‘I can’t recognise my own face in photographs — now I know why’
'My condition can make me feel isolated, but I try to see the humour in it too.'
A woman has spent years being unable to recognise her closest friends and family – and even struggles to pick herself out from a photograph.
Ellie Hudson was visiting her dad in hospital when she struggled to spot him on the ward – despite him being close by.
Eventually, a Google search revealed prosopagnosia – a neurological condition which means people have difficulty recognising faces. While those that have it can still see parts of the face normally, they all look the same.
Famously, actor Brad Pitt also has the condition. In an interview he said that he fears it may cause people to think he is being ‘remote and aloof, inaccessible, self-absorbed’.
Ellie can recall struggling with faces since childhood. She once thought she had a new teacher – but in reality, it was the same woman with a different hair style.
She remembers another embarrassing incident: ‘I strolled down the corridor and brightly greeted another pupil.
‘But she gave me a strange look, and it turned out I didn’t know her at all!’
More problems followed as Ellie got older. ‘I worked in PR for a music venue, so saw a lot of bands.’
But when a man began speaking to her during a gig, Ellie was stumped.
‘He chatted away and clearly knew me,’ she said. ‘Desperately, I tried to fathom who he was, but I just couldn’t place him.’
But it wasn’t just strangers Ellie struggled to place.
‘Over the years, I often couldn’t even identify close family or friends from their faces.
‘When my dad had a triple heart bypass, I was directed to a side ward in the hospital.
‘A sea of patients’ faces met me, and I couldn’t spot him.
‘”Where’s Dad?” I asked a nurse. “Right there,” she smiled, pointing to a man not far away.
‘I couldn’t recognise my own dad!’
Then, when Ellie experienced yet another embarrassing incident at work, she turned to the internet for help.
‘I finally Googled: “Why can’t I recognise anyone?”
‘It came up with a condition called prosopagnosia, which is face blindness.’
According to the NHS, prosopagnosia affects people differently. Some people may not be able to tell the difference between strangers. Others may not recognise the faces of friends and family, or even their own face.
‘My GP referred me to the neurology department where I was diagnosed with a severe form of the condition,’ said Ellie.
‘It was a relief to know what was wrong, but face blindness is nothing to do with eyesight and there is no cure.
‘The cause can be a bang on the head or some other brain trauma, but I can’t recall anything like that ever happening to me.’
Over the years, Ellie has learnt to adapt to her condition.
‘I’ve developed certain cues for recognising people, such as looking for tattoos or distinctive features such as scars.
‘And I pre-arrange with friends so I know what they’ll be wearing.
‘Still, if they forget or change hairstyles, for example, I can still walk straight past them.’
It even affects how she sees her own face. ‘I dye my own hair red, so I can spot myself in group photos,’ she said.
‘My condition can make me feel isolated, but I try to see the humour in it too.
‘When it was my brother’s 16th birthday party, I was given a lift there by his friend, Tony.
‘Once there, I hugged a man. “It’s lovely to see you again,” I said.”
But Ellie’s brother asked why she was hugging Tony. ‘”You’ve just spent four hours in the car with him!” my brother said.’
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