A message to my friend Ellen

Ellen Vollmer

I have written about Ellen (Ellie to family and friends) Vollmer before, but her latest blog touched a nerve yet again, so I thought I would discuss some of the issues she raised.

She writes: “Why is it me who has a facial deformation, has to go through surgeries and physical pain? Why am I the one who is called alien or monster and feels like avoiding every mirror and picture I could find myself in? Why am I always trying to be positive so others think it is okay to live the way people like me have to live? Why do I have to dream of any face I see passing in the street? why do I have to accept that some people might treat me different just because of the way I look? Why do people like me and I have to accept that we will never look like most people do when there are loads of people abusing plastic surgery for perfection a word that never existed for us?”

When I was a teenager that’s exactly how I felt too, only I didn’t articulate it quite so well as Ellen. Blogs weren’t around back then, but I so wanted to share my feelings and fears with others, especially those who might look like me. Only I thought I was alone. Ellen, at least, knows there are many like her coming to terms with facial disfigurement, although that’s not a great consolation when you’re just 17.

She’s had a lot of surgical procedures in London – where she is attending college, although her permanent home is Germany – one just before Christmas, and another is due three weeks before she returns to college. She is concerned at how future operations will impact on her leading a normal social life. Here’s Ellen again:

“I had always thought that I got to the stage of happily accepting all of it, and understanding to still be strong and pleased with everything I have, but I still don’t understand why it is me… I am scared… of the pain… but much more about what influences it will have on the rest of my life. Will I not get that many opportunities cause…I may be stuck in hospital? Will everyone see me for what I am apart from the girl who has scars?”

Well, surgeries are disruptive, no question. Mine were practically always done in holiday periods to minimise the effect on my schooling, and I did resent missing out on whatever my friends were up to during the summer especially. But I knew it was for the best, that each operation was an improvement over the previous one. Being able to use a knife and fork for the first time was a big boost, but I soon forgot that and worried about the next thing. Always, I wondered about my face and that miracle operation that would change it to something more normal. I obsessed about it too much to the detriment of my own development as a person. My mistake.

I guess you have to ask the question: Do I need the surgery, and if so am I prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve that? In Ellen’s case, she’s a very talented dancer and probably worries how it will impact on her career if she chooses to develop it in that direction. My own sense is that it won’t. I’m sure her surgeons will work around that and schedule surgeries accordingly.

I think Ellen can be whatever she wants to be. I know she feels conflicted by different emotions about her face, how people judge her, by the stupid things people say at times. And yet she seems such a well adjusted young person. She is articulating her own confusion about “why me?”, which is perfectly normal.

Ellen can define how others view her by her attitude, by not limiting her ambition in terms of her career, by being positive. She is further along that road at her age than I was and that’s real progress. I would say to Ellen, don’t let your fears take control: Be yourself.

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