Jen’s Library: You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know

You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know
by Heather Sellers

I picked up this book because I read in a review that it was about prosopagnosia, which is one of my favorite quirky cognitive disorders. It’s a condition also called “face blindness”, where affected individuals can see perfectly well, but because the face recognition area of their brains is impaired, they can’t distinguish one face from another. The hardware’s working fine but there’s a bug in the software. They find other ways to tell people apart, like hairstyle, clothing, voice, and gait. It’s got to be a frustrating disorder to live with, when everything about our social interactions depends on us being able to recognize friends.

This is a memoir of the author’s experience with this disorder, but it’s got much deeper layers, as she grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic mother and alcoholic father in one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve ever read about. Because she’s afraid that her inability to recognize people must be a mental illness, she is afraid to find out what’s really going on, reluctant to discuss it, until much later in her life when she comes across prosopagnosia and realizes she might not be crazy after all. Except that then the poor woman goes to doctor after doctor, gets referred to neurologists, and all of them tell her she can’t have that, it’s too rare; she’s too stressed out and needs to relax. It takes forever for her to be diagnosed, and then even after she is, she has a hard time telling her friends family and coworkers, because they don’t understand and think she’s kidding.

This was a great insider’s view of mental illness and cognitive disorders, and a lesson on how fine the line can be between being “crazy” and having a “condition” – it really depends on who’s doing the labeling.

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