Imperfection: Mental Health Awareness Month 2023

As with most of my series, I like to spend a lot of time writing theses articles. And gradually, over the course of months, they eventually come together; like pieces of a puzzle that somehow just fit.

So here I am in my cycle of writing and rewriting as I dive deep into my own mind and answer the questions I don’t want answered. I write so I don’t numb the pain and so I can truly feel what I feel. And the question that has been ringing louder than any other in my head is “Mike, but…”. I’ll get back around to the question in a while, for now I simply write.

Craniosynostosis in a nutshell

For those who don’t know, Craniosynostosis affects about 1 in 2000 births. It is more common in men than in women and it has a few different types depending on what sutures fuse together when you are born. When you are a baby, eventually the sutures in your skull will fuse together. If they fuse too early, the brain won’t have room to grow and will instead push against the skull, causing deformity (as well as other issues) if left untreated. There are shaping helmets (I never had one) to help the skull keep a normal form after surgery, although more mild cases supposedly do not need the helmet for the skull to retain it’s form. When I was born, I had the surgery where they operated on my skull essentially making more room for the brain to grow and ensure my brain didn’t push against my skull. To my knowledge, the surgery was successful.

Why Am I writing about?

That is the question. So originally, I wanted to talk about my Craniosynostosis and then I thought it’d be easier to talk about imperfection as a whole. Writing helps, I’ve used this series to conquer my personal demons and I hope this is the start to a long overdue conversation with myself. The Mental Health Awareness Month series on this blog has always been about personal growth and with writing comes clarity.

To Add…

When I choose a topic, it forces me to think about the topic. I am constantly reframing the question posed to be suitable for general consumption; this is very different than writing in my journal. Craniosynostosis has been a topic I’ve spoken about in hushed tones and has become a defining narrative in my life when I never wanted it to be. The hope is given enough time, I’ll finally be able to accept myself for me and make my fractured self whole. A part of me would be fine never publishing this but that defeats the purpose of the exercise. It is only by talking about it that I can work through it and find acceptance.

The Ugly

Mental Health isn’t something you can wrap a neat bow on. Consider this a trigger warning of sorts. This article has been written over the course of months, edits are made here and there. To write this article, the benefit is digging deep, so for friends and family reading this, you most likely never knew I even had any of these thoughts. My outward demeanor is cheerful and positive and part of that is because I’ve done these deep dives. They are capturing a moment in time and by having written it, I can look back in the future to truly understand my mind. But it is ugly, it’s not pretty, not everything has a positive spin. The problem is people don’t talk about what bothers them, it is easier to dismiss how someone feels if it makes you uncomfortable. So I am making an effort to normalize these conversations, especially for men.

Acting like it’s fine when it’s not

I am the frog and the water temperature is being raised. This article, on imperfection, will still strive for a level of perfection. A wrong word here, an overstep there, and it loses validity. Imperfection. And therein lies the problem, my birth defect has led to an obsession with perfection, for better or worse. I feel like I always have to prove my worth, that people take a look at me and think of me as lesser. That no one will give me a chance at love and… You can see how the mind works. Isn’t it crazy to think? But it’s a prevailing problem in my life.

A Mike, But… Kind of problem

So this article is about the disjointed and of feeling lesser. Less than. And of having no anchor in this world. I was born with a facial disfigurement and I have let it become all consuming since someone first commented on it in 6th grade, roughly twenty years ago. And I’ve never gotten to talk about it, honestly. My whole life I have been told I look fine when I have never felt fine. And the older I get, I’m starting to realize it is more a question of trust. I have never really been given the opportunity to explore my trauma and it has become my everyday. An all consuming feeling of never being good enough. Years of meditation, exercise, a focus on mental health, all to be in anguish… Life has a sick sense of humor. Most days I want to curl into my shell and shy away from the world, to let the darkness win as I can no longer see the light. I watched my life collapse before my very eyes. Career and Love life never manifesting, panic slowly creeping in like a cancer. There have been moments where I’ve felt like collapsing only to realize I’m the only one to pick myself up. Are these thoughts true or delusions? Clearly delusions but in the US we have a problem of stuffing down the bad feelings until they become a poison. So this year, I lean into the negative I’ve held on to for so long and let it happen.

I’m extremely sensitive to any comment regarding my face as I have, on multiple occasions, had people make comment that it is different. When people have mentioned this, I have no way to discern if it is positive or negative; or simply a statement, an observation if you will. Since I have never officially been in a relationship, I have used my defect as the de facto reason. With my Career failures, I have now adopted the philosophy that perhaps it is how I look that is the cause. That no matter how hard I try, because I had my skull taken apart and put back together as a baby, I am destined to fall short. Hence a ‘Mike, but…’ sort of problem. Like ‘Mike’s nice, but I’d never date him because of his face.’

I have spent a lot of time pondering how my birth defect could be a benefit and wish I had an answer. Truth is I don’t. But I can’t run with the narrative that I ugly, that I am unlovable, and that my intelligence and hard work mean less because I am disfigured. Am I disfigured? I don’t truly know. I never had my birth defect addressed growing up outside of a reiteration that I was normal. I never had a “So what if you are disfigured, what does it matter?” talk. The “you’re normal” conversation, while I’m sure well intentioned, never really addressed what I wanted it to address. I simply wanted to understand that why if I was normal, others would comment that I was different. A definitive proof that I was normal or at the very least, how my difference was a strength.

Feelings vs. Reality

At the moment, I have body dysmorphia over my Craniosynostosis. When I look in the mirror, I hyper fixate on my face. Over the years, I’ve become more relaxed on my thoughts towards my image, but the lingering resentment of my birth defect is still there. I see asymmetry and it causes me to implode, where now I shrug and say “It is what it is”. There is not so much a healthy conversation as me believing it isn’t worth the energy to be upset over it. I would love to view myself as perfect the way I was born, I really would. There has been this constant struggle with myself as I grapple with what my mind wants to believe versus what I know to be true. I know everything I just wrote is irrational, that in reality it is all in my head; I could go talk to a friend and they’d tell me honestly that it’s not a big deal, that they don’t even notice it. But that’s not the point of this article. The point is convincing myself and acknowledging these are my thoughts, for better or worse. Not the thoughts I think I should have, but my actual thoughts. I’m tired of telling myself to just believe what others tell me without actually addressing how I feel. As much as I love myself and know how far I come, I know I have much further to go. Sometimes it is ok to say “FUCK” and just lean into how you feel, however that is. This article is the first step to undoing years of self abuse. I never thought I would talk about this yet here we are.

Remember, this Mental Health Awareness Month, if you see someone struggling, reach out. We should never, ever feel like we have to suffer alone. And if you’re struggling, reach out. A better world starts with lifting others up and not having to hide ourselves from the world. People are imperfect and I think it’s those flaws that make us beautiful. As always, thanks for reading!

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