Thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed for the website. Can you start by letting the readers know your name, age and where you’re based please ?
Certainly. I’m David M. Skipp, 43 from Sutton, Surrey, in the UK
Fab. Thanks David. Everyone interviewed on the site has some connection with facial disfigurement / visible difference. Can I first ask which term (if any) you tend to use and what connection you have?
I have what you call a hair lip, which means the lip and sometimes the palette, i.e. the roof of the mouth does not form correctly.
This may lead to complications with teeth formation, speech and hearing issues.
Ok thanks, am I right in assuming that this is quite a common issue in babies and that you would have had corrective surgery when you were young?
Yes, surprisingly in UK 1 in 700 children are born with either a hair lip or cleft palette or both. I had corrective surgery at 3months old and then again at 10 years old for the lip. Although I had over 17 corrective operations for teeth and hearing by the time I was 16 years old.
Wow, that is a lot of operations! How did that affect your childhood? Did you feel ‘different’ to your peers?
I felt VERY different and it was obvious that I looked different – very obvious. I was severely bullied. I also missed a lot of school due to going to hospital(s) for check-ups.
I don’t know if this was related to my birth defect, but my voice took an age to break, so as I got older I still had a squeaky voice, which drew attention to me. More attention! [Sigh.]
That sounds so hard and teenage years are hard at the best of times! Who or what helped you through those difficult experiences?
I had fantastic support from my parents and family. Also, the staff at the hospitals were tremendous. The NHS were magnificent at caring and putting me back together.
What did that mean for the development of friendship groups for you as you grew up?
That’s a very difficult question to answer easily. I’m taking myself back to those times now, something that is painful and I’m getting a little choked up, because it was hard – bloody hard.
Not being accepted is really, really, really tough when you are small and don’t really understand and people can be so cruel; they don’t understand why you look different. Looking back it seems that it was easier for people to laugh and point than be compassionate.
Compassion isn’t something we are taught when we are small, but pointing out difference seems to be.
That’s a really good point
I did have some friends, a small selection of lads, but when I changed to go to big school (secondary) only one of them came with me.
I used to play kiss chase around the playground when I was at first school. But none of the girls liked me because I looked so different, with my lip and crooked teeth. It was hard – really hard.
As a Mum, that’s so hard to read when we just want our children to be accepted. Was your experience in secondary school different?
Being bullied was the hardest part and that was most prevalent at middle school.
And looking back on that time now, which I know is painful, do you feel that it shaped you and if so, how?
I really enjoyed learning at school (I still love learning) but the bullying and all that came with it made life difficult. I used to have to sit at the front of the class to be able to hear the teacher. I was also lip reading because I couldn’t hear properly; a great skill that I’ve developed and still use.
Lessons I learnt from that experience are probably resilience (although I didn’t know it at the time) and to express my feelings. Whatever it was, I would always talk to mum and then, as I got older, to my sister.
I think that’s so important particularly now to be talking about our feelings and experiences of the world. I guess you need to be able to trust the people you are confiding in?
Yes absolutely, the words that are super powerful are; trust, communication and honesty. When you know that the listener is open and non-judgemental anything can be discussed.
Love that! I know that these are qualities that you now live by and are a key part of your work. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you do and who you help?
Certainly. I help and support those people who are affected by maxillofacial issues (birth defects). That can be someone with one themselves, their parents or caregivers. I use a range of techniques to listen, without judgement in a safe, confidential space. Giving people tools and techniques that I never had as a child. Access to those tools when I was small would have led to a much more enjoyable life.
Wow, as the parent of a child with a severe cranio-facial disfigurement I know this would have helped me at the start of my journey back when I was afraid to be honest about my feelings.
Absolutely, there is a plethora of feelings and thoughts that arise for a parent as a result of having a child with a cranio-facial disfigurement. This could be things such as; grief, judgement, blame, feeling its somehow their fault, not being able to cope, overwhelm, lack of support, not being understood, fear of others judgement, their own judgement….
Yep, I experienced all of those in abundance and it’s so hard for others who haven’t lived any aspect of that life to understand, even though they mean well. Do you find that your own experience makes the sharing process easier for your clients?
Absolutely. By being vulnerable with a client and sharing my story is a big part of building rapport and showing empathy. I think that when we surrender into our own stories and embrace who we are, we are sharing our truth. The thing that unites us all is our humanness.
I really love that. Where can people find you to find out more about what you do and how you can support them?
You can email me at DavidMSkipp@Yoursignpost.co.uk and find out more on my website
Fantastic. Finally, I always like to ask, if you could go back in time what advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say that if something resonates with you in life, explore it, even if that’s not considered ‘normal’ or expected.
I would also urge my younger self to listen to his gut feelings. This is where intuition lives and ‘knows’. I’ve NEVER made a bad decision when it has come from my gut.
Oh, I am a huge believer in this too. Thanks so much for your time David! Good luck with your amazing work.
If you enjoyed Davids interview please head to our interview section to read accounts from other fantastic individuals!