• Elliot Berlin
  • May 22, 24

115. I Wasn’t Expecting You: Living with Face Blindness – Expectations #4

When I tell people about my face blindness, I often get a three-pronged reaction. First, they think I'm either joking or lying. Once they realize I'm serious and not exaggerating, they start to wonder how this condition impacts my life.

Ten years ago I found out that I have something in common with Brad Pitt (besides the obvious) and Victoria—Crown Princess of Sweden. It’s a bit of a story.

Even after the revelation, experiences continue to surprise me. A few years back, I attended a particularly moving birth. My client, Sandra, was determined to fully experience the raw sensations of labor and embrace each moment without any desire to numb herself to the process. Upon my arrival at the hospital, she was in active labor, with intense waves surging through her body every three minutes. Sandra’s resilience and sheer determination in embracing each surge left me deeply inspired by the powerful essence of her spirit and the support from her husband was heartening, his presence a pillar of strength.

I don’t think Sandra needed anyone to help her but she wanted support. In addition to her husband and I, there was also an amazing labor and delivery nurse. The four of us were together in a darkened hospital room, illuminated only by flickering LED tea candles and the soft glow from electronic monitors. The playlist, consisting mostly of African drumming, provided natural rhythmic beats—a meditative backdrop to Sandra’s primal moans and earthy groans. For nearly three timeless hours, the scene remained beautifully unchanged, a testament to undisturbed labor, with Sandra receiving exactly what she wanted from our trio of support: love and affection from her husband, clear explanations and reassurance from the nurse, and hands-on support from me—including counter pressure, reflexology, head and jaw releases, and comforting touch massage. The whole experience was magical, and I was in awe of how incredible the nurse was. She was with us nearly the entire time, only stepping out briefly on a few occasions. She was doula-like and seemed to intuitively know just what to say to keep Sandra feeling safe, confident, and empowered. Many nurses are great but this one was above and beyond. I hoped to have an opportunity to meet her, get to know her background and work together again.

At a quiet moment when Sandra stepped into the restroom, I seized the opportunity to introduce myself to this exceptional nurse. Just as I was about to extend my hand, she greeted me with a warm smile and exclaimed, ‘Hi Elliot! How are Alyssa and the kids?’ Her immediate recognition caught me off guard. How could she know me so well, already when she was completely new to me? Such an awkward moment—and also the story of my life.

Since as early as I can remember, I’ve struggled with social awkwardness, particularly in groups. I generally felt out of place but could never pinpoint why. In high school, I realized that whenever I entered a room, it seemed as though I didn’t know anyone. Even when people approached and spoke to me with familiarity, I couldn’t remember their names—or so I thought. The truth was more profound: I couldn’t remember their faces. In fact, I am unable to recognize anyone’s face, not even those of my wife and kids, and sometimes, not even my own.

I was 39 when I stumbled upon a life-changing article in The New Yorker by Oliver Sacks, a renowned neurologist known for his deep dives into the quirkiest corners of human psychology. Reading his exploration of prosopagnosia, I had an epiphany: the social awkwardness I’d experienced wasn’t unique to me; it had a name and was shared by many others, including celebrities like Brad Pitt and Crown Princess Victoria.

Prosopagnosia means I struggle to recognize faces. I can see a face while I’m looking at it, but as soon as I close my eyes, the image vanishes completely. There’s no memory of what the face looks like. When I see it again, it’s as if it’s the first time every time—I have no idea to whom the face belongs. I’ve waved at strangers thinking they were my kids, and I’ve had trouble recognizing my own mother at the airport more times than I care to admit. These mix-ups, while often embarrassing, have eventually become a source of humor and a unique way to connect with people. I can tell my neighbors apart by the pets they walk and I can identify someone much better by their voice or their laugh than by their face.

Ever since I could talk, I’ve used humor to navigate social interactions, often trying to elicit a laugh when I first meet someone to help recognize them in future encounters. Imagine the scene: I’m in Trader Joe’s, and someone gives me an unexpected, enthusiastic hug. If I can crack a joke and prompt a laugh, I might just be able to place who is embracing me and why. This ongoing pursuit of finding the funny in everyday situations is precisely why I prefer shopping at Trader Joe’s—Whole Foods is just too serious.

