About 5 years ago -- right aroud the time I started menopause in earnest - I noticed some developing sagging around my neck and jowls. I upped the moisturizer, invested in botox and fillers, began wearing a lot more scarves, and started to do that thing that 50 year old women do -- stand in front of a mirror and pull their cheeks toward the ears. "Better," I would think. But I guess I wasn't, at least at that juncture, sufficiently distressed to do anything about it. But as the years rolled on, I began to start fixating on that part of my body. Everytime I looked in a mirror, that's immediately where my eyes would go. And I heavily edited photos to so that the neck and jowls were never obvious.
For the record, I actually don't mind getting older -- I had a big party to celebrate my 50th and I've always been sort of proud of my age and all I've accomplished. Badge of honor and all that stuff. But I do mind getting ugly and ugly was definitely what I was starting to see. Tired, droopy, and grandmotherly looking. Ugh! Getting dressed up ceased to be pleasurable and I felt self conscious...like I had spinach in my teeth.
One day, I'd had enough and I started to think about how I could repair it. I had a couple of consultations with doctors on the west coast where I live, but they all sort of scared me. Too much work, too much time away, and too invasive....It was more that I wanted to do. And frankly, more than I needed.
I started to peruse the RealSelf website and one day chanced upon Dr. Harley's work. What sold me - in addition to the minimally invasive approach and his excellent credentials - was the look of his patients before and after. The photos were honest and consistent and I thought that everyone he did looked just like themselves but much much better. I read the reviews over and over - trying to figure out if this was something that I could actually do. Finally, I did some rechecking with my value system, mustered up my courage, and phoned for a consultation. (By the way...I'm writing this review as a kind of love letter to all of you who wrote so thoroughly about your experience with the Biltmore Lift and to add my voice to those who are thinking about doing what I did -- I was very, very grateful for the website.)
Dr. Harley and I talked a few weeks later over the phone - I had sent some very unadorned photos so that he could see what he'd be working with. He answered my questions with what I felt was honesty and no attempt to "sell" me. As I recall, he thought I would like the results and thoughts I'd be able to achieve a pretty natural look.
I then sat on that call for several months - still stewing and worrying and talking with my closest confidants (I told exactly eight people) about whether I should do this or not. One of the things that worried me was whether people would know...could I hide the fact that I was having this surgery done? I wasn't sure and I spent hours and hours neurotically reading RealSelf reviews attempting to determine what the healing process would look like. Finally - one day - I caught a side glance of myself in the mirror and it was so discouraging that I picked up my phone and scheduled the appointment for approximtely two months out.
During that time, I did a fair amount of soul searching, knowing always that I could back out of it. But I was assessing the value of a face lift, I thought a lot about the furniture in my living room and the fact that I'd recently paid ALOT of money to have the upholstery updated. I questioned why I would pay to have sofa recovered, my hair dyed, my tables refinished, my wools reknit -- but not pay to have the skin on my neck lifted up? That logic, coupled with the fact that I was running out of things to wear that hid my neck, - helped me book my ticket to Asheville.
The week before, I bought a few things and I'll share with you what was helpful. I purchased a firm travel pillow (yes - for sleeping upright), a zipping cardigan (yes, so that the first couple of days you can slip in and out of something cozy), some dermablend (I ended up using bobbi brown but I'll tell you more about that later), baby shampoo (I never used it), laxatives (YES, YES, YES) , Arnica (I guess so...the data around it is kind of weak but in the spirit of leaving no stone unturned), and I had my hair dyed and cut. My hair is crazy thin and almost totally grey under the dye so I'd been growing it out over the past several months to cover scars. My hairdresser - a saint - had been working with me on this and was almost more excited for me to have this done than I was. He dyed my hair a few days before so that it was at it's best for the post surgery stage.
I flew on a red eye into greenville, rented a car, and drove to my hotel. I was scheduled to meet Dr. Harley in person that day at 3:30. There, I checked in and then went to the pool so that I could calm my nerves and think about all the questions I wanted to ask. I swam about an hour - back and forth, back and forth - still thinking that if I felt at all badly about this situation, I could always turn back.
I drove into Asheville to Dr. Harley's lovely office and met Juanita. For a west coast gal, this was a whole new adventure and I felt calmed by their southern accents and gentle ways. I waited in the consultaiton room for Dr. Harley and looked out the window. A woman, draped in scarves and bandages, was being escorted to a car not too far from where I was sitting. I thought again about the value of getting this done and whether I was setting feminism back 100 years by doing something so extreme to my body for the sake of beauty.
The door opened shortly after that and in walked Dr. Harley.
He's 40ish kind of guy with a sweet smile and a gentle voice. We talked and I asked about 50 questions that had been haunting me - all of which he answered thoughtfully and with no pressure. While I wouldn't say I felt exactly calmed afterwards, I was peaceful about the decision to push forward. Perhaps, even a little excited.
That afternoon, I picked up my mom from the airport and we went out for dinner in downtown Asheville and then back to the hotel where I OBSESSIVELY looked at photos on RealSelf to reassure myself that I was doing the right thing. I fell asleep - fitfully - and awoke at 4:30 to get ready to meet Dr. Harley at 6:15.
Once in the office, Dr. Harley called out from a back room and greeted us in the waiting room with a cocktail of drugs to take. He graciously answered all of my mom's questions while I felt myself relaxing in the chair next to her. Kelly, the nurse, came in and then they called me back to take some photos, empty my bladder, and hop onto what appeared to be a comfortable dentist chair. I was given a warm red blanket and Dr. Harley started drawing on my face and I fell asleep in the chair.
