How being face-blind affects my everyday life
About my life with a mild form of prosopagnosia
When face blindness is covered in the media, it is usually sensational and undifferentiated. It is always about the extreme form of facial blindness, in which the affected person cannot even recognize their next of kin by their face.
Those who read such reports must believe that this disorder is a terrible stroke of fate. But this is only the case in really extreme states.
But more often people are like me. We say things like, “I don’t remember faces that well.” We also think that we are simply unfocused and annoy ourselves.
We have a light form of prosopagnosia and usually get along very well with it. Hardly anyone from our environment ever notices that we have this problem. Most people who suffer from mild prosopagnosia do not even know it themselves.
How face blindness manifests itself in me
To recognize a person safely, I must see them often. I certainly don’t recognize people I meet at a party later when they meet me somewhere else.
The better I know a person, the easier I’ll recognize them. The rarer I deal with someone, the more insecure I am at an encounter, whether it is that person or not.
Even distant acquaintances, friends of friends, and people in public life I recognize only very unreliably.
As a salesman, waiter or receptionist, I’d be a disaster.
The problem is less severe if I always meet the same people in the same context. I always recognized colleagues at work effortlessly, but when I happened to meet them in my spare time, I was never sure if they really were them.
I also recognize neighbors more easily in the scenic surroundings of our house, as if I would meet them somewhere else.
Changed hairstyles, caps, a suddenly missing or new beard are also a big problem.
I find it particularly annoying that I often confuse people with each other, even though objectively they don’t even look alike. In films, too, I sometimes have problems following the plot because it takes me a while to connect the actors’ faces with their roles.
But the most striking thing about me is the inability to describe people from memory. If someone asks me what another person looks like, I can’t answer. I’m not getting a clear mental picture. But even if I have a picture in my head, I can’t find the necessary words to give a good description.
What face blindness feels like
I don’t see blurry, and I don’t have any gaps in my field of vision. I can recognize every contour in a person’s face and interpret facial expressions. I only often have difficulty associating a face with a name and a biography.
The problem is not optical but mental. Whenever I want to identify a person, I feel considerable uncertainty. I often know that I know someone, but I can’t tell where they come from. Sometimes I am absolutely sure that I have a specific person in front of me, but I don’t trust my judgment.
Then it may be that I first make sure with someone else that it really is that person. Only then will I dare to address this person by his name.
Face blindness and sense of orientation
A bad sense of orientation and a lack of spatial imagination are two further problems of mine. During my research, I found out that many of those affected by face blindness also have deficits in these areas.
It is interesting to note that there are also many affected people who claim to be able to orient themselves very well. Either there is no causal connection here, or there are different forms of prosopagnosia.
Despite the uncertain facts, I believe that my face blindness and the other problems are related. When I try to remember a face, it feels exactly like trying to memorize a path.
How I deal with my face blindness
Despite the problems I have, I function socially completely inconspicuously. Over the years, I’ve developed tactics to hide my light prosopagnosia.
The biggest help to me is my wife. At parties or whenever we meet a lot of people, I just ask her who it was I was just talking to.
I often have lively conversations with people who recognize me without me immediately knowing who they are. Meanwhile, I rarely feel uncomfortable. I simply try to find out from the conversation how we know each other and avoid having to address the other person with his or her name.
But the best thing for me was openness. I’m just gonna tell people now if I don’t recognize them. In the meantime, word has spread among our acquaintances that one doesn’t have to be offended when I pass one of them in the city without a greeting.
It’s like any personal weakness — if you don’t dramatize it, you can live with it well.
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