Synesthesia: My Type of Crazy

In a post a few weeks ago, I wrote about my flash fiction piece in Cleaver Magazine entitled “Synesthesia and You.” And I mentioned that while researching for the piece I discovered I have synesthesia. So for True Tuesday, I’m going to share what synesthesia is like in my life.

What is Synesthesia?synesthesia

Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory phenomenon leads to automatic and involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

In short, one sense automatically triggers another sense. The result? People can taste colors, see sound, and hear motion. Nearly every sense we have can be linked in this way. And if you start reading about people who have this, you’ll learn what a huge variety there can be.

My Experience

I remember asking my roommate last year if she ever had a tune stuck in her head and remembered later on that she had never actually heard the tune but seen it. She was clearly confused. “Like when you read the words to a song and it gets stuck in your head?” she asked. No. A little bit. But no. I was trying to explain that I had just remembered the word I had seen hours before because the tune of it was still stuck in my head. We couldn’t figure it out, so I set to googling: I’m hearing things that aren’t actually making a sound and other alarming statements. The result? Schizophrenia. That was all I could find! Clearly I didn’t have schizophrenia, but I didn’t know how else to explain it, so I left it alone.

I thought I knew what synesthesia was. People see color auras around others or the alphabet has colors or personalities to them. I was only aware of these types, but as I began researching synesthesia, I found that I have it too.

My types are hearing-motion synesthesia (or kinetic to sound) and spatial sequence synesthesia.

Hearing-Motion Synesthesia

I hear sounds when I see things moving silently or when I’m moving and something is stationary.

Examples:

Blinking cursors
Pulsing icons
People stirring food
Additional sounds of windshield wipers
Swirling loading symbols (seriously, there are so many of these and what a variety!)
Turn signals
Birds walking
People walking
Passing light posts and sidewalks while driving

Spatial Sequence Synesthesia

The calendar in my head is a big U, almost a complete circle so January and December are about to touch at the top. It spans out into a scroll and rolls up or down to navigate to a certain month. Weeks are also bent, as Friday, Saturday, and Sunday turn a corner, and I have to scroll them to the left to see the full week.

It never occurred to me that not everyone hears and sees these as well. That’s the funny thing about perception. We only experience our own.

So are there any drawbacks or advantages?

Maybe and maybe not. Some people’s experiences are so extreme, it can begin to interfere with their lives. (Like if they can’t stand the taste of your name or a color feels so bad they don’t like touching it.) But for the most part that’s not the case. In fact, most of the time synesthesia means better memory, because more than one sense is going into storing information.

synesthesia

It’s not unusual for people to have more than one kind of synesthesia like me. And most people, also like me, don’t know they have it for a good chunk of their lives, because they don’t know it’s an actual thing. It’s pretty liberating to put a name to something you experience on a daily basis.

Now, I have fun realizing that I’m the only person in the room who hears that person nodding her head or that person walking outside. Like most synesthetes, learning about synesthesia was a validating and exhilarating experience for me. I love recognizing it in my own life and discovering more about other people’s perception, too.

Here are some good sites and videos to check out about:

Some of the first research being done on hearing-motion synesthesia

Research, including a pretty a crazy long list of types of synesthesia (63!)

A bit dense but interesting report on the spatial and visual aspects of sequence-space synesthesia

And some good stories about other types of synesthesia:

From NPR and CBS

So, what about you? Do you have any types of synesthesia? If so, what’s it like in your experience? I’d love to hear your stories! Thanks for stopping by.

~Charnell

11 Replies to “Synesthesia: My Type of Crazy”

  1. This is so interesting!! I’m a neurology geek, & I love hearing neurological phenomena discussed from a personal perspective. Your synesthesia sounds like a gift! :). And also, completely foreign to me.

    I often see colors related to different touch or tactile sensations — it took me a long time to realize this wasn’t necessarily normal. But it’s normal to me, & most of the time I love it. 🙂

    1. AWF, your synesthesia sounds very cool! And also foreign to me 🙂
      I think tactile types like yours are very neat.
      How did you discover it wasn’t as normal as you thought?

  2. That’s crazy – I have an almost exactly similar visual-spatial thing with calendars (and other things), but I never realised it was actually a type of synaesthesia. I’m all excited and researching now.

    1. Liz! Yay! I’m so excited for you!
      Good luck searching…the visual stuff people have is so great.
      (You’re going to get sucked into all of the stories!)
      Let me know what you find out!

      1. Also lightbulbs are going off in my mind. So much makes more sense now (reading the dense one about visuo-spatial). Like the reason numbers are so hard and letters are so easy – I can see all the letters at one time, more or less, but there are too many numbers to see them all. I’m definitely more visual than spatial, and this is so fascinating. Do you see the months in colours?

      2. Yay for lightbulbs! I’m also a bit more visual than spacial.
        My months are all one color, though I can see them from different perspectives if I step into different spaces of the black around them.
        What about yours?

      3. Mine are all different colours (or at least different shades of different colours; there are several blues and greens and yellows). That’s interesting; I’m usually in them, not on or beside them. They’re more like a holograph than a solid; I can move through them. Usually I’m at the date, but if I’m thinking about a different time or a specific spread of time, I can move around. And I tend to sorta zoom out when thinking about a specific time period (like if I think about one month or season as a whole). Do your days of the week come inside the months or are they separate? I’m crazy fascinated now.

      4. I don’t think I’ve heard of holograph months before! Mine are definitely solid.
        I can’t move into my months but when I zoom in and look at my weeks, I “reach out” to scroll them.
        Also I zoom too! Usually in a circle, because that’s the shape of the calendar, which is so disorienting and I loose my place often. For some people, their calendars help them keep track of time. I’m not sure mine helps at all. I’m still pretty hopeless.
        Does yours help you keep track of specific times? Since you’re in the dates?

      5. Sort of. Except dates are numbers, so that makes it harder. Especially if they’re far apart or far away from where I am, I tend to sort of just know, “Oh it’s a blue one off in the distance,” which is not helpful once it gradually gets around to the blue area and I suddenly don’t know if something is this Saturday or next! I tend to always know waht day of the week things were, because the weeks peak on the weekends and drop down into the days and back up. Kind of like telephone wires, I guess. My calendar is roughly circular, but it’s not exact; it’s sort of wavy in places, and sometimes I have to slow down to process things because I have to get to that place on the calendar—like if someone asks me if a specific date works for something and it’s close enough to need to zoom to the week level or far enough to need to find that time of the year, I need time to get there. Do you have that at all? Like needing a different processing speed to shift gears? Also, do you see different years or just one at a time? I didn’t even think of that till just now…

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