Have you ever had a conversation with someone who you didn’t recognize? It happens to me all the time. Face Blindness is a real thing. It is rare and awkward. The scientific name is a mouthful: prosopagnosia. Some people cannot remember faces. It affects less than 3% of the population. I first heard a story about it on NPR radio. I also live it every day of my life. I simply cannot remember faces! I was glad to finally have a legitimate name for my experience. My condition is not nearly as bad as the man on NPR; I can recognize my family and friends. But I do not recognize my own neighbors sometimes. I won’t recognize people I grew up with if they pass me on the street. I have heard from more than one person, “Oh I saw you, but you didn’t stop to talk to me…”
That’s because I didn’t see you. Or rather I saw you but I didn’t know that I knew you. It’s really embarrassing and awkward sometimes. Especially when it is a relatively close acquaintance who you see at your kids’ school events all of the time! I try to adopt a standard smiling face when out in public, just in case someone recognizes me. Plenty of people recognize me and I am always ashamed that I don’t know who they are!! I don’t mean to be rude. I just could not place your face.
That part of my brain doesn’t have connections that work. It is the “Fusisforn gyrus” at the bottom of the brain that is thought to be the culprit. I assume it is related to my epilepsy. All my brain stuff is. Most of my brain works overtime. Seizures are too much brain activity. But some connections are not there. My visual memory is like Swiss cheese. It does not affect other parts of my brain functioning, but I am unable to remember faces. They fall through the holes.
My mom has recently confirmed that I was always this way. She said that I often wouldn’t recognize my schoolmates as a child. Neuropsychological testing showed that I have a 4th percentile visual memory. 96 people out of 100 can remember what they see better than me! Faces fall into that blind zone. They are literally out of sight, out of mind. The memory of a face rolls off of me like water after the rains have stopped. The memories dry up and people become strangers.
My husband is always surprised at how much I forget. He often tells me what I am missing. It’s a lot. My children notice it too. It frustrates them. They don’t understand why Mommy can’t remember faces or other things. I do not remember things on TV. I generally hate movies. I think that movies are too long that I start to forget the story by the end. I remember what I read or hear on the radio just fine. But visually it’s a wash.
Please don’t take it personally if I do not recognize you. I don’t recognize my second and third cousins. I desperately want to remember. I’m not rude, just confused. But if you tell me who you are and give me your name, I will absolutely remember you. Name tags for everyone would help me immensely! I can remember who you are and how we know each other if I’m given a name. I just can’t see a face and recognize it. I have to ask who people are all of the time! I may get a fleeting, “Do I know you?” moment. But I can never answer that question. Conversely I am constantly asking true strangers if I know them. They seem as familiar as the next person after all. My husband recently told me, “It’s like you don’t remember your own life!” That stung like a wasp attack because it was true. I don’t.
If everybody told me their name, I would be fine. I could shake your hand and tell you a memory. But faces elude me. Sometimes I think that in lieu of nametags for all, I need a sign for myself that says, “Tell me your name!” Face Blindness is only recently becoming known. It is an invisible illness that renders a blank face. It is very inconvenient and awkward. There is nothing I can do. My brain is my bane. Give me a name and I can tell you a story. But I can only remember 4% of what I see.