Returning to Synesthesia
A little over a year ago I left my profession to pursue old ambitions and loves more wholeheartedly. Mainly painting and writing but also other things not remotely related to medicine. One of the greatest revelations had been the ability to think more effectively, something that is harder when a job not only requires its own specific thinking but is also physically demanding with long hours worked in a challenging environment.
I was always a ponderer. To say I was always a thinker sounds way more impressive. Ponderer is more accurate . I can’t quite fit the brief of reflector either.
As an only child I was very happy in my own company. Pondering.
When I was in my thirties I became aware that my way of thinking was not the same as others and specifically that I have Synesthesia. This was discovered when I volunteered as a normal baseline person for some Psychological tests that were being trialed for people with acquired head injuries. It turned out I was not quite the help to the testers that I had hoped to be, but I had a diagnosis, in reality just a name, for my peculiar version of thinking. Early on I had self diagnosed myself as stupid and muddle headed. To achieve things I really had to concentrate hard to get quickly to the same place mentally as other people or I could use Synesthesia and get there quicker but with no sensible explanation. Without concentration my thoughts would swirl around dipping into my huge reserves of useless information or concoct creative but irrelevant sub texts to the tasks in hand. Learning to read was the first time I felt the fear of having to learn in a way that was proscribed by an outsider, rather than by a scheme of my own making. Fortunately words and writing seem to suit my form of synesthesia, so the concentration I had to muster, to learn to read, paid me back quickly by opening new worlds accessed more easily by literacy. Words are almost my favourite things.
Not that I realised that at the time, at the age of about 5 I was asked to read in a school assembly. Guided by my self -belief that I was muddle- headed I assumed it was to make an example of me and show how dumb I was. Some years later I was told it was because my concentration had boosted my reading age significantly. The same feelings of inadequacy swept over me when I was given an adults ticket for the library when I was eight. I assumed once again that my muddle- headedness had made me not clever enough for children’s books. It took a while to realise it was a promotion of sorts for the opposite reason.
Maths was not the same, wonderful, numerical worlds did not open for me. My absolute biggest fear was being asked to explain how I had got the right answer. The classic request to show my working out was such a fearful demand that I learned fast how to concentrate on getting the job done ‘normally’ and getting out . My maths career finished at the age of 16. I passed one exam in maths, an ‘O’ level, got a high grade and walked away.I never wanted to ever show my workings out again. The exception to this was Cusinierre Rods, The joy of learning maths with colour and shape. Sublime
By the time I realised Synesthesia was my thing it was too late to talk about it with my parents, it took me a few years to realise how fully it affected my thinking. My parents died before I even realised it was a thing to share with them. My mother almost certainly had it, she taught me to count using imaginary coloured clouds in the wide blue skies of East Anglia. Our real life was constantly overlaid by unrelated thoughts or feelings that, to her, explained the real world far more simply than it could explain itself.
Now I am free to express myself creatively, I’m freeing up my innate Synesthesia.
The best analogy I can come up with is that of a left handed person being forced to write with their right hand. To exist in the academic and working worlds I have had to concentrate on normal thinking and to an extent put Synesthesic thinking to one side because it is so hard to explain and justify.
Thinking in circles, writing in lines, is the closest I can get to describing my synesthesia/accepted normal thinking interface.
I know the spectrum of synesthesic experience is vast . My sensation is that before formal education I was more in tune with it, then life takes over and traditional thinking, which has been learnt, takes over. A year of not being in an environment that constantly requires individual accountability has allowed me to think and perceive more intuitively and allowed me to let the synesthesia do the shortcut thinking quickly and without explanation. To be continued.
“ I know the sound of blue and it tastes delicious “