Have We Met?

I have a confession to make:  I probably don’t know who you are.

Not “you”, all the strangers I’ve never met, but “you”, all the people I already know and have met multiple times.  It’s not that I’m bad with faces exactly, it’s that sometimes I truly don’t recognize people I know.  It’s very unsettling to have a conversation with a stranger, only to figure out halfway through that I actually already know the person.  It’s also embarrassing to have the other person say, “Oh we’ve met before at that thing.  Remember, from that party?”  I rarely remember, so I blush and laugh and make everyone uncomfortable.

I recently learned I have a mild form of “Face Blindness”, or Prosopagnosia, in which I can’t always recognize the face of someone I know.  Sometimes it’s someone I know very well.  For instance, my niece Hannah once came home from college as a surprise and when she walked into the restaurant where we were having a family dinner, I was trying to figure out why this young woman was approaching our table and smiling.  It was only when someone called out her name that I figured out who she was.  I got confused because I wasn’t expecting to see her there and she had also changed her hair.  This happened a couple of weeks ago as well when she approached me at the gym, and I didn’t know who she was because her hair was pulled back in a ponytail.  Some uncle, eh?

I’ve also wondered if a woman in the grocery store was my sister, and rather than say hello, I waited to see if she knew me.  This has happened more than once. I literally cannot tell you how many times I have used the excuse “Oh, sorry I didn’t recognize you. I forgot my glasses.”  It doesn’t always work, especially if I’m actually wearing my glasses.  On the other hand, there are people I recognize without fail every single time, which is even more confusing.  It’s hit and miss, but I try to compensate by paying attention to what the other person says until I can make the connection.  Sometimes I never do, which is the worst situation of all.

It’s not that I don’t know who people are.  I mean, I’m not really all that bright, but I am caught off guard if I see people out of context from where I know them.  I once had an entire conversation with a woman at the grocery store (I seriously thought she was hitting on me), when I realized she lives across the street from me.  This problem had been bothering me for much of my life, where I kept thinking I was either losing my mind (still possible) or had some kind of brain damage, until I read an article about Brad Pitt in which he described being unable to recognize people he had met many times before.  He mentioned that people were constantly offended by his inability to know who they are, which was causing him a great deal of social anxiety.  I had never heard of this before, but it really clicked with me.  Besides the other obvious similarities between me and Brad Pitt, it made me do a little research into this condition.  It turns out that around 2% of the population has this same problem to varying degrees.  Brad Pitt and I both hit the lottery, right?

For all I know, Brad Pitt and I have already met each other a bunch of times.  I’d offer to introduce you, but I’m not even sure who *you* are.

I’m very lucky that I have a mild form of Face Blindness, because there are some people who don’t even recognize themselves in a mirror.  I realized that for the most part, I rely on location, clothing, hairstyle and voice to figure out who people are.  I have particular difficulty in recognizing women, which I originally thought was because I am same-sex oriented, but it’s actually because women change their hair and their style frequently, which confuses me.  I sometimes can’t tell if someone I pass on the street who smiles at me is a coworker, an acquaintance, a friend, or just a friendly stranger.  I almost always wait for the other person to say hello before I say anything (in case I’m wrong), which makes me wonder how many people I’ve unintentionally snubbed because I had no idea we already knew each other.  There must be a large number of people who think I’m a real asshole who won’t even say hello.  I apologize if I didn’t say hello to you at the mall that one time.

This problem is a particular challenge at work, where I support 200 people spread across six buildings downtown.  I’ve stalled many times with people as I frantically searched phone lists for clues, or looked for business cards to figure out who the person is I’m talking to.  I play things off like I’m an absent-minded professor, but I honestly can’t put faces together in my mind.

