Aphantasia

By alison May 22, 2018 20 Comments 3 Min Read

 
There are no teabags. Well of course there is an abundance of tea of the Matcha kind, the mint sort and the rose variety, but the common or garden breakfast teabag is nowhere to be seen on this very ordinary Tuesday morning.
I feel mildly appalled, and butter a scone in compensation. Then stand over the kitchen sink eating it, noticing that yet again, I am wearing my trousers inside out and deciding that this state of affairs just about sums up my whole life right now.
On Friday night my neck went into spasm and I have been walking around like a traumatised meerkat ever since, I am so behind with my counselling skills work it is laughable and the house is wearing the outraged dusty pout of a neglected child with grandiose ideas. All this and I feel something I cannot put my finger on, but want to call loneliness. I feel lonely.
The other day I read something that astonished me. I read that other people can see images in their minds. Images! Where I only see words. Or maybe not even words, rather I simply feel concepts. In fact I no more see images in my head than I do in my hand and I cannot fathom what it must be like to have a cinema of memories in your mind. I have been querying everyone I know since. Think of a beach, I cry! And they do and they describe what they are seeing in their heads and I stare at them, mouth gaping as scenes of beaches they have been to, and beaches they are imagining are described to me in technicolor detail from the pictures they have summoned from the bank in their heads.
While my Aphantasia may be unusual (it affects just 2% of us), mind blindness simply means that we experience the world differently and nobody knows because we all presume we experience it in the same way. While I could describe a beach to you, I would be pulling the details from what I know of beaches. In the same way that if you asked me to describe my son Finley, I could not picture him in my head, but would instead share details of what I know to be true: tall, curly hair, gorgeous.
To me it explains why I have no real memories of what has gone on before: no real personal history. No flashbacks to yesterday. Though a counsellor once told me I must have experienced significant childhood trauma to have wiped my own slate so completely clean, I knew I hadn’t- that my childhood was lovely, I just don’t store the past in the same way others do and it is only when we begin to analyse it that it becomes an issue. Aphantasia means that I simply don’t have that cine-film of all my yesteryears in my head and so never think to recall it with either the joy or gloom which others seem to apply to their personal history. I simply was. And now I am.
How odd to finally be making sense of yourself at the grand old age of 46! Does being different equal loneliness? Is that what my problem is? Does it make any sense at all to try to deconstruct who we are? To explain ourselves, to our selves? Recently I have been tearing myself apart: recognising the flakiness others see in me. The avoidance of as much social interaction as possible. The failure to take part in the group conversations others seem to thrive on (and the feeling that I am merely acting the part when I try). The constant need to be in my own head: feeling too much, but never seeing. A quite deliberate loneliness I both seek, yearn for and deeply resent. A misunderstanding of the social norms that govern the rest of the world and have me wearing my clothes inside out, apparently utterly oblivious. A life made difficult by my failure to accept it simply for what it is; instead always having to construct it for myself, without the aid of image and memory.
Perhaps then it doesn’t do to think too deeply. For truths come bouncing in like a litter of over-excited puppies. Hard to handle and difficult to identify. There can be no calming a mind flustered by such truths, especially when they set us so apart that the loneliness of those who are different simply cannot be avoided.
What I need then is tea of any kind. A distraction from a head full of noise. The recording of the scone for my (appalled) Fitbit. The slipping off of my trousers in an effort to turn them the right way and conform to society. Half an hour in a frenzy of tidying and cleaning. Perhaps a mid-morning bath in pine-scented water and some oil massaged into this pain in my neck.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

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20 Comments

  1. Laura_Elsewhere says:

    Dear Aphantsia,
    Don’t worry. Really, don’t. It will start making sense gradually but steadily now that you know.
    With love from,
    Autism x
    (I have “Really quite severe Autism, but exceptionally high-functioning so it can often be completely concealed”, diagnosed in my 40s xx It took me a few years to learn more and get the hang of it, but it makes life simpler, having confirmation that I’m simply a bit ‘other’, not that I’m broken or failed. It helped me, when I realised that “ordinary” is a much wider category than most media would have us believe. It’s a bit startling at first, though, to find you have a medical term attached to your mind. Tons of love to you, my dear.
    x Laura_Elsewhere x)

    1. Karla M Neese says:

      I love that you are so open in sharing your struggles with those who need to feel they are understood. You’ve always been an inspiration to me Laura.

      1. Laura_Elsewhere says:

        How lovely, Karla – thankyou, my dear! I really should be around more – I do miss you! <3

    2. Bethany says:

      Laura, have you figured out any good resources for high-functioning autism? Everything I’ve found either assumes it’s the same exact thing as ADHD or seems focused on low-functioning. Thanks!

