Face-Blindness Fridays #5

“Prosopagnosia can be socially crippling. Individuals with the disorder often have difficulty recognizing family members and close friends. They often use other ways to identify people, such as relying on voice, clothing, or unique physical attributes, but these are not as effective as recognizing a face. Children with congenital prosopagnosia are born with the disability and have never had a time when they could recognize faces. ” MedicineNet.com

So, last week, I wrote about the first day of my second year of kindergarten. My face blindness is fairly moderate. it takes me probably 2-3 times longer to learn a new face than it would take an average person, and if I haven’t seen someone in a couple of months, depending on how well I know them, I can forget who they are entirely, until they tell me their name. If I know them well enough, it might take me like an extra 3-5 seconds to recognize them.

It may not seem like that big of a deal to take that long to recognize someone, but it creates an emotional disconnect. If it takes an average person half a second to recognize me, and it takes me 3-5 seconds, they’ve already recognized me, waited for acknowledgment, AND felt rejected by the time I actually recognized them. I try to make up for it, but it’s definitely something that I’m aware of.

I used to walk around, displaying a full amount of friendliness at all times, but that got exhausting. So now, people have to deal with me not being particularly happy to see them until I know who they are.

Face-Blindness Fridays #4

I did kindergarten twice, and have never been given a satisfactory answer as to why. However, since the first year of kindergarten was spent in two different elementary schools, and the second year was at a third, I didn’t really notice. I also don’t think I had any friends until my second year of kindergarten, or that may have given away.

I was a solitary child. I shared a room with my two brothers, and I HATED that. I wanted a room to myself SO BAD that on weekends, I would encourage them to go out and play with their friends, and while they were gone, I would pretend like the room was just mine. The extra beds were just in case a friend wanted to sleep over — I didn’t particularly LIKE that idea, but it was nice to have the option.

I don’t even remember what I used to do with all of that free time. I vaguely remember coloring a little bit. Once I asked my mom if I could play dress-up in her closet, because the twins who lived around the corner said they did that. My mom said “no” but that I could play dress-up with my own clothes. I thought that was a terrible idea, but it worked out.

My best friend in kindergarten’s name was Simple Tan. I don’t think I was her best friend, looking back, but she was the only person who went out of her way to be kind to me, so I liked her. We run into each other once in a while and I’m always happy to see her. She and her family are still the nicest people I’ve ever met.

The first day of kindergarten, I was excited because I’d been going to school for a while and I still didn’t know how to read (boom, there’s your answer as to why I was held back). I really wanted to learn to read because I loved being read to and my mom didn’t do it nearly often enough. She had read a book to me (and probably my brothers too) called Morris the Moose Goes to School in which he learns to count, write, and draw in perspective, all in one day.

So my first day of my second year of kindergarten, I walked to school (probably with my older brother), determined to finally learn how to read. The first day was mostly coloring, and I guess I didn’t know how recess worked because I remember sitting at my table as the other kids all scrambled out of the room.

The teacher came over to me and kind of gently urged me out of the classroom. I stepped over the threshold reluctantly. I didn’t know anyone, and the kids at my past two schools hadn’t been particularly friendly. For a moment, I was hopeful. None of these other kids knew each other, either, right?

My heart sank as I stepped out onto the playground and saw clumps of kids running around, chasing each other. How did they all know each other already? There was a large tree very close to the classroom door, and I decided to spend my time there until the teacher let us in again.

I was walking around on the roots that were growing up out of their concrete prison. A girl came over. She had black pigtails and dark, almond-shaped eyes. She had tan skin, unlike the other kids. “My name is Simple,” she said. I thought that that was a mean name for her parents to give her. Her eyes sparkled brightly. She didn’t seem very simple to me.

“Crystal,” I mumbled.

“Those are my friends,” she said, pointing to twin girls with identical brown pigtail braids and a blonde girl I’d never seen before. “Do you want to come over and play with us?”

“Oh, no, that’s okay,” I said, torn between desperately wanting to have friends like everyone else, and having no idea what to say to any of them.

Simple just looked at me for a moment, and then smiled and took my hand. She led me over to her friends and introduced me. I stood there, listening to them talk, glad to at least seem like I was a part of the group.

Back in the classroom after recess, the little blonde girl sat down across the table from me.

