the one about synesthesia

synesthesia-true-story

This is a post I've thought about writing for a while, but honestly didn't even know where I would start. You know when you think something you do is totally normal and everyone does it, and then all of a sudden, like twenty years into your life, you learn that it's totally weird and no one even knows what you're talking about? No? Okay, well that's been my experience with synesthesia.

I usually hate when people give me definitions for words I can look up myself, but I think it's worth it to include this one here: Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

One of the cool (for me), confusing (for everyone) things about synesthesia is that it affects everyone differently who experiences it. For some, they can taste music. Others can hear smells. For me, I can feel colors. More specifically, I have deep, physical and emotional associations between colors and numbers, days of the week, letters of the alphabet, and more. Because it's neurological, it's not really something I can explain the logic behind. It's like asking me to show my work on a math problem my brain invented.

Growing up, I thought everyone's brains worked the way I did. It was so incredibly earth-shattering to find out that not everyone felt colors and had the same associations I knew to be completely natural.

Without getting all scientific (because, to be honest, I don't know much more of the science than I've given so far), I thought it would be fun to share a little about my color and feeling associations and how it affects my day to day life.
synesthesia-numbers
So, these are my numbers. When I think or say the number two, I am also feeling this shade of blue. Three has always been macaroni and cheese orange, and six Jolly Rancher green. I feel a special connection to two, four, and six -- especially six, which is my favorite number. This is a little weird because green isn't my favorite color, so I feel like it's important to clarify that it's not like that. It's about the feeling I have attached to six, which is pure and happy.

You might notice that the numbers one, five, and zero are missing from this list. The reason is that those numbers are void of color and feeling. When these digits are paired with another to make a multi-digit number, they sort of chameleon themselves and absorb the color and feeling of the other numbers. Usually, this doesn't work out so well for those numbers. For instance, 25 often shows up as blue and red. This color combo is so stark and feels masculine to me, and I'm totally repulsed by those feelings because I don't identify with them. Let's just say I'm not stoked about turning 25 later this year for one particular reason.

I think it's significant to mention that these numbers are sort of void for me because 2015 is made up of a bunch of numbers that I don't feel connected to, that I don't identify with. This has been really hard for me, and I've honestly been dreading the new year for weeks because of it. I loved 2014 and being 24 because I love the color associated with it. Not having a color makes me feel really unstable and empty. It's challenging for me to look forward to something I only see as a void. I've been trying to be mindful and present in my every day life to combat this feeling, but it still makes looking forward pretty bleak.

A lot of the time, my synesthesia is really helpful though! People always ask if it helps me with putting together outfits, and I can't say I actively am aware of myself using it, but I'm sure subconsciously it helps. Since I associate colors with feelings anyway, a lot of feelings have their own color. I don't think the colors my brain chooses are groundbreaking or anything, but my connection to them is deeper than most people's, and that affects the way I string words together or choose a color palette in Photoshop.

Basically, it doesn't affect me in huge ways every day, and I'm not even always aware of it, but now that I've gotten a little more in tune with it I'm learning to use my synesthesia to my advantage. I realize I sound like a teen who just discovered she's a witch with a talking cat. I won't argue with that!

Am I alone out here? Does anyone else in the blogosphere have synesthesia? Should I just go back to talking to my cat about all the pretty colors no one else can see?

27 comments

  1. First off, your cat is awesome and you can always talk about that. Second, don't stop talking about this. You never, ever know what you are opening up when you post something like this and it could be EXACTLY what someone needed to read. I absolutely admire you for saying this and YOU GO GLEN COCO!
    www.theadoredlife.com

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  2. Fascinating! I spent some time researching synesthesia after having a conversation with someone and realizing I see numbers totally different than them. You're right- it is completely mind-blowing to learn after 20 or so years that how you think isn't how everyone else thinks. I don't see any colors or emotions associated with numbers (which, I could think about forever. That is SO interesting) but I do see all my numbers on a "plane"; that is, whenever I'm computing ANYTHING- money, age, years, etc. 10 is always in the same place, 100 is always in the same place, 5 is always in the same place, etc. I know this sounds totally weird. But thinking of any number at all takes me to its' specific spot. They're just like, lined up in a plane in space. Anyway, just thought I would share. I'm so glad you wrote about this!

