How would it be if, within 24 hours, your face became paralysed? You could no longer eat or drink, your right eye would not close.
Imagine the terror and how those feelings would be for a young woman? How would it feel if doctors were initially unable to diagnose or offer treatment? This is what happened to Claudia Crawley when she suffered from Bells Palsy.
For many women this would have been catastrophic. But if you’re an extremely capable and resilient woman like Claudia Crawley you don’t let Bells Palsy stop you!
Claudia enjoyed a successful career before setting up her own coaching business. Awarded Mentor of the Year in 2017 by City University of London. A published author and in her spare time Claudia is a stand up comedian!
Claudia, Please Introduce Yourself To Our Readers
I’man Executive Coach, Career Coach, accredited Master Coach, Mentor of the Year, 2017 (City, University of London). A co-author of ‘Winning in Life and Work’, ‘The Power of Being a Woman’ and author of‘Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things: 5 Steps To Add Extra To Ordinary’.
I enable women to drive their own ‘careers’,whatever their challenges, current status, or feeling they have run out of road. I help them to get ahead and stay ahead.
What Inspired You To Set Up Your Business?
I’d been a trained social worker and manager with an MBA, for a long, long time, working mainly with women in a female dominated profession.
In the late 90’s I applied for my dream job as a diversity consultant. I failed to get it through inadequate preparation. After that, very disappointed, I lost my way.
In 2009, I had a great job as a knowledge, learning and professional development manager. This was in a social work organization called CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). But I was feeling unchallenged and down. I’d become stuck in my career.
When a woman from another department took out a grievance against me, unsuccessfully I might add, I got myself a coach to help me deal with the stress.
She was a blessing in disguise. Because through this experience I found coaching and realised it was a powerful way of enabling change within individuals.
I decided to train to be a coach and used it to work with managers in the organisation.
When I was made redundant, in 2010, it seemed a no-brainer to use my newly acquired coaching skills. I wanted to work with women like myself who were stuck or who were managers, dealing with challenges in the role.
What Do You Believe Are The Major Factors That Hold Women Back On The Corporate Ladder?
I support the findings of Tom Schuller in ‘The Paula Principles’.
He found that although globally:
- Girls tend to leave school with better qualifications than boys.
- Women graduate with better degrees than men
- Women are more likely to develop themselves once in the work place
But generally women were operating below their level of competence.
He found a number of reasons for this:
- Discrimination – we’re denied jobs or higher pay because we’re women.
- Structural issues e.g. getting affordable childcare.
- Lack of confidence. Women often lack the confidence to put themselves forward for a job, even when well qualified for it. Men, on the other hand will go for it even when they don’t have all the requirements.
- Lack of networks. Women don’t have the same rich network connections as men that can help them climb the career ladder.
- Desire for a better quality of life. Women may not want the stress of being at the top. They may consciously decide in favour of a better quality of life and go for a lateral rather than a vertical career. Were the challenges women encounter at the top less stubborn, more women might opt to climb further.
What’s clear is that the world is missing out on the skills and talents of competent women. Studies have shown that the more women at the top the better the organisation’s health.
Can You Tell Us About Your Hobby?
My hobby is stand-up comedy, which I discovered by accident.
My life had become a bit dull, full of hard work and long hours and very little fun. When a close friend encouraged me to do a stand-up course at the Comedy School in London, I was a bit hesitant. I thought, ‘Moi, serious Claudia, do stand up?’
When my partner twisted my arm by paying for the course, well, I had to do it, didn’t I?
Doing my first gig, at the end of the course was like magic. People actually laughed – a lot. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was incredible.
I well and truly fell in love with stand-up. I’ve done several gigs since then. I’m currently on another course, which is helping me develop my skills further.
The key thing I’ve learned is that stand-up is not just about standing on stage making people laugh. It’s an art. There are certain rules. It has to be worked at and developed if you want to be a real success.
My aim is to use it to take my message into organisations, and make the unpalatable palatable.
You Suffered A Frightening Health Problem Can You Tell Us More?
It was a long time ago. I was in my mid-20s when I suffered from Bells Palsy.
The condition came on gradually over a 24-hour period. It started with a severe headache at the back of my head. This moved around to the right side of my face.
Simultaneously, I experienced throat paralysis. When I awoke the next morning one side of my face was totally paralysed. I could neither eat nor drink nor close my right eye. I looked as if I’d suffered a stroke.
It took the doctors a while to reach a diagnosis and at the time they had no way of treating it. Had I been treated, I might now have 100% movement in my face. As it is, I have about 85% movement.
So, now, I can’t raise my right eyebrow. My right eye is smaller than my left. That same eye weeps when I eat. My mouth is a little lopsided, which affects my smile.
The nerves in my face seem to operate a bit weirdly. For example, when I blink with my right eye it triggers a tick lower down my face. This gets worse when I’m stressed or nervous.
Having An Asymmetrical Face Is Pretty Scary
The whole experience was traumatic, all the more so, because in this image conscious world, your face is the first thing people see on meeting you.
Imagine waking up one day to find that one side of your face for which you’d been complimented all your life had dropped and was paralysed. Imagine the horror!
So, my self-confidence plummeted and for years I felt ugly.
The worse thing was that it took away my smile, which of course is crucial to forming new relationships. I learned to live with this new identity – I had no choice. But I had difficulty seeing past the damage whenever I looked in the mirror. Looking in the mirror was something I hated doing.