      1. Laura_Elsewhere says:

        Bethany…. not really. I’m lucky as I have access to a big university library and a fair background in reading medical journals, so I could go and read a lot of the research. Mind you, my conclusions were basically that the research is written mostly from the outside so it focuses on the person’s external signs, whereas what I found most useful was to learn more about my own internal signs.
        My cat was always excellent at spotting my “distress” levels going up long before I or my family could, so if you have a pet, start noticing how they behave around you – my cat would start winding round my ankles, getting in the way, basically forcing me to stop and take a break.
        “Distress” is the term I find useful for everything that adds up to “I’m not working around my autism as well as I can do” – sometimes it’s good excitement, usually it’s worry, anxiety, insecurity or injustice, but basically it means I start “short-circuiting” and my mind starts skipping bits of normal processing so I don’t see or notice things, and I start losing fine motor control, so my handwriting gets untidy, I drop things, I’m clumsy, all indications that I need to go and ‘ground’ myself.
        “Grounding myself” is a wide range of things, often referred to as “stimming”, but in my case wider and less visible. Breathing exercises, counting exercises, singing to myself, basically ways to override the autism and get my settings back to normal 🙂
        Does any of that help?
        (the official research version of all this is that autistic minds ‘cannot’ cope with too much incoming data and need medicating – that’s not true of all of us. Many HFAs can learn themselves well enough to spot early-warning signs and head it off at the pass, as well as being more able to avoid or minimise known triggers (ie I go to supermarkets when they are quiet and avoid them when they are busy))

  2. Laura_Elsewhere says:

    Dear Aphantsia,
    Don’t worry. Really, don’t. It will start making sense gradually but steadily now that you know.
    With love from,
    Autism x
    (I have “Really quite severe Autism, but exceptionally high-functioning so it can often be completely concealed”, diagnosed in my 40s xx It took me a few years to learn more and get the hang of it, but it makes life simpler, having confirmation that I’m simply a bit ‘other’, not that I’m broken or failed. It helped me, when I realised that “ordinary” is a much wider category than most media would have us believe. It’s a bit startling at first, though, to find you have a medical term attached to your mind. Tons of love to you, my dear.
    x Laura_Elsewhere x)

  3. Maria says:

    I agree with Laura_Elsewhere. I didn’t get diagnosed with PTSD until my mid-forties, and when I heard it I promptly burst into tears. Not because I was upset, but because I was relieved. All the “odd” things about me had a reason! I wasn’t a failure! I was dealing with something that has a name! I could let go of a LOT of the struggle.
    Over the ten years that have elapsed, I’ve learned to manage PTSD and to accept the things I can’t do. Yes, people still get irritated with me about my boundaries, but people get mad about all sorts of boundaries if it means they are being told “no,” don’t they? Once I stopped trying to do the things I can’t do, I discovered a whole world of things I can do, and I enjoy my life as never before. I wish the same discovery for you.
    And when in doubt, I always remember that all the best people are slightly bonkers. 😉

  4. Laurie says:

    Sounds like you need to get out and help other people – lots of navel-gazing, and none of it helpful. Go rock some babies in the hospital or clean litter boxes at the pet shelter or read to an elderly person or bake cookies for firemen. Stop obsessing over yourself.

  5. Karla M Neese says:

    Though I cannot imagine what the aphantasia is like, I do struggle with loneliness on a regular occasion.
    You are made just fine the way you are, dear Alison. We are all different. It is what makes this world so lovely when we can see it that way.

  6. Karla M Neese says:

    Though I cannot imagine what the aphantasia is like, I do struggle with loneliness on a regular occasion.
    You are made just fine the way you are, dear Alison. We are all different. It is what makes this world so lovely when we can see it that way.

  7. Melanie says:

    I remember seeing a cartoon that said, “When asked to draw a star one person drew ⭐️..another drew a picture of Rod Stewart..this goes to show we ALL live in different worlds, we only share the planet!” I admire your honesty..your sense of humor will see you through.❤️

  8. Melissa says:

    Gosh. Harsh, Laurie.
    Bless you, Alison. Your transparency calms me down. It’s okay to be, what I call, busted, but in reality is normal life. We’re all broken in some fashion.

  9. Susan says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Alison, I really appreciate your openness. Your passage on feeling different really resonated with me; I don’t have aphantasia but I am very much an introvert. Have you read Quiet by Susan Cain? I found it such a liberating book, it helped me believe, exactly as laura_elsewhere said, that there is weath of varying personalities far beyond the media ‘norms’ Thank you again

  10. Darice says:

    Guess that means you can’t picture this mean Laurie character in your mind . Let me help you out ?
    Love you!

  11. Darice says:

    Guess that means you can’t picture this mean Laurie character in your mind . Let me help you out ?
    Love you!

  12. Helena says:

    How interesting. I guess I just always took for granted that everyone would see images in their minds. On the positive side of things, not being able to clearly picture cringeworthy moments from one’s past seems like it might be a blessing….

  13. Briony says:

    Is THAT what it’s called? Wow! I didn’t realise there were so few of us! Try as I might I simply cannot conjure up pictures in my minds eye. I can FEEL the salty air and HEAR the sound of the surf, but if i try and picture the waves crashing against the sand I can’t! And it’s so frustrating! Thank you for putting a name to this ‘condition’. Much love to you ??

  14. Briony says:

    Is THAT what it’s called? Wow! I didn’t realise there were so few of us! Try as I might I simply cannot conjure up pictures in my minds eye. I can FEEL the salty air and HEAR the sound of the surf, but if i try and picture the waves crashing against the sand I can’t! And it’s so frustrating! Thank you for putting a name to this ‘condition’. Much love to you ??

  15. Persephone says:

    Oh my goodness! I’m so glad there is a name for this. I always struggled with guided meditations because it would begin with “in your mind’s eye, imagine a forest” and no matter how I wrinkled my brow or squinted my already shut eyes, I just couldn’t “see” a forest in this eye my mind should have.

  16. allison I am trying to reach you to ask a question about your Salon but I am unable to send you an email. How can I contact you when the email access on your site won’t allow me to send it?

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