It has a fancy name: prosopagnosia. More commonly it is referred to as face blindness. It is something I've struggled with for as long as I can remember, moreso in the years after I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and CFIDS. A lot of times these fancy named disorders are misunderstood, and maybe even some folks will say such things don't exist but I am here to say that while I don't have it as bad as some do, it exists and it is a struggle.
Perhaps one of my pulls to photography is the ability to snap the present, in order to remember it for the future. I struggle with memory issues, and I want to remember every little thing that happens in my life and it makes me extremely angry at myself when I can't. But imagine knowing people for decades, and walking past them in the grocery store without even recognizing them. Or standing in front of a group of people that contains a family or friends and your eyes passing right across them as if they were strangers. I cannot even count the number of times my husband has pointed out someone to me, and I have zero recollection of knowing them. Their names I remember, I can possibly even put together events surrounding their names - but looking at their faces, nothing. It is as if I am seeing them for the first time.
I've learned to smile, follow their conversations, and never bring up the fact that I do not know who they are. I've also learned to ask my husband after walking away, "Now who was that again?" My husband is very longsuffering in this regard, and he remembers every single person. Even my models, most of whom I only ever spent one session with, he will remember them while I have no idea who I am looking at. It's very strange, I have a huge collection of photos and I can look at the photos and name who is in it; but face that person in public and I cannot recall anything about them.
This leaves me to a task I've done since I was a child, spending time usually while trying to fall asleep remembering what people look like. It sounds awful, and I am slightly ashamed I have to do this, but one of my greatest fears is that I will forget those I love or care about; that their faces will fade from my memory. So I struggle and force myself to pull up my grandmother's picture in my mind, and my Uncle Bebo, and my mother, and father, and each of my children. I'm so afraid that one day I will go to pick up one of my sons from school and they'll be standing there and I'll drive past them. It's a constant fear, one I don't talk about very often to anyone, but it's there. I think this is the reason that I have never - ever been able to
remember what color people's eyes are. I have sat across from someone
for hours, and right afterwards I cannot recall what color their eyes
are. The only reason I remember what color my children's eyes are is
that it is something in my rote I go through along with "pulling up" their picture in my brain, I go through certain aspects about them I should know. Blue eyes for Josiah, and Hudson has my eyes. As I type this, I'm trying to recall what color of eyes my grandmother had, and even my mother. I cannot remember. That feels devastating to me to admit.
It makes me very afraid to go out to meet people alone. Most recently, I had opportunity to go and spend time with my college roommate, Shay. While I had many fears about meeting up with someone I knew years ago (will she still like me? have I changed too much?) one of my main fears was not being able to recognize her. Thankfully, I was going to her house and she was right out there waiting for me, but if I had been forced to go to a restaurant for example, and pick her out of a line of people waiting outside - I would have failed. I would have done like I always do, loiter around at my car while casually taking a glance around, and wait for them to recognize ME and approach. I'm ashamed. I wish I could 'fix' this issue, it's embarassing. But I can't, and this is me, and I have finally decided to be honest to my world about it. I may have known you since I was a child, but chances are if you see me at the grocery store and my husband isn't there to prompt me, I will not even recognize you.
So please, if you have ever taken offense at my lack of recognition and my gentle smile while I chat with you all the while having no idea who you are, I beg your forgiveness -- and your understanding. What can you do to help me, or anyone else with this disorder? First, don't take it personally. It has nothing to do with you as a person. As I said, I even have to constantly prompt my brain to remember my own children's faces, it has nothing to do with me personally choosing to forget you. Secondly, please approach me when you see me and don't wait for me to approach you! Thirdly, do not feel awkward about telling me who you are and where I know you from, even if I've known you for years! A quick, "Hey do you remember me? I'm So and So, we went to high school together." or you can even try to disguise it, "I remember when your boys were just babies, back at Rose Hill." Giving me little hints will help! And, if I do remember you, it doesn't hurt my feelings at all to have a reminder anyway of your name, or where I know you from.
Prosopagnosia. Fancy name, for a life-long challenge.