Review ~ You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know

You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face Blindness, and Forgiveness by Heather Sellers

Cover via Goodreads

Heather Sellers is face-blind—that is, she has prosopagnosia, a rare neurological condition that describes the inability to recognize faces. Growing up, unaware of the reason for her perpetual confusion and anxiety, she took what cues she could from speech, hairstyle, and gait. The truth was revealed two decades later when Heather took the man she would marry home to meet her parents and discovered the astonishing truth about her family, herself, and living with mental illness. In this uplifting memoir, Sellers illuminates a deeper truth: that even in the most chaotic and heartbreaking of families, love may be seen and felt. (via Goodreads)

So, I’m a little face-blind.

I didn’t realize this until about seven years ago. How do you get through the first thirty years of your life without realizing that you don’t recognize people sometimes? I went to a very small grade school; I never had a big circle of friends in high school and college. Familiarity helps and I didn’t have to interact with that many unfamiliar people. Also, it was something that I hadn’t questioned. It was my perception of normal. As Heather Sellers is told repeatedly, everyone forgets names and associations on occasion. That’s just normal. Face blindness is different from that. For me, some faces don’t get remembered: mostly round faces and faces without a prominent feature. What changed seven years ago is that I had  become part of a larger social group, a group that knew me better than I knew them. I’m the website manager for Valley of the Sun Ultimate. Despite being a behind-the-scenes person, I had become an identifiable within the organization. Eric and I were also regularly captaining teams. And I started introducing myself to people…sometimes the same person. Over and over and over again.

As the kids say, “Awkward.”

Around that time, Eric read a New York Times article about prosopagnosia (an article that includes Heather Sellers as it turns out) and certain things started making sense to me. I have a better chance of recognizing an actor by their voice than their face. I’ve always been most attracted to tall guys with angular faces and/or big noses. I’m generally socially nervous when dealing with women. (Women are tough. Soft features. Changing make-up.  Changing hair styles. Yet, with a disconcerting homogeneity in appearance within a group. There are a lot of blonde girls with pony tails that play ultimate!)

Sellers has a lot more going on. When the summary mentions her “living with mental illness,” it’s not her own. She grew up in a split household with a schizophrenic mother and an alcoholic father. Even without face blindness, her childhood was not conventional. Yet, for her, this was “normal.” That’s a concept that I’ve been contemplating for a while now. We all start out thinking that our experience of life is normal. It’s not until later when we’re out in the world that  someone else’s normal contests our own.

In You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, Sellers addresses both her realization of face blindness, but also her return home and, for the first time, seeing the reality of her mom and dad. The thing that makes this memoir “uplifting” is that Sellers has a choice. She could bemoan how dysfunctional her life has been. She could decide that her parents have stolen her childhood and face blindness is the cause of her every social failure. Sellers chooses a more optimistic slant. For her, face blindness has been an invaluable coping mechanism, teaching her to deal with uncertainty in a unique way. She realizes that as much as she’s loved her parents through thick and thin, they love her in kind.

This parallel is borne out in her public admission of face blindness. While people might not understand face blindness, their reaction is generally more accepting than she expected. The biggest hurdle she encounters is other people’s perception of her normalcy. “But you recognize *me* all the time,” her friends and colleagues repeat. That’s the problem with work-arounds. If you’re good at them, no one realizes you have a deficit. You might not realize you have a deficit. I had learned the trick of being early to meet someone (so he/she has to pick me out of a crowd) without realizing that it was a trick. It’s just polite to not be late, right?

We all just want to be “normal.” None of us are. The best we can do is to realize the truth behind Ian Maclaren‘s statement, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That includes being kind to yourself.

Genre: Non-fiction memoir
Why did I choose to read this book? I have mild face-blindness myself.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Finished it!
Craft Lessons: More like a self lesson here instead of a craft lesson.
Format: Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library

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One thought on “Review ~ You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know

  1. The notion of the workaround is the hardest for me to read. They’re what I rely on all the time, because it’s honestly easier and more comfortable to live without people recognizing your handicaps. Lovely review, Katherine. I don’t think I ever would have heard of this book without you.

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