“Were you sitting there before recess?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, frowning. “You borrowed my blue crayon.”

I wanted to laugh about my mistake, but she seemed upset by my question.

Face-Blindness Fridays #3

I have to leave for work in a little bit, and am SUPER GLAD that the shows this weekend are actually a film festival. That means a) I can get some work done and b) I won’t be hugging strangers and then checking lineups to figure out who that person I just hugged was. Yaaaaay…!

The thing about having face blindness is that I make friends slowly. I have to first, be able to name you when I see you, which takes about 6-7 times of you introducing yourself. Then I have to know something unique about you to go along with the name and face. Then, we have to have some sort of uncomfortable moment. You can’t be real friends with someone until after your first fight. But, once I love you, I love you forever — or until you cross me, haha…

Generally, for me at least, having face blindness is a relatively minor inconvenience. It’s sort of like walking down the street about 20 steps behind the people you’re with (I’m also a slow walker). I will say, though, that one benefit is that I don’t generally judge people based on what they look like. I mean, I’m as superficial as anyone else. I would prefer to look at a pretty face than an ugly one.

But when you’re not around, and I can’t picture you, what I have to grasp on to, memory-wise, is what it felt like being around you. Was I comfortable? Did I feel safe? Did you make me laugh? Were you nice? Were you interesting? People with visual memories don’t have that advantage. I get to separate, in my mind, who people are from what they look like, whereas for most people, those two things are intrinsically linked.

That’s why, when I don’t recognize someone, even though we’ve met several times, it hurts their feelings. They feel like they’ve been erased completely. It’s really hard to explain to someone that they are a complete, multidimensional person to me — it’s just that the memory of them is triggered when I hear their name, not when I see their face.

Then again, maybe I had a super great conversation with someone and didn’t catch their name. So now, I had a great moment that I will carry around with me for the rest of my life, with someone I will never see again. Unless that person actually brings up that conversation again, I will have no idea that that moment was with that person.

It gets a little abstract, trying to describe it, because there aren’t any visual ways to describe someone’s soul. I mean, you can use colors and stuff, but for me, it’s a sense. Right after my mom died, I missed her. I tried to recall the feeling that she brought into the room with her, but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t only get to experience her presence again when I’d dream about her. I don’t know why my waking mind only allows me to partially remember what it was like to be around her, when I dream about her, I get to feel it fully.

And in my dreams, my mom doesn’t look any particular way. She’s a vague, mom-shaped blob, but the way that I feel about her is how I know it’s her. I’ve had dreams in which someone I knew looked like someone else. Like I’d be looking at Vin Diesel, but it would really be my best friend, Madlen. Then I’d wake up, and I’d be like, that was weird. I was dreaming about Madlen, but she looked like Vin Diesel. Alternately, this hasn’t happened, probably because it happens so much in real life, but I’ve never, in a dream, had someone say they were someone I knew, and they looked like that person, but I knew they weren’t.

My dreams are the only time I never have any trouble recognizing anyone. In real life, not only do I completely forget what people look like, but I’ll mis-remember their hair color or basic body shape. Half of the time when a comedian is on stage, I’m correcting my memory of what they looked like by observing what they actually looked like. How people can tell when I’ve lost two pounds, I don’t know. They never mention it when I gain those two pounds back, though, which is nice.

Or I’ll get two people confused. Like, there is a comedian named Brian D’Augustine, and his name does not match his face because when he filled out the independent producer form, I was like, “Oh, I know who that is,” and pictured Andrew Duvall. So when I run into Brian, I always picture Andrew Duvall, but I can never remember Andrew Duvall’s name when I’m talking to Brian because he has the name that I think that Andrew Duvall should have. And they don’t look at all alike.

Brains are weird. It’s amazing that I’m functional at all, really.

Face-Blindness Fridays #2

I have a cold. That has nothing to do with face blindness, I just wanted to mention it so that you know where I am. I also bought lemon bars at Smart & Final for 1/2 price because they’re expired, and am currently feeding my cold with them. There, now you’re completely caught up.

I have a joke where I say that the scary thing about having face blindness is that I could get mugged, or raped, or murdered, and the guy would totally get away with it because there’s no way I’d be able to pick him out of a lineup. I further joke that the absolute scariest part about having face blindness is the idea that love at first sight is real — what if I’ve met him and lost him already?

