I had a head injury when I was, I believe, a junior in high school, kicked in the head by a horse. And it turns out many years later I find out there’s a term coined by researchers, which is prosopagnosia(?), which in Greek literally means facial agnosia or facial not knowing.
When you put a name to it, it is the biggest relief in your life. It’s kind of a weight lifted off you because you know you’re not stupid or just scatterbrained, you know, not paying attention. It’s not just friends or acquaintances you don’t recognize.
I wasn’t expecting to see you so I wasn’t clued in. Had I known you were going to be around I would have been looking for you. Yeah that’s mortifying to me. I don’t recognize my husband at times, family members, and people who I see every single day.
It’s amazing how many people when I think about it through my life I must have ignored. A lot of my time during the day is spent around my great Dane, Reykjavick. He’s my buddy, my social lubricant, he really helps me in social situations. He also relaxes me so I don’t stress out about not recognizing people.
It’s very scary for me to tell somebody I have prosopagnosia because I’m worried about their reaction. I wouldn’t explain prosopagnosia unless it’s someone I’m going to see again on a regular basis. You get so many different reactions when you approach people. “I don’t remember faces well either”, or the kind of laugh at you as if you’ve made it up.
Or they suddenly get very quiet as if you told them you had six months to live, and you know, you have a great disease. I always say, “no really, they’re doing research on this, I’ve been tested in London, you know there are other people that have this. Jane Goodall is prosopagnosic. Chuck Close, Oliver Sachs.
I always enjoy being around strangers and I notice I like to move a lot. I like to travel and I like to be in an environment where I don’t know anyone. That’s when I’m most comfortable, is when I’m in a sea of strangers. And I think that’s why I live most of the time in New York City. It’s just who I am. It’s how I go through life. It’s just a part of me.