A few weeks ago I had the most mind-blowing, life-changing revelation I’ve ever experienced. People I work and go to uni with (and those of you I have on Instagram) know this already, but I thought I’d write about it as well because it’s MAD. You may be wondering what I discovered? A condition called aphantasia.
I did not know until very recently that in general, 98-99% of people can ‘visualise’. I have never been able to visualise anything, see images in my mind, ‘picture’ anything, or have visual memories. My mind is just blackness, like a black hole or a void. It always has been this way, and I thought that EVERYONE was like this?
My PTSD therapist told me to close my eyes and picture a beach. I asked why he wanted me to do some mindfulness metaphorical bullsh*t, thinking “mate I’m not Sherlock, I don’t have a mind palace”. Turns out it’s normal to be able to do this?!? I then asked literally everyone I know to picture a beach and asked if they can actually SEE it in their minds, and they can. (Well, everyone except my Mother, which is a pretty weird coincidence considering it’s not genetic).
I have ‘aphantasia’.
I’d never heard of this before, and have existed for 23 years without knowing that a black hole of a mind isn’t normal?!??
There are varying levels of visualisation ability. Some people can see just colours or outlines, black-and-white images, or ‘ghost-like’ pictures. Other people, like my favourite mad scientist boyfriend Oliver, can see 3d, coloured images with his eyes open… even blueprints and abstract theoretical physics concepts. WHAT EVEN. Oh, and some people have this with some senses and not others, e.g. the ability to hear music in your head but no visuals… I have NONE of these. I’ve obviously heard that people can have eidetic memories or synaesthesia, which is pretty much the complete opposite end of the spectrum, but I didn’t know that most people have a visual imagination.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling incredibly jealous of most people in the world with their colourful brains. Am I empty inside?! I literally do not possess an ‘imagination’ or a ‘minds eye’, I can’t create any imagery in my mind at all.
Due to this, I don’t ‘experience’ memories, only descriptive words if that makes sense. For example, if you ask me what my Mum looks like, I can recall facts like she has dark hair and brown eyes and olive skin… but I can’t picture her. At least now I know why I can’t recognise people I’ve only met once, and why I can’t remember my childhood or teenage years at all, except for facts I learned (good thing for studying Classics I guess with all those dates to remember!). I know logically that things happened, e.g. I got bitten by a monkey in Gibraltar, from photos and people telling me, but I don’t ‘remember’ it if that makes sense.
If you made it this far, congratulations.
To lighten the mood, here are some funny revelations I’ve had recently…
1) I thought that ‘counting sheep’, ‘imagining an audience naked’, and ‘picturing someone’ were entirely metaphorical concepts.
2) You can ACTUALLY have a song stuck in your head?! Mindblown.
3) I could NEVER understand how Beethoven composed music while deaf. How could he hear the music? Was he a magical genius? I guess not to the extent I thought.
4) Oliver says he visualises characters & scenes while reading fiction! Now I understand how people often get frustrated at movies for not representing characters how ‘they imagined’. This probably explains why I’m more drawn to non-fiction books or fiction authors that use clever language, like Lemony Snicket. [Side-note: here’s a list of the 10 books I WILL read this year!]
5) I do not understand what nostalgia feels like. At all. Someone said to me once that he knew the exact perfume I was wearing because his ex-girlfriend wore the same one, and it ‘took him back’. I didn’t understand how you can remember smells in that way.
6) I guess I’ve never actually daydreamed?! I just THINK about things in words.
7) Maybe this is why I just don’t ‘get’ poetry. Flowery language doesn’t evoke a feeling or an image for me, it’s just words? (don’t ask me why I took English Literature A-Level, it was the bane of my life).
8) This is 100% why I can’t read a map. I can’t picture how a map looks in relation to what I can actually see in front of me. I never felt inclined to join the Ten Tors team at school, or do a Duke of Edinburgh award, and never studied Geography beyond GCSE. Both physical and human geography really does interest me, but the coursework we had to do on Dartmoor with maps was difficult for me to comprehend.
9) I know I have dreams and nightmares. I can recall what happened, as a description. However, I don’t actually know if I see anything while I dream because I can’t remember visually.
10) Having a ‘fear’ like clowns or spiders must be so much more terrifying if you can visualise your fear.
11) When people say to be ‘present’ and ‘live in the moment’ as advice, I never knew what that meant, because how can you not be in the moment? Are you living in the past?! It’s been explained to me that people going through heartbreak or loss etc. can often replay memories and emotions in their head, which sounds awful.
12) I’m a very creative person, I like to create art, music, play instruments etc… but I don’t visualise anything in my head, or hear music in my head. I guess that maybe that’s why I like to decorate my house and fill it with arty things I love, to express myself on paper and in the real world because there’s nothing in my head but words. When I write music, as I can’t hear it, I have to physically play or sing and write it down to remember.
TDLR; I have aphantasia and my brain is an empty black void. My entire life perspective has been changed.
You may have it too, there’s not much info on the condition yet, but the University of Exeter have been conducting research since 2015. It’s estimated that aphantasia affects approximately 2% of the population, but it could be more! Check out the video below if you’d like more info, or if you have no idea what I’m on about:
Have you heard of aphantasia before?
All the best,