Oddly, I also have a condition called Spacial Sequence Synesthesia in which I see numbers and dates and calendars in physical locations around my body.  If you call out a number, I can tell you exactly where it is physically located in space.  I thought this was something everyone was doing too, but I learned about a year ago that most people don’t do this; a number is just a number, not an actual visual thing floating in space.  They float in front of my mind’s eye, just like magic.  You’d think this visual ability would cancel out the Face Blindness, but apparently this isn’t the case.  At least this condition is more private and doesn’t offend anyone.

My mind is like a tangled plate of spaghetti.  We are all weirdoes in one way or another, which I think is kind of wonderful, but my weirdness causes no end of social anxiety when I’m struggling to figure out if you and I went to high school together, or if you live next door, or if we have the same mother.  So, if we meet in person multiple times, toss me a bone and say, “Hi I’m X.  We’ve met before, it’s good to see you.”  My gratitude will be profound.  And if you’re Brad Pitt, well … I’m a big fan.

Matt Grigsby
Matt Grigsby was born and raised in Redding but has often felt he should have been born in Italy. By day he's a computer analyst toiling for the public good and by night he searches airline websites for great travel deals. His interests include books, movies, prowling thrift shops for treasure and tricking his friends into cooking for him. One day he hopes to complete his quest in finding the best gelato shop in Italy.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

60 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    I wonder if these two conditions are mild forms of autism. Spacial Sequence Synesthesia seems a lot like what “Dr. Shaun Murphy” of “The Good Doctor” displays when he’s figuring out a medical condition or what Temple Grandin does when she’s figuring angles. Both are autistic. Your “Hi, I’m X” solution to meeting someone is something I’ve done for years because I’m somewhat the reverse of you. I usually remember even casual acquaintances who don’t remember me; so I’ve utilized the “Hi, I’m Beverly” method of introduction. I believe it’s a Swedish or Danish or Norwegian tradition to say one’s name first so as not to embarrass the other person who may or may not recognize you.

    • Avatar Tim says:

      You may be on to something there Beverly. Like many Aspies, I don’t like looking people in the eye which can make it difficult to recognize acquaintances’ faces (particularly when outside their normal habitats).

      I may not be the best judge, but I find people don’t seem to mind that I didn’t recognize them once I’ve conveyed that I do *remember* them (e.g. if I absent-mindedly exclaim “Oh, I know you! You’re the clerk at the Pac’n’Ship place who has a son named Jeremy that’s about to go to Davis. Say, how is your mother’s arm – has she recovered from that fall?”)

      I can remember frustrating the police many years ago when I witnessed a robbery. I could recall that the perp was white, 6′ tall, a muscular 190-200, holding a uncocked Beretta 92 in his right hand with the safety off. “What else?” the officer wanted to know. Um, lets see… Oh! He double knotted his shoelaces. (Officer sighs) “What color was his hair, was he clean shaven? Any tattoos?” Sorry, can’t say – but his Ford Escort needs a valve adjustment! “Oh, you saw the getaway car? What color? Did you get a plate?” No, I didn’t see the car, I just heard it idling and race away afterward. “Uh huh. Ok then…”

      The one exception is with identical twins: within 10 minutes of meeting a pair, I can easily tell them apart even years later (though I can’t say what it is that I find distinguishing).

      • Dr. Patty Dr. Patty says:

        Tim, I love how ASPIES have very cool super powers!!

      • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

        You bring up a good point here. I’m not sure I would be a good witness for a crime either. In police shows, when they have a sketch artist help a victim come up with a face, I’m always amazed they can do it. Other than hair color, body type or clothing, I’m not sure I could do it at all.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      There is some association to spectrum disorders from what I’ve read, but I don’t fall along the spectrum at all. And I like to think of my visual numbers ability to a useless superpower! There are no occasions in which I can imagine it being useful.

      I tend to introduce myself by my first name with people I may have met before as well, in case they don’t remember me (even if I remember them). It sounds like a good tradition for everyone to take up, and it certainly helps alleviate some of the pressures!

