‘I’d kill myself if I looked like you.’ Everywhere I went, I was the center of attention. I accepted that dying wouldn’t be such a bad thing.’: Man with venous malformation birthmark finds ‘happiness and confidence’

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Trigger Warning: This story mentions details of suicidal thoughts and bullying which may be upsetting to some. 

“Shortly after I was born, my parents noticed my upper lip was a little bigger than my lower lip.

Courtesy of Rory McGuire

After being assessed by a doctor, I was diagnosed with a venous malformation birthmark. This is a type of vascular birthmark consisting of abnormally formed veins, which can occur anywhere on the body. Mine just so happens to be on my upper lip and right cheek.

Because of the nature of the birthmark, mine grew with me until I stopped growing at the end of puberty. Over time, the swelling and discoloration got more and more noticeable as I transitioned from child to teenager.

Courtesy of Rory McGuire

Most of my birthmark was removed surgically when I was around 4 years old, but due to the nature of the way the birthmark grows, it came back. My parents were told that I shouldn’t have any further surgery until I was a little bit older – and I didn’t have any further treatment on it until I was 17 years old.

Growing up, I experienced a lot of bullying, name calling, prejudice, and negative feelings about myself and about life. For many years, I had a very low self-esteem. I struggled with how I viewed my own appearance and I didn’t know where my life was heading and if I was ever going to be happy.

On my first day of primary school, I remember some of the other children pointing me out to their parents and asking them, ‘What’s wrong with his face?’ It was the first time I realized I looked noticeably ‘different’.

I have always remembered the way I felt when everyone was looking at me that day – a feeling which I grew to become very familiar with as I got older. A feeling that never got any easier or more comfortable to experience. I felt like every pair of eyes in the room was staring. I have felt the exact same way in countless other situations in public places as I anxiously battled my way through my childhood and teenage years.

I’ll always remember the unkind words.

‘I’d kill myself if I looked like you.’

‘Which planet are you from?’

‘Sausage face.’

Courtesy of Rory McGuire

When I was 11, it was time for me to go to secondary school which I was excited but also very nervous about. I was leaving behind everyone who I went to primary school with, the ones who were already used to the way my face looked. Instead, I would be going to a school with a lot more people and where I knew very few of them.

On my first day, there was an assembly for everyone in the new school year to attend, and similarly to my first day of primary school, a lot of the other kids were pointing me out, whispering amongst each other while looking at me, laughing at me, and asking each other questions about me.

My birthmark and I were the center of attention again and I hated it.

Throughout secondary school, I made a lot of friends. But in the background my confidence was constantly taking a hit. Although I always did put on a brave face to my friends and family, I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t confident, and I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin – which only worsened as my birthmark grew bigger and bigger.

All throughout my teenage years, I would try to avoid any situation which involved interacting with people I didn’t know. Places like supermarkets and the dentist’s waiting room would make me incredibly nervous. I even declined to go to family events being held in public places and nights out with friends because I just couldn’t bring myself to face the world due to the fear of being stared at, laughed at, or pointed at again. Each time it happened, it killed my happiness and confidence a little bit more.

Courtesy of Rory McGuire

By the time I was 17, my birthmark had grown to its full extent. So, I decided to explore treatment options, hoping my birthmark would be reduced in size. I wanted to feel less self-conscious and more confident. But I was told that my birthmark had grown too large a size for them to safely surgically remove it. Alternatively, I started to have sclerotherapy procedures performed on me. It involved the injection of ‘sclerosant’ which is toxic to the abnormally formed veins in the birthmark and works to kill them off, ultimately reducing the birthmark in size.

Before my first sclerotherapy procedure, I felt so low. I went into it thinking that if everything went well then so be it. But if I had died due to complications of the procedure then all of the prejudice and tough situations I was facing would be over. At the time, I accepted that dying wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

I had around 10 sclerotherapy procedures done under general anaesthetic from the ages of 17 to 20. It reduced the birthmark in size a very gradual amount, and it was not a small enough size where surgical removal was an option. I was still very self-conscious, unhappy, and shy.

