Facial Blindness

Siiiigh, so a great person introduced themselves to me the morning of the recent conference, tells me they know my partner, and really does it with such aplomb, I’m impressed. We have a brief chat about her work, my blog and so on. I’m looking forward to talking to her more.

That evening a great person sits down next to me, we start talking, I ask about her job, tell her about my partner, and so on. It’s not until she gives me an odd look and says yeah, your partner is great!… that I realise it’s the same person and I’ve just put them through the identical conversation.

Goddamn I hate doing that! Grr dissociation can be a pain!

It was many years before I came across the term facial blindness. I really notice it at conferences! If I want to thank or speak with a keynote speaker, I must be quick enough to get up the front and identity then from close up before they are enfolded by the crowd. This is because I cannot actually identify them by face. I live in fear of shaking the wrong hand and thanking a random audience member for their great presentation…

I have no idea who most of these people are and can’t identify them by sight unless several system members have spent time with them.

How can I be at a mental health conference and experiencing dissociation and still feel like no one would have a clue what that is or be comfortable with me talking about it?

Sigh.

Tony Hill, one of my favourite fictional characters, describes himself as ‘passing for human’. That exactly how my invisible disabilities and diversity makes me feel, like I’m pretending to be normal and getting caught out.

In this case, on my third interaction with the lovely person, I grasped the nettle and mentioned I had facial blindness and that I needed them to cue me about their identify for the first 10 or so times we meet. They took it really well and I felt less the freak. Sometimes we have to be brave to make the invisible, visible, and to speak the taboo.

5 thoughts on “Facial Blindness

  1. So wait, facial blindness is about disassociation? Cause I experience it ALL the time. Like, if I see someone I know but they aren’t in the context that I know them from, I’ll never recognize them. Even if they start talking to me. Even if I see them every day. Also my facial blindness is apparently racist… cause the problem gets even more pronounced with ethnicities (I’m white if it matters). Whenever I’m assigned to a group project in class, it gives me a near panic attack. I’m a minority at an all black college (I know, the thought of a white male being a minority is laughable), and every time without fail, no matter what steps I take to avoid it, I can’t ever find my group members again after the first meet-up. I’ll remember their names, ideas, their hopes and dreams… but then go up to the wrong person and have to ask, “were we working together?” Every time… even if it’s the hundredth time the group is meeting. And every time, without fail, it’s the wrong person. So I end up having to just ask people until I find the ones who know me.

    I literally have to boil ethnicities down to stereotypes and it makes me feel guilty every time. With white people, I can distinguish facial features somewhat easier, but I’m MUCH more aware of the diversity in hairstyles, hair-colors, mannerisms, exc… of white people.

    I guess the perk is, I have that special tool of disassociation that only the lucky few with significant childhood trauma get. Panic attacks? What are those?! I just disappear for a few days (catatonic if you want to be technical).

    I had no clue facial blindness was a part of that. Or did I miss-read the blog post?

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  2. Definite Yeah and thumbs-up to the bravery and speaking up. Some of this is probably quite close to home, so I have a question about the usefulness of diagnosis with all the baggage it comes with. I have to start by admitting I had never consciously heard the term ‘facial blindness’ and only understood once you explained your experience – which is kinda ironic and worth a chuckle all on its own. I also have to start by saying that, if I had ever been diagnosed it would probably have been a long list of borderline-this -that and -the-other. Since I have not, been diagnosed, (a stroke of borderline-luck? or role-playing?), I just had to learn to be as reasonable and assertive as I can – in my case with the lack of ability to remember names. Sometimes I choose deliberately to say ‘your name did not sink in’ instead of ‘I didn’t catch it’ which is such a well-worn phrase and leaves part of the responsibility with the person who may have mumbled. What I am saying is – I am just dealing with the phenomenon to the best of my ability (usually not very well as I am awkward with people at the best of times), I don’t have to drag around the chain of a complex diagnosis/technical term. How would you feel about just dealing with the phenomenon – like saying oops, I did not see your face for long enough to remember… or words to that effect, or I have had so many things going on, your face just did not stick in my memory but I do remember our conversation…? Mmh…

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    • Hey hey 🙂 Well, I think that after I’ve listened to a keynote speaker talk for an hour then if I’m too distracted to remember their face it doesn’t sound like I was paying attention very well!

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      • Not sure I get this – are you being ironic – or did I not express what I meant very well? In any case: What I did NOT mean was to replace the diagnostic term with self-judgment, but with acceptance! Of whatever the phenomenon is.

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