Pam Moore will never forget the moment she realized she couldn’t move her face — it was exactly 10 days after giving birth to her second child in 2014.
“It was the first time that I felt like wearing something other than my pajamas,” Moore, 38, tells PEOPLE. “I was in the bathroom and I put on lip gloss, but when I tried to press my lips together, I couldn’t do it.
“I thought to myself, that’s weird. My face isn’t working.”
Moore, a running coach and freelance writer, was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, sudden facial paralysis resulting from damage or trauma to the facial nerves. For most people, the condition is temporary.
“I was relieved it wasn’t a stroke or brain tumor,” she says. “And I knew I should have been happy because of that, but instead I was sour grapes because my face was messed up and I felt depressed for not being grateful that it was just Bell’s palsy.”
The condition, which Jolie says made a full recovery from after acupuncture, caused one side of her face to droop as a result of damage to facial nerves. “Sometimes women in families put themselves last,” Jolie said. “Until it manifests itself in their own health.”
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bell’s palsy occurs when the nerve that controls the facial muscles becomes inflamed, resulting in facial weakness. But the cause of the damage is unknown.
Moore developed temporary paralysis on the right side of her face a little over a week after she delivered her second child Lucy, now 3, on June 1, 2014.
She couldn’t blink her eye normally, press her lips together (which caused problems with drinking from a cup) or even form the letter “P” when saying her name. She couldn’t whistle and smiling was a struggle.
“I was nervous the baby would notice and imitate me and then her smile would become lopsided just like mine,” says Moore, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband, Dan, and their kids Lucy and Charlotte, 5. “I was sad, really sad, and I worried about the effects on her.
Moore says in the months after her diagnosis she took vitamins and underwent weekly acupuncture sessions to help with the condition.
And the whole time, she felt “ugly.”
“It was so obvious and, objectively, I was ugly,” she says. “I felt ugly and it affected my self esteem and I felt like the world saw a version of me that was not me.
“And that stopped me from smiling.”
She wrote: “If I weren’t so vain, I would have been kissing my baby in the folds of her fat, luscious thighs. Instead, I was crying with my face in a pillow on my bed, while my two-year-old danced stuffed animals in front of the baby’s face as they lay together on a blanket in the living room. If I weren’t so self-absorbed, I would have spent quality time with my toddler during the baby’s naps, instead of letting her play alone while I obsessively researched Bell’s Palsy.”
Six months after her diagnosis, Moore was almost 100 percent healed. But she was soon hit with shocking news.
The Bell’s palsy was back.
“This time my face symmetry got better very quickly, but my eye squintiness [sic] got worse,” she explains. “It was difficult because I had to admit that I am really concerned with my appearance and that beauty wasn’t just on the inside to me.
“You shouldn’t judge a person by their face, but at the same time I couldn’t really feel beautiful for a long time and I would obsessively smile at myself in the mirror — and I didn’t like what I saw. ”
Moore decided against botox or steroid treatments, instead opting for more natural healing methods like acupuncture.
Now almost three years since her first diagnosis, she says her face is 90 percent back to normal.
And the “silver lining” of her journey?
“Learning who in my life really knows how to make me smile,” she says. “I was so self conscious and reluctant to smile around people because of the way my face looked, so I only laughed when I thought something was really funny. My husband and sister were the best.”
The mother of two says she has finally made peace with her paralysis.
“This is who I am,” she says. “This is what my face looks like and I’m okay with it.”
She hopes that by sharing her story she can help others struggling with Bell’s palsy.
“If you have it, be more forgiving of yourself,” she says. “And if you know someone that has it, don’t be afraid to ask how they are doing.
“We want to know you care.”