    ♥ perfectly Priya

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  3. OMG THAT IS SO COOL. i figure it would make math make more sense to you, but also people always assume the colors help me and they make math so. much. harder. but i feel like seeing them on a plane would give you a sense of hierarchy that i think my brain just doesn't compute.

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  4. This is so awesome! While I don't have this, I know I suffer from some 'weird' stuff too (I think its cool!) But whenever I look at anything I will dissect the layers of it and visualize how I would paint it. Everything and it happens ALL the time. I can see different layers of shadows, depths etc I don't know if this is a real thing or just something quirky I do. Love you shared this :D

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  5. Talk about your cat, of course, but also talk about this! This is part of what makes you who you are, and it is super-freaking cool. And now, I have to give you a book recommendation because I'm a librarian, and I can't help it. Have you read A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass? Cats and synesthesia: http://www.amazon.com/A-Mango-Shaped-Space-Wendy-Mass/dp/0316058254

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  6. You would think it helps me with math, right?! It doesn't. Math is the worst to me. But I guess it does help me thinking logically?

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  7. I think this is really interesting! Most people have favorite color and/or a favorite number, so I think everyone has some relationship with numbers and colors, just not as specific or persistently as you. I have certain numbers I tend to count to when when I'm doing something like dunking tea bags, for example, and it feels weird if I stop before I get to that number, but I think those numbers shift all the time. I had a band director in high school who saw music in color, and that affected the way he directed music. I think the ways people experience reality is super interesting and important to talk about!


    -Jen
    yourstrulyjen.com

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  8. so i've heard of synesthesia and i sort of think its really cool. i sort of see it as a gift. but thats just me. i dont personally have it but i think it makes you awesome!

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  9. yes! i'm still not very conscious of my reactions to letters unless i'm in the moment, but i'm really in tune with numbers. D is the same color as 6 though, so it's definitely a happy number. U is red so it's angry for me too. weird how that works!

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  10. I don't have synesthesia, but I know a few friends who see music as colors and shapes and stuff like that and it's fascinating to me! I am faceblind, does that count as my "weird thing I discovered later in life and assumed everyone else also had"? haha.

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  11. i hadn't ever heard of faceblind! but i just took a quiz online and i am not. i'm sure this is a totally obnoxious question, but if i saw you at HEB would you know who i am?

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  12. Maybe! You have a distinctive look to me (hair + glasses) and since I read your blog, I might recognize you! But normally, if I see people out of context, it's a total guessing game and I have the toughest time with it. It's really embarrassing because it seems like I dislike people when I really just have no idea who they are!

    It's a terrible thing whenever you're into hobbies that involve wigs and extreme makeup!

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  13. oh goodness, i can't even imagine how challenging that is at cons. i promise to introduce you to myself and anyone i might be standing near in the future, just in case!

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  14. THANK YOU! It's always helpful to me even if it feels weird to do! I feel like some people think I'm making it up, but it's just a world of confusion. I mean, I tried to sit next to someone who was not my boyfriend at a restaurant once. Awkward.

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  15. This was a really interesting post and I love how you broke down how synesthesia effects you, specifically. What has been the most adverse reaction you've had to a piece of clothing because of synesthesia?

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  16. Isn't it? So fascinating how the wires in the brain work!

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  17. I think this (and you) are the coolest thing ever.

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  18. I have synesthesia too! I taste in shapes - every food has an associated shape, and different flavorings/combinations lead to more interesting images. As I eat, I get to sort of "watch" the shape develop.

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  19. this is BY FAR the coolest version i've ever heard.

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  20. This is way cool! I've always been fascinated by it, and it's cool to see someone who experiences it vs just reading "technical definitions" online. I don't have synesthesia, I do, however had D.I.D (dissociate identity disorder), which is definitely a trip to people who don't have it.

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  21. This is so interesting, thanks for sharing! I I hadn't heard of synesthesia until recently when I read a novel where one of the characters has it, Bitter in the Mouth. I definitely recommend it.