It’s a funny idea, right? Meeting someone, falling in love, turning away and Memento-ing the whole thing? It’s a silly joke, but I like it. I used to think that love at first sight was real because I really wanted to meet someone and immediately know that the rest of my life was figured out. I convinced myself that I fell in love with first sight with this kid from 5th grade, and he was my main crush until well after high school. I never said more than “hello” to him, even though we lived in the same apartment building for almost 10 years, and then he married someone else and broke my heart. What was his problem?

Now I’m over it, of course. I mean, I do check up on his Facebook once in a while, but he never updates it. I also have an immediate, involuntary inclination to distrust and dislike anyone I find incredibly attractive.

Okay, I don’t know what else to say about that, so I’m going to go.

Face-Blindness Fridays #1

I figured out that I have face blindness a few years ago. I always knew something was wrong but I just thought I was stupid or self-absorbed when I couldn’t recognize people that I had met multiple times. When I was eight, in foster care, my mom came to visit and I thought she was a kidnapper. Over time, having a kidnapper mother came to be my new normal (that sounds weird but my life hadn’t exactly been going smoothly before that) and I stopped thinking about it.

Eventually, from time to time, I’d remember that odd, short period in my life in which I didn’t think my mom was my mom. Probably about a decade ago, my mom and I were watching 20/20 and there was a story about a young man who was convinced that his parents had been replaced by pod people. He’d been in a bad car accident and the connection between the visual memory of his parents and his affection for them was severed. When he’d talk to them on the phone or picture them in his mind, he knew that he loved them. When he saw them in person, no longer felt that rush of affection and therefore thought that his parents were imposters.

When I saw this story, I remember telling my mom that that was similar to my experience when she visited my brother and I at Mrs. Lewis’. I know what you’re thinking — why didn’t you Google it before that? Here’s why: I was born in 1978. I remember when the internet was basically useless. The “information superhighway” was built fairly quickly but it did take a decade or so for it to be close to what it is today. I did eventually track down that 20/20 story. That kid was diagnosed with Capgras delusion, but a lot of his symptoms didn’t apply to me, so I kept looking and found out about Prosopagnosia.

I shared the definition in a previous post but here it is again: “Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces. Prosopagnosia is also known as face blindness or facial agnosia. The term prosopagnosia comes from the Greek words for “face” and “lack of knowledge.”” (Wikipedia)

Prosopagnosia is a disorder that affects people to varying degrees. I’ve taken online tests that suggest that I have mild prosopagnosia but I think that that’s partly because I’ve taken the tests multiple times, but also because I trained myself to look and make mental notes of prominent or interesting facial features. I can actually draw decent portraits of people if I have good reference images and spend a lot of time on them. Here’s a portrait of my mom I drew from one of her favorite photos of herself:

I’d classify my face blindness as moderate because I can learn to recognize people based on their facial features, it just takes way longer than it takes most people. I also easily confuse similar-looking people with each other. If I haven’t seen someone in a long time (2-3 months), they may have to tell me their name before I can recognize them. Ditto if I run into someone I’m not expecting to see, particularly in an environment in which I’m not accustomed to seeing them.

When I didn’t recognize my mom at Mrs. Lewis’ house, I hadn’t seen her in at least a month. Also, in the blurry image I had of her in my mind, she looked basically like the photo above. When she visited at Mrs. Lewis’, she’d gained weight, her skin was gray, and most of the blonde had grown out of her hair. Also, this was the first time she’d ever visited in foster care in which she wasn’t identified by someone who I knew knew her. I remember walking past her in the courthouse when we met for the custody hearing but at the time, I put it down to there being so many people in the hallway that my gaze just bounced off of her too quickly.

People with face blindness tend to identify people by other physical traits; weight, height, voice, gestures, walk, etc. When my mom walked into Mrs. Lewis’, she carried herself differently than I remembered, and even her voice sounded defeated. I really thought she was a new social worker at first, before realizing that she was trying to pass herself off as my mother. And as far as I knew, Mrs. Lewis had never met my mother before, so how was she supposed to know? My brother wasn’t much help because he didn’t reject this woman, but he also didn’t run over and hug her. In fact, he would barely look at her.

