Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers
ISBN 978-1-59448-773-6
Published by Riverhead Books
Hardcover $25.95

Heather Sellers can't recognize faces. Not just faces of people she knows casually, but her coworkers, her family, her boyfriend and his sons. She has had this problem her entire life, but didn't know she had a problem; she thought everyone processed faces the way she did.

Perhaps Heather didn't realize she had a problem, because there were bigger issues in her family. Her parents had mental health concerns, but as a child, it is hard to recognize that when that is your normal. Her mother was most likely a paranoid schizophrenic; she refused to answer the phone and put blankets up to cover the windows she nailed shut.

Her father left the family, and when Heather could no longer take living with her mother, she moved in with Dad. He secretly wore woman's clothes and had a major drinking problem. How Heather managed to survive living with her parents is a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.

Heather never married, but in her late thirties, she met a wonderful man named Dave, who had two sons, and was divorced from his wife, who had mental illness. Because of his ex-wife, Heather felt that Dave would understand her, and he did. But Dave had issues too.

Heather and Dave eventually married, but they lived in separate homes in the same city because they couldn't agree on purchasing a home. Dave had bad credit problems, and he was rather casual about parenting.

Heather's face recognition issue led to problems at work; she would pass by her colleagues and ignore them because she didn't recognize them. They felt she was snobbish and rude. Imagine the stress of living your whole life constantly afraid that you would run into someone you knew.

Eventually, she dug around and found a diagnosis for her: prosopagnosia. Once she had a diagnosis, she found a doctor who could help her. She appeared on the Today Show, which was a big step for her, admitting her problem to the world at large.

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know will appeal to fans of Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle.  Both women survived difficult childhoods with mentally ill parents, and because of that, they became strong adults.

Sellers had the added problem of her condition, which she at times feared was a manifestation of mental illness, like her mother's. She writes with brutal honestly about herself, her parents, her boyfriend, and her indomitable spirit shines through.

I admired her ability to basically raise her self and take care of her parents. It must have been difficult to write about her childhood, and she doesn't blame her parents or feel sorry for herself, which is remarkable. I did find her relationship with her husband frustrating, and was glad when she resolved it.

Reading this book made me a little more empathetic to people around me; you just never know what they are going through.

Rating 3.5 out of 5

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