Monday, June 6, 2016

Experiences of a Synesthete

I am a synesthete.  Basically what this means is that I have some wires crossed and I perceive things with more than one of my senses.  For example, to me numbers, days, and letters have colour.  Numbers have personality.  Sounds have shapes, colour, and movement.  Smells have texture.  Some movements have feeling and taste.  Flashing lights have sound.

When I was a kid, I got it into my head that this is a symptom of schizophrenia.  Several weeks ago I was sitting there worrying about it, and I decided to Google it.  (I know, good old Dr. Google.)  I found a Wikipedia article (I know, I know!) about synesthesia which explained the way my brain works – and reassured me that no, I most likely don’t have schizophrenia!  I was so excited and sent my mom the link via Facebook because she had always kinda given me a weird look when I started talking about things like the colour and personality of numbers.

Having synesthesia means just about everything in life is a multi-sensory experience.  In many ways this is a great thing.  It fuels my creativity and gives me a fountain of secret beauty to enjoy.   It also helps me to be good at spelling, math, and remembering dates and phone numbers.  After all, who’s going to get a stuck up pink goody-two shoes like 4 mixed up with gruff navy 5?  And who’s going to get bland, pale follower 6 mixed up with creative, mysterious, red-brown 7?  I’ll always remember that my sister’s birthday is June 7, not June 6, because she was born on a day with a nice number, not an annoying one.

However, the downfall to synesthesia is sensory overload.  Picture you are in the mall.  Around you are clothes with price tags, people moving around and talking, music playing, and the barcode scanner beeping.  Now imagine every number on every tag has a colour and a personality.  The talking is dark grey and shaped like a cloud that is filling the room at about ear level.  The music above you has round black drumbeats, light brown peaks and valleys like the screen of a heart monitor, and a woman’s yellow voice getting larger and smaller with its fluctuating volume.  Through everything are the round red beeps of the barcode scanner.  Now try to make a decision on what to buy!

I love being a synesthete and I am very glad I found out it is an ok, semi-normal thing.  It is interesting now because I found out some of my siblings are also synesthetes, though for them numbers and days have different colours than they do for me.  When we were discussing this, I said, “We should make a club!”  and one of my brothers (who is not a synesthete) said, “What are you going to do – sit there and argue about what colour each number is?”   He had a point, but it is still a pretty neat ability to share with some of my siblings.