My Life With Prosopagnosia; aka Face Blindness
What is Prosopagnosia?
Prosopagnosia is defined as the inability to recognize faces. There are varying levels of Facial Agnosia from mild to severe. Fortunately in my case, mine is quite mild. There are those who suffer from a case so severe, they cannot recognize themselves in a mirror. If they to to a crowded public restroom, they have to wave to themselves or make faces so they know which reflection is their own.
In my case, I cannot recognize most coworkers or classmates outside of the normal work / class setting. Usually coworkers or classmates sit in the same seats and I remember where they are at and know who they are. If they should switch seats or I see them outside of class/work. I struggle with their name.
Social and Professional Stigma
Prosopagnosia can be socially crippling. Imagine going to your company’s party where you’ve worked for years and not knowing anyone there. Your coworker coming up to you and saying “Oh hi. How you doing tonight?” and you have no idea who you’re talking too. You just nod and say, Hi…you…Great, umm… you?” Then your spouse says “why won’t you introduce me to your coworkers?” Then your managers wonder why you don’t acknowledge them or even come over to say hello to them at the social gatherings. How many promotions have you passed up because you seem anti-social to the boss? While attending college, imagine walking around campus and a classmate walks up to ask “how’d you do on that exam?” You’re thinking “which one?” because you have no idea which class you are in with this stranger. Imagine asking a classmate out on a date or social gathering when you cannot name that person. FYI: women really expect you to remember their name. I’ve been to social gatherings where I had to ask my wife “who was that who just hugged me?”
I used to be a massage therapist. I would make notes on their chart to help me remember detail about the clients. I would see tattoos on their back to remind me that I’ve worked on them before. I was once at a client’s wedding and I pointed out the bride’s sister to my wife (also a client). She said “did you recognize her tattoo on her back?” I said “yeah.” That is exactly how I knew her. I would run into clients outside of my massage studio and they would come up to me and say hello. I would have to act like I knew them and fake my excitement to see them. I have no idea how many clients I’ve lost because I seemed antisocial or that I didn’t value them as a client enough to remember their name. Because of this condition, I’ve had a limited group of friends (and girlfriends) throughout my life. At my wedding, I had to ask the husbands of my wife’s friends to be my groomsmen. Dating in my youth was challenging to say the least. Imagine meeting your date at a restaurant and seeing a lot of women sitting around and you cannot find which one is your date. When I was in the Navy, I had a long distance relationship. I tried to remember what my girlfriend’s face looked like in my head. I would have to break out a photo to remember her. I became an amateur photographer so that I could keep memories of my friends back home.
To get a better idea of Prosopagnosia, check out this movie with Milla Jovovich. Milla’s character has a very acute case of prosopagnosia and quite severe. She cannot even recognize her own husband. She would leave out his clothes and ties to wear so she would be able to recognize him by his tie. Check it out. It’s a really good movie.