When I was twenty-seven, I acquired prosopagnosia. Prosopagnosia is the inability to recognize faces of familiar people. This condition is also known as face blindness. While growing up, I was always able to identify familiar people walking towards me. Unfortunately, at twenty-seven, I lost the ability to be able to identify my family, my friends and even my own reflection.
I lost my ability to know someone when I looked at them, but I became better at picking up cues from emotions people display on their faces. Though I maintained my ability to communicate, I began to depend more on recognizing clues I observed while I was speaking with individuals. With these clues, I am aided in recognizing familiar strangers without needing to depend solely on recognizing their faces.
Communication is a word we all use. Everyone knows its meaning, but we often forget about the simplicity behind the definition. Communication is when a message is sent by someone or something and received by at least one person. Upwards of 97% of what we communicate is done not through spoken words but how these words are received.
Think of this sentence: “Yeah that was interesting”. Four simple words which are often said. Take the time though, I dare you to even look at yourself in the mirror, and try this. First, say those words while thinking of something disgusting like eating repulsive foods on a national television show. Now say only those words while having admiration for the young genius that can recite pi far beyond the thousandth digit. Again say only those four words while thinking of your boss saying half of the employees are getting a substantial pay raise next week and you are among that half. Now say these words as if you just walked past a group of kids cussing profusely. In every scenario, your tone has changed greatly. The expression in your eyes will be altered. The four words never changed. However, the tone that was used and the response in your eyes offered a very telling clue to what was being said beyond the words. Same as when people communicate with you, a lot can be heard beyond specific words that are spoken. Once this is understood, you can learn to tell so much about the message a person is conveying to you.
With prosopagnosia, I may not be able to recognize a face, but the emotional characteristics held in that face are recognizable. I still can read the tears and frown as sadness. I still can be aware if there is deep rage within someone’s eyes and know that they feel anger. Recognition skills are still available for emotions. Auditory skills erase any doubt I have of possibly mistaking the visual clues of emotions being felt. The sudden gasp of air along with the mouth shaped as a tight, round circle indicates surprise. The fast chatter, raised pitch of a voice, and eyes moving quickly along with the eyebrows slightly raised will tell me that someone is anxious or excited. Even though I may not have the recognition of who the face belongs to, there is still a message being conveyed to me that is demonstrated by the face I see.