Some of this advice comes from what I did myself, but some also comes from what I wish I’d known whilst going through the tougher parts of cleft lip and palate.
Know you are beautiful inside and out
Beauty is a social concept which means we place values on certain physical attributes because society suggests they are ‘beautiful’. However, true beauty is what you make it and is more about a state of mind than physical appearance. True beauty is self-acceptance, self-love and confidence. It is the ability to see the good in others, kindness, to not judge other people and respect difference. True beauty is about friendship and generosity and about rising to challenges and pushing through barriers. As a cleft patient, you are born with so many more challenges in our aesthetically-obsessed world, so to be able to embrace these difficulties, rise above them and see the good in being different, makes you that much stronger – and that much more beautiful.
When you’re in an appointment, everyone in that room is there for YOU. Use the time to find out what you want to know about your treatment. If you don’t understand a medical term, ask what it means. If you’re unsure of a recovery plan, ask what they expect. If you don’t know when something will happen, ask. If you don’t know how something works, ask. If you don’t know why you’re wearing a certain type of brace, ask. In other words, just ask, ask and keep asking!
These professionals want to help make your treatment seem less intimidating and want you to make the best decisions for you. By understanding what’s happening, you can feel empowered to feel involved in your treatment, and you can feel better informed to make the tougher decisions that are part of being a cleft patient.
Trust your gut
When in an appointment room with lots of clever professionals, or in a room of strangers who are expecting you to be socially relaxed, you can often feel nervous or uncomfortable. However, be confident. This may be easier said than done, but have confidence in yourself and your instincts. If you’re worried about a part of your treatment – ask for help, support and reassurance. If you think something isn’t right, believe in yourself to know your body and to trust your judgement in how you are recovering or progressing – remember, you are the best expert on you!
Your support is unique to you
There are so many different support networks available to everyone, no matter what they are going through, but remember: your support is unique to you. cleft patients have a whole range of support systems on offer: from team psychologists, CLAPA (Cleft Lip And Palate Association) events to simply talking to a close friend or family member.
If I’m honest, I decided I didn’t want to go to any of the CLAPA events. I’m sure they would have been a lot of fun, but I personally already felt ‘different’ whenever I was reminded of my cleft, so unfortunately the idea of going to a cleft-specific event meant I never wanted to go. Although this may have helped me when feeling isolated (so I would encourage anyone who is considering to go to a CLAPA event to try it out!), I relied on my friends and family for support instead. This does NOT mean that this is the official way to cope with a cleft, but this was my preferred method of support and it worked for me. Just remember that there are many options when it comes to seeking extra help when going through cleft procedures, just make sure to find out what works best for you.