Your parents, older siblings and extended family are the first people you can recognize as an infant when you see them walking into a room. You learn early on that these people will offer the love, support and meeting of needs when you can’t yet verbalize what it is you want. Later, you realize the person looking back at you in the mirror moves the same way you do. Then you notice the same face is connected to these identical movements. Not long after this, a permanent connection is made realizing this face belongs to you. This familiarity becomes a constant you can rely on and depend on regardless of where life’s adventures may take you.
As years pass by, this familiarity will be met with joy, happiness, and possibly even resentment throughout teenage years. The consistency of familiar faces will deliver peace and relief. The dependability you find in your parents’ faces may be rebelled against as you seek out your own identity. Most individuals grow into a stage of not feeling the need to see their family’s constant gaze. No longer will you look for these faces in a crowd to provide the sense of security you once relied on to meet your most basic needs. Yet, as you enter adulthood, you once again seek family members’ faces not only for support and approval but also for friendship.
Your own face will evolve over the years. As a young child, you see the princess or fierce protector reflecting back in the mirror. This face will evolve into a teenage reflection. Many will grow uncomfortable at times as the teenage years linger for what seems like forever. This face will smile back in a confused reflection of pride as girls experiment with make-up and boys begin to grow facial hair. There is confusion and awe in these changing reflections, but there is always the level of familiarity.
I remember the changes my own mirrors showed as if it were yesterday. I remember my self-confidence as I grew into a pretty elementary schoolgirl that believed the imaginary microphone and fun reflection were destined to find fame by singing in front of family members. I remember the years of concern and resentment when my face began to break out. I learned growing up was not always so pretty. I remember the strong sense of dread worrying those years would never end. In retrospect, the awkward years quickly gave way back to a mirror reflection I once again enjoyed. I felt a sense of relief being near these familiar faces. I remained close friends with the girl always there waiting to smile back at me.
I had this comfort for twenty-seven years. Upon sight, I had the luxury of knowing the round face reflecting in the mirror was mine. This image was a dependable friend. I could find a mirror and feel great about the day when I saw how a new outfit fit me, or I could see my eyes and know whether the puffiness would allow for others to see the tears. This reflection was a very good friend. The mirror always told the truth. Even the smallest change in my reflection was noticeable and told me a story. I was never startled walking by an unexpected mirror believing a stranger had come into my home. If I tried on clothes, I knew the reflection would be mine. Unlike now, then I could concentrate on the way the clothes fit rather than the unidentifiable lady sharing my dressing room mirror. That person, that dependable reflection I knew so well, no longer looks back at me. After my stroke, she completely disappeared. When I think about what I should see, I only remember the girl of yesteryears. I only remember my parents’ eyes from previous years as they looked at me shining with pride and often concern. The memory of faces from before the stroke will now remain with me unchanged.
Regardless of how many years pass, my face, my friends and loved ones will remain forever young in my mind. I have found these memories offer a unique fountain of youth. The familiar faces I learned to quickly recognize as an infant and my own image that would always greet me in the mirror no longer come around. I make jokes about not knowing my own reflection. Often, it truly amuses and amazes me. I have made peace knowing I will never again be able to recognize my family and friends. I will keep participating in research programs to help learn more about neurological conditions. Yet in reality, I have to admit, I kind of miss that familiar friend so easily recognizable staring back at me in passing mirrors.