All of my life I’ve been seen as a little quirky and weird. Ok, not a little, a lot. Now that I’ve gotten older and looked a little deeper at my own “quirks” it’s amazing all the things I’ve discovered about myself. The most recent of these discoveries (and to me, the most fascinating thus far) is that I am a Synesthete.
First off I’ll say that I haven’t been diagnosed out right by a neurologist. And it take a neurologist to make such a diagnosis, since it’s a neurological condition and not a mental “illness.” I’ve never been a fan of self diagnosis… But in this case, it’s so obvious. Finding this out explains so much about my mind and my thought patterns. I actually got a little emotional when it suddenly clicked that this is what I have. Now there’s a name for it. I am not just mentally “off.” The condition itself is called Synesthesia.
There are 63 documented types of Synesthesia to date. From the research I’ve done, from what I can tell, I have 6 different types.
This is one of the most common types of Synesthesia. It is the association of colors with letters/numbers. There are several “maps” posted online by people who have this form of Synesthesia.
People who have this condition will make the same associations throughout their entire lives. But people rarely agree on the associations. I’ve looked at several letter/number/color maps, and no two are the same.
Here are mine:
When I was little I thought this was common knowledge. I thought everyone knew that one was brown, two was blue, three was yellow, etc. I said something to my mom about it… and she told me that is not true and that I shouldn’t say that because it sounds like “crazy talk.” So, I didn’t mention it to anyone again until my early twenties.
From what I’ve read, this is one of the rarest types of Synesthesia. It was also one of the most recent to be documented. This is the association of phonemes or words, with tastes.
For me, not every word has a taste… But a lot of words do. Potatoes, peanut butter and chicken are probably the most common things I taste from this. But the words that evoke those tastes are really strange. Like… the word salary tastes like peanut butter, the word issue tastes like chicken… The word quantity taste like potatoes. Even now, just from typing that word, I taste potatoes.
I could have a mouthful of chocolate… and someone could say the word quantity, and I will taste potatoes. It’s very bizarre.
Taste is something that I experience a little differently anyway. I was born with no sense of small. And I don’t care what anyone says… people with no sense of smell can taste. The fact that we can’t is a widely perpetuated myth.
I think not being able to smell has in some ways enhanced my sense of taste. It’s strange… Most people will tell you that all bell peppers taste the same, regardless of their color. I can taste the differences in them. My parents actually blindfolded me once and fed me a whole bunch of different colored bell peppers just to see if I could really tell the difference, and I got them all right. I taste the differences in things that most people can’t. I can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi… I can also taste the different kinds of chocolate… Hershey’s doesn’t taste the same as Nestle, etc. The thing that really amazes people though… and my friends have actually tested this… I can tell the difference between bottled waters. Aquafina tastes different then Dasani… Dasani tastes different then Deer Park, etc.
Not all words have a taste. And it’s not always even a pleasant taste. This has it’s down side too… tastes that are triggered by words aren’t always pleasent. There are words that trigger the taste of soap and also the taste of vomit. To me, the English language is like a bag of Every Flavor Beans. Some good, some bad.
This is the association of genders and/or personalities with letters and numbers.
I don’t see personalities for all letters and numbers. But they all have genders. 1,3,5,7,9,10,11,and 12 are male numbers. 2,6,and 8 are female numbers. 4 is androgynous.
A,B,C,D,E,H,I,K,L,O,U,V,Y, and Z are all female letters. The rest are male.
I see a personality for the letter R. R is male, blunt and kind of an ass. Ironically my name begins with an R.
I see more personality in numbers… 6 is a demure female. 8 is a more outspoken, bold female. 9 wants to impress everyone. 12 is hard to get along with for most. 11 is really funny.
Once again, when I was little, I thought everyone knew this. I even remember talking about it in school… I don’t remember a lot, but I said something about boy numbers and girl numbers. My teacher said numbers aren’t boys or girls. They are just numbers.
Color Personality Association
Once again, I don’t see whole personalities for colors. But all colors have a gender. Red, Orange, Yellow, Pink and Purple are the female colors. Black, Brown, Green and Blue are male colors. White is Androgynous.
From what I understand, this goes both ways for people who see really distinct personalities with colors. In otherwords, they see a color as having a personality, but they also see the personalities of people as being a certain color. This is comparable to seeing “auras.”
Phoneme Color Association
This is the association of words or “phonemes” with colors. For me, I don’t see most words as having a color. But I see the syllables within that word as colored. So, words with multiple syllables are multicolored.
Some phonemes have a shape too… but not many.
Sound Color Association
I saved this one for last, because out of them all, this is the one I experience and appreciate the most.
It’s so much more then color for me though. I see sounds as having shapes and texture also. Even the sound of typing on my keyboard right now… it manifests as a series of small Grey triangles.
In the Book Wednesday is Indigo Blue by Richard Cytowic, sound/color Synesthesia is compared to fireworks. Sounds manifest as colors and simple shapes, move around, and fade out when the stimulus ends. There couldn’t be a better description. That’s exactly how it is.
Some people only see some sounds… Me, I see every sound.
Music for me is a visual wonderland. I see music on something like a screen. The screen is continuously changing as the music changes.
Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden has a powder blue voice. Stevie Nicks has a golden yellow voice… Liv Kristine has a Magenta voice. Geddy Lee has a purple voice. Ozzy Osbourne has a metallic silver voice. Axl Rose has an orange voice. And, for the record, my own voice is lavender.
