Sunday, July 16, 2006

I'm Not a Freak!

According to Wikipedia, "... research suggests that 1 in 50 people suffer from this disorder to some degree." Bestselling author Tess Gerritson is afflicted with it. She didn't even know there was a name for it until she read about it in Time Magazine. I didn't know anyone else wrestled with it until I read about it on Ms. Gerritson's blog. It is Prosopagnosia.

Wickipedia's definition: Prosopagnosia (sometimes known as face blindness) was, until very recently, thought to be a rare disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, although the ability to recognize objects may be relatively intact. Recent research, however, suggests that 1 in 50 people suffer from the disorder to some degree, and it is thought to be highly heritable.

My definition: When someone comes up to me and starts talking to me like they know me. In fact, they do. Sometimes quite well. That's when I break into a sweat. My mind starts scrambling as they're talking away. I can't remember where or when I met them. Their face is familiar, but I can't place them. I can't remember their name.

Let me tell you folks, it's a terrible feeling. And it happens to me all the time.

Example #1) My husband and I met up with a friend for dinner. We visited a new restaurant. I stepped in first and was greeted by a waitress who knew me by name. "How are you, Beth? Fancy meeting you here. I haven't seen you in awhile." And on and on. Not only could I not remember her name, I couldn't remember where I knew her from. I contributed to the conversation as politely as I could without letting her know my dilemma. I could tell from what she was saying that we hadn't met just once, but several times. Then my husband stepped in. She knew him as well. And he knew her. From listening to what they were saying, it finally clicked. Her primary job was at the same casino he works in. The same casino where I emcee sweepstakes. I had worked with her at several special events and often saw her in the employee cafeteria. I DID know her. Pretty well, in fact. Why then didn't I recognize her right off the bat?

Example #2) I'm making a purchase at a store. The woman waiting behind me says, "I thought I recognized your voice. How have you been, Beth?" Her face was extremely familiar. I knew I knew her, but from where? And what was her name? My mind scrambled, grabbing on to what she was saying, praying her words would jog my memory. Finally she said, "... the meetings..." and it clicked. She was a writer. I knew her from the NJRW monthly meetings. Although neither of us had been to a meeting in several months. I did know her. Not really well, but well enough that I should have instantly recognized her. Her name came to me five mintes after I got in my car.

For the above instances, I could use the excuse that I hadn't seen or spoken to either of these woman in months. And that I was meeting them both out of context, meaning not in the places I associated them with. But they both knew me out of context plus they remembered my name. So really, what's my excuse? Either I'm a horrible, insensitive person or I have a horribly faulty memory. I'm not the former so it had to be the latter. But that didn't make me feel better. Not only did I feel like a bit of a freak, not only is it embarassing, but it's scary. Am I destinited for senility?

Reading Ms. Gerritson's blog this morning partly eased that fear. At least I don't feel alone. Everything she described is exactly what I go through, right down to how she handles not recognizing someone she should know at a booksigning or conference. She uses the same tricks as I do in an effort to spare someone's feelings. Apparently, our way of dealing with this pesky disorder is common.

Wikipedia says: Few successful therapies have so far been developed for affected people, although individuals often learn to use 'piecemeal' or 'feature by feature' recognition strategies.

So now I've outed myself. If you run into me in person somewhere, if I should know you and I have a bit of a dazed look, please don't be insulted. Please, bear with me. On the inside I'm dying a thousand deaths because I know I know you. I'll make the connection. It just takes me longer than the normal person.

I'm still not sure what I can do to fix the problem, but at least I can research it, because now it has a name. Prosopagnosia.

9 comments:

FeyRhi said...

I wouldn't refer to yourself as a freak! ((hugs)) I think everyone experiences that from time to time and can relate to how you feel.

From what I can tell you are under a huge workload, balancing library and casino job, while working on multiple books in different time periods, not to mention normal day to day stuff like cleaning and laundry. Cut yourself some slack hun. If I was trying to balance all that I wouldn't recognize myself in the mirror, let alone someone you haven't seen in a while.

I have found that if I see someone out of their 'envionment' I take longer to clue in to who they are. For example my regular customers. I am used to seeing them when I am at work but if I see them at the grocery store I don't clue in right away because I am not in 'work mode'

Did you know that Nicole Camden wrote a story where her female lead has exactly that problem. Her character had been hit by a car and could no longer recognize anyone no matter how many times she met them.
I guess it would be the extream version of what you are describing. The story is called "The Nekkid Truth" and is in the "Big Guns Out Of Uniform" anthology. It's a great read, when you have time after your Aug deadline *G*

chryscat said...

