Theatres are tentatively opening up. Albeit with smaller capacities and restrictions in place. Hopefully, the fears of being locked down are in the rearview mirror and cancellations, if there are any are now, are due to things that we are used to in the UK, such as rainy weather preventing outside performances. And maybe the occasional Covid ping disaster on the NHS app. But unfortunately, I am still in a non-performing lockdown.
Why am I not performing?
I was looking forward to getting back to acting work. I was excited to get a booking for a Murder Mystery in Norfolk. But real life was becoming drama.
I had an appointment to see my dentist at the beginning of July because my dental implant was moving and it also felt as if my front teeth were being pushed together by the implant movement.
My dentist gave me an x-ray and explained to me that everything was fine. That it was normal for an implant carrying two teeth to move. I have had my implants for, it must be about fifteen years now. I have never known my implants to move and I had never noticed my front teeth being pushed toward each other, until last year. But last year my dentist appointment was cancelled because of Covid-19, so I’d had to wait until lockdown was over until I could get in to see a dentist.
I have had severe dental problems almost all of my life. Because of a gene that either did or didn’t express in the way that it should, my teens, twenties and thirties were harrowing. The bones in my jaw were shrunken. My teeth did not grow properly, some not at all.
In my early teens, a brutal surgeon at the community hospital decided to remove almost all my remaining baby teeth when I was just fourteen years old. As I did not have any teeth growing to replace these, he left me a disfigured teenager. That day left a lifelong wave of repercussions that would suffocate my life and leave me a shell of what I might have been.
I looked as if I had been hit in the face with a bat. My jawbones, which he had left virtually empty, atrophied. I was the epitome of societal ugliness. The toothless hag. Unsmiling. Likely to live in a gingerbread house and eat your children.
I went back to that same hospital once, hoping that they would fix what they had done to me. They wouldn’t. I spent that afternoon with the Samaritans, after wandering my city in tears and wanting to just step in front of a bus. But, I had a child, and I was a coward.
Smile, it Might Never Happen
I spent many years, from my teens to my thirties not being able to smile. Being told by passing strangers to, “Cheer up!”, “Smile, it might never happen”. They had no idea it already had. They didn’t know that I had been told that I might have been even passably attractive if my face did not look the way it did. They did not know that I had often considered taking my own life. That I had tried.
Very few, if any, photographs of me exist during those decades unless they were taken when I was unaware. I would never have dreamed about stepping in front of a camera then, let alone onto a stage. I was in lockdown, decades before lockdown existed. My self-image and my confidence were non-existent. My mental health was in tatters.
I am finding this difficult to describe because the time before I was mended feels as if it was a nightmare that I could not wake up from. My pre-treatment life does not feel like my life. I was not living. I merely existed from one day to the next.
When I got the courage to ask my doctor for help, he told me that even if they fixed me, it was likely that I would not be happy. That there were studies that had found that people who had cosmetic surgery to fix their noses often were no happier following their surgery. That their depression was internal. Part of who they were. The ignorance and arrogance of someone who did not have to live in the blackness.
I did not covert a new face, an improved face. A vain face. I just wanted, and needed, to be normal. I just wanted the face that I should have had.
I saw many dental surgeons over the years, moving from surgery to surgery, signing up to one new dentist after another, hoping that someone somewhere could help me. I even travelled to London to speak to an implant surgeon on Harley Street. I was given quotes for treatment that I could never afford. I wrote to agony aunts in magazines. I wrote to dental training departments in University Hospitals, but without a “dentist’s referral,’ I was turned away. One dentist in Norwich even suggested that I should ‘Marry a millionnaire’. That was one particularly low point when I thought that all hope of my ever being ‘normal’ was gone.
It took attempts on my own life, breakdowns, turning up to my doctor’s surgery drunk and in tears, begging desperately for a second opinion, and months of therapy before finally, in my thirties, I was referred to a real dental surgeon, who fixed me and saved my life.
Osseointegration – Reborn
I spent many months undergoing gradual osseointegration surgery, building me up to look almost normal. Until I felt I was almost reborn. My face was in such a mess initially, that I had to have major surgery to cut bone from my hip to embed it into my face and rebuild my jaw before any implants even could be drilled into place.
