Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Prosopagnosia (Face blindness)

Jeez, I can't believe how long it's been since I've written a post! I really need to write these more often.

Yes, it's been far too long! A lot has happened since my last post. For one thing, I'm no longer in Boston but in nearby Quincy. The landlord for my old apartment sold my unit-- which had been a steal-- and everything else in the area was approaching New York City prices. Quincy is expensive too, but still a bit less than Boston. It's also near the subway lines, so I moved to my new place-- a nice, one-bedroom apartment-- at the end of last October. I miss living in Boston proper, but at least I'm in a large apartment instead of a studio.

So, today's topic is prosopagnosia... let's discuss!

I am one of many people on the autism spectrum who also has prosopagnosia. Prosopagnosia is a neurological condition that makes it difficult for the afflicted to recognize faces. In my case, it takes me longer than other people to learn new faces. Some people have the condition so severely that they fail to recognize family members-- even spouses-- if they so much as wear a drastically different hairstyle.

I was only identified with prosopagnosia recently, but I long suspected that I have it. I am just terrible at learning new faces. When I was a teenager on my group trip to Israel, I made a friend on the first day. The next day, the friend changed her clothes and I didn't recognize her. This eventually passed, but it took a few days for me to be able to recognize her no matter what she wore.

Throughout my life, I've asked the same new people their names over and over again. It takes me a while to be able to recognize someone at work out of context. As a kid, other kids took advantage of this aspect about me by harassing me, knowing I could not report them because I wouldn't know who they were. Sometimes, my mother would ask me, "Who are these kids?" I would say, "I've never seen them in my life." Except I probably had, several times! When my parents would drop me off at a camp event during the school year, they would ask, "Do you see anybody you know?" I would quickly scan the area for kids in my group, because they were the only kids I recognized. Even if I didn't spot them, sometimes I'd lie and say, "Yes" because I knew that I was supposed to be dropped off at a particular spot anyway, and I'd find them. I didn't want to deal with my parents asking me why I didn't know if I saw other kids from camp, even if they thought such a question would help me.

Prosopagnosia can often be embarrassing. Even before I knew the word for it, I felt ashamed of my problem. Whatever it was, I knew it was an issue that other kids didn't deal with. Sometimes in school if one "friend" was gossiping about other kids, she would say, "Oh, so you know So-and-So?" I would say, "What about her?" And she'd say, "Well, do you know who I'm talking about?" I would lie and say, "Yes," just hoping that the friend would get the story over with. I felt like a complete idiot because I knew that whoever my friend was talking about was probably in several classes with me. But what could I do? The same thing that closeted gay kids did (and probably still do sometimes) when asked, "Who do you have a crush on?" They just play along, pretending to be what society deems "normal" so that they won't be humiliated. And when I worked as a children's librarian, I felt like a complete jerk for not knowing the kids' names. I knew that people probably interpreted that as me not caring. I think it's worse for a woman to have prosopagnosia, because in society women are expected to have the "nurture" setting as their default. That's not me.

And to be honest, while I do care about humanity at large and about individual people once I get to know them, at first glance human faces are all but meaningless to me. Until I get to know the person-- or at least something about them-- I see just a meat bag, a naked mole rat-- take your pick. And I actually wonder if this has something to do with my demisexual/demiromantic orientation. Think about it: Most people get into relationships after an initial attraction based on physical appearance. That doesn't work for me. It's literally impossible for me to think of someone as romantically/sexually attractive until I get to know them in some way. And if people are "meat bags" to me at first glance, why would I feel attracted to someone? As is with demisexual and demiromantic people, attraction is very rare for me.

But as for prosopagnosia as it affects my daily life, fortunately as society marches forward through the 21st century, there is greater understanding. People at work know that I have it, and they don't judge me if it takes me forever to learn new faces or if I get two new people mixed up. They understand and we laugh it off. I'm now comfortable telling people outside of work that I have this problem, and am glad to be living in a time where we can address these issues openly and frankly. There's less anxiety involved when I can just explain to people that, yes, I'm terrible with faces, and yes I will ask your name over and over.

Yes, and so what?

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