    Kristina does the Internets

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  22. NICOLE!!! I have synesthesia as well...and in a very similar way as you (I have a deep, emotional connection with certain numbers, days of the week, months, random words, etc...and there's a lot of color association for me, too!). For me, I have a very strong negative emotional reaction to most prime (and odd) numbers (13, 17 and 19 are the absolute WORST for me...like, I was devastated when my cousin's baby was born on November 17 because all I could think about was what a terrible day of the month to be born). Mondays are fire-engine red, Tuesdays are cobalt blue, Wednesdays are bright orange, Thursdays are kelly green, Fridays are lemon yellow or fire-engine red (like Mondays), Saturdays are a light sky blue, and Sundays are royal purple.


    I distinctly remember the first time I realized that I thought of things differently than other people, too... I was in high school and in a bible study with some of my parents' friends from church (this was back when I went to church and believed in a higher power). We were talking about what "God" looked and felt like to us, and everyone was talking about the old bearded guy in the sky, and I said "God feels blue." People were like, "ummm, what?" I felt so awkward and tried to explain my deep connection to things like numbers and days of the week - it's so hard to describe synesthesia to people who don't get it!!!


    Thank you so much for writing this post and sharing what synesthesia is to you!


    PS. 6 and 8 are my favorite numbers, and are teal and plum respectively.

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  23. YOU ARE MY ACTUAL TWIN.


    Fridays are lemon yellow or fire-engine red, and I've never been able to explain why. You having the same two colors is absolutely freaking me out in the best way. Wednesdays are orange. Tuesdays are blue, but not cobalt for me. It's really close to the color I feel for the number 2.


    I also have a major aversion to prime numbers, but mostly because they're odd numbers. I hate 19 only slightly less than 25. 19 is bright, loud red and it hurts my head to think about. Maybe I hate it more than 25 actually.


    I love that our 6 and 8 are so similar! 6 has always been my favorite number, even though I don't have a major attraction to green really? But after 2014 and being 24 I'm really loving 4. 8 was my favorite when I was little, and even after I turned 9 I pretended I was 8.


    I thought about doing a follow up post with some of my colors, but because a lot of it is still subconscious, I get self-conscious when people are like "what's my color! what color is XYZ!?" (which, by the way, XYZ always shows up as brown black and grey or gold silver and black to me, but only when it's in a series like that.)


    I'm so glad you commented! Made my night!

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  24. Oh my gosh, I am totally freaking out right now, too!!! I think I don't mind 5 because it's a "clean" number, in that every multiple of 5 ends in -0 or -5. (Perhaps related or not...but do you have a certain "number" that the volume on a TV or radio has to be on? For me, it cannot be an odd number except one ending in 5, and I feel much more at ease when it's at a number that ends in 0. That might be more of an OCD-type thing, though...). 19 is the absolute worst for me - I hated being 19 and was just dying to turn 20 to get it over with!!


    I have re-read this post so many times and I keep finding other nuggets to comment on - like how the association between words and colors for you helps string things together. I totally get that - when I'm writing emails and blog posts and journal entries, I often have a specific "color" (aka feeling) in mind when doing that. So, if I'm feeling spunky (green) and sassy (orangey-red), I try to use other green and orange/red words in the post as well. If I'm feeling more contemplative, I try to use light blue and purple words to convey my mood. This is so hard to explain!!!

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  25. Ahhhh I really could go on about this forever. For me, volume and alarm clock times have to be at an even number (and never a 0). For instance, my current alarm goes off at 7:12am which is yellow and blue, which puts me in a good mood in the morning and helps me wake up on the right foot. If I set it for the "wrong" time, then everything is messed up. I also decide volume to songs based on the songs. This is totally subconscious, so I don't know anything specific, but sometimes I'll turn a song I love up to 28 and then realize it's actually a 26 and then jam even harder, even though it's quieter.


    You mentioned that 5 is clean, and that it's like a 0. I think that too, but not in a positive way -- it's like a slate and that stresses me out. Do you have colors for 5 or 0? Or 1?


    I can't believe how close our colors are for those words!

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  26. This is so awesome - I'm totally geeking out over this!!! I love hearing what synesthesia is like for you! For me, 5 is bright yellow (like Big Bird), 1 is red, and 0 is clear - no color at all for 0. I get a big feeling of relief when there is a 0 at the end of a number - it's like a reset button for me (probably because I hate 9 so much...0 is what comes after 9, so it "resets."). This is all so crazy to explain, but I love that I get what you mean when you talk about your numbers and the feelings you get from them!!!

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  27. alright, I've never heard of this and it is blowing my mind. how cool!!

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