Happiness Without a Smile: Facing Bell’s Palsy

Sometimes it is better to share your challenges after they happened not while they are happening, so here it goes:


A month ago, while I was in L.A. for a work tradeshow I discovered I couldn’t smile… yes, half of my face was totally paralyzed. Thinking it was a stroke I ran to the ER where after a couple of hours and tests they diagnosed me with Bell’s Palsy.


Bell’s Palsy turned out to be more common than I thought, however, the cause, treatment and recovery remain unknown.


Bell’s Palsy is the paralysis of half of your face due to the inflammation of the seventh nerve on your face. The medical cause is a virus, hence it is treated with steroids and antivirals for a short period of time. After the intake of medicine it becomes a waiting game… since the recovery can last from two weeks to a year.


The severity of this didn’t hit me until I ended my five days of medicine. I wasn’t seeing much improvement, on the contrary, I felt like my lip was more droopy, half of my tongue couldn’t taste, my eye cried all day and eating and drinking was more challenging. Apart from the physical symptoms there are a lot of psychological repercussions that go along with having Bell’s Palsy.  My positivism came to an end and my self-confidence dropped – which, if you know me, is very unlike me.


I got Bell’s Palsy three days before my Kiva training and two weeks before I left to Nairobi, Kenya. This left me with a very hard decision to make… “is this a challenge or a sign? Should I give up my dream and go back to Panama?”   I got courage out of somewhere and even though all I wanted was to hide in a cave and not meet anyone I built up with strength and attended training.


Meanwhile, I realized that sometimes people are way more accepting and supportive than what we think. Even though not being able to move half of your face and smile is extremely uncomfortable, no one else seemed to notice or maybe they pretended it was not a big deal. The encouragement of all those besides me (Omnia, Evan, my colleagues, Atlas Corps and the Kiva Team) and away (my parents) led me to recover some self confidence and positivis attitude and I started to look for ways to actively feel that I was doing something to recover faster – I needed that peace of mind.


Like I mentioned before, Bell’s Palsy turned out to be more “popular” than I thought and I got great connections and recommendations from people who had had it before including the stories of George Clooney and Pierce Brosnan. I was also put in touch with Dr. Yang, an acupuncturist in the Inner Richmond in San Francisco.


Dr. Yang believes that Bell’s Palsy is triggered by your environment, climate or stress. I am terrified of needles and doctors in general, but Dr. Yang truly connected with me and told me three main things: 1. You will get on that plane 2. My worst case was 3 months, my best case was 3 weeks 3. No it doesn’t hurt and yes the needles are disposable…


He was right on all three, after a week of treatment and a lot of work with my internal self and mind I finally started to see improvement. I ended up being Dr. Yang’s best case with a two-week 100% recovery and I am today getting on that plane to Kenya.


Bell’s Palsy taught me and reconfirmed a couple of things;


  • You are harder on yourself than anyone else. A lot of people would have never noticed my Bell’s Palsy if I hadn’t told them thinking they were judging me for having a teary eye. It is the same with our day-to-day. Most of the time we act according to how we think people will judge use. Believe it or not, people are very accepting and it is US who sometimes shut down opportunities by trying to be someone we are not.

  • Challenges come in the same size as our desires. Getting to be a Kiva Fellow and going to Kenya has always been a dream of mine and of course just when I am finally about to go something that jeopardizes my attendance happens. This is not the first time that something like this happened to me, nor will be the last. Learning to identify the challenges and gearing up with all the right tools to not give up and overcome them, is essential to your success in achieving your true desires.

  • Happiness comes without a smile. Even though I couldn’t smile or laugh for four weeks, I had never been happier. I have the job I dreamt of, I am surrounded by amazing people, I have my parent’s support, I just spend an amazing year in the U.S. and I am now going to a new country and continent that will change my life. A smile is just a physical way to show happiness but internal happiness can only be felt by one’s self.


Even though it seemed like a bad timing for me to fall sick and get Bell’s Palsy, it ended up being the perfect timing. It taught me powerful lessons I needed to be reminded of especially now that I pursue a new change in my life.

Last, I had to put my Indiegogo Campaign on hold but I just launched it again, so please support me so I can subsidize my stay in Kenya during my fellowship and continue to give back. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-fellowship-queen--2

Thank you to all of those who did know and supported me or pretended that I had nothing. You gave me the courage to get on this plane and be a Kiva Fellow.

- Virginia



About the author

Virginia Campo

A Colombian native and Panamanian resident, Virginia is a passionate social entrepreneur working on women’s empowerment in Latin America. Virginia holds a BA in International Relations and complimented her studies with Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship classes. Virginia's work experience ranges from non-profit work at the UN's WFP and FAO, banking at HSBC Panama, social enterprise work at Kalu Yala and international experience in the US through Atlas Corps based at 2 Degrees Food. Being a fellow for Kiva Zip Kenya will not only add a new geographic experience to Virginia but it'll give her the opportunity to execute her passions - economic empowerment and opportunity access through technology- in one platform!