On the morning of my 21st birthday, I cried for around two hours while opening up to my parents about how low I felt, how I was struggling to handle the fact that I had reached such a milestone age and still felt extremely unhappy, confused, and frustrated with my life. It was a very upsetting day for my parents and I, and I really struggled to get my head around where my life was heading.

From the ages of 21 to 22, I had some more sclerotherapy treatment done. It is around this time of my life that a huge turning point happened for the better.

In February 2016, a few months before my 15th sclerotherapy procedure, I decided that enough was enough and that I could help not only other people but also myself by documenting my experiences online. I put a post on Facebook which detailed some of the tough situations I had to endure due to my birthmark, which also contained a picture collage showing me at different ages and the birthmark at different sizes and stages of development. The post quickly got shared worldwide and I started to get inundated with messages from strangers from all over the world telling me to keep going and that reading my post had helped them.

It felt like a massive weight had been lifted and I finally had a little bit of confidence. Shortly after, newspapers started to write articles about me and I was interviewed live on a Scottish television chat show, which was a huge deal for me. I had gone from not wanting to talk to people about my birthmark and how it made me feel to all of a sudden documenting my experiences on social media and being interviewed on television! It felt amazing.

In June 2016, I had another sclerotherapy procedure. Shortly afterwards, in September 2016, I was assessed by a team of consultants who agreed that my birthmark had been reduced to a small enough size that surgical removal was possible – it was the news that I had been waiting to hear for many years and I was absolutely ecstatic.

On the 10th of November, 2016, I had a big operation to remove a large part of my birthmark. I didn’t know what to expect going into it because I had previously been let down by the results of many sclerotherapy procedures and when I woke up after it I couldn’t really move my mouth. My face felt very uncomfortable but I really hoped that it would all be worth it. I was in hospital for about 5 days after the procedure and then a long recovery period started for me at home. I struggled to eat and speak for a few weeks before things started to settle down.

Courtesy of Rory McGuire

I watched my face change on a daily basis and the more I recovered from the procedure the more things took shape. I could see that the operation had worked very well, and by the time that I had fully recovered, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. The large, overhanging mass once on my face was now gone (for the most part) and the remaining scars I have serve as reminders to myself of everything I have been through to get to the happy, confident, and ambitious place I am in now.

Courtesy of Mark Archibald Photography

Documenting my experiences and telling my story has changed my life for the better, and having most of my birthmark removed gave me a further boost in confidence to do a lot of different things to tell my story. To spread the message that nobody should ever be subjected to prejudice or abuse based on what they look like, what their race is, what their sexuality is, what their background is, or anything else that is out of someone’s control.

I am a now a campaigner for a charity called Changing Faces and an ambassador of a charity called Youmanity. I have been interviewed on many different television, radio, and online shows and have been in newspapers, magazines, and online articles across the world. I have done catwalk fashion modeling. I am the main character in an upcoming short film called ‘I Am Beauty’ which will be released soon.

Courtesy of Alun Callender Photography
Courtesy of Sophie Mayanne Photography

These are just some of the things that I have done in the last two years. All things that just a few years ago, I would never have thought I would have the confidence to do. I have a lot more planned to raise awareness on the subject of prejudice and why nobody should ever judge a book by its cover.

As hard as it was to endure some of the things I had to while growing up with a facial birthmark, I have managed to come through the other side of it. Those hard experiences helped me to become a very understanding, empathetic, and non-judgemental person.

I have finally found happiness and confidence and I am determined to help as many people as I can to get through whatever they may be facing. So that they too can find happiness and confidence and achieve whatever they want to achieve.

Whatever you’re going through and however low you may feel, things can and will get better. Please never give up.”

Courtesy of Rory McGuire

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rory McGuire. You can follow his journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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