Some voices change color. Geddy Lee’s voice is purple most of the time, but sometimes it goes from purple to yellow. This isn’t random either. It’s always the same lines of the same songs…
So far, I’ve never met any human being with a green voice. But a lot of musical instruments are green. The sitar has a very green sound, as does the violin.
These association, like others, will never change. When I am 80 years old and rocking out to Iron Maiden (and bet your money I still will be) Bruce Dickenson’s voice will still be blue.
I see every sound… some are more visually interesting than others. Some I’ve even painted…
This is how I “see” a cricket chirping.
A Cicada Buzzing…
This is kind of strange… but this is the sounds my washer and dryer make.
I never realized before I started painting sounds, but I see almost all sounds as vertical or horizontal. The only exception I can think of for this is singing voices. I see them as mostly diagonals.
I want to start painting whole songs… But all the layers of sound that come with a song are so complex. I feel like no matter what, my painting won’t do it any justice. But then again, how will anyone know? No one else on Earth sees what I see…
Synesthetes are, for the most part, highly intelligent people. I read that they usually have difficulty with math, difficulty with left and right, difficulty recognizing faces, and a poor sense of direction. Ambidexterity and/or left handedness is a common trait also. They also tend to have bad short term memories but excellent long term memories.
I am ambidextrous… I remember being a little kid and wanting to do some things with my left hand and other things with my right hand. It got me in trouble… especially in school. In my early twenties I work a piece rated job. I always went faster then everyone else and made a lot more money then everyone else because I was able to use both hands simultaneously. A few of my coworkers even thought I should be expected to make double rate since I could put out double production. It didn’t make me very popular there. But oh well… I have to survive financially like everyone else.
It was at that same job that I learned my own way of doing basic math. When I was younger I was considered a math dummy. My teachers and my parents used to get so frustrated with me… I can’t really say I blame them. It was like something just wasn’t connecting up right in my head when it came to math. At that job I found myself doing a lot of math in my head, figuring up piece rates and stuff… and I am actually really good at it. Over the years I’ve fine tuned that skill. Give me a sheet of paper with a bunch of math problems and ask me to work them out, I will take a long time make mistake after mistake after mistake. But ask me to do all those same problems in my head, I will do it in a fraction of the time and get them all right. I never really understood why basic math trips me up so much, but algebra comes so easy. Now I know, because algebra is more of a mental process based on logic and reason, not just the regurgitation of cold hard facts.
I can remember things that happened to me when I was two… but then forget to pick up cat food at the store. I forget small things all the time…
I also tend to completely miss things that to other people would be so obvious. I once knew a woman who’s face was deformed on one side… She was my neighbor for nine months. I talked to her several times in that nine months, but somehow failed to notice her facial anomalies. I noticed when she was moving out. I’ve had experiences like this all my life, and I always blamed my vision issues… But I’ve read similar stories from other people who have Synesthesia. Now I think that is probably the reason.
My sense of direction is awful… I always thought it was because I can’t drive. I don’t think in “normal” direction terms like east/west, left/right, three blocks up, next light, next street over, etc. I think in arial terms. In otherwords, when I am thinking of how to get somewhere, I am basically seeing an arial map in my head. It may work fine for me, but when I’ve been asked to tell someone how to get somewhere, I am really bad at it.
I am terrible at recognizing faces… I’ve made an ass of myself so many times over the years, going up to someone who I thought was someone else… Once again… I’ve blamed my vision issues. But I don’t think it’s that at all. I have enough clarity in my vision to see the features of a person’s face. For some reason though, they don’t always register in my head the way they should.
All throughout my teen years… shrinks and drugs. How come no one noticed? The few times I talked about these things as a child I was made to feel like I was being punished for doing something wrong. It was a recent post on an Occult Forum of all places that made me want to delve further into this subject. It blows my mind how much this explains…
My Mom even took me to a neurologist when I was 13. I asked a lot of questions that were never answered. Questions like what is a neurologist? Why do I have to see one? Etc… My Mom told me to shut up and stop asking all these questions. I still don’t know what the doctor I saw was checking for or why I had to go see him. But considering this is a neurological condition, I wonder why he didn’t see that I had it. Then again, he probably wasn’t looking for it.
I have no sense of smell and several issues with my eyes. I think this is a trade off… Things were taken away from me, in the sensory aspect. But in my opinion, I was also given something in return. The few people who I’ve told I have this condition have asked me if I plan on having it treated. Of course not. I see it as a gift. Why would I want to squelch my gift? And for the record, there is no method of treatment anyway. People who have it are stuck with it. It’s hardwired into our brains.
I remember my college psychology professor using the analogy of a never ending acid trip. Hearing that didn’t make it click for me. Of course, I’ve never done acid. So I can’t accurately make the comparison. I’ve read that people experience mild synesthesia when under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. It makes me very curious what would happen if I did try acid… Would my Synesthesia go away for the few hours I am tripping? Or would it be amplified?
I was talking about this to someone recently, and they kept saying “I can’t even imagine…” Like, “I can’t even imagine tasting words.” “I can’t even imagine seeing sounds.” I get that. But I can’t even imagine not seeing them. I’ve been this way since birth. Until very recently I didn’t even realize it wasn’t normal. This is all I know.
Do I live a constant acid trip? Perhaps. Do I love it? Of Course!