How I cope with Faceblindness

The official website for face blindness is http://www.faceblind.org  and they can direct you to a test to determined how face-blind you are.  I took the test and I am in the upper-top-half.

Okay, so last time I told you all that I have Prosopagnosia.  I cannot recognize faces.  Well… In my case it’s not exactly true.  I have the type of Prosopagnosia which is connected to memory.  It’s like writing something on a computer, and forgetting to click ‘save’.  Once the face is out of my sight, the memory of it is lost within seconds.

I can make myself remember certain things.  For example; Jane and Anne are similar looking, but Jane has a mole on her cheek.  Gary and Mark both have dark hair, but Gary is thin, Mark is heavier set.  That kind of thing.

To explain other ways of coping with face-blindness, I’ll talk about something which will be familiar to all of you.

You are in the street and someone comes up to you.  They call you by your name and are excited to see you again after such a long time.  They ask how you are doing.  You paste a smile on your face and answer their questions, all the time you are thinking… “Who the hell is it?”

Then you try to find something in their face, or voice, or something in what they are saying to you, in order to place-the-face.  Did you know them from work?  From School?  From somewhere else?

You don’t want to tell them you can’t recognize them, because you think it would be rude not to be able to place them.  Maybe you get away with it.  Maybe they say something which triggers a memory for you, and suddenly everything is clear.  “It’s Mavis, who used to live in our road!  Thank God for that”.

I’ve had that experience too.  But I also have it with people I saw yesterday.  Before I realized that face-blindness was a recognized condition, called Prosopagnosia, I used to do what I described above, with everyone.  But I got really good at it.  When I see a face, my brain doesn’t just concentrate on the face.  I look for other signs.  I also rely a lot on the person’s voice.  Not just on what they are saying, but on the voice itself. I can recognize voices where others can’t.

Here’s a true story for you:  My favorite actress is called Jeri Ryan.  she is best known for her role as the unique Borg Drone Seven of Nine, in Star Trek Voyager.

Let me digress here, to tell you that all of my favorite TV characters have looked different from the norm.  I did not even realize this, until I began to talk about face-blindness.  It was when I started watching black-and-white TV, that my family recognized that I had a problem.  I could not tell the characters apart.  One dark-haired cowboy looked just like the next one to me, unless they were in the same scene and I could see both of them at once.  I was continually asking my family, who was who?  The fact that they knew who was who and  I did not, told me and my family that I had a difficulty that they did not have.  Mum suddenly understood why people we all knew well, were coming up to her in the street and telling her that I was rude and ill-mannered.  I had walked right past them without letting on to them.

So my favorite TV characters and actors have always had something distinctive about them, and I have always loved shows like Star Trek, where the faces have distinctive make-up.  Mr Spock, for example, was my very first teenage crush.

I recognize Seven of Nine.  She has a crescent shaped implant above her left eye, and a star-shaped one near her right ear.  She also has a distinctive voice.  At least, I think so.  So I love to see Jeri Ryan in other work, because I love her voice.

Alan, Steve and I were watching a documentary one night, more than ten years ago.  It was called, I think, UFOs and Aliens.  My husband and son were wrapped up in the documentary, but my ears had moved (my ears do move by the way) and I was listening intently.  Suddenly I got up and hunted for the Star Trek mag.  Alan and Steve thought I was nuts, but I found it and looked up stuff that Jeri had done.  There it was!  Jeri was narrating the documentary.  I was the only one in our house who had realized.  I had recognized the unique inflections of her voice.

I hope you liked that story, and it helps you to understand the skills which prosopagnosiacs use.  We are like detectives in-a-way, and the fact is that people often don’t realize we have a problem, because we get so good at hiding it.

However, we shouldn’t have to hide it, which is why I try to raise awareness of the condition.  Now, if I see someone I can’t recognize, I just tell them I am face-blind.  It makes things so much easier for me.

I have an article:  ‘When Everyone Is A Stranger’ and other writing I have done.  You can access it at  mastin at writing.com/portfolio  I think the Prosopagnosia article is also published separate from the portfolio.

Enjoy, and I’ll post again son.

Love from Mari

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