Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone to Find My 'Tribe'


Who is your tribe? What group can you identify and connect with in a unique way?

We all want to belong. We seek people with whom we have things in common. But sometimes, finding your tribe pushes you outside of your comfort zone.

Normally, I am not shy about trying new things and meeting new people, but when it came to attending AboutFace’s Camp Trailblazers near Vancouver, BC in May 2015, I was nervous. For the first time in my life, I would be part of an assembly of people most of whom had one thing in common: facial difference.

Camp Trailblazers is a family camp organized by AboutFace, a non-profit organization based in Canada that provides support and community for people with facial differences across the U.S. and Canada. The camp is designed around youth and their families, so not only do young people with facial differences attend, but parents and siblings as well. Even though the focus is on youth, because there is nothing else like it in the region, a number of adults with facial differences opt to attend as well.

Attending this event was forcing me outside of my comfort zone, and that was, well, uncomfortable.

I had reservations about going. But why? I’ve had partial facial paralysis all my life, due to a removal of a tumor shortly after birth. One might think I’d be delighted to meet others who share not only what I’ve been through, but also what I live with on a daily basis.

It’s not that I’m afraid to meet other people with facial differences. I’ve driven miles, even hours, out of my way during vacation trips to meet up with individuals I’d developed connections with online, but usually only one or two at a time. There was something daunting about meeting an entire group all at once.

The author with her friends Pauline and David

I’ve been known to drive miles, and hours, to meet in person people I’ve become acquainted with online, such as Pauline and David.

When it came right down to it, I was afraid of losing my uniqueness. For most of my life, I didn’t have opportunities to  interact with other people that have facial differences. Because I have a degree of confidence and acceptance regarding my appearance, I am comfortable with the fact that my face helps me to stand out. I like to be unique and don’t mind being recognizable. In fact, I use it to my advantage when I can. It wasn’t until I became active on social media that I discovered how many others with facial differences are out there. In a whole group of people with nonstandard visages, however, I feared that one aspect of my uniqueness would be taken away.

I was also concerned that I would experience role-reversal. Instead of having people stare at me, I’d be trying hard not to stare at everyone else!

What solidified my decision to attend was that there were two people attending whom I knew and considered friends. Secondly, because the camp was focused around young people, it was an opportunity for me to join other adult attendees in demonstrating that someone with a significant facial difference can still live an interesting, productive, and happy life.

Upon arrival, I initially stuck with the people I knew. But once we all started to interact, I felt increasingly like I was coming home. An incredible sense of community was created, and instead of being among strangers, I began to feel like I had found my tribe. There really is no replacement for people who have shared similar experiences — the hospital stays, the way we are looked at and treated by others, and our relationship challenges to name a few.

Stepping out of my comfort zone wasn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it turned out very well. By the end of the weekend, I had partaken in some wonderful and insightful conversations, fun activities, and most importantly, I’d made new friends.

I also knew I would never feel awkward going to a similar event in the future, even if I didn’t know anyone else there.

Who is your tribe? If you haven’t already, don’t be afraid to go find them. The rewards, and sense of community, are worth the effort.

Follow this journey on Facing Up to It.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Facial Paralysis

Dawn Shaw giving a TEDx talk.

The Importance of Being Seen and Heard When You Look Different

I feel very lucky. From a very young age, my parents took me out into the world. We traveled, going to national parks, theme parks, restaurants… all kinds of public places. This gave me a familiarity with what it’s like to have a facial difference in public and instilled a sense of confidence. I learned [...]
With the penguins at Boulder Beach.

To Anyone Afraid of Traveling With a Facial Difference

In my experience, traveling with a facial difference isn’t much different from traveling without one. I enjoy traveling. In fact, my husband Ian and I recently returned from an epic trip to South Africa. Good thing I am not afraid to show this face to the world. Petting an elephant. However, I understand that some [...]
dawn and her horse

Please Don't Describe My Face as 'Disfigured' or 'Deformed'

Would you rather be described as having “a disfigurement” or “a difference”? A couple of years ago, a wonderful organization in the U.K. called Changing Faces asked its Facebook followers if using the term “disfigurement” might discourage people from asking for needed help. The responses were varied, and it is not my intent to disparage Changing Faces, as they [...]
Three girls chatting with their smartphones at the campus

When a Snapchat Filter Mimicked My Medical Condition

This week Snapchat came out with a bunch of new morphing filters, one of which gives the impression of one-sided facial paralysis — a head-desk moment for those of us who actually have facial paralysis. Besides the more obvious question to me of why it’s entertaining to send morphed photos of yourself to friends, it [...]