    • Avatar Doug Cook says:

      Interesting…I am a retired restaurant manager in Redding that has employed hundreds of people over the years, I constantly run into former employees that greet me warmly where I have no clue who they are. I usually respond with a “Hey, you….how are you?” Growing up I was always painfully shy and wondered in today’s world if I wouldn’t have been diagnosed with mild autism. I believe I grew out of it, or at least learned how to deal with it. But name and face recognition continues to be an issue with me.

  2. Dr. Patty Dr. Patty says:

    Matt, your vulnerable and brave piece is a true gift to many people. All of us can learn by what you are sharing. As Beverly said, it is an excellent and thoughtful gesture to always greet someone by sharing your own name first. I will do that even more often then I do now. You might consider carrying a few business sized cards in your pocket that briefly explain the situation. Many of the people I know who are caregivers for those suffering with frontotemporal degeneration, the brain disease my husband had, carry a little card stating, “please excuse my husband’s odd behavior as he has a terminal brain disease.” We always put the website reference so the person could look it up if they wanted to know more. We all handed out the card when they offended someone and made a speedy exit. It educated and excused all at the same time. Anyway, thank you for sharing your personal story. You have helped a lot of people today!

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      I’m not sure if my condition would rise to the level of needing to explain it to people, but that is a helpful gesture for people who have it worse than I do. I’ve gotten used to coping and doing my best to cover up my confusion until my brain catches up with the interaction. Hopefully this article will help people understand I’m not *trying* to be rude, I’m just putting together a mental puzzle!

  3. Avatar Anita Brady says:

    My elderly father has limited vision that is still failing. He uses his hearing and memory of a person’s walk or body size to help him identify his friends and co-residents in his senior living location. He knows the building and uses his walker while moving around the facility with no difficulty. That makes people forget that he is visually impaired. I have suggested to him that he remind people of his vision issues so they will say: “Hi– it’s X. How are you?” so he doesn’t have to wait to hear their voice.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      It’s amazing what the human mind can do to adapt to an error or disability, and it sounds like your father is a champ at it. Picking up non visual clues is quite the challenge.

  4. Avatar Janet Stortz says:

    Matt, I am so proud to know you, while it started in person – it deepened with your photography and written words. What a dimensional man you are. And luckily for us all our faces aren’t the only way we can express ourselves.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      Thanks Janet! And you’re right, it’s a good thing we have other options than just our faces to express ourselves and project our personality. I think you’ve got that down pat, with your style!

    • Matt Grigsby: A dimensional man. So true. MULTI-dimensional.

  5. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    As an aside: this happened to me again this morning as I was walking in to the office. I spoke with a woman who crossed the street with me, and I was surprised when she walked into the building with me. She sits twenty feet away from me and I haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks. It never occurred to me that she was anything more than a friendly person.

  6. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    People begin talking to me and mentioning things and people that are familiar to me, and I know I should know who they are because they obviously know me. And eventually they’ll say, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” and I’ll say, “Haven’t a clue.” It’ll be someone I knew in sixth grade. This happens All. The. Time.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      It’s really frustrating, isn’t it? I am instantly on edge trying to piece things together when someone talks to me in a familiar way. And yet sometimes, I am instantly on the right page and know immediately who the person is. The mind is a tricksy place.

  7. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    It’s funny that this got posted today.

    Yesterday evening, I ran into someone I know in the supermarket. He called out my name, and I knew immediately that I *should* know him, but I couldn’t remember how. I remember thinking “What the heck is wrong with me?”

    It was R.V. Scheide. We’d met in person once before two or three years ago, but he’d been wearing what I’d come to think of as his trademark hat. Obviously, he had the advantage: he was sans trademark hat, whereas I still had the trademark glare off of my head.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      LOL Hal. I did the same thing when I was rolling my cart past your cart. “Isn’t that Hal?” I thought. But I wasn’t sure. I went about 50 feet, then said screw it, I’m gonna say hello. And it turned out to be you!

