Joel's story: How being born with a 'half a face' couldn't shake a man's spirit

Joel Whitwell has faced challenges in his day-to-day life that not many others could comprehend.

Born with a cranial deficiency that left him with "half a face", the Myalup local underwent roughly 20 facial surgeries as a young child – including having one of his ribs taken out to be surgically attached to his face at the age of 10.

His condition left him with just one ear and one eye, but funnily enough, no worries.

I'm just trying to share my story with the world, in as many ways as I can,

Joel Whitwell

I first had the pleasure of telling Joel's story back in 2015.

Having grown up in the same town of Harvey (although some 16 years apart), we'd known each other for some time, but I'd never truly grasped the reality of his story until then.

He told me of his days at Harvey Senior High School, which he recalls as "extremely easy" being surrounded by friends, but also of some harsh encounters after stepping into adult life, including an exchange with a man at the local pub who told Joel he would "kill himself" if he looked like him.

He also spoke about his love for travel – a passion he has fueled with several trips around the globe – and his desire to share his inspirational story with as many people as he can reach.

When I last touched base with Joel, he had already tallied three trips overseas and was in the middle of writing an auto-biography.

Now, four years on, the 40-year-old is a further three world trips down and is looking to launch a career as a motivational speaker.

He has already shared his story at several schools and community groups throughout the South West, with his biggest speech yet coming in front of a 250-strong crowd for a Tedx Talks event at the Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre.

"Obviously I've had my challenges in life, many of which not many other people face, but I still consider myself one of the lucky ones for having so much support around me," Joel said.

"Some other people aren't so lucky, and they're the people I want to share my story with and maybe how I overcame my trials could help them overcome theirs."

Leaping the hurdles that come with confronting mental illness has been arguably the biggest of Joel's "trials."

Having battled depression and anxiety – particularly after the passing of his best mate Paul Jones in October, 2003 – his speeches can often zero in on dealing with mental health issues.

"I find that mental health is probably the biggest thing for me," he said.

"Like I said, high school was very easy for me, but stepping into adult life I've had to do my soul searching every now and then.

"But my darkest hours have always preceded some of the best times of my life, so you just have to keep on pushing through."

Joel's auto-biography is also on track to be finalised after he secured an editor in 2018, and while he aspires to produce a best-seller, his aim is simple.

"I'm just trying to share my story with the world, in as many ways as I can," he said.

"If only one person buys that book, and it helps them while they're struggling, then it will all have been worth it."

Whether Joel's book is a best-seller or not is irrelevant, but if it has the same reach as his infectious positive attitude and inspirational life story, then selling copies really shouldn't be a problem.