28-year-old Atholl Mills is a Scottish influencer with over 164,000 followers on TikTok. He uses his social media platform to entertain and educate his followers about his condition, cystic hygroma, which has caused permanent paralysis on the left side of his face, known as facial palsy.

The condition develops in utero. Fluid-filled cysts caused by a malformation in the lymphatic system form in the head, neck, and other parts of the body, and can cause disfigurement as well as other problems.

Mills often uses humor to talk about his condition and the unique challenges he faces from it. In his words, he’s “trying to make a change for visible differences.”

We had an opportunity to chat with him about cystic hygroma, as well as his gym playlist, his plans for 2024, his favorite TV shows, and why he loves leg day best. Here’s what he had to say…

QUEERTY: First things first, what’s a fun piece of trivia most people don’t know about you?

MILLS: That I can leg press 300 kg/661 lbs. I may have no upper body strength but my leg strength is something I’m happy with! 

Wow! How long did it take you to be able to leg press that much weight?

Leg day is actually my favorite day of my fitness week! Mainly because I think that’s where most of my strength is. It didn’t happen overnight though, and I had to work for a while to build up to leg pressing 300kg/661 lbs. I started with what I could do and added on 40kg/88 lbs at a time and after about two months roughly, I got to my personal best.

For people who are unfamiliar, what is a cystic hygroma? And what is facial palsy? 

Cystic hygroma is a condition that affects the lymph nodes anywhere in your body. For me it affects my head, ear and neck on the left side of my body. Due to the debulking of the cysts, my facial nerve was severed and this resulted in me having facial palsy which is the permanent facial paralysis of the left side of my face.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced living with this condition?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced has to do with my confidence. I had absolutely zero confidence in myself in my late teen years to the point where I didn’t even leave my house for six months. It was so debilitating. Learning to love myself was one of the biggest challenges ever. 

Another challenge I’ve faced is people’s assumptions. I’m often judged before people actually know me, they automatically think I have learning difficulties, even though I’m just disfigured. 

What is something positive that has come out of living with this condition?

Definitely the people that I’ve met with similar conditions. They helped me to accept myself and see myself as normal which insanely helped with my confidence. Specifically my friend Katie Meehan who has the same condition as me, when I met her I was overwhelmed with how confident she was and it really showed me that I could get there too! 

What is something you would like gay men, in general, to know about people living with your condition?

We’re not much different from other people, we can be just as caring, just as loving, just as fun, and in some cases just as catty as other gay men. Judging a book by its cover rarely works out. 

What is the best way to get your attention on the apps?

I’d have to have them for a start! [Laughs] But just showing an interested in getting to know someone, or being funny is the way forward with me.

What TV show or movie are you currently obsessed with and why?

I recently re-watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer and honestly that show is one of a kind! I’m also a Marvel fan so I have been making my way through their animated show What If…? And I’m excited for the launch of Echo!

How about music. What song do you currently have on repeat on your gym playlist?

My most listened to song in my Spotify wrapped was “Padam” by Kylie Minogue, which I have still be listening to a lot! 

What big plans do you have for 2024?

I really want 2024 to be the year that I sort myself out career-wise! That is my plan! I’d also like to try and give dating a proper go! 

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