Dr. Heather Sellers, a professor in USF College of Arts and Sciences Department of English, recently was featured in The Royal Society Publishing journal. Her autobiographical essay titled Who Are You? tells the story of a young girl, Heather, that is dealing with the mysterious disorder of prosopagnosia, or as it is more commonly known, face blindness, under the watchful eyes of her mother, who prefers a life of reclusion. The essay was included in the Recollection section of the publication, which featured a special issue on face blindness.
Face blindness is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces, and while there is no specific cause, many cases stem from stroke, traumatic brain injury, or certain neurodegenerative diseases. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Prosopagnosia can be socially debilitating as individuals with the disorder often have difficulty recognizing family members and close friends. They often use other ways to identify people, such as relying on voice, clothing, or unique physical attributes.”
The inability to recognize those closest to us or know the cause of such a disorder is highlighted in the essay, emphasizing the profound isolation an individual experiencing this condition experiences. Out of fear she too would end up a recluse like her mother, Heather spends her time immersed in books, artwork, and literature that might help explain her mother’s condition – in the hope she wasn’t next in line. She continues to navigate her condition and find specific ways she can find recognizable traits about those in her life – other students, teachers, and colleagues. Some techniques were helpful, but others were rendered useless if an individual so much as took off their jacket.
“Heather eventually comes to terms with her condition, which she finally identifies,” Sellers said. “She embraces what used to be a question that would haunt her, 'how do I cultivate a sense of belonging, for myself and others, knowing a core part of our experience will always be completely other?' She concludes and comes to terms with the idea that the condition is now her teacher.”
While there is no known cure for the condition, Sellers said the essay provides insight into an individual’s struggle to understand the world around her, while finding ways to learn and understand what techniques work best for her personal version of the condition and how those can be best applied to thrive in the world around her.
If you or someone you know feels they may be suffering from symptoms of face blindness, information and resources are available by visiting the Cleveland Clinic website.
About the Author
Heather Sellers, a Florida native, is the author of four poetry collections: Field Notes from the Flood Zone (BOA, 2022); The Present State of the Garden (Lynx House Press, 2021); The Boys I Borrow (New Issues Press, 2007), which was a finalist for the James Laughlin Award; and Drinking Girls and Their Dresses (Ahsahta Press, 2002). She is also the author of the memoir You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know (Riverhead, 2011), which was an O, the Oprah Magazine Book of the Month Club Choice, and an Editor’s Choice at the New York Times. Her popular textbook The Practice of Creative Writing (Macmillan, 2021), is in its fourth edition. Her writing has been featured in numerous publications and anthologies, including Best American Essays, Creative Nonfiction, Good Housekeeping, The New York Times, O, the Oprah Magazine, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Reader’s Digest, The Sun, and Tin House. She has been awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a residency at The MacDowell Colony. She directs the undergraduate and MFA creative writing programs at the University of South Florida. For more information about Heather Sellers, visit heathersellers.com.