I had black eyes from the drilling and surgery. I was walking on crutches for a while as my scars healed. The external scars healed relatively quickly. The internal scars took longer. But the stares, the constant pain and alternating between pain killers were all worth it. It is a bit of a cliche that life begins at forty. But for me, it really did. My teeth would never be perfect. There were still big gaps in the side, but I could eat properly at last and it was the first decade I had entered, since childhood, where I could finally walk into a room, actually smile and feel relatively normal.
I remember walking down the corridor of the hospital, limping still, with the confidence of someone who is finally coming alive. A woman walked passed me, holding the hand of a little girl, who was probably no older than five. The little girl turned to the woman and said “Look, mummy! That lady is so pretty”. I had bright pink hair, bright purple trousers with ribbons that swayed as I strode down the corridor in boots that made me inches taller than I was. I wish I could have swept that little girl up into my arms and hugged her. My doctor had been so wrong. I was incredibly, joyously happy. For the first time in a long time.
Falling Backwards and Cancelling Work
When I went to see my dentist in July and he dismissed my concerns about my moving implant, I was sunk. I was back to where I had been pre-surgery. When I constantly heard, over the decades… there is nothing we can do…That treatment isn’t available – when I knew that it was.
I had come such a long way and now I am feeling as if I have had my fifteen years of life. I feel like I am teetering on the edge. At risk of falling backwards into the blackness. I had to cancel my Murder Mystery work to attend the hospital. My appointment was on the same day I was due to be back performing.
Once again I find myself returning to the hospital because I don’t feel that I can trust dentists. The implant is progressively getting worse. It is now so loose, it feels as if it might drop out at any moment. It is difficult to clean my teeth because the implant flaps about when I brush. Every night I fear that it might come out whilst I am asleep and choke me.
As the implant is at the front of my mouth and highly visible, I can not risk booking any acting work that requires me to be mask-less in case the implant falls out. Much acting work requires investing weeks of time in preparing for a role, learning lines, rehearsals, being fitted for costuming, photographs for marketing etc.
With my implant at risk of dropping out and having pushed my existing teeth inwards, I am a liability rather than an asset. I could take a role, be ready to perform, only for my implant to drop out completely, making it impossible for me to work in any capacity and letting the entire production team down and ruining the show. And if I cannot get the implant put back in, I will be housebound again. A non-smiling non-entity.
I could just cry. I was looking forward to returning to work. I have seen multiple opportunities that I could have worked on from Murder Mysteries, promenade theatre, short films, background work and Halloween shows, but, my hands are tied. Or rather my mouth is sealed. I have done all that is within my power to do.
I managed to get in a consultation with a surgeon at the hospital and they are going to arrange for me to go back on another day. In the meantime, they are going to obtain the recent x-rays from my dentist, before dismantling my implant to find out what the problem is. I am just waiting for an appointment. I am desperate, but there is nothing more I can do.
All I can do now is wait for my next appointment and hope. The NHS is buckling under years of neglect under this government and now there is a huge waiting list for health services because of the pandemic too. I am trying to distract my anxiety, throwing myself into my playwriting instead. It is heartbreaking, knowing that I could be working already, but am being prevented by something that might be as simple as tightening a screw and applying a brace or aligner to straighten. At least in these times, if my implant does fall out, I can self-isolate or hide behind a mask if I have to go out.
I did not mean to ramble. This was initially meant to be just a short update on why I am not back acting when things are opening up and why I had to pull out of my Murder Mystery event.
I’ve been juggling freelance editing work, working for the council, helping with Covid testing, doing roleplay work and writing. But, acting is my life. Everything has been on hold, but I thought that when the lockdown was lifted I could get back to work. But I am bereft, heartbroken and scared that my 15 years of real-life are already over and that my return to the blackest of lockdowns might be just beginning.
UPDATE: As of 31 Aug 2021: Implant came out this evening during dinner. Numb. Thankfully I can hide behind a mask in my current survival job and medical roleplay work. Other than that I am now pretty much isolated and locked down for the foreseeable future.