Cleft Lip and Palate Awareness Week: A Letter to My Younger Self

To mark Cleft Lip and Palate Awareness Week (7-15 May 2022), Christian pens a letter to his younger self on his facial difference journey and gives his 15-year-old self words of encouragement.

Smile Train UK supporter Christian Hadjipateras

Smile Train UK supporter, Christian Hadjipateras (@Christian.h.84 on Instagram ) was born in London with a cleft and other complex craniofacial anomalies. To mark Cleft Lip and Palate Awareness Week (7-15 May 2022), Christian has penned a letter to his younger self on his facial difference journey and has given his 15-year-old self some words of encouragement.

Christian Hadjipateras as a toddler
Christian as a toddler

Dear 15-Year-Old Christian,

If I could turn back time, I’d send this letter back to 1999 to a 15-year-old. That year, as well as the ones on either side of it, are still very much etched in my mind as perhaps the hardest of my life.

Christian Hadjipateras in a swing as a toddler
Christian as a toddler in a swing

Would my life, particularly my teenage years and early twenties, have been different if I knew then what I know now? That’s a thought many of us undoubtedly have, and in my case, the answer is emphatically yes. Perhaps this letter is more of a wish list:

  • If you’re feeling down for whatever reason, open up. Share how you feel to those closest to you. Don’t push them away. Don’t ever feel ashamed. Even if my family or friends might not have necessarily understood the more complex emotional experiences I was going through, it still would have been a help to me to share them. This is a piece of advice I cannot emphasise enough.
  • I wish back then that I’d had the wisdom to know that even though I felt I was missing out on many life experiences, I would eventually live them as I had dreamed — and sometimes more.
  • Be less impulsive… because I felt I had lost out on my teenage years, I spent my early twenties with a sense of playing catch up — because life is short! — that led to me making the occasional irrational and impulsive decision. Don’t run before you can walk. Take your time and with belief in yourself — with hard work, you can achieve all your aims and objectives if you put your mind to it.
  • There were, of course, many moments while I was growing up when it seemed like the surgeries would never stop and I always used to dream of that ‘last major one’, which finally came when I was 21. I always thought that once that one was over that all the pieces would fall into place, but although the improvement in my appearance had been amazing, I was suddenly left with the realisation that I had a lot of work to do within myself to feel truly content. In a way, that proved to be an entirely different journey altogether. It was only when I got to my mid-to-late twenties that I felt content.
Christian Hadjipateras today
Christian with his wife, Steph

So, my advice to anyone who might be going through one or multiple surgeries would be to remember the importance of trying your best to keep the ‘parallel’ life going — life out of the hospital so to speak — and to give yourself time physically as well as emotionally after each surgery.

Christian Hadjipateras today
Christian today

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, do not create an illusion that it’s only about appearances. It’s not. It’s equally important to be able to look in the mirror and be able to smile in the knowledge that you are happy with yourself both inside and out.

Take care of yourself,


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