Saturday, September 05, 2009


Prosopagnosia. There's a word for it. Pro-soap-ag-nose-ee-ah.

All my early life I wondered how the other kids were able to recognise (and ridicule) me at school when I didn't recognise many of them. If a kid changed their hairstyle or maybe grew taller, I just couldn't tell who they were.

As I've gotten older I've leaned to cope by trying harder and harder to remember solitary facial features and attatch a name to them, like a kind of facial mnemonic- Kristen with the blisterin' freckles, A-MOLE-ia- or other features that set them apart- Big Steve, Bearded Casey, and so on. Things reached a peak in my early residency because all the ward nurses seemed to be young, thinnish, slightly taller than me, and have brownish hair in a ponytail. I'd only remember the fat, old, red-headed or male ones. Or ones with strong accents.

None of this makes for an easy time making friends. That, coupled with the fact I've always been somewhat different (new, smart, bookish) has meant that I've always been kind of shy. No, actually, make that A LOT shy. My regular friends laugh at this suggestion, because I'm rather outspoken and bolshie once I get to know someone. But it's the getting to know that is the hard part: I mean, how do you say "Oh Hi there" to someone you've only met once socially if you don't have a clue what their face looks like?

This is a weird disability, because as a child I actually had a photographic memory. I remember vividly doing a science test in year 8 and being able to recall what was written on the pertinent page in my excecise book exactly as it appeared. As I've grown older, the photographic memory has faded, although bits remain: when I was studying anatomy I could recall illstrations in the textbook photographically, but not the labels attatched. So I could say "Oh yeah, that nerve that wraps around there and then it goes up and under, and passes though that muscle" but never remember what it was called.

But never, never for faces.

Well, kind of. To remember what someone looks like, I remember (photographically) a photo of them. So whilst I can't sit here and recall or imagine exactly what my husband sitting behind me looks like, I can recall a photo of him. And that (and still making up mnemonics) is the only way I remember people's faces. Ironic, eh.

So today was the first time we've gone to a 'school' playmate's party for Patrick. I mean, we've been to other friend friend's birthday parties, just never the "invitation in the school bag" kind. And I was terrified. Well, maybe highly anxious is a better term. Here was a bunch of people I've only ever met fleetingly whilst picking up or dropping off Patrick, and I didn't have a clue what any of them looked like, or whose child belonged to whom. Luckily, it was faily obvious when we arrived who the birthday boy was, and his parents were happy to re-introduce themselves. But then Patrick started asking "Where's Liam? Where's Liam?" and I didn't have a clue. But luckily, it seems Patrick is not accursed with the same affliction, so once he had spotted him, off he ran. Phew.

One of my biggest fears for Patrick and Oliver is that they will be lonely, ostracised or friendless at school. I don't remember high school with any degree of fondness, apart from the one or two good fiends I did manage to make. But if today's anything to go by, I needn't worry.

Patrick helping to check my ski gear was in working order


Blogger E, SS and the Little Man said...

That sounds really debilitating. Sorry. So, even though you have seen many photos of me, if you saw me in real life, you would have no idea who I was? Is that how it works? Or, do you not recognize me in photos on the blog either?

7/9/09 16:45  
Blogger jen said...

strangely enough, I remember photos of faces. So if I were to meet you IRL, I'd recognise you from my memory of your photo. However, if I had only ever met you IRL and had no photos of you, I wouldn't recognise you.

Most people with this condition don't even manage that, but I think the remnant of my photographic memory allows me to memoise people's photos. So, for example, to call up a mental image of Patrick, I have to think of his photo.

It's very weird when you consider I do have the ability to, for example, look at a piece of fabric and imagine it as a dress. I've also got a great memory for maps, diagrams and direction, and still remember some things by taking a mental 'snapshot'. But trying to recall someone's face... I can picture hair, but the rest is a big blur. Unles it's a photo of them I'm remembering. Then I can remember individual details much beter. Go figure.

7/9/09 21:59  
Blogger E, SS and the Little Man said...

That is so bizarre! I've never heard of this before. Fascinating.

8/9/09 00:23  

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