During the surgery, I woke up a couple of time. I wasn't anxious or scared - just curious about what he was doing. He would explain and then I would fall back asleep. Before i knew it, the surgery was over and I was the woman being escorted out to the car with a scarf and a huge headwrap.
That afternoon, I slept in my hotel room. I had some drugs to take and I actually needed them -- I could feel a tightness in my face and while it wasn't deep pain, I appreciated the dulling that the drugs provided. Believe it or not, I answered a couple of emails (i have no idea what I wrote), watched some old movies, and cat napped. About six, I had a baked potatoe and some soup and then slept for the rest of the night. I woke up twice, both time to get drugs, and then fell back asleep. It was really not that big of a deal.
The next day, I went back to Dr. Harley's where he took off the wraps. A relief. There I saw my new face for the first time. My neck was smooth - like i remembered it from years and years ago - and the jowls were gone. Sort of amazing actually. Dr. Harley answered a few questions and then we drove back to the hotel. I wasn't allowed yet to shower so I wore a baseball cap, watched some more television, ate a little bit more and started icing my face. I was to go back to Dr. Harley six days later to have the stiches removed.
The next morning I got up, took a shower, washed my hair (per directions) dried it, put on makeup and headed to the shopping mall. I carried an ice pack in my bag and just sort of walked around, pressing it to my face. It was hot and no one seemed to care. My energy was good and I shopped for a couple of hours, purchasing a straw hat. No one seemed to notice I had stiches in my face. I could feel my face swelling a bit as we walked around and I was ready to head back after a little while. By this time, I was no longer taking serious pain pills and had moved into tylenol. I took it that morning and then felt no need to take any other pain medication the rest of my recovery.
Asheville is a great town and we did lots of tourist things during those days - shopping, biltmore mansion, restaurants, etc. On sunday, we moved from the hotel to an apartment and there we could spread out and cook a bit for ourselves. I spent some time at the pool, did a lot of work on my computer, enjoyed some wonderful time with my mom, and continued to explore Asheville.
During that time, i took good care of my scars, cleaning them with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water and using bactine for several days. They never bled though there was some dried blood from the surgery that took several days to get clean. My hair covered most everything and the one under my chin was minimal. I did get some swelling (I see it now more in pictures than I did then) and I got some mild bruising - mainly yellowish. I am a bruiser by nature so it wasn't unexpected and I was pleased it was as mild as it was.
Getting the stitches out was a breeze - exactly ten minutes with a little tugging. I was instructed to continue with the hydrogen peroxide and to begin massaging them with scar gel. We had rented a car and were going to drive a bit through the south so I put the hydrogen mixture in a jar and swabbed my scars as we drove -- saving the gel for evenings.
By this time, I had begun to adjust to my new look though I was still self conscious when I talked with others closely. At about two weeks, the scars were still noticeable and I got a thin undereye brush and tried the dermablend. I then tried a hard stick of bobbi brown foundation and thought it did a better job of covering the scars. I would recommend it. Each morning, I would paint over them, then put on my regular makeup, and be on my way.
Through these two weeks I slept upright as best I could (pain in the ass) and watched the salt - though not obsessively. And I drank modestly in the evening with dinner. I would definitely swell at the end of a long day but i don't think it was dreadful...it just felt sort of tight. The scars were a little bit sore and there was definite numbness around the ears and and under the chin. I don't particurly mind it, but it feels different.
16 days later, I flew home. My husband met me at the airport and he stared and stared. He thought I looked like my old self. My daughter - age sixteen - told me she couldn't tell I'd had anything done. Whew -- two down. But more to go.
I saw my hairdresser at day 18 and he carefully dyed my roots and raved about the results. Of course, I pay him so he has to do that, but he has a keen eye and I think he was genuinely impressed.
But the real test was two days later when I returned to work. My first patient of the day (i'm a doc) was a very, very fashionable and observant 50 year old that I've been taking care of for years. I was a little bit off my game as I felt incredibly self conscious. But she didn't seem to notice a thing except to ask if I'd gotten a tan on my trip. Hmmm....was I really fooling everyone?
Slowly, I saw the eight people I'd told and they all said lovely things. I haven't told anyone else and while people aren't raving about my looks, I do get the occasional compliment like..."wow...you look really great."
But most importantly, the self consciouness is gone. I feel pretty again. Well...not all the time...but I guess i know I can get there if put some effort into it. I'm wearing alot more t -shirts and low necked sweaters and my neck is truly a thing of beauty.
It's now been six weeks - almost to the day - and I'm continuing to massage scars and still covering them though less so than I did. The one under my chin is the most obvious but you don't tend to notice it if I don't lift my head so I've stopped swigging coffee and standing over small children. The bruising is gone for sure and while I still have some mild swelling in the cheeks and temples, my face is defintely my own again. There is some tightness around the ears and under the chin that I'm assuming will continue to go away and I am still numb in those two areas but I really don't think too much about it.
At six weeks, it's starting to be a distant memory. I'm grateful for sure and best of all, I don't think about myself nearly as much. It's as though it's freed me to engage more with the world and to not worry as much about how I look. So in this way, I believe it was a very positive and healthy move for me. So my advice -- If you're not doing it because you're worried about the pain, take my word that it's really not that big of a deal. And if you're worried you won't like how you look, make sure your expectations are realistic and then take the plunge because you'll most likely be delighted. I can't really help you with your values - that's such a personal thing and different for each of us. But I can tell you that I feel no regret about what I've done. Just grateful.