      I’ve been meaning to change my profile pic for some time, because I don’t wear the hat all that much anymore, but the profile pic does give me a degree of anonymity that’s sometimes comforting.

      I don’t know if I suffer from Face Blindness to the degree that Matt does, but as a journalist, I’ve sometimes found myself in the middle of interviews going “Who is this person? Why am I interviewing them?” In these instances, I have to wait for the conversation to come back around and trigger my memory. Fortunately it doesn’t happen that often!

      • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

        Wow, that would be a problem indeed for a journalist. I’m not sure I could cover up my confusion in any believable way! I’d have to pull the “I’m sorry, could you describe that again? I was thinking deeply about something you said earlier.”

        • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

          I figured out a long time ago that as long as I keep a straight face, I’ll get through it.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      It’s interesting how many clues our brain will pull together to let us know who people are in our lives. I mentally grab distinctive features about people (although I never realized I was doing this) and try to file it away. But the files get lost and I’m back at square one!

  8. Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

    “It doesn’t always work, especially if I’m actually wearing my glasses.”

    That made me snort. Oh how I love you, perhaps even moreso now that you have shared this aspect of yourself with us! I am fascinated by how our brains work, and how so, SO often people say, “Doesn’t everyone else experience things this way?” when they find out that how they perceive things is actually quite different from how others do. Like your spacial superpowers… that is really cool. I have friends who see numbers and words in color (Sem sees numbers in color, though not as much as when he was younger), each one having a specific corresponding hue. Still others have an overlap of sight and sound, in that sounds have color for them. One of my voice coaches once told me to make my voice sound like chocolate – I thought, “Wha- -?” but then I made adjustments and damned if it wasn’t rich and silky… like chocolate.

    I have no brain superpowers that I know of. The only thing I do that maybe not everyone else does (though Sem says he does the same) is that if you are speaking to me, or I am speaking to you, I see the words – all the words – written out in my mind’s eye, as they are spoken. Like one long teletype. Does everyone else do that?

    Also… I wonder if your visual awareness/lack of it has any relationship to your photography? Because I always think your photographs are very unique, with a definite ‘vision’. You see the world in different ways than I do, from what I see in your photographs. So while you have the struggle of face blindness… your eyes and your brain see some wonderful things, which I would never notice, except that I’m lucky enough to sometimes see them through you, in photos.

    Enough rambling. I love knowing this about you, and I also hope that now your friends and fans (and family) will understand if you just smile back and need a minute, or are a bit vague until you piece it together. Or better yet, as Beverly said, that they just tell you who they are when they see you! Because I can only imagine how challenging this must make life for you, all the time.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      Sem definitely has that version of synesthesia (there is a wide variety of types, with lots of fascinating articles about them), and it sounds to me like you do too Deb. I never see words as people are talking, not once. It would explain how you’re so good at conveying complex thoughts into writing in an engaging way. When first read about the numbers thing, I asked my mom if she could see numbers and she’s still completely mystified as to what I’m talking about. My brother and my nephew can do this too, so it’s clearly a family trait.

      And as for photography, I just realized as I was writing the article that my photos never show people’s faces. There are people in the pictures, but not their faces. I don’t know if that’s related to my condition but it would certainly explain things. When I take a picture I’m looking at the detail and the richness and the composition of the image, but I would never be able to capture the richness of a person and their expression.

      I wondered as I wrote this piece if people would suddenly realize they have this issue as well, just like I did when Brad Pitt described it. It gave me such relief to realize there’s nothing physically wrong with me at all. It doesn’t make the problem easier but I don’t have to wonder if I’m starting to slip. I love you right back Deb!

  9. Avatar Doug Mudford says:


    I’m in the context group…I have small chance at a name if you’re in exactly the same place and wearing the same clothes when I last saw you…naw, not really much of a chance.

