Riddle: We have seven of these in our house. You certainly have some in your home. Every time you gaze at these, you will probably think they appear the same wherever you may be. When I look at them, I will always see something different. What am I?
I don’t think I will ever again know who I am in recent photos without using broad clues such as the background and clothing. I always know the lady in younger pictures. Even if I were to never again change my hair color or style, my face will change. Aging is inevitable. There are lines and creases that will alter how I appear. I am okay with that. It’s a fact of life. Yet, a young woman will always be the photo I remember when flipping through photo albums. I recognize the pictures from yesterday. I remember words and events from today. In the end, the memories remaining are much more beautiful and meaningful than any photograph I could ever take today.
This past year I keep seeing an image that creates a lot of stress. There is a quickly aging female that is looking back at me. I am not sure who she is…..
Last week was my nine year mark from having had a brain injury that resulted in prosopagnosia. When I woke, I awoke to darkness. When darkness faded, I could no longer recognize anyone. I could not even recognize myself.
I acquired anterograde prosopagnosia. This means I remember faces from before my brain injury but no one I have met since. This also means faces which have changed in the past nine years are also no longer recognizable. Nearly everyone has changed in their appearance due to the passing years. I get used to this. People I knew from before the stroke have now just become like everyone else….. familiar strangers I prepare to meet again and again.
There is one image, however, that startles me often and causes growing concern. This image is my own reflection. When I was younger I would hear jokes about people not recognizing former classmates. They laugh about how everyone else ages but they themselves never do. I laughed predicting I was going to be the same way. I was never going to be the one growing old. I’m even smiling as I type this thinking how preposterous it sounds that I would show my age even though I know others around my age already do!
Yet, I do know, more so than most, how quickly I have aged over the past few years. Quite honestly, it is distressing. When I look in the mirror I am struck by how expression lines became more permanent and deeper on my face. When I look in the mirror, I can barely look away from impurities that are there. You would barely notice if you looked at me. To most it is probably a very slight change. Yet, I know why this is so blatantly obvious to me: I don’t know the person in the mirror who looks back at me with question and concern.
I expect the person I see in one of our mirrors will be a twenty-seven year old, new mother smiling and waiting to see what great things life has to offer. In reality, I see a new face each time I look. With face-blindness, I remember a face not as the image I see but by words that describe how someone appears. I know I now have chin-length, dark blond hair. I know there are lines close to my eyes. Yet, where exactly these lines are located and how deep they are is not a precise image I can create through words. The mirror reflects someone who is aging. My mind is holding onto someone in her mid-twenties.
As years pass, I know I will alter a lot more. I look forward to all those years in front of me. Yet, it should be of little surprise I spend a lot less time primping in front of the mirror. The mirror too often offers concern, questions and confusion. I don’t know if my make-up looks the same or way too dark because I have nothing to compare it to. Last week’s face is nonexistent; I have nothing to compare. I don’t know if my hair is parted on the exact same line it was last week when I had my haircut. I don’t remember what it looked like then. I do know this post’s picture would be perfect for my house. I know I look fine. I don’t try to look extraordinary. Besides, if that reflection is not perfect the image will quickly disappear from my memory. The stranger in the mirror is similar to those all around me. I will have a timidness filled with apprehension as I try to identify the one staring back at me from our mirror. Yet, I will be calmed with the smile that may return as I understand, I look fine.
Here are some other posts to learn more about living with prosopagnosia: