Growing up with a facial difference in Colombia, I always wished for a support system. I never dreamed that I would find one 27 years later in Canada.
I was born with Sturge-Webber syndrome, but I was not diagnosed until I was 14 years old. I was bullied a lot, and I always tried to hide behind my hair. I could never wear it up in a ponytail because I felt like I had to hide my birthmark. I tried to pretend that the bullying didn’t bother me, and it wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I was able to talk to my aunt about how I was really feeling. It was at that moment, after sharing what I had kept in hiding for years, that my life changed.
My aunt took me to Johns Hopkins Hospital in the United States for laser treatment, and when I was 27, I moved to Canada. The journey here has been difficult because my family is back home in Colombia, but I’m proud that today, I work in the nonprofit marketing field, helping to convey important stories. I am also passionate about sports and believe that they have the power to unite people.
Through a vascular birthmark support group and social media, I found the Frankie and Pearl video from AboutFace. I was so excited to learn that there is a Canadian organization that supports people with facial differences.
The advice I would like to give others with a facial difference is that self-esteem and loving yourself is a journey, sometimes a lifelong one. Remember that it is always okay to seek help when you need it and embrace your differences – they make you who you are. I have found that going outside of my comfort zone has made me more resilient and more equipped to deal with the challenges that come with having a difference.
I urge all parents to teach their kids about differences and to respect everyone, as early education really can make a big difference in accepting others.
And if you see someone with a facial difference, please be aware that it can be exhausting to feel like people are always looking at you, or that you need to continually explain your difference. . Educating others is great, but sometimes we just want to live our lives day-to-day.
With all the online education resources available like those on AboutFace, my hope is that people will take the time to challenge their assumptions and learn more about differences. Society is definitely better when we all share that responsibility.
For my whole life, I have wanted to connect with people like me. I am so grateful to have found AboutFace and a community.