I also hated being photographed and if the photographer insisted, it would have to be on my ‘best side’. This may explain why I’ve found doing videos a turn off – although I’ve done a few. Possibly a matter of needs must.
Last year I had a session of Rapid Transformational Therapy with Dr Cheryl Chapman. Whilst my face is slightly better, the key thing I gained was the confidence to finally accept myself for who I now am and for how I look.
I no longer notice my facial imperfections in the same way and I’m no longer obsessed by it.
Interestingly it never got in the way of my personal relationships. This is an indication that the problem was mine, rather than other people’s approach to me.
How Did You Deal With The Emotional Impact?
My husband at the time was incredible supportive. I couldn’t have got through it without him.
My first instinct was to hide away. But how can you live a life in hiding?
Especially when you’ve a large network of friends. I’d no choice but to be upfront with my friends and family about what had occurred. It’s not an illness you can hide after all. But by being open I gained their support.
Did Having Bell’s Palsy Impact Your Confidence And Self-Esteem?
I’ve often wondered why Bell’s Palsy happened to me. What did I do to deserve it?
It’s as if I lost my looks through a nasty cosmic joke. But it’s not the worst affliction I could have had. Although I thought it was for many years. Now I’m in a better place emotionally, I recognise that I’ve so much to be grateful for.
Did Bell’s Palsy Impact Your Career?
I guess that unconsciously my career success was compensation for ‘losing my good looks’. I was ambitious and driven and put everything into climbing the ladder. However, I couldn’t shake off the self-consciousness that a lop-sided face gave me.
So perhaps I may have been more successful had I not had this experience – who knows?
Has Bell’s Palsy Had An Impact On Your Role As A Mentor And Coach?
If anything, Bell’s Palsy has made me sensitive to the plight of other people, especially to those with disabilities.
I met a man recently who’d experienced Bell’s Palsy and I felt an immediate connection with him. I was able to share my story and empathise. We became good friends as a result.
What Is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s Palsy is a form of facial paralysis. This is what I found on the internet: “Bell’s Palsy is a condition that causes a temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in the face. It is named after the Scottish anatomist Charles Bell, who was the first to describe the condition”.
What Causes Bell’s Palsy?
Here’s what I’ve learned about the cause of Bell’s Palsy. It’s when the seventh cranial nerve becomes swollen or compressed, leading to paralysis or facial weakness. The reason why this happens remains unclear, but there seems to be a connection with viruses (including herpes, influenza and respiratory tract infections), stress and a run-down immune system.
The following groups are at risk of getting it: pregnant women; babies; those with diabetes or lung infection, or a family history of the illness. In my case, none of these applied.
Can You Make A Full Recovery From Bell’s Palsy?
Most people make a full recovery within three to six months. It may take longer for more severe cases of Bell’s Palsy.
In rare cases, like mine, the symptoms may return or may be permanent.
I’m one of the unlucky few.
Did You Get Support From The Medical Profession And In What Form Did That Take?
I got very little support from the medical profession at the time. The doctors weren’t terribly sympathetic. I felt that they saw it as a cosmetic issue. They did not seem to realise it was one that could affect a person’s mental health and sense of self.
In the absence of a structured treatment package, I was left to deal with it alone.
I tried alternative medicine over a number of years, including physiotherapy, acupuncture and cranial osteopathy, but nothing brought permanent change or enabled the return of my old face.
What Has Been The Most Challenging Thing You’ve Had To Deal With Regarding Bell’s Palsy?
My own feelings: about my looks and my resulting lack of confidence. I’ve only just got to a place where it no longer bothers me thanks to Rapid Transformational Therapy and Dr Cheryl Chapman.
Do You Feel That There Is Enough Awareness Of Bell’s Palsy And If Not What Could Be Done To Increase The Understanding Of The Condition?
Between 12,400 and 24,800 people per year are affected by Bell’s Palsy in the UK.
But there’s insufficient awareness of the condition and insufficient research. More research is needed into diagnosing, treating and managing Bell’s Palsy and facial palsy generally.
What Would Your Advice Be To Anyone Who Is Diagnosed With Bell’s Palsy?
Seek medical advice and see your GP immediately.
Go to the website of Facial Palsy UK and get as much information as possible about the condition and how to manage it.
The absence of information was one of the most frustrating parts of the illness for me. Had this charity existed when I was first diagnosed, I believe it would have reduced my panic and despair.
Are There Any Charities Or Support Groups That Help Sufferers Of Bell’s Palsy?
The charity, Facial Palsy UK, was established in 2012 with the aims of:
- Increasing awareness of the condition and its consequences;
- Improving the physical and emotional health of those with facial palsy ;
- Promoting diagnosis, acute and long-term management and rehabilitation of people living with facial palsy.
One of their roles is to fund raise for world-class research. When Facial Palsy UK was launched in 2012, very few research projects investigating the prevalence, causes and treatments of facial palsy existed.
Facial Palsy UK has established a Facial Palsy awareness week that runs from 1-7 March each year. Look out for it in 2019.
Click this link to find out more from Facial Palsy UK.
Winning Pathways Coaching
If you are inspired by Claudia’s story and would like to find out more her mentoring and coaching programs for women, you can find out more at Winning Pathways Coaching.
Do You Have A Story To Tell?
I’m looking for inspiring women to feature on my blog for 2019. You may think that you’re not very inspiring but I can promise you that the adversities we overcome and the challenges we deal with in everyday life are often the most inspiring. If you’re interested in being interviewed for 2019, please click fill in the form below.