Leary) said “you should read Tom Hickey”.

    My response was “I didn’t know Tom was a blogger… He’s a lovely great journalist, but since when has he been a blogger?”

    All he said was “Read Tom”.

    Well it’s taken me a couple of days – and I noticed tweets about you being on radio with John Murray (I think) – so I’m catching up with the news.

    But after reading this post I’ve all sorts of reactions…

    Ranging from memories from the first time we met over coffee on Boardwalk – to feeling a big connection with you through my experience of depression & the people I’ve met because of that.

    This might sound crazy but people who experience poor mental health often experience “loneliness, fear, social isolation”. When I was acutely self-conscious in the grip of a bout of severe depression, I remember suspecting people were staring at me & avoiding me.

    Now that I’ve read one blogpost, I’ll read all the others. The title you’ve composed is wonderful – so clear, distinctive and purposeful.

    Thank you.

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