A woman with facial paralysis defied bullies who told her to "just smile".
Tamara Wiedersum was diagnosed with facial palsy as a toddler, a condition that affects the ability to move muscles on one or both sides of the face. This condition impacts around 15 in every 100,000 people each year.
The 27-year-old has lived with this condition all her life and faced cruel bullies at school who compared her to Gollum from The Lord of The Rings. It took doctors a year to diagnose Tamara, leaving her parents distraught.
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Her parents sought answers from multiple doctors but were left with more questions. As their only child at the time, they worried if they had done something wrong. She said: "Especially my mum, she kept feeling bad about it, and not getting any answers made it worse."
After a year, doctors suggested the facial muscle on the right side might have been damaged before or during birth.
"It affects the whole right side of my face, even my eye, which doesn't close completely," Tamara, from Frankfurt, Germany, revealed. "And since I couldn't use it properly as a child, it got even weaker and might have degenerated."
She added: "[When I was growing up], they [bullies] would call me Gollum, ugly, and pirate, they would point out everything about my looks to make me feel bad about myself. [As a result of the trolling], I started feeling too short, too chubby, too annoying, not good enough in general.
"They would push me against cupboards, leave a window frame open right above my head, throw things at me, destroy my report card by spilling water on it intentionally. It made me feel angry but also helpless."
Tamara's paralysis has also stopped her from doing many things that other people take for granted, such as whistling or blowing bubbles with chewing gum.
As an adult, aged 23, she consulted surgeons for help in easing the paralysis by having a cross-facial nerve graft in 2019 and again in 2020. In 2021, she also had eye correction surgery, which has helped her sight and some minor facial corrections.
Explaining why she waited until adulthood to have surgery, she said: "There were times when I really wanted to undergo surgery when I was younger and my mum consulted doctors concerning that matter. The possibilities back then brought a big risk with them though, since my working muscles and nerves could have been damaged as well. Therefore we waited until I was able to decide on my own if I really want the surgeries or not."
The biggest change to Tamara's life? Finally being able to smile.
She explained: "The cross-facial nerve graft is basically implanting a muscle and a nerve into the affected side. The nerve was implanted during my first surgery and the muscle was implanted during the second surgery in 2020."
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After her recovery, she could finally smile again. "It felt amazing, when I felt my right side move for the first time and I couldn't believe it," she said. "I still can't really believe it, it still feels like a dream sometimes. My parents visited multiple doctors to find answers but they were faced with more questions instead. When I'm looking in the mirror now, I grin at myself happily and find changes again and again."
By 2023, Tamara had regained her confidence and felt "beautiful". She received lots of support from her family and friends, and even found love three years ago.
Tamara shared: "I met my boyfriend just after my second surgery. It felt weird doing my facial exercises but even if he didn't know me well back then, he showed so much support and acceptance, it was overwhelming in a good way. I was a bit unlucky with boys before that and I might have also been too insecure about myself to be able to have a relationship. My parents visited multiple doctors to find answers but they were faced with more questions instead.
"I have many wonderful people around me; [thanks to] my supportive family and friends, I have grown to love myself over the years."
She added: "As a teenager, I once dreamed I'd wake up one morning, look in the mirror and just be able to smile on both sides. This dream has become my reality now and I'm more than happy and grateful!"
She also had a message for anyone else with a facial difference or disability, saying: "Never forget that you are beautiful and awesome the way you are. I know it's not always easy, but you can do it! Believe in yourself and your capabilities.
"You are not alone, there are people around you, who love and respect you just the way you are. There's always something you're good at. For me, that is singing, dancing, playing piano and writing. Find the things you're good at and you will have an outlet that heals you and makes you stronger. If you know what you're good at, you automatically gain confidence."
* This article was crafted with the help of an AI tool, which speeds up Daily Star's editorial research. An editor reviewed this content before it was published. You can report any errors to [email protected]
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