Poker Face

I’ve acquired all these useless talents since having MND/ALS. I can sit in the same position and not move for an entire day. I can talk without moving my lips. I can turn on the TV with my eyes. And I have a poker face any gambler would give their right arm for!

When I first learnt I had a muscle-wasting disease, I focused my frantic worries on the muscles within my limbs. Nearly five years down the road, my worries are centered around losing muscles so critical and vital, they are literally holding me together.

Most of my voluntary muscles that I control, have withered away by now and weirdly I’ve become used to their inert state. Every now and again an involuntary muscle which I have no control over, surprises me and makes my arm or leg move, usually because of a twitch. I enjoy the sensation and admire their commitment for still hanging in there and doing their bit. My MND mustn’t think they’re worthy of its attention or maybe the monster underestimated their importance, just like I had.

The monster is currently focused on the destruction of my face and neck muscles. Without support, my head feels heavy as I try to balance it and when I’m tired it acts like a dashboard figurine on a bumpy road.

The muscles on my face are a trickier problem. There’s no way to support them, they just hang, looking sad and tired. They no longer reflect my true feelings on command. Interestingly enough, the involuntary muscles allow me a few reactionary expressions. Happy and sad are the main two. Then I’ve my ‘sucking lemons face’ when I eat something I don’t like and my ‘wtf?!’ face when someone does something I don’t want or like. Unfortunately my husband, mother and carers witness this one occasionally – sorry guys. Then there’s my bold face when I’m trying to make a smart comment or tell a joke; I sport a goofy grin and can’t stop chuckling to myself as I type it up on my Eye Gaze.

All these expressions are controlled by involuntary muscles, they reflect what I’m feeling at that particular time. They’re flash reactions as I can’t maintain them for long so I like to think of them as ‘real’ reactions; from the heart and not from the head. If I’m happy or sad, I can generally hold those a little longer. For photos, I need a jester behind the camera to help me hold a smile. But if I’m in a ‘meh’ mood then my poker face is what you’ll see, it’s the default expression; blank, motionless and expressionless.

Without facial expressions people are impossible to interpret. During a conversation with me, it’s easy to misread my blank face as disinterested. Non-verbal cues like nodding yes and no are beyond my capabilities too. And if I start typing a reaction on my Eye Gaze, it appears I’m not listening so the conversation pauses… it can be very confusing as the conversation stops and starts. Unless you’re used to chatting with me regularly it’s hard-going. I like to give visitors advance notice of my poker face, removing any confusion from the get-go.

An unexpected fringe benefit of having lifeless muscles on my face; the wrinkles aren’t so obvious, MND is doing the same job as Botox! Who’d have thought there was a silver lining wrapped up in this one 😉

Sharon x

For Margaret F, who always wore a kind and beautiful smile.

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Author: Sharon Friel

In 2012 at the age of 38, I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease/ALS. A death sentence with an expected term of 1,000 days; I've since bypassed my expiry date. Although paralyzed from the shoulders down and voiceless, I am still here, still living my life. Wife, mother, daughter and sister; family is what makes this all bearable. Before MND hijacked my life, I was CEO/Manager of a Credit Union and loved exploring the outdoors - cycling, walking and kayaking.

19 thoughts on “Poker Face”

  1. I love reading your blog I find you to be one amazing, strong willed woman. You help me stay connected to my Dad who had MND. I think of you often, keep fighting

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sharon every day I see and hear that beautiful wonderful fun loving daughter of mine. Even that nasty MND cannot subdue your wicked fun that we all enjoy.. Xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello from across the pond! I try to imagine the patience needed just to write the blog, Sharon. I’ve never seen an eye reader being used, so will have to google up a video. You write beautifully. It’s easy to imagine your work being published and distributed more widely. Have you been approached for that?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. wow- just read this via a post from Lisa-Jane. You are truly inspiring . You brought tears to my eyes and put things into perspective. Keep going … we need people like you .

    Liked by 1 person

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