Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

Not so BREAKING NEWS: I have prosopagnosia.  I live with face blindness.  It was acquired from a stroke.  For twenty-seven years, I knew my friends, my family members and my own reflection upon first glance.  I no longer have the ability to recognize any of these people.

I was walking my daughters to school today.  I let them get a block ahead of me.  When I turned the corner, they were farther ahead than I had expected.  And now, there were four blond girls instead of two.  As always in situations like this, there was a note of concern.  The usual familiar situation had changed.  The automatic response of relief knowing I was looking at my daughters was replaced by confusion hoping two of the four were my children.  Their bags were swinging in front of them.  They all had on blue jeans.  The profile of their faces was the only clue left for me.  The characteristics I am able to recognize were suddenly of no use to me.  Adding to the stress, there was a lady walking between me and the girls.

I looked to the ground and noticed wet foot prints on the cement coming from a house half way up the street.  Two small separate sets of prints cut close to the grass.  A larger print made a wide turn from the driveway to the sidewalk.  This house was where my girls’ friends lived.  Their two daughters attended school with my children.  They rarely walked.  Usually their mother drove them.  This mother was close to my height and built with a larger frame than me.  These clues came together, and I was confident my daughters were within that group of girls.  Then sound of laughter fluttered through the air.  I knew two of those giggles belonged to my children.  It was a beautiful sound offering joy and relief from my concern.

As I caught up to the slowing mother, I called out her name.  Generally, this is an event that makes me feel uncomfortable.  It is another time I quickly fill with dread.  What if the clues did not lead me to the correct conclusion?  What if this unfamiliar face is not someone I know, but I have called out the wrong name to a complete stranger?  I got lucky this time.  I was correct about who this lady was.  After chatting for a while, she again mentioned her amazement about my complete lack of facial recognition.  She explained, yet again, how hard it is for her to understand how I cannot recognize people but so easily call out a name.

I explained the foot prints left by the morning dew.  I explained laughter that flows from my children.  I explained habits and the concern when people deviate from these patterns.  I tried to make her understand anyone can do this.  I never would have believed it either.  Before I lost this ability, I always took recognizing faces for granted.  Back then I used to focus of fleeting glimpses I could see of friends passing by.  Now I focus on more detailed clues like the backpacks my children carry and footprints that offer direction of who also left their house so early on a school morning.  I do have face blindness.  I do not recognize the faces of friends or family.  I do not even recognize myself.  Yet I now pay close attention and try hard to notice the clues a person’s habits or patterns provide, cues I see within body language and other news I can gather together that will hopefully help me call out the correct name of a familiar stranger.

Comments on: "Cues, Clues & Other News" (11)

  1. What a poignant story. Thank you for posting this 🙂

  2. You followed clues that led you to your girls – awesome. You would make a good detective Tara!
    Your strength and positiveness both amazes and inspires me. I couldn’t imagine never seeing my children’s faces anymore, let alone my own, and I admire the way you just get on with life and work things out, as you did that day with the girls.

    • A detective? Yes, I probably would be good at that now and the thought humors me. Before everything, I was completely unaware of most things around me. I was always the clueless one in a group. Now, I do not miss too much. If I can do it, anyone should be able to find and remember clues.

      I always see the faces, I just never remember what they look like. Sometimes that is a good thing. I no longer worry too much if I get a bad haircut. 🙂

      Thanks, Barb, for stopping by. It is always great to hear from you!

  3. I’m am so moved by your story, by your courage, by your tenacity, by your love. you’re developing such a deep awareness. . . go ahead, keep inspiring me 🙂

  4. You are more mindful and truly present than many of us are, paying attention to what is precious and meaningful. Excellent post!

    I admire the skills you’ve developed to recognize people. I am forever greeting and waving to people I’ve never met in cases of “mistaken identity” and I don’t have prosopagnosia.

    • I love that you greet and wave at people often. I am always doing that. I figure the worst that can happen is I can make someone return my smile and spend the day being confused of whether they know me or not. It is quite fun to see the tables turned. 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to leave your kind comment. I really appreciate it.


  5. That’s how Sherlock Holmes did his great feats of analysis: by paying attention to details that other people don’t notice, or aren’t even aware of.
    This post makes me wonder. Can you recognize voices? Can you recognize/differentiate by what the French call “allure”, the manner in which people move, their distinctive physical patterns as they walk? Their physical shape (as opposed to facial features?)
    Learning more about prosopagnosia seems to make it more, rather than less, mysterious, Tara.

    • Good afternoon Judith! Sorry for the delay in responding to your great questions. I have been fortunate enough to have visitors out here for the past two weeks. I was glad to share my winter weather with friends and then family.

      I do a better job at recognizing people from a block or two away rather than see people in the same room or passing me. Yes, I do recognize and remember body shapes and unique characteristics. I remember if someone limps a little or walks with perfect posture. I remember if a person has a unique way to wear their hair or commonly wears summer dresses that are too large and long for their petite frame. Characteristics that are unique and can be put into words are quickly placed into my memory. The tone of pale skin or the precise amount of narrow space between eyes cannot be specifically verbalized; therefore, I cannot remember and identify them with a person. A voice can be remembered as long as I have heard it often and it fits the setting. For example, a character on Big Bang Theory is remembered, but I if I heard the same people in documentaries, I would not as easily remember where I heard them. If we have several phone conversations before meeting at a cafe, I can generally identify who I am waiting for when I hear them say hello and ask how I am. It is a process of inclusion and exclusion with the clues I gather.

      I was never good at focusing in on small clues about what someone is saying or doing. Now, I am terrific at utilizing my other senses and memory techniques. It is true that when you lose a sense the others become much more focused. If some day I were to gain back what I have lost (which medically is not foreseeable), I am excited to think about what I would be able to accomplish!


  6. Thanks for your generous answers, Tara. The subject is really fascinating — what the clues are, and what they are not. I should think you are a gold mine of information for researchers and clinicians on prosopagnosia. You are so observant AND so articulate!
    A treasure —

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