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ago, my mom and I were watching 20/20 and there was a story about a young man who was convinced that his parents had been replaced by pod people.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.

Living While Grieving

I remember once in 6th grade, this girl stepped on my foot. Many people have done that by accident, but she did it on purpose. So my foot was hurt, but so were my feelings. I no longer feel the physical pain of that moment, but when I think of it, I’m rocked with  the befuddlement and impotent indignation of that moment.

We haven’t all watched the person that we love most in the world die, we’ve all dealt with someone being cruel to us for no reason, so we all know that emotional pain sticks with us longer than physical pain. That’s why it’s weird to me when people expect me to be okay that my mom is dead. My knowledge of her didn’t disappear with her body. Right after my mom died, I pictured us both as vessels, with me pouring love into her non-stop for 32 years and then trying to figure out where to put that love once her vessel was destroyed. The love didn’t stop flowing, it just went out of me and into nothing. I’d never felt emptier.

The problem with grieving is that it doesn’t go away. My mom doesn’t stop being dead. The thing that upset me the day she died is still happening. She didn’t die and then come back and sometimes I remember how bad it sucked to know she was dead. I never stop remembering because it’s still happening. This is current. That bitch from 6th grade is still stepping on my foot, except it’s not a little girl, it’s God, and it’s not my foot, it’s my heart that’s being torn out second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, year by year.

And on top of that, I’m supposed to go to work and function as a normal human being, and I try because I’m not the first person to ever experience loss. Mine is not the genesis of all human suffering. Everyone, if they live long enough, will go through their days, hearing nothing but screaming in their heads where there used to be a measured narrator, figuring out what to wear to work, what to buy at the grocery store, what movie to see…

I know this and so I try to be kind, but some days, all I want to do is die. And on those days it’s hard to be kind because everyone I meet and talk to is just blocking my path to sweet, sweet death. I want them all to go away so that I can go away.

People are worried that the afterlife might be even worse than this one. Some people are afraid that if they’re not good enough here, they’ll be punished for eternity somewhere else. Hell holds no terror over me. It’s not that there ISN’T worse — based on my limited knowledge of God, that’s a definite possibility. It’s that worse is beyond my imagination. Every day is the absolute worst day of my life.

Every breath in is like a standing in the shade of a willow tree, with a 3rd-degree sunburn, and every breath out is like leaving the shade of the tree and feeling the sun burn away at my blackening blisters until there is nothing left but pain.

I can tell people this, but they look at my soft body and my baby doll smile and they don’t believe it. Sometimes, I look in the mirror or at a picture of myself, and I can’t believe that what I’m looking at is real. I can’t  project any humanity into her; frailty, fears, or faults. She looks so sweet and uncomplicated. Like nothing bad has ever touched her.

But inside, sometimes all I feel is the hot, sticky tar of tainted innocence. And once purity is tainted, it’s not pure anymore. I understand the tendency for humanity to embrace the concept of fire and brimstone because I would like to see myself, body and soul, cleansedestroyed by fire.

Sometimes I’m not sure what a person is, and if there is a definite definition of one, I’m sure I don’t fit into it. I don’t think I ever have.

I think also, that people think that you can’t have these thoughts and then carry on like I do, laughing, and trying to focus on small pleasures. The moment is all we have. It’s the only thing no one can take from us. It’s the thing that makes comedy magic — everything outside of this moment is out of our control — what’s happened is already done, what will happen will almost never go as planned, but right now, we’re crafting this moment. We’re creating the past and the future, you and me, writer and reader, painter and viewer, comedian and audience, now. Now. Now. It’s the closest thing to being God, to being with God, we can get.

I spend my day busy, distracting myself with petty disagreements and tiny sparks of hope, and sometimes I think that’s all a person is — someone who forgets to be pain for moments, days, years at a time. And in that case, I am one. I’m just bad at it, because I remember too much, too often.

Empty Houses

There are two things that bother me in day-to-day life: I miss my dead mom and my dead brother, and I hate that people just don’t get it.

I have a friend who has a sister-in-law who is just a lovely little nightmare. She has a persecution complex and she has decided that my friend is her enemy and is therefore not nice to my friend. My friend is a nice person. She doesn’t mean harm to anyone, she actively tries to grow spiritually and emotionally, and she just wants to help people. She’s actually studying to be a social worker, right now. Like, right this minute.

But this almost makes it worse when my friend misunderstands or misinterprets something I say. After my mom died, my friend was the only person who called me every single day and wouldn’t get off the phone until I yelled at her about how shitty I felt. She’s a good friend.

BUT although she has experienced loss, she has never lost a core family member, and she kept trying apply her own knowledge of loss to what I was going through. I could not get her to understand how absolutely devastated I was, which would have been fine, but she would always start the conversation by asking if I was doing better, like another day or two was supposed to heal the soul that had been torn to shreds, tattered pieces floating in the ether, each of them red-hot and screaming in pain.

One time, trying to find a metaphor she’d understand, I told her that my heart is like a house with rooms in it for everyone I love. And I spend as much time as possible in the rooms that are full of people I love, but I’m constantly, crushingly aware  of the empty rooms. My little brother died when I was 7, my mom died a few years ago, and I have various friends and acquaintances who hold empty rooms in my house. Each empty room is furnished with memories and reasons I love those people, all reasons I miss them so much.

Today, my friend called me and reminded me of this analogy, which instantly flooded me with not only the sense of loss I had when I was describing it to her, but the aggravation of trying to explain myself to someone who didn’t and couldn’t understand. She used this analogy to compare me to her sister-in-law, something to the effect of, “You have a hard life but you just focus on what you have and the good things in your life.” Which is true, I do my best to do exactly that, but a) I know how hard it is for me to do that — way fucking harder than dismissing that struggle in one fucking sentence, and b) that wasn’t the point of the analogy.

The point was that now matter how many people I love who are still left, and how much I enjoy them and appreciate that they’re alive, two of the three biggest rooms in my house are empty. And they’ll always be empty. No matter how many times I fall down, I can’t go into my mom’s room and get my boo-boos kissed. I can accomplish great things in my life, and two of the three people in the world who would have been happier for and prouder of me than me, can’t.

And just remembering the fact that those rooms are empty, which happens an unrelentingly ridiculous amount of times a day, sends my psyche into a stratosphere of agony. Because life is nothing without the people we love.

Anyway, I know that my friend means well and that she’s not trying to misunderstand me and misinterpret what I say, but it’s super frustrating to talk to someone who is supposed to be one of my best friends who just misses the point SO much. And the worst part is that she’s constantly praising me for being so evolved and shit, and I’m just not. I’m tired. I’m afraid. I’m trying.

But I’m not a better person than anyone else. I just understand that spreading my misery doesn’t make ME feel better. I try to be nice and I try to understand where people are coming from because it makes ME feel safer and happier to do that than to purposely misinterpret good intentions and expect the worst. Life is already the worst. It doesn’t need my help.