A few weeks ago I had the most mind-blowing, life-changing revelation I’ve ever experienced. My colleagues and uni classmates (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? I have Aphantasia, and you might too. I am neurodivergent.
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?
How did I discover this?
My PTSD therapist told me to close my eyes and picture a beach. I asked why he wanted me to do some metaphorical bullsh*t, thinking “mate I’m not Sherlock, I don’t have a mind palace”.
Then he explained. It turns out that 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 apparently not a genetic phenomenon).
I have Aphantasia, and you might too.
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 some of my colleagues, can see 3d, coloured images with their eyes open… even blueprints and abstract concepts. WHAT EVEN.
Oh, and some people have this with specific senses and not with others, for example the ability to hear music in your head, but without visuals or vice versa… I have NONE of these. I’ve heard that people can have eidetic memories or synaesthesia, which is pretty much the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I didn’t know that most people have a visual imagination.
This was honestly such a mindblowing ephiphany.
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 a ‘minds eye’, or maybe it just doesn’t work?. I can’t create any imagery in my mind at all. I cannot recreate smells, feelings, sounds, or sensations either.
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 well. My brain is good at recalling facts I learned, which is useful 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, facts, 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) Some of my friends say that they visualise 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. Chaucer? No thank-you.
8) This might be 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 didn’t study Geography beyond GCSE. Both physical and human geography really does interest me, but the coursework we had to do on Dartmoor with maps was so 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 actually visualise your phobia!
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 can often replay memories and emotions in their head. It sounds awful. I have PTSD from a traumatic incident, and I am incredibly grateful that I cannot ‘see’ what happened to me in my mind.
12) I’m a very creative person: I like to create art, music, play instruments etc… but I don’t visualise anything, or hear music in my head. Maybe that’s why I like to decorate my house and fill it with arty things. I have 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 2-3% of the population, but it could be more.
I recommend reading Aphantasia by Alan Kendle, it really helped me understand it and get to grips with the fact that I’m neurodivergent.
A useful way to explain Aphantasia: if you imagine minds as computers, mine doesn’t have a screen. It still functions as a computer, but without the monitor turned on. It’s different, but not inferior.
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? Let me know if you have it!
All the best,
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