    I’m currently reduced to the “I’m sorry but I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning”… not very helpful if it’s someone I had breakfast with.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      I feel that pain. I’ve played off not knowing people by pretending I’m just forgetful, but that doesn’t exactly flatter me either. I’m always glad when someone gives me just enough info to get it together and remember how and why I know them. Any problems I have after that are a completely separate issue!

  10. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Hi Matt
    Thank you for telling us this! We have not met yet, but when we do, I will recognize you from a photo taken at Doni’s house, and will introduce myself. I will do that again any and every time we meet. That’s easy. Must be a difficult though, walking alongside someone you know, and not knowing it…….
    My thing is, sometimes when people are talking, I see the words in front of my head in Pittman shorthand. Yes, my special skill……….and so useful, too.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      Thank you Eleanor, that would be immensely helpful!

      And read Deb’s comment above. She does the same thing you do when people are speaking!

  11. Avatar Darcie Gore says:

    My wonderful farther-in-law had a great sense of humor. He put it to full use in his final years when he suffered from dementia. When he would meet someone he would say, “Hi, I’m glad to meet you. I will be happy to meet you in a again in a few more minutes!” It let people know he was friendly, funny, and he wouldn’t remember your name the next time.

  12. Dearest Matt, you have so many gifts and super powers – writing, photography, humor, gym prowess, and looking like Cary Grant’s taller, much younger twin.

    I really like the examples you give, such as noticing that women trip you up more often, because of how much we change our looks. Makes sense.

    I love how you shared this one personal/vulnerable aspect of yourself, something that took courage, one that was so interesting and informative. You’ve educated us today, and you’ve changed how I will greet people, just in case there’s a lapse. But it happens to me all the time, too, where someone will approach me and start a conversation as if we know each other, and I haven’t a clue who they are.

    I have a trick — that usually works — for extracting someone’s name if I’m with someone I do know (like you), and am approached by someone who looks familiar, but whose name totally escapes me. I’ll kind of step back a little and say, “Hey, do you two know each other?” If it plays out perfectly, they each take the initiative and introduce themselves, which gives me the previously forgotten person’s name. If it doesn’t play out perfectly, they’ll say, “no” and I’m stuck only knowing one of their names and having to admit it. I hate when that happens.

    I’m fascinated by your (and Deb’s) spacial sequence synesthesia. So cool! I wonder how many super powers we each have that we don’t know about, because we assume everyone sees things the way we do.

    One of my super powers is the ability to guess the exact sized Tupperware container needed to store something, and I have the ability to tell when something – a hung picture, for example – is even as little as 1/32 of an inch off. And it drives me crazy until it’s fixed.

    Thank you, Matt. You’ve given us all a lot to think about today. xo d

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      I wondered too how many people have these abilities (or brain errors) but don’t realize it. I didn’t know about special sequence synesthesia until recently and it blew my mind that other people aren’t seeing what I’m seeing. What a rich tapestry we all are!

      I have to cop to not knowing someone’s name pretty quickly because I can’t fake it for long. It just makes me more jumpy than I already am, which is plenty. I guess we all learn to adapt to navigating the world in a way that makes sense to each of us. That’s also part of our strength, I think.

      Thanks for making ANC the kind of place where people can talk honestly and openly about complex issues without it becoming some kind of ugly brawl or insult-fest. That’s a rare thing, and we all benefit from it!

  13. Avatar Cathy Allen says:

    Matt, thank you so much for sharing this – to me, knowing this makes you that much more you, and special, and yet somehow the same you I enjoy so much!

  14. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Hardly a super power, but both my sister and I always have a song running through our brains. I don’t even notice it until I’m suddenly stuck on a phrase or a word; then I realize that my brain is singing.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      Wow, like personal Muzak!!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Beverly I have this too, always. Sometimes I know where the song came from (if it’s just a typical ‘earworm’ situation) but other times I suddenly become conscious of a random song in my mind and realize that it has been singing away quite happily in my brainbox. It stays stuck there for a while, until a few hours later when it has changed into another song.

