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I Am Not This Body: Living With Bell’s Palsy

My father passed away at 85, 11 years ago this past week, and his passing did not go well. 

He had dementia and a lot of physical issues in his last years. So it wasn’t the prettiest thing.

 And I had a rocky relationship with my dad; I would say with both of my parents. Maybe not a rocky relationship, as much as not much of a relationship. 

So he passed away 11 years ago and a few months later I was at a Met’s game in New York. 

I live in Cleveland now but then I was still living in Brooklyn and waiting on line at a Met’s game, I got this crazy pain in the top of my head.

And at first I thought I was getting a sunburn. So I asked a friend I was with, “Is the sun really hot today?”

 He was like, “You’re crazy. It’s the spring”. 

So I said “It’s just weird. My head hurts. Like a stabbing crazy pain”. 

And then I felt like my hair was on fire.

Literally a feeling that your hair is on fire and I’ll never forget that. 

I went home that day and I Googled ice pick headaches and hair on fire. What came up was Bell’s palsy. Which was a coincidence as the Mets had an announcer who got Bell’s 

Palsy, and I listened to him as he recovered. 

So I’m  getting these icepick headaches, and my hair is on fire, and it says Bell’s palsy, but I kind of let it go. 

I didn’t really know what to do about it. 

Though I will say the ice pick headaches are one of the most intense things I’ve experienced in my life. You can be sitting and chatting, and a hidden ice pick just jabs into your skull.

It was so crazy. 

Fast forward about five or six days. I had a dentist appointment scheduled and my dentist is one of my oldest and dearest friends.

I’m a pretty good patient usually and I was just not comfortable in the chair. But gave me an injection and did his work.

I woke up the next morning and half of my face had collapsed. 

Collapsed. 

It’s the craziest thing. 

I went into the shower and water just started pouring into my eye because my left eye wouldn’t close. 

When I tried to drink water it literally poured out of the side of my mouth.

Researching Bell’s Palsy doesn’t reveal much. A Disease of unknown origin. Sleeping by a drafty window is one of the common reasons they think people get it (I kid you not). 

There is definitely a stress component and many people get it under duress and I think these are the cases that heal most quickly (but I am making that up).

And the thing about Bell’s palsy is it tends to heal.  It tends to heal in about three weeks and everything returns to normal.

Mine has stuck around for 11 years and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Bell’s palsy concerns the 7th cranial nerve, the facial nerve resulting in muscle weakness and collapse.

Needless to say, I didn’t heal after three weeks. 

I didn’t heal after three months. 

Five months in, I smiling still resulted in no action on the left side of my mouth or face. 

My mouth just wouldn’t lift. 

And then my mouth started to lift a bit. 

But you can see if you’re looking at my face in the video, how one eye does not open. 

Only one eyebrow works, which means 30 years from now when I’m old and supposed to be wrinkled that’s only going to happen on one side.

It’s just so weird. I’m 57, but only one half of my face works. 

In the beginning, my eye doesn’t close, my lips don’t work for months. Water would pour out of my mouth. I had to tape my eye closed when I slept at night or else it would dry out. 

And this is only in the first three months. 

I’m a yoga teacher. And I had to go to work. When I got to my first yoga class after it happened I walked in and a student, a friend of mine, just gasped.

Saw my face and gasped. And there were 20 people in the room and I have to teach. And keep teaching as my face doesn’t heal.

The point being, Bell’s Palsy was the single most intense experience in my life.  

It  destroyed me emotionally for a long time. I would say I’m still not recovered in a lot of ways.  I had some social anxiety to begin with and Bell’s palsy magnified that by 10.

I’d like to think I have let it go a bit, but still when I meet people, I think they only see a face that doesn’t work; a slanted mouth, an eyebrow that doesn’t work. They’re not seeing me. They’re only seeing what I’m not, or what doesn’t work.

And it’s the only lens I was able to see myself through. And to be honest, it lingers to this day.

When I started doing yoga in 1995, at Jivamukti Yoga Center in New York’s East Village, there was a big plaque over the door that read, I Am Not This Body.

And that is the point of yoga.

I, we, are all one. We are all cosmic consciousness. We are all energy and the body is an illusion that we can transcend. 

And I Am Not This Body means we’re all this body. We’re nobody, we’re all the same body, et cetera, et cetera.

Unfortunately, I was profoundly confronted with how much I am in this body.

Growing up, I was a smart person and I never took pride in my looks. 

I didn’t think I was a bad looking kid; I thought I was a strange looking kid of a sort, but I always felt good about myself. 

I felt good about the way I looked, and then Bell’s Palsy comes along and it takes it from you.

It knocks you down. And all of a sudden, you look like someone different, you no longer see the same person in the mirror. 

You don’t want to see the person you see in the mirror. And yet you’re not recovering. I was not recovering. 

So that’s interesting stuff, and miserable, and awful. 

And now it’s 11 years later and this is who I am.

And again, I’m not complaining. 

Recently I was with a group of people and somebody said to another friend, did you know he has Bell’s palsy? And this friends response was,  “Oh, I would never have thought that. I just thought he had an asymmetrical face”

So you, you know I have Bell’s Palsy. Right If you see it as asymmetrical? That means it’s odd. There is something off.

To be clear, everyone has an asymmetrical face. It is part of being handed. But some are more asymmetrical than others.

So anyway, I’m a pretty happy dude, so I’m not complaining too much. 

And, I was married when I got Bell’s Palsy, and my love for my wife and hers for me, carried me through what I’ve gone through? 

It’s weird becuase my kids have both grown up with this face and not seeing me for who I think I was, I am not this body, and all that.

About five years later I started working with a healer. 

This healer was a very interesting person who doesn’t meet you in person (even pre covid). Everything was over the phone and she asks for a paragraph about your life beforehand. 

I actually forgot to mention Bell’s Palsy. 

So that’s maybe a positive? 

But she is a medium and a seer and she meditated on me. In her report, she said I had shingles, which is very similar to Bell’s Palsy. 

She asked what happened around the time I came down with Bell’s palsy?”

At first, I think I didn’t even make a connection, and then, “Oh, my father died three months before.” 

She said “That’s your Bell’s palsy. Everything happens for a reason.”

Which is what I teach as well. When I meet someone in chronic pain, all I want to do is get their history. 

Why did it happen? 

When did it start? 

What’s the reason. 

So she gave me this insight into my father’s passing and maybe I didn’t deal with it well?  

Maybe I didn’t deal with it at all? 

Maybe I got the Bell’s palsy in relation to my father, but not because of the way I dealt with his passing. 

Who cares because here I am 11 years later with an intimate connection to my father that I didn’t have before he passed. 

And my mother passed a few years ago and…life is intense and here I am. 11 years later. 

Healthy. Happy. But… with half a face that doesn’t work. 

And I have to wake up in the morning and love myself because if I believe in my yoga, I am not this body. 

I am part of a cosmic consciousness and I’m just trying to do the right thing and purify my energy a little bit more to tap into that consciousness a little bit as I go along.

And I’m hoping in the long run, losing half my face or, getting this problem, or this gift—  which I really don’t want to call it a gift— is going to help me emotionally.

I do believe it destroyed me emotionally, around other people, around my sense of self, and who I am and what I look like, and if I’m attractive and et cetera, et cetera.

But I want to think that in the long run everything happens for a reason and everything’s for the best. 

And the learning I can do from it will take me far. 

So that’s my story for the morning and the anniversary of my Bell’s palsy and of my father’s passing.

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