My habit of constantly shooting off “dad jokes” (even before I became a dad) is a coping mechanism but it has also carved a path for me into the world of stand-up comedy. In the context of my area of expertise, comedy helps break the ice for new and expectant parents who often grapple with the challenges of the journey to and through parenthood. My live show, “Kid*ding: Comedy About Having Kids,” is as therapeutic for me as it is for the audience. It’s not just about sharing laughs; it’s about fostering a deeper empathy and connection with my audience. The stage allows me to engage, entertain, and offer comfort by addressing the universal hurdles of fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and parenting in a fun, light-hearted way.

When I tell people about my face blindness, I often get a three-pronged reaction. First, they think I’m either joking or lying. Once they realize I’m serious and not exaggerating, they start to wonder how this condition impacts my life. Besides the awkward social interactions, I often explain that it makes watching television and movies extremely difficult. House of Cards is a show I had a lot of trouble with. When a character left the screen and returned, it was like seeing them for the first time again. I’d ask, “Is that the doctor?” only to be told, “No, that’s the plumber!” This can be a challenge for my wife and others, as I constantly need help identifying characters. Luckily, I sometimes come across shows where each character has such distinct physical characteristics that it makes it a lot easier. Breaking Bad was great at this but because those shows are rare, watching TV generally feels like hard work and is not relaxing so I often skip it altogether – something you might not expect from someone so passionate about media.


Not everyone has the privilege of living and working in one of the media capitals of the world like I do but my unique position has meant that over the years, some of my writer friends have worked my condition into popular shows.

An episode of the legal drama Rizzoli & Isles features a murder witness with face blindness and as a fun tidbit, they even named the character Elliot as a tribute to me. This episode, titled “Face Value,” (Ssn 6, Ep 6) uses the condition as a great plot device and it helped raise awareness at the same time. Similarly, when my friend Jeff Astroff created the murder trial comedy Trial and Error starring John Lithgow, his knowledge (and curiosity) of my experiences inspired him to give the condition to one of the main characters. This character, played by Sherri Shepherd, added a unique and humorous twist to the show.

Prosopagnosia affects approximately 2% of the population (Source: Harvard Medical School) and ranges in severity. Some people only have difficulty vaguely recognizing somewhat familiar faces, while others struggle to recognize faces of close friends and family members. Many people with prosopagnosia don’t know why they struggle or that the condition exists—let alone that they have it. It has become a bit of a mission of mine to help people who have it better understand their lives and for those around us to become familiar with our challenges so they can help us cope


On the bright side, I believe this condition has also enhanced my other senses and my intuitive understanding of people’s emotions and physical states. As a chiropractor, especially a pregnancy-focused chiropractor, this heightened awareness helps me tune into subtle cues that might indicate discomfort or stress in my patients, aiding in my holistic mind-and-body approach to their care.

Parenting with prosopagnosia presents its own set of challenges and rewards. Recognizing my children primarily by their laughter, unique movements, expressions, conversation undertones, and body language has drawn me closer to them. This heightened sensitivity to non-visual cues has deepened my appreciation for their individual quirks and personalities, allowing me to connect with them on a profound level. I tune into the subtle nuances of their voices, their distinct reactions to situations, and their specific mannerisms, all of which paint a vivid picture of who they are beyond appearances. It’s a reminder that our connections run deeper than what we see on the surface.


Before I wrap up, I want to give a special shout out to our streaming platform Informed Pregnancy +, particularly our stand-up comedy special “You Did This To Me” featuring a very pregnant Kira Soltanovich. Kira gets real with the trials and tribulations of pregnancy, birthing, and raising kids. Also, check out our newly added documentary film “The Face of Birth.” This film offers a big-picture look at the importance of respecting and protecting a woman’s right to choose how, where, and with whom she gives birth. A must-see for anyone interested in empowering women in childbirth, it will encourage and inspire all who are on the journey towards parenthood. And yes, I shamelessly plug it because it has the word “face” in the title.

So, if I know you well and I walk right by you in public and completely ignore you, it’s not because I’m a jerk—it’s because of my face blindness. This condition can be challenging, but it also gives me unique strengths. The understanding, empathy, and connections it fosters reminds me to look beyond appearances and cherish the deeper essence of those around me. Every interaction is a chance to connect in meaningful ways, making my journey all the more rewarding.

Until next time.

Yours in Health,

Dr. B

Dr. Elliot Berlin, DC is an award-winning pregnancy-focused chiropractor and creator of Informed Pregnancy Media which includes his popular long-running The Informed Pregnancy Podcast in addition to a blog and a number of original shows featured on his streaming channel Informed Pregnancy+. Dr. Berlin’s goal is to use his passion for media and entertainment as a means of spreading information and awareness on topics that growing families need to make informed choices about fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting.