A picture helped break the barrier

I wrote a TV column many years ago in the Cork Examiner (now the Irish Examiner). I was thrilled to finally have the chance to stretch myself a little by writing every week, and be paid to watch TV. When asked if I minded my photo appearing with the column I never gave it another thought and said yes. Well, I did pause to register two things – the person asking had a concern that the photo might be an issue for me, and secondly, that I didn’t much care.

Pretty soon people would approach me on the street, not to enquire about my face, but about the latest happenings in Coronation Street, or to agree or disagee with my views on some programme. It was a lovely feeling to be recognised as a (very) minor personality rather than as the guy with the odd face. When strangers had approached me before then it was usually to make an unwarranted comment or to bluntly ask what happened me. This was a new and very welcome development.

It got me thinking about how you can disarm people you meet. When I started this blog I wondered how to connect with people who either didn’t know me, or might know me casually via social media like Facebook and Twitter. How to break the ice with you wasn’t easy, and then it came to me in a flash – why not deal with the issue directly? So I wrote Facial disfigurement: A voyage around my face to remove the words everyone with facial disfigurement fears: What happened your face? And by confronting the issue head on and explaining the how, when and why, plus the physical and mental legacy of the accident, it built a lot of bridges to all of you. I only wish there had been a medium through which I could have expressed myself a lot earlier.

It was amazing the number of people who approached me later to say they had always wondered what had happened me, but were reluctant/afraid to ask. I can understand that up to a point from those who perhaps didn’t know me so well. But in some cases these were colleagues who had known me for 20, 30 years. Amazingly, even experienced journalists found this a question too far.

I gave the TV column up 20 years ago and still people stop me occasionally to ask how the column is going! I suppose I should be thrilled. And I am. We all love a little recognition. It’s good for the soul and massages my slight ego. The pity is that many who live with facial disfigurement find it so hard to break the ice with others. They fear the company of others as much as they want it. You might think of that the next time you see someone who might look a little different than yourself. Even a smile in their direction can help them enormously.

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