Understanding Your Aphant

Please, if someone you care about sent you this link, especially if they’ve recently discovered they have aphantasia, take the time to read the post. They’re really hoping to help you understand things about them that don’t seem to make sense.

First, if what they’re telling you about having no visual imagination or memories sounds absurd, I assure you it’s not. Only a year or so back, I discovered that most of you are speaking literally when you say, “Ok, close your eyes and imagine.” My mind was blown!

There is actually a scale that ranges from hyperphantasia, which includes those of you who can not only see visual images in your minds but have the equivalent of HD TV in there, through total aphantasia, which is where I land; I close my eyes and I see black. Literally “nothing to see here.” That scale covers a wide range of diversity with each of us often having slightly different characteristics from the next person.

Second, if your friend, loved one, or employee has only recently discovered they have aphantasia, be aware that there is a good chance they are going through very real grief. I’m an active member of Aphantasia Support Group on Facebook and we seem to gain new members every day who have only just discovered what they see as a formerly unknown disability, and they’re devastated. I can’t even offer you an example of something equivalent to help you comprehend, but it can be world-rocking to realize you lack something that almost every other person you know has had all their lives, and it’s even harder to deal with the “loss” when those people can’t even imagine your reality.

So, aphantasia. I, as an example, have absolutely no visual memory or imagination. This is not a case of failing to train my imagination (Yes, I’ve been accused of that). In fact, I have an almost hyperactive imagination, which means those who know me best are aware that there are certain things they can’t share with me. It’s just that I have no visuals to accompany the concepts.

And that’s the difference between you and me. You visualize and I conceptualize. I’ve explained that it’s like my brain is a computer and if I want the data to be available to me later I have to actively input the information and remember to hit save. But that’s all it is – information. For instance, people.

I see my sister and recognize her instantly because I’ve known her forever. Ask me to describe her, though, and… Well, she’s probably about 5′ 6″ maybe 5′ 7″? She has long, dark brown hair. Huh. I literally can’t even tell you what color her eyes are. The concept of her appearance that is in my head has no real visual cues to help me out. This has led me to hurt friends’ feelings on occasion; if you change your hair color, I will likely never even realize it. I have learned to compensate to an extent by paying attention to what others say to you. Compensating is something aphants are good at.

Learning about my aphantasia made me feel worlds better about an incident that happened about 18 years ago. Two co-coworkers were taking photos of a baby, and I asked whose baby it was. They stared at me in shock, and one said, “He’s your grandson!” I was crushed that I’d failed to recognize my own grandson, but in truth most babies look alike to me until I’ve spent a whole lot of time with them. They grow so fast that, without a working visual record, the data in my brain can’t anticipate those changes to enable recognition.

So, if you get frustrated with your aphant because they can literally spend ten minutes talking to someone only to walk away and then be unable to point the person out to you, this is why. It’s not that we’re unobservant by nature; it’s that we have to be consciously observant and try really hard to remember to add the data into our memory banks: yellow jacket; short blond hair, etc. Personally, I work so hard on the conversations that the visual notes don’t always stick.

The same principle holds true for when we’ve been places with you. Unless the place makes a real impact, those of us on my end of the spectrum may have a hard time recognizing it at first when we go back. If you say, “Meet me at the blue sign,” for instance, I’ll probably ask, “Where’s the blue sign, exactly?”

There are so many areas in which we differ from you that this could go on forever. The idea is just to help you understand that there is a difference so you can be watching for it. In truth, learning about aphantasia made me feel better about many things, like not recognizing my own grandson. Like art and design!

In the past, because I could draw, I was called an artist. I’m not and never have been, and have explained many times that no, I’m a copyist – or I was at one time. I could take a photo, put it by my drawing board, and move my gaze back and forth between the two until I’d copied the picture and ended up with something like this.

I could not compose. I could not work from memory. I could not change anything (which resulted in one drawing that I hope never again sees the light of day), because I could not envision what I wanted to create. If I didn’t see it, it couldn’t exist.

