A woman is looking in 3 different phones as if it was a vanity mirror. Her eyes are wide in the middle.

The Stranger in the Mirror

I look in the mirror and do not recognize the person staring back at me. She is not me. She is not who I imagine I am. Her eyes are too wide. Her stare is too long. She has no upper eyelids. Her eyes have eaten them without permission. She is an alien. A stranger to who I thought I knew myself to be.

Who was the stranger in the mirror?

I thought this way for years. I became a stranger to my own reflection. I either avoided mirrors or obsessed over every detail that had changed about my eyes for far too long. I lived in denial. I still imagined myself to be the person I always imagined myself to be. Normal eyes. Normal stare.

It’s the oddest feeling, not recognizing the person looking back at you when you look in the mirror. I will look back at photos from when my thyroid eye disease (TED) was really bad and feel disassociated from that person. It’s like looking back at younger versions of yourself and not having any connection to who you are now.

Thyroid eye disease symptoms changed my reflection

My upper eyelids sat as far away from my eyes as they possibly could. I imagine them being scrunched in between my eyes and socket like a well-folded origami creation. The creases of my eyelids are forever scarred by the way they were pulled back for so long. Three lines on each lid marking the way were while my eyes constantly shifted due to the swelling around them.

When I would obsess over my reflection, I would take photos from every angle I possibly could. I was obsessing over the differences because they were so striking to me. But I was also trying to find some part of myself I did recognize. I never could, though I kept trying. I probably took hundreds of photos of my face over those few years I was in the thick of this disease. I have since deleted most of them. I didn’t want a record of that difficult time in my memories on my phone.

There’s this photo of me with my grandfather on vacation. I’m kneeling down next to his wheelchair, posing for the camera. I’ll never forget looking at that photo and thinking, I am a cartoon character. My eyes were extremely bulgy and much bigger than I was used to seeing. I was so uncomfortable from the swelling. I haven’t looked at that photo since but that thought is forever ingrained in my brain from that time in my life.

I spent a lot of time disassociating in order to survive the difficult time I experienced. It was a heavy time in my life. Everything was awful. I would pass mirrors and look for a moment, only to walk away feeling sad for the reflection in the mirror. She is really going through it.

Recognizing myself again

Looking back at my TED journey, I recognize I did what I needed to get to the other side of it. Now being on the other side, I do recognize myself in mirrors again. I do not look the same as I did before being diagnosed with thyroid eye disease but it’s closer to what I once knew. One eyelid is still up higher and one is a little low to my liking. My cheekbones are wider due to the swelling that once sat around my eyes. But I see myself again. I’ve been through a lot and that’s apparent in my reflection. But I am also proud of the person staring back at me. I give her kudos for making it through those challenging years.

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