Take a look at my face and what you see is a collection of scars that have changed remarkably little in around 54 years. While I have had several operations to try to correct problems with my chin especially, you wouldn’t really be able to spot the difference.

As I said in a previous blog, the hoped for miracle surgery that would transform my scarred face into something more ‘normal’ at the age of 21 never happened. Which left me deeply troubled and depressed. I was at a crossroads in determining whether I should accept my physical self, or wallow in self pity and cut myself off from the outside world. I decided to do the latter. It would take me many years before realising my real scars were psychological and the sooner I tackled them the better.

Easier said than done, of course. I couldn’t cope with my physical differences, and because I had never met nor read about others with facial disfigurement, I inhabited a world largely dominated by me. While I had some friends, and good family support, there were no support groups I could turn to for advice, or just pour my heart out to. I went about life mainly going to the cinema on my own, pretending to those in my limited circle that Tom was a great lad who had no real problems, while inside I felt an overwhelming sadness and frustration that life would always be different for me – empty of meaningful human relationships. I hated myself, loathed my face, and was terrified to face – and I use that world deliberately – strangers.

The scars within were a lot more terrifying that the ones on my face and body because only I knew they existed. Alone with my own thoughts I was bitter, angry, fearful and terrified of a future that promised nothing but loneliness. I had a good job with lots of money, but no one but myself to spend it on. I didn’t own a car or house, but my life was so empty. And always I carried around those inner scars that scared me. So I smiled and joked when in the company of colleagues and some friends and they never realised how frightened I was, how their
futures looked so bright, but mine….

In time, for me it came down to a simple choice: Did I want to live in semi-seclusion, or could I make the Great Leap Forward and trust in myself to embrace the world and begin to heal those troublesome inner scars. And here’s the thing – you make not be able to change scars or your face, but you can change your attitude. I can’t promise an overnight miracle, but once you embark on that path there’s no looking back.

Today I see the fantastic support network for the facially disfigured and their families and wished that had been there for me. While I eventually made my own painful adjustment and finally sidelined most of those internal scars, now there is help and advice at hand from those of us who are facially disfigured who can lend a helping hand or listen with empathy.

So my advice is to accept the challenge and get on with living. Replace the negative with the positive and banish those internal scars that hold you back. I did and so can you.