This ended up being a trigger for serious self-doubt and pain at work. I was given a task that included designing artwork on a regular basis. I did it, but every piece took me forever because I just have to guess and play with things until I stumble across something that works. I do still design some pieces, out of necessity, but it takes me much longer than it would anyone else. Could I learn design? Probably, but it would require going to a professional for training, and adapting what they teach to work with my non-visual imagination.

So, if you’re an employer with an aphant, bear in mind that, if they don’t have the training they need to do the job without visualization, you may be asking for more than they can deliver.

I’ve made it sound like aphantasia really is a disability, and to be honest some aphants definitely feel that it is. I honestly don’t see it that way, but only as a difference. I have enough going on in my head with my constant monologue; I can’t imagine also having to deal with pictures that won’t go away. I still love to read, even without being able to see the movie so many have told me they enjoy. (Truly, that is incomprehensible to me.) I don’t watch movies much, even of books I’ve read, but I’m thinking aphantasia helps me with that too because I have no preconceived ideas of what characters will look like. As it is, I skim over most descriptions in books because visual cues are meaningless to me anyway.

I am genuinely happy that I lack many of the visual memories I can’t imagine living with. Watching my stepfather drown? Conceptually and emotionally, I remember it; I am VERY glad there are no visuals to accompany those concepts. I have a feeling that may also be part of why I never suffered from PTSD as a result of that accident.

Do I have any regrets now that I know what I’m missing? Honestly, I can only think of one. I wish I could remember my loved ones’ faces. I’ve always kept photos around because that is all I have to help me remember. Knowing the rest of you have those visual memories available all the time? Yeah, that one hurts. So, side note, probably one of the best gifts you could give your aphant friend or loved one is a digital picture frame loaded with photos of those they care about.

Overall, though, I find the tradeoffs fair now that I understand why I am the way I am. God made me this way and I am happy with me. Hopefully your aphant will reach the point where they are happy with themselves too.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

For more information on aphantasia…
Aphantasia Network
Aphantasia Newbie Guide

I Don’t Believe It!

I recently read an article by Aphantasia Network entitled “John Green Aphantasia Discovery: Shining a Light on the Mind’s Eye.” It’s a fascinating article that I highly recommend.

In the article it appears, if I’m reading a particular quote correctly, that one aphant (One who has aphantasia) firmly believes that no one can truly visualize, seeing pictures or movies in their minds, that the problem must simply be an inability to properly communicate the way our brains work.

The bottom line being that, again if I’m reading the quote correctly, because he can’t see anything, has no visual imagination at all, then no one else does either. 

When I read that part of the article, I immediately thought back to a comment on one of my earliest Facebook posts in which an “expert” assured me that aphantasia isn’t real and of course I don’t have a permanent inability to vizualize. According to that person, I simply never trained my mind, and if I were willing to put forth the necessary effort I could develop my visual imagination. I didn’t even bother to respond to her because I knew she had no idea what she was talking about. Because she couldn’t see the condition, the condition didn’t exist; she didn’t believe in it.

After that memory asserted itself, I made a random connection. This is precisely the difference between those who have a relationship with God and those who don’t believe God exists. I have a relationship with God, and I know He exists just as surely as I know I’m a five on the aphantasia scale. Those who don’t know God can, and often do, refuse to believe He exists.

Whether or not I believe something doesn’t alter truth.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

The Aphantasia Guide

The above photo is from the Aphantasia Guide

I learned about aphantasia back in February when I discovered I had it. That graphic you see above? I’m a 5. I always assumed phrases like “close your eyes and imagine” and “enter the theater of your mind” were figures of speech. I had NO idea what those words meant to most of the people around me. You can read the start of my aphantasia journey in my post entitled “I Can’t Imagine.”

In my research, I discovered the Aphantasia Network, and today I received an email from them that contained a link to the Aphantasia Guide. Yes, I’m linking to it twice in one post. There’s a reason. It’s that good.

If you have recently (or not so recently) discovered that you have aphantasia, you probably have myriad questions. The Aphantasia Network has created a free guide that contains answers to those most commonly asked and links to articles that offer deeper study. It also links to online aphant hangouts like the Facebook Aphantasia Support Group.

If you know someone who has aphantasia, I encourage you to check out the guide as well. It will give you a much greater understanding of the differences between you and them. In sense, we seem to live on different planets, so understanding helps – from both sides.

