Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

Last week I went to a work party with my husband.  Around forty people, some familiar and some strangers, crowded into a small room and were mingling about.  With conversations surrounding us, all the voices blended into one.  It was difficult to pick a familiar voice from within the group.  In other words, a nice night out was slipping into a frustrating experience of “have I met you before”.

With prosopagnosia, how do you find out who each person is?  How do you comfortably move around forty people all saying hello to one another and nonchalantly ask each of them, “Hey, do we know each other?”  You don’t.  That is the problem with social gatherings.  Unless you want to stand before everyone and make an announcement regarding the condition also known as face blindness, you have to merely fake it until you make it.  Sometimes there will be a distinct characteristic of an individual that will allow you to recognize them easily.  Sometimes a person will give you enough information about their life that you will be able to identify how you know each other.  Some individuals with prosopagnosia find identifying these clues too challenging and frustrating.  They choose to stay at home and remain in their peaceful comfort zone.   This is not my nature.  I long for social companionship.  I cannot let the world of strangers deter me from taking in all the joys I previously knew before acquiring prosopagnosia.

As we arrived at the party, a gentleman said hello to me.  It was then I began to analyze who he was:  1.) He knew my name.  2.) There was no confusion or reluctance filling his eyes as he greeted me. 3.) He knew my mode of transportation.   This told me he was very familiar with who I was.  He knew me, so I must know him.  His question of how I was, was genuine.  His mannerism showed kindness and courtesy.  The most telling clue was his speech.  It held an accent resembling someone raised in the southern United States.  Ah, yes, I was now sure I knew this man.  Yet, before I started inquiring about his wife and children by name, I leaned into my husband’s shoulder and quietly whispered the name asking if I was correct.  Yes, I was.  With this confirmation, we went on to have a very nice conversation.

Name tags would be so helpful in situations like this. Then again, name tags would be helpful any time I stepped out my door.  What is it like to have prosopagnosia?  It is intimidating.  It can be disappointing.  It is a mixture of frustration and sadness at times.  Yet, many times I find the humor lying behind my initial reaction.  Expecting the entire world to wear name tags for us is a bit too much.  Rather, I think I should fill my closets with shirts stating, “Please let me explain prosopagnosia to you….Unless I just did”.  I do not resent having face blindness.  It is currently estimated 2% of the population has it.  I am not alone.

I am not alone in the world with this condition, but sometimes it is astounding how alone I can be in a crowded room.  If I know you, please say hello.  If I ignore you, please do not assume I was being rude.  Saying, “Hi Tara. How are you?  I’m Susan” will help me a lot.  Do not feel awkward about this frequent introduction.  After all, I remember your kindness.  I remember our previous conversations.  I remember your joy and my response of excitement.  It is just that I do not remember the appearance of your face.  I continue to wish we could all wear name tags whenever we leave the house.  I know, maybe too much to ask for, but it would be nice to never again have to guess who the kind stranger is at a gathering.  If it is you, I really hope you come over and say hello again.  Whether it is the first time or the twentieth that we have met, I will be grateful to learn your name again.

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Comments on: "The World Needs Name Tags" (7)

  1. This is the simplest thing in the world, isn’t it? Once again I am mystified by all the challenges you face each day. I bet those nametags would help lots of people, not just you. Figuring things out by accents, mannerisms, and people he mentions. That sounds overwhelming.

    I have to confess, I attend a weekly meeting where attendees come and go. Mostly everyone wears a nametag, but I don’t. Because it’s inconvenient to write my name and stick it on. I figure no one cares who I am anyway, so why bother. You have given me a reason to do better. Thanks for sharing this.

    • I hope you do begin to wear a name tag at these meetings Linda. It greatly helps so many people. I know plenty of people who are just not good at remembering names.

      Just remember to take off the name tag after meetings. I cannot begin to tell you the number of people that recognize me after having attended a meeting. I leave the stores or lirbaries confused as to who they could be always calling me by name. It is not until after I pick up my children I realize I never took off the tag. 🙂 Such a relief to learn I actually did not know the people!

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by. I always enjoy when you leave your kind words.

      Tara

  2. Yep. I know the feeling. I know people by context — where they sit, where they work, what they drive — not by face.

    I ran into someone I know from one part of my life at work the other day. I had just started and didn’t know that she worked at the same place. It’s nothing but awkward to not know someone that you really do know.

    I wish there were name tags on the cubes at work. It would help me out enormously!

    -George

    • Familiar strangers are the worst George! Name tags on cubes at work is a terrific idea. Maybe we should put that in the suggestion box. 🙂

      I was delighted to see your comment on here. It is always terrific to read the thoughts from someone else with prosopagnosia. Thank you for writing your two cents. I know my readers will learn from you, and I greatly appreciate it!

      Tara

  3. It grows out of different conditions — but old folks share your wish that everyone would wear name tags! We’re living in a retirement village where we frequently encounter various community members up at the central Meeting House. Both my husband and I recognize many faces perfectly well — but our aging memories don’t do so well with names!
    Both of us have had the experience of whispering to someone whom we do know (usually our immediate neighbors) — “What’s the name of that person?” Only to hear them reply in a whisper, “I have no idea.” It isn’t just us, it’s all of us oldies!
    So you see, whichever end you start from, you arrive at the same point: Name tags, please!

    • Do you think if you laid a pile of name tags on the Meeting House table people would get the hint and use them? 🙂 Better yet, why don’t I come up there and help you out. I rarely forget names or previous conversations. You can help me remember where I last saw the person; I can put together clues and tell you names of the people. By working together, we will know everyone!

  4. What a Dynamic Duo we would make, Tara!
    You made me really smile today — it’s a great idea.

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