Okay, I think that’s enough on face blindness for now. In the future, I’ll get into social anxiety, potential racism and the bland, daily terror of living with face blindness.

Blogging While Humaning

I’d love to have prepared something special for my first real blog post. I did a quick Google search and there were a lot of “not to-do” articles that I didn’t click on, but I did see one piece of advice that said, “share your expertise”. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m not an expert on anything but I am proficient in a lot of things:

  • sadness
  • anxiety
  • face blindness
  • Dan Fogelberg
  • writing
  • drawing
  • stand-up comedy

That’s seven things! So I’m going to dedicate one day of the week to each of these things and give the best tips I have for all of these subjects. If I become proficient at anything else,  I may have to change the format at some point, but we’ll start with these. Because this is my first official blog, I’m going to do the first week in one post and give a tip for each subject, so that you can judge from one post if I have any credibility on these subjects.

Minstrel Monday
Dan Fogelberg Fact: Dan Fogelberg had a boat named the Minstrel, therefore, Mondays have been nicknamed Minstrel Mondays!

Testy Tuesday
Okay, I couldn’t think of a word for anxiety that started with a “t” so we’re going with Testy Tuesdays. A tip for dealing with anxiety: Anxiety is about feeling out of control, so the best way to combat that is to pull your focus into what you can control, even if it’s something small. Write a one-page story (it doesn’t have to be good), draw a thing (it doesn’t have to be good), pick up your socks off the floor (leave the empty water bottles). If you’re focused on what you CAN do, you’re not focused on what you CAN’T control.

Writing Wednesday
This one was easy to name. This is something I did for my writing, recently:  I joined a Facebook writing group. It’s going well so far. Yes, there is the temptation to just play on the page instead of write. However, being able to see and talk to people for whom writing is also super important is very helpful.

Drawing Thursday
Yeah, I totally gave up on the alliteration for this one. A tip for drawing: start out crappy at it and get better by doing it crappily a lot. It’ll get gradually less crappy and before you know it, it’s actually kind of good.

Face-Blindness Friday
Again easy to name! Face blindness is called “prosopagnosia” and it is defined as, “Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces…Depending upon the degree of impairment, some people with prosopagnosia may only have difficulty recognizing a familiar face; others will be unable to discriminate between unknown faces, while still others may not even be able to distinguish a face as being different from an object.”* Tip for Dealing with a Face Blind Person: if you’ve met someone a few times and they still don’t recognize you, it may not be a lack of respect, it could be a neurological condition, so don’t get all butt hurt, just introduce yourself again.

Sadness Saturday
Ooh, my favorite! Honestly, I could make this every day, but what a bummer of a blog that would be. A tip for dealing with sadness: Google “I am sad” and see what pops up. Generally, it’s kittens. I like to Google my sadness away because it reminds me that it’s part of being human. Everyone deals with sadness, I am not a freak for feeling sad sometimes.

Stand-Up Sunday
The perfect follow-up to Sadness Saturday. I work at a comedy club, so I’ll probably spend Sundays reflecting on something I learned or saw that week, or a joke I heard, or something that pissed me off. This week, the Wednesday audition was really nice. We had like, four first timers (comedians new to the club) but in general, it was a low turnout, and mostly regulars. But before the audition, I asked David Dorward if he’d do one of my favorite bits. I requested one of my favorite Kimberly Clark bits from her, too, and then spent more time chatting with the few people who showed up than I usually do.

Usually, at auditions, the regulars get up and use it as an open mic with mixed results. But on Wednesday, David was one of our first regulars up, and he brought it. Kimberly did too, and so did all of our regulars. I think there were two things that happened yesterday: one, I showed an interest in the comics, rather than just checking them in, which made them feel special before they even got on stage. And second, even the comedians I didn’t chat with were jazzed and inspired by David and Kimberly and they all did their best, too.

David and Kimberly are two of my favorite comedians who drop by auditions regularly, and they always do well, but I think that going in knowing that they were not just watched but seen and heard, really helped. It COULD have backfired, and I won’t be doing that a lot, but my requests were spontaneous and genuine, and they responded to that. I think we all got to remind each other that we all love stand-up, which oddly enough, sometimes gets lost in the grinds and gears of comedy as a business.

* https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Prosopagnosia-Information-Page