It’s a fascinating study, really. God has designed our brains so precisely, and with such diversity, that it never ceases to amaze me. Am I handicapped because I have no visual imagination? Of course not; I’m just different. Frankly, I wouldn’t trade places with a non-aphant if I had the chance. That’s the honest truth.

And, just for fun, here’s a third link to the Aphantasia Guide!

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

Can You Imagine?

In February, I posted “I Can’t Imagine,” in which I shared my recent revelation that I have aphantasia and the rest of you don’t. Quick explanation: I have zero visual imagination. When I learned that most of you can not only see pictures but also movies in your heads I was floored.

This revelation has led to many conversations in various forums, and one thing has been consistent. Those who can see and experience everything that I’ve never known are genuinely sorry for me that I’m missing out on so much. Now, in reality, I don’t know what I’m missing. Do I kind of wish I could get in on the game? Sometimes, yeah, but I know it’s impossible and I tend to not waste my time on impossibilities.

There is one thing. If I do have a vision while in prayer or worship, if I find myself seeing something in my mind in similar fashion to what I’m guessing you all see, I know without a doubt that it’s from God because my imagination can’t create it. I don’t get these visions often, but now that I know what’s what I can have no doubts whatsoever about their origin, and that’s seriously cool.

Which brings me to a thought. If you’re a Christian, when I talk about my walk with God you can relate on at least some level. We both have the capability, as it were, to “see.”

If, on the other hand, you’ve never had a relationship with God, you’re like me in a sense. You can’t imagine the wonder and joy of having a relationship with Him because, like me with aphantasia, you’re blind to the possibility. And let me tell you, as much as those who have visual imaginations feel sorry for those of us who don’t, their feelings can’t touch what I feel for those who don’t have a relationship with God.

Listen, please. Unlike me, you don’t have to stay in the dark. You can reach out and accept the salvation that Jesus offers and enter into God’s very presence, learning how to walk closely with Him and know what it’s like to live inside His love and grace. I literally would not trade my relationship with God for anything – ANYTHING. I cannot express strongly enough what you are missing if you’re not walking with Him. Nothing compares, and knowing that this life is just the beginning, that I have eternity in His presence to look forward to… It’s wonderfully overwhelming just to think about.

So I encourage you to step out. Come to Jesus and accept what He did for you. He came and lived a sinless life specifically so that He would qualify as the perfect and final sacrifice. The blood of the lambs the Jews sacrificed covered their sins temporarily. When you accept the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross, that blood washes your sin away completely, and God never thinks about it again. This, the removal of that sin, opens the door for you to enter into a relationship like none you’ve ever known. Honestly, you cannot imagine what will happen when you take that step; it’s beyond human ability to predict.

If you’re ready to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, it’s easy. Primarily, it’s about what’s in your heart, that you’ve decided to repent of your sins (meaning to turn your back on them and walk away) and accept His sacrifice, trusting His work on the cross to save you. Open your mouth and pray, talk to Him. There is no official “Sinner’s Prayer” that you have to seek out. It’s as simple as saying something like, “Lord, I know I’m a sinner, and I know that I cannot pay the price for my own sins. I need a Savior. I need You, the One who lived without sin and then let Himself be crucified for me. I accept Your sacrifice on the cross as payment for my sins, and I invite you to come live in my heart, to fill me with Your love and be the Lord of my life. I choose to spend the rest of my days, the rest of eternity, living for You, and I ask You to lead me, to help me become who You want me to be. Amen.”

And then do what you’ve promised; learn to become more like Him. In Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” You’ve asked Him to be your Savior and Lord, so get into the Word of God (the Bible) and find out what He wants you to do. Get in a Bible-believing church, one where the minister actually preaches from the Bible (Sad, that I have to say that, but many ministers today don’t.), and learn from the man of God. Pray! That may sound intimidating, but think of it as talking to God on the phone without a phone. Seriously, when I’m praying, I’m real with my Creator…and He is real with me. Yes, He talks to me too! I spend most of my prayer time listening…or try to.

