face blind

Standing at the registration table at a writing conference I overhear famous author #1 say to famous author #2, “I’m face blind. I can’t remember a person to save my soul.”

Prosopagnosia, also called face blindness, is an impairment in the recognition of faces.  According to FaceBlind.org  with research centers at Dartmouth College, Harvard and University College London, this is a real thing. [They even have a newsletter!] To quote further: It is often accompanied by other types of recognition impairments (place recognition, car recognition, facial expression of emotion, etc.) though sometimes it appears to be restricted to facial identity. Not surprisingly, prosopagnosia can create serious social problems. Prosopagnosics often have difficulty recognizing family members, close friends, and even themselves. They often use alternative routes to recognition, but these routes are not as effective as recognition via the face.

When ever anyone, famous or infamous, makes a statement like the famous author #1, I always have to wonder if it is a real diagnosis, or an excuse of sorts, “I am so busy I can’t remember who you are, you all are a blur, so I am face blind.” As in, I looked it up in Google and it’s a real thing so I’ll just use that. In a Google Search, this even excuses Brad Pitt, who, according to the article, is undiagnosed, but uses this term.

I don’t. Have face blindness, that is. If anything I have the opposite, ‘super-recognizers’ a study called it, maybe almost total face recognition, like a program. It is annoying, to remember and acknowledge people who have no idea who you are.

There are all these quirky, legitimate and yes, maybe undiagnosed disabilities.  Akin but perhaps not as invasive as a learning disability like dyslexia.  I don’t want to call them aliments, or illnesses, because people with Prosopagnosia have perfectly wonderful full lives. More than likely they are excused by their friends and ignored by others who are offended by their unknowable, unseeable disability. That a serious diagnosis of Prosopagnosics can often involve difficulty recognizing family members, close friends, and even themselves, is scary. Imagine not being able to recognize yourself? 

I think the part of the conversation between famous author #1 and famous author #2 that was somewhat annoying was the sort of flip, offhand, casual way the diagnosis was put into the public place, more as an excuse than a significant disability.

I sometime wonder about the things we worry about now, face blindness being one of them. And I can’t help but wonder about a character with other, different, but still significant cognitive disorders. Hmm…off to write!