I realize I will never again know who I am in current photographs (prosopagnosia) without using broad clues such as background and clothing. Due to only remembering faces from before (anterograde) my stroke (acquired), I always recognize myself in younger pictures. However, logically, I will continue to age. 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 continuously alter how we appear. It’s a fact of a life well lived.
My image as a young woman will always be recognizable when flipping through photo albums. I identify with these pictures from years gone by. This image of what I looked like then is frozen in my mind forever. It is the face I will always expect to see when I catch a glimpse of myself today. Still, fortunately, I am able to remember the happy thoughts created each and every day. In the end, these memories are much more beautiful and meaningful than any photograph we could ever take.
One weekend when we were on an adventure visiting a new city, we wandered into a gift shop. One of the items for sale was a masquerade mask. I put it up to my face and felt an immediate, exciting moment of freedom. When we left the store –half in jest to tease my children and half because of the freeing feeling, I put the mask up to my face while we walked around.
Though no one else could have fully understood my actions unless I took time to explain myself in depth, I completely understood why I felt the joy. You see, in this picture you probably focus on the gold eyes framing the upper portion of the face. Yet, I am already concentrating on the shape of the face and style of hair. Due to habit, it might be easier for me to quickly identify a person behind a mask. The partially hidden face might make it harder for you to distinguish the person. So, don’t you see? We are suddenly on a level playing field! If everyone were to wear a mask such as this, you would be forced to rely on only clues having to do with the body and not the complete face. With face blindness, this is exactly how I have adjusted to seeing people. Faces hold no significance to me when we see each other in a room. I look at your face but I am really focusing on your broader details. I remember your hair cut and color and the shape of your body. I know your mannerisms. This is how I identify you.
When you see someone in a mask which covers most facial features, you are suddenly at a disadvantage, too. You are now only allowed to view the characteristics I usually rely on to identify people. In a room of masquerade masks, everyone can suddenly become the stranger I see in you. I can be free… I will not be the only one asking subtle questions attempting to identify how we know each other. I don’t need to be nervous that I am the only one in the room clueless of who I might know and who I don’t. We can all enjoy the company of getting to know strangers we quickly realize are truly our friends. Seeing a face disguised by a masquerade mask can give you a quick glimpse into my everyday world.
“Facing Her Problems” was written by Peter Surowski and published August 27, 2012 in Press-Enterprise. Thank you, Peter, for the time and energy you spent writing this piece last year to help raise awareness of prosopagnosia and neuroscience research. Over the past year, I have heard from people throughout Southern California commenting on how well your article was written and how informative it was.
MENIFEE: Woman can’t recognize her own face.