I can’t live my life all over again, but if I could offer some advice to a younger Tom then there are 10 things I would say:
- You can’t change your disfigured face, but you can change your attitude. Don’t surrender to negative thoughts.
- The biggest enemy is yourself, not anyone else. Don’t find that out the hard way.
- Don’t stop yourself from meeting people, or going out socially just because you look the way you do. Most people don’t care and will happily accept you. Seriously.
- Switch off when you notice people staring. You can’t stop them staring, but not as many people stare as you think. I found that out as the years rolled by.
- Ignore the occasional insults and abuse that come your way. I’ve experienced a few incidents, but if you allow them to affect you long term then they will stop you enjoying the best years of your life. Don’t let the bullies win.
- Yes, you can find a partner, someone who will love you. It won’t happen if you sit on your backside saying no one will ever love you.
- Don’t refuse invitations to parties, weddings or other opportunities to meet others. If you do then you will feel lonely, isolated and full of self pity as I did.
- Love yourself. You may never look like a Hollywood star, but then few do. You have a lot to give. Smile and don’t frown.
- Join clubs or organisations, stay as physically active as you can, and work on building your confidence. Oh, and your mental health is crucial too.
- Friends and family are a great support on your journey. Don’t give up on them.
The above advice is equally relevant to anyone with a facial disfigurement in their teens. I was afraid of my own shadow, constantly blaming my face for all my misfortunes.
I suffered from poor self esteem, lack of confidence, and retreated into my own world. It wasn’t a very nice place to be, and I grew up in a pretty unhealthy environment. I suffered depression too, only I didn’t realise that’s what it was. I felt alone and unloved (apart from my family). There was a huge emptiness in my life, and though I had a decent career in a newspaper, I wasn’t happy. Until I met Trish.
I can’t turn the clock back, but maybe, just maybe, people will learn from my mistakes.
Despite many difficult years, thanks to the incredible love and support from my wife Trish and our children Daire and Sarah Jane, I have so much to be grateful for, so many reasons to be happy.