Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Face Blind

I have some kind of knack for stumbling across news stories concerning issues, usually unusual issues, which I’ve had on my mind (See, “What Happens to Your Facebook When You Die?”). This was refreshing, a reminder that I’m not alone in my face-frustration.

Most people don’t know about my “face blindness”. I didn’t even tell hubby until recently. It’s quite embarrassing, and since less than 3% of the population is affected, it’s not easy to understand. Instead, I struggle through the day, desperately hoping I don’t cause any awkward moments when I get people confused.

For those of you unfamiliar with prosopagnosia, or “face blindness”, it is essentially the same as being color blind, only it’s faces, not colors, that the brain doesn’t process correctly. Just as someone who is color blind cannot tell the difference between red and green, no matter how hard they try, I simply don’t see the details required in most faces to tell them apart. There are people I recognize, of course, but rarely without practice, and generally not based on faces. I still question my memory when I pick up my own father at the airport, having not seen him in a year, will I know who he is?

I’ve known about my prosopagnosia since high school; however it hasn’t been a serious problem until recently. Having previously established myself, my social network and job, I was fairly comfortable, but hubby and I moved here to Kansas last May, and I’ve had to start over.

Just last week I had to enlist help from a coworker and my boss because almost a dozen guests from corporate were visiting, you can’t imagine the stress I was feeling, knowing that I would meet the owner of the company, and when later in the day I saw him again, I simply wouldn’t recognize him. As if one member of management wasn’t enough, there were more than 10 other officials joining him. The ladies I explained my dilemma to were helpful and compiled pictures of everyone coming for me, along with some helpful information (“He has very red hair,” or “He’s extremely short”). Lifesavers!

Sadly, this situation was not isolated. After nearly 2 months with my coworkers, I still have quite a difficult time distinguishing who’s who. As a matter of fact, this morning a gentleman who is transferring to another installation came to my desk to say goodbye. I’m sure I must know him, because the way he spoke indicated we’d interacted before, but I have no idea who he was. He was very friendly and since there’s no one here I don’t like, I’m sure I enjoyed working with him. I’m just not sure who he was. I’m still not sure who the office manager is.

I feel like crying when someone walks up to my desk to say “Please tell so-and-so to come see me when they get in”.

I want to reply,

“Here’s the thing, I know I’ve been working with you for quite some time now, and we’ve probably had lunch in the break room together a few times, but you’ll have to tell me again who you are. Don’t take it personally though, because I also have no idea who it is you’re looking for, either. Sorry.”

Perhaps pursuing a job as a receptionist in a company with more than 125 coworkers wasn’t my best career move.

(If you’re interested in learning more, this article is not terribly helpful, but Wikipedia has some good information, you can find that


  1. Oh wow, I've never heard of this before. This may sound horrible (not trying to sound racists at all) but I have a slightly similar problem when it comes to asians. Thanks for the info. Very interesting.

  2. Wow! I've never heard of this. It must be really rough. My husband is color blind, but that seems really minor compared to face blindness.


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