I promise you: While accepting Jesus in no way guarantees an easy life (On the contrary, the devil doesn’t like losing!), having Him by your side makes all the difference in the world…and more. I don’t have to imagine it; I live it daily. I hope you will choose to as well.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

If you want some help getting into the Bible, you may want to check out my book, Experiencing the Bible. It’s available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook, and it’s a practical answer to the question, “What do you mean, ‘Get into the Bible’?” It’s available in all formats on Amazon. The ebook can also be found at various retailers including Smashwords.com (where you can literally set your own price – even free).

Aphantasia Revelations

If you’ve not already read it, you may want to pop over to I Can’t Imagine, which is the post I made the day I discovered that I have aphantasia. Finally understanding why I didn’t recognize my own grandchild as a baby was… wow.

The past few days have been filled with revelations!

For those who don’t know, people with aphantasia have little to no ability to visualize. You know how, when you’re told to close your eyes and imagine you’re at the beach, you can see it and describe it? Yeah, I can’t. I got nothin’. I’ve always thought the “close your eyes and imagine” thing was figurative; learning that it’s literally possible for most of the world was a serious shock.

Mind you, I’m not upset that I’m mentally blind. I mean, I’ve never known life any other way. I’ve actually been having some of the most fascinating conversations in recent days, both with those who learned from my experience that they have it too, and with others who had no idea that “we” existed! Those of you who see a movie when you read a book? Mind blowing! And I’ve had more than one of “you” ask how I can possibly enjoy reading when I can’t see a movie of what I read. Believe me, I love to read!

The biggest thing is realizing that I’m not unobservant or, depending on context, downright stupid. Ask me to describe a person I was just talking to and, unless I’ve taken out my mental notebook and recorded details, I’ll not be likely to tell you much more than whether they’re male or female, adult or child…and maybe height based on how I tilted my head to look at them. Yes, I can literally turn away and lose them, mentally speaking. Friends who get haircuts or color your hair? I’m sorry if I offend you by not noticing, but the odds are really good that I’ll not even know you’ve done it, because although I know you when I see you I can’t remember the details of what you look like when you’re not there.

And I mean that literally. I tried to describe my husband earlier today. I didn’t get very far.

It’s just that visual thing! I can’t remember how many times I’ve had someone get disgusted when they would tell me to look for a certain person’s car. Nope. If I knew the make, model, and color that might help me…maybe, but I couldn’t even find my own sister’s car in a crowded parking lot if I didn’t have certain cues keyed into my memory. I learned long ago that when I get a new car I have to put on a bumper sticker and hang something from the rearview mirror before I ever venture into a parking lot. No. Not kidding.

This morning, I shared my discoveries with two of my co-workers. Later on in our conversation, once we’d changed topics, I almost busted out laughing. I was about to say, “I can’t imagine…” and abruptly realized that I literally can’t imagine what I was going to refer to. I’m still getting used to the idea that those words aren’t just a figure of speech for most people.

Learning that I’m not stupid has been such a blessing! Today was a red letter day where this is concerned. Graphic design, anything beyond extremely basic stuff, has always been out of my reach. I cannot express how frustrated I and people I’ve answered to have been with my inability to grasp and implement design concepts. Today it dawned on me; it’s because I literally can’t see it!

If you give me a picture and ask me to copy it, I can probably do so as long as the techniques required are things I’ve mastered. This is why I was able to do photorealistic pencil portraits back when that was my thing. I could sit there and look back and forth between the original and my drawing and do ok. What I could not do, at all, was create something from memory or imagination. You have to have visual memory and imagination to do that.

So where graphic design is concerned, I have no memory. I can “study” examples, but I can’t hold them in my head. Again, I have to have something in front of me and, going back and forth, I will possibly be able to recreate it in a graphics program. Take that example away and I’m done.

Frustrating? Absolutely, but at least now I understand! I. Am. Not. Stupid.

I’m almost in tears thinking about all the times I was driven to tears while trying to create graphics. Knowing the truth is so freeing!

So, if you have suddenly realized you have aphantasia on whatever level (There’s a scale, with some people having more mental vision than I do.), consider the blessings that come from knowing. Think about things that have made you feel “less than,” and give yourself permission to sigh in relief. You are not an idiot. You are not flawed. No one can blame a blind person for being blind