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Have you ever heard of face-blindness or PROSOPAGNOSIA? I hadn't until I found out I had it. No one I know has ever heard of it either, especially the scientific name for it Prosopagnosia. There's two kinds, those who are born with it and those who acquire it through some disease or injury. Mine is disease/injury related as I had Brain Cancer when I turned 20. I was in the hospital a year after all the cancer mess had settled down having some psychiatric tests done and one they gave me was of people's faces which I completely failed. I didn't find it too significant at the time but lately I've become more aware of it's significance. I'll not explain a lot about face-blindness as it's difficult to explain and I think those who have done so have done a very good job. The best one I've read was done by a woman in Sweden named Cecilia... click HERE for her site. I don't have it so bad as most people I've read about who have had it all their lives, perhaps because mine was acquired later so I still recognize some people I grew up with, a few actors, my parents, etc... So what I'll do is share some experiences. Most of my face-blindness relies on context, you'll understand what I mean by that in a moment.
I was working in tech support - it was a call center so we didn't really get much of a chance to socialize but one would think after a year he would know the people he works with eh?, and I did... while at work. I worked the 3:30pm to midnight shift and one day I had an interview with another company early in the morning in the same city as my current job. So rather than drive home the hour it takes to get there and drive back later for work I decided to spend the day in the city. I went to a movie and book stores and such and on my way into work I stopped at Carls Jr for lunch. As I was finishing up and about to leave a guy walked up to the counter and happened to look my way and we noticed one another. He began to shout out to me as if he knew me, 'how ya doin'? 'How's things going? Tired of your job yet?' Stuff like that. I'm thinking they shouldn't let drunk people wander the streets because I have never seen this guy before in my life. He's really happy and talking really loud and embarrassing me, and I tried to answer his questions with, 'hey, yeah, huh, yup, okay?, see ya'... and ran out. Well, when I got to work I was still about 30 minutes early so I went to the break room and was hanging out there when not too long after a guy I regularly spoke to and was friends with at work walked in, and I said 'Hey George (name's changed to protect the innocent) how's it going' and he looked at me and says, 'what, are you embarrassed of me? Won't talk to me outside of work or something?' and I notice he has a bag of food in his hand from Carls Jr. This was the friendly guy I didn't recognize from Adam 10 minutes ago at the restaurant because he was out of context. I started laughing as I tried to explain my problem to him but really felt quite scared and baffled because I hadn't run into quite that situation so quickly before. It's amazing how the brain works, I'm always coming across amazing new things, sometimes scary, sometimes facinating things with my brain.
Other experiences I've had with face-blindness are similar. For instance, I was going to a movie with a friend one night when a girl came up to me at the mall where the theatre was and started talking to me as if we were well acquainted. I smiled and acted as interested as I could, listening for clues in what she was saying about the people she was talking about and it wasn't until she mentioned the name of the school were I was going to college that any of the conversation made any sense at all. So then I realized she must know me from there, and then the names of people she was using sounded familiar from people I knew there though that girl, herself, I still have no idea who she was. Yet she put her hand on my shoulder and talked and laughed and the more it went on the sicker I got inside trying to find a way to end the conversation and get away. I must have fooled her because it never came up at school that I blew her off or anything. Who knows... Yet the same night I bumped into someone from high school whom I hadn't seen for 12 years or so and recognized him as soon as I saw him.

More recently, my daughter lost both her top front teeth at the same time. When I saw her for the first time with them both gone for the longest time I had a really hard time with it. I knew it was her but something was wrong. It was like another child was masquerading in her place. Even though I knew it was her and I loved her just as much as always, I felt differently about her somehow and it really really bothered me, she truly looked that much different to me that there was a slightly skewed recognition of her face to me because two teeth were missing. For three days I stared at her and played with her and couldn't believe the change. I wish there was someone who understood this I could talk to who could relate to this somehow. I feel bad because it's my own daughter but I realize I couldn't love her more and I know I have this weird face-blindness thing. It's weird. I've noticed it with people I've just met a few times and they get their hair cut or shave their goatee and I don't recognize them anymore too so this is kind of the same thing so I shouldn't let it bother me.

Other things:
I'm always staring at people wondering if I know them. Sometimes people look familiar but when they look at me don't act like they know me. I usually wait for them to get that look on their face before I say anything. I rarely use names, even with people when I am sure I just say 'Hey You'. When we built a house in 1999 and moved into a new ward we went to church every week, I learned the name of only one guy, besides the bishop. I think it was because I kept asking him what his name was and when I taught the lesson he was the only one that would raise his hand to comment and he always sat in the same place. We lived there for five years.
Every once in a while I'd be at the grocery store and have people come up and talk to me about how my kids were doing and this and that and have no clue who they were... just assumed it was someone from church.
Since there's nothing I can do about it I try to have a sense of humor and do the best I can. Embarrassing is the most it is if anything besides offending people who don't understand or believe it.
Another weird thing I do is get similar looking people confused, sometimes they really don't look a thing alike at all, just remind me of each other, then what I'll do is wonder if it was that guy or the other one I was talking to about this or that and say to myself 'the other guy' for both of them so many times that I end up inventing a third guy that doesn't exist. I've done this for two white haired gentlemen at work and two red haired balding guys that both wear glasses at work. It's pretty confusing.

Another thing I do, and I'm not sure if it's related to face-blindness or not, is think I know people that I don't. Someone will look so familiar to me when I meet them I think I must know them from somewhere but cannot figure out from where and after talking to them find out I don't. I ask them where they've worked, where they went to school, who they know, where they're from and after all our discussion can't pin down how I could possibly know them.

 

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Articles
The Observer
The Economist
The Times
MSN Health
Wikipedia Prosopagnosia

People's sites:
Harvard University's FaceBlind.Org
Baruch's Faceblind.com
Cecilia's Explanation prosopagnosia.com