This really is a problem. But then, on the other hand, you have some guy come in and talk to you like he knows you.
The "how are you" type of conversation.
And then he grins, looks at you, and says, "I bet you're trying to figure out where you know me from."
Me: "Yes. But I didn't want to appear rude."
Him: "I read your name tag."
Oh.
Death to the smarta$$e$.
Grins*

Taylor said...

Beth, I really enjoyed your blog today. Please don't be insulted when I say it was both funny and informative, and very touching. I think everyone suffers from it every once in a while and I grieve with you.

Can I tell you a secret? I mean, we are on the internet AND keeping it anonymous so...no harm...anyway:

Instead of forgetting someone's name after a while, I know people but really never knew their name in the first place! What's worse is the fact that I run into them constantly! It's too late now for me to be rude to ask their name, don't you think? It's been years since we've known each other.

And here's another secret: That situation applies to more than just one person with me! I can imagine up to 5 people!!!!

What do you think I should do?!

Beth Ciotta said...

Feyrhi, I do try to cut myself some slack sometimes. LOL I remind myself that I circulate in many worlds most of them quite social, and that I meet SO MANY PEOPLE! How could I possibly keep them all straight, especially the ones I don't see on a daily basis? But it's the fact that most of them seem to have no trouble remembering my name and what they last spoke to me about, or when they last saw me, whatever, that shoots a hole in that excuse. It's the awful feeling of looking at someone and knowing you know them, but can't think WHY! They're chatting away and I'm wondering, what's wrong wth me?!

I hopped back over to Ms. Gerritson's blog and saw that many people commented, many who have similar memory disorders and some the complete opposite. It's kind of fascinating, actually.

I do know what you mean about meeting someone out of their enviroment. :)

I've never heard of the book you mentioned. I may have to look it up. Sounds interesting. Thank you so much for your thoughtful post!

Beth Ciotta said...

Crystal, thanks for the chuckle. As always. You're a hoot. :)

Taylor, I know EXACTLY what you mean. This happens a lot in my entertainment life. Customers who frequent the lounges or sweepstakes that I perform in. People I see on a pretty regular basis. Either I never caught their name or they told me upon initial meeting and I forgot. Mostly the former. And now, as you've said, it's too late, too embarasing to ask.

As to what to do... sometimes I'll rely on a co-worker, friend, another band member. Someone who doesn't 'know' the person in question as well as I do. *cough* I'll get them to approach the person with me and introduce themselves first. Usually the other person will then offer their name. Usually. Doesn't always work out.

Anyone else have a solution for that one? I guess there's always the truth "I'm sorry. I know we've been acquainted for five years now, but I don't think I ever caught our name." Ouch.

Brooks said...

I know exactly what you mean. I've been a shameless generic greeting user for years. "How're you doin'?" or "Hey guy! How've you been?" Oh well, maybe we can join a support group.

Remember the posts about Uranus? Of course. Now it's working overtime ...after running well for a couple of weeks with a new hard drive, the main computer went down and out AGAIN!

Stacie said...

I know the feeling! Whenever we go visit my dad's side of the family (who live in this tiny town about 45 minutes from us), all these people know me and are saying things like "I can't believe you're going to be a senior," etc.--and I have absolutely no idea who they are. The sad thing is that I'm related to most of them!

Don't worry about it--everyone has those forgetful moments!

Beth Ciotta said...

Brooks, Nooooo! No more computer problems. Fingers crossed that it rights itself. Bad, Uranus, bad.

Stacie, I have a similar problem with Steve's extended family. Many of who (whom?) I only see once in a blue moon. I almost whisper in his ear, "Now which cousin is that?" *sigh*

My Toothbrush is a Death Cracker said...

I have prosopagnosia. I should note that someone who does not have prosopagnosia is often tempted to think that we need to pay more attention.

This is not a case of difficulty remembering... I see people and have no idea who they are. until recently, I thought my boss and a guy in HR were the same person. When I watch movies, my wife has to help me keep the characters straight because I don't recognize them.

Not recalling a name can be related, but is not necessarily face-blindness.

Try a test at http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/facetests/fgcfmt/fgcfmt_intro.php