Over the course of five days, my life altered forever.
Prior to November 2018, I was a paddleboarding coach with Paddle Canada - an active, social guy who loved interacting with new people every day.
But that November, at the age of 35, I became very sick with what turned out to be a reactivation of the chicken pox virus. I experienced a collapse of the right side of my face, hearing damage and loss of balance among other symptoms and was ultimately diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.
After my diagnosis, I felt a huge loss. In almost the blink of an eye, my independence, the career I loved, my ability to earn an income and my social confidence had been seemingly stripped away. I had a hard time looking at my new face and I avoided going out in public, afraid of the looks that people would inevitably give.
But then a shift in mindset happened.
I started writing about my experiences on my social media platforms. I let people in on what I was going through. Prior to my diagnosis, I never used to post close-up facial pictures but now I was routinely posting pictures of my new face.
And the responses grew and grew. It turned out that people wanted to learn more and they wanted to find ways to support me.
In August 2019, I was encouraged to enter Speaker Slam, Canada's largest inspirational speaking competition. I hoped to uplift a few members of the audience with my story.
I won the competition that evening, but that is not the significant part. Within a day or two my speech was put online and it went viral. My speech has now been viewed by over 2 million people all over the world and the greatest gift is that many of them tell me my story has touched and impacted them.
We all have stories. We all deserve to be SEEN and heard. Our voices matter.
I am myself, unapologetically. I am a son. I am a friend. I am a speaker. I am a writer. I am a business owner. I am an advocate.
My facial difference is one of my superpowers.