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        The bad part of this “super power” is when I don’t like the song, but it continues to play on and on and on. I finally have to press a different jukebox number (Please, Mister, please, don’t play B-17) to remove the annoying song from my brain and substitute it with another.

  15. Avatar Candace C says:

    Matt, I guess my comment yesterday about having met you was fairly prescient although you’d have no reason to have remembered it despite prosopagnosia. Regarding your comment “I’m not that bright” I beg to differ. I read your writings and your comments and you sound very bright indeed. I find you relatable, warm, witty, insightful and intelligent. I think a lot of us have trouble placing people when they’re not in the environment we’re used to seeing them in, just not to the degree you’re dealing with. Like I said, you don’t know me but if I meet you again I promise to say “Hi, I’m Candace Corbin, a friend of Doni’s and a subscriber/commenter on ANC.“ That’s an easy thing to do, I’m happy to do it, and it won’t take anything away from the conversation. So, thanks for sharing, you’re a gem. Til next time, Candace.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      Candace, I appreciate your kind words so much. I use the “I’m not that bright” line occasionally to kind of poke fun at myself but I suppose if I really was dim, I probably wouldn’t know it. And throwing me a lifeline at re-meeting me by reintroducing yourself would make the stress just melt away! And perhaps eventually my brain will automatically connect and I won’t even need a helping hand!

  16. Avatar Ann Webber says:

    Matt, although I have yet to meet you, from what I have learned, your genuine personality will disarm most folks and you will be instantly forgiven for your uncertainty about their idea.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      Thank you so much Ann, and I certainly hope people can understand what a pickle this sometimes puts me in!

  17. Avatar Candace C says:

    Matt, I wonder sometimes if I’m suffering from M.B.C.S. ( missing brain cell syndrome), but then I ask myself how would I know if I was? Which means it doesn’t really matter, right? Yes, these are the things that keep me up at night, lol. That and a comment my son recently made that “An unexamined life is probably fine.”, which is food for thought. This from someone with a Masters in cognitive science and linguistics. I have often thought that the “ignorance is bliss” prospect might be much less exhausting and less worrisome. Alas, I don’t fall in the “non-examining” group. Neither is my son, but his statement gave me pause.

  18. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    I have this condition too, and it’s *hugely* affected by context. It happened just yesterday at physical therapy—a woman said “Hi Steve!” in a very familiar way, and I responded, “Oh, hi!” because I had no idea what her name was or how I knew her. I spent a good 10 minutes thinking, who do I know from when we lived in Palo Cedro 7 years ago.

    I finally figured it out by asking myself, who do I know who’s rehabbing a knee? BAM! Immediately I recognized it was J_____, one of our tennis pals. I’s gone to her birtheday party not long ago. I hadn’t seen her at the club in a few months because she tore her ACL.

    I’m 100% sure I’d have recognized her immediately at the tennis club. That’s how it goes.

    Later, I made it weirder by asking, “So, how far along are you?” I meant how far into her knee rehab she’d progressed, but she gave me a funny look. About 3 hours later it hit me that I’d implied she looked pregnant.

    What a schmuck.

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      Also, I’m a frequent user of the third-party trick Doni described.

      Me: “Have you met Tom?”

      Unrecognized Person: “No. Hi Tom. I’m Jerry.”

      It works more often than not.

      • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

        I might have to give it a try, if I can remember to do it in the moment of panic.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      When I’m caught off guard by someone out of context I’m almost never able to put it together unless they say something very specific that I would know. Even then I’m not always 100% sure who they are and I walk away feeling stupid and frustrated.

      This problem also shortens my interactions with people as I try to cut things short and escape the awkwardness of the situation. That’s not very satisfying either.

      Wow, what an accidental grenade you pulled the pin on with that question. Gah!

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      Reminds me of a Dave Berry column where he did ask a woman when she was due – and she wasn’t pregnant. He decided then and there that he would never again ask the question until/unless he saw an actual head emerging.

