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Jean Gilbert on Face Blindness

posted Feb 25, 2019, 4:06 PM by Grace Bridges
What is Face Blindness? 
The medical term is Prosopagnosia meaning ‘face’ ‘not knowing.’ 2% of the population have Face Blindness. However, not all are severe as I am. They may be on the low end of the spectrum. You’ve heard people say, “Oh, I’m bad at remembering names, too.” That may be someone with a mild case of Face Blindness.

How old were you when you discovered you had Face Blindness, and how did you find out?
I was in my late twenties when I discovered that I had Face Blindness. The first clue came from a television program dealing with the subject. Soon after, I read an article in a magazine that listed twenty-four symptoms of Face Blindness. I had all twenty-four. I went to the doctor soon after.

What challenges does Face Blindness present?
How much time do you have? LOL. Face Blindness affects every part of my life. For example, things that others take for granted like friendships and the memories that go with that, I don’t have. My brain cannot retrieve the faces and the memories attached to those faces. So, I can’t remember who my friends are, who my children are, who my husband is. That’s just one challenge. And it’s a BIG one! 

Have you ever created a fictional character with Face Blindness? How does this add depth to your fiction?
I haven’t delved yet into creating a character with Face Blindness. I have been encouraged by others to write a story around such a character, so I have added it to my  ‘to do’ list. 
As far as my writing is concerned, it takes a lot of effort for me to create believable characters with all the emotions that normal people experience and remember. I have to keep detailed ‘character bibles’ that not only break down the character’s physical appearance to the smallest of details, but also a psychological makeup and anything they had experienced and how they felt. You see, I can’t remember them as people either, and I need to constantly refer back to these bibles as I write to maintain consistency. It’s a lot of work.

What sort of compensatory strategies can people use to overcome Face Blindness? 
The brain is a fascinating organ and automatically sets up coping mechanisms without the person knowing that is what is happening. For example, instead of using a face to recognize someone, the brain uses the voice instead. And if the voice is unique, it will help. The brain also uses mannerisms, posture, and gait. I also will use how I am greeted, the length of the smile, the openness of the expression to gauge how well I know you.  I will rarely use someone’s name. (Because I won’t know it, not even those closest to me.) I will ask questions to draw out information to help me figure out who you are and where you fit in my life.  You don’t know that’s what I’m doing as we talk.  That’s just a few coping mechanisms. There are more. No one wants to be seen as weird or different, so it’s done covertly. Sometimes, even I don’t know that I’m doing it.


Four-time award-winning author Jean Gilbert moved from Virginia, U.S.A. to New Zealand in 2005, and has since called the Waikato Valley (the Shire) her home. Jean’s latest work, co-authored with William Dresden, is a modern YA fantasy called Light In My Dark, a tale of love, betrayal, and self-discovery. Jean’s science fiction novels Shifters, Ardus, and The Vault from The Vault Agency Series are published by Rogue House Publishing. You can find her short story “Blonde Obsession” in Baby Teeth: Bite Size Tales of Terror published by Paper Road Press, and SJV short story finalist “Pride” in Contact Light Anthology. Jean works in close association with Alessi Films, writing screenplays for promotional advertising and television. Jean is also involved in mentoring young writers through nationwide writing competitions in coordination with Young NZ Writers called Write Off Line and Beyond… for primary and secondary students.