  19. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Wow! Great article Matt. Prosopagnosia is a condition of people who have suffered a stroke in the area of fusiform gyrus. It is also a condition of people who were blind during the “window of opportunity” for the development of this part of the brain, who by treatment gain sight. Face recognition is something most people take for granted…..it is instantaneous and involves no effort.
    Synesthesia is amazing. Like you wrote, it doesn’t affect people in your world unless you think everyone experiences the same thing. A young musician friend of mine knew something was awry when a student asked her why they never played any music in the key of A. She said “That is such an ugly color of green…I can’t stand to even hear music in the key of A.” She got her first clue when her student looked at her as though she were crazy. And synesthetes were considered kooky. Current research shows that a synesthesia characteristic has to do with brain development. It’s consistent for people who have it. Same color, same key. The phenomena can be a mix of various senses.
    Thank you so much for having the courage to talk about this. It explains to me why all of our encounters have been uncomfortable.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      Thank you Joanne! I can only imagine having a gift like your friend and being able to see colors with music. What a rich world she must see! But on the other hand, if the colors don’t go together I imagine it might ruin the music.
      I think all of our encounters have been at a gathering with multiple people and I’m usually already a little jumpy from trying to figure out whether I know people or not. It doesn’t help that I’m pretty shy by nature and have to work hard to overcome it. The next time we meet, I’ll try my best not to make things worse. 🙂

  20. Avatar Gayle Rice says:

    This is fascinating! We all have some quirky way we see things, I think. When we were talking at the farmers market last weekend, I kinda felt something was off, but you covered very well! I thought later that when I had talked to you before, Erin was somewhere nearby and you made the connection. It dawned on me later that I should have said I was Erin’s mom or Barbara’s sister in law. So sorry 🙂

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      When I ran into you at the farmer’s market it took me a second to place you, and for a hot second I thought you were someone else entirely. Thankfully I pulled it together in time and didn’t embarrass myself too much. And actually, it was that encounter, and two others that same day (one of which was only a half hour before I saw you) that got me thinking about this condition and inspired me to write this article. So thank you!

  21. Avatar Candace C says:

    Matt, I’m curious. With Spacial Sequence Synethesia do you “see” numbers in color as with Grapheme color Synethesia?

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      Sadly, no. With my version, the numbers and days/weeks/months are all black and white. Sometimes they’re gray depending on how “far away” they are from me.

  22. Avatar Candace C says:

    Matt, whoops, * Synesthesia

  23. Avatar Candace C says:

    Matt, thanks for answering my question regarding Synesthesia. My guess is that the fact you’ve always had it means it’s not disrupting (?) so I guess you might prefer to “see in color”. Still, from someone who knows little or nothing about it other than what my son tells me I think it sounds super cool, like having your very own super power.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      It’s kind of like a secret and mostly useless superpower, but it’s also hard to explain to people. I drew a picture of what numbers look like to me (as best I could on a piece of paper that isn’t three dimensional) and it’s strange to see. Except to me, of course. My brother has the same thing with numbers I do, but his numbers go in the opposite direction from mine. I find that very curious, but also very cool.

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        Do I recall that you are a twin? If so, perhaps that explains that his numbers are in the opposite direction from yours, sort of like Doni and Shelly being identical mirror twins.

        • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

          You are correct, I do have a twin brother. However, we are fraternal which makes the whole thing even more confusing.

  24. Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

    I can’t even begin to tell you how often this happens to me. I’ve started to train myself to say, “Well it was so nice to see you” instead of “So nice to meet you,” just in case I’ve met whoever it is I’m talking to so many times! I also can’t tell you how much I appreciate it when someone says to me (after we’ve been talking for 5 minutes), “Oh, by the way you don’t know me. But I’ve seen you up on stage so many times that I feel I know you.” Because up until that exact moment, I was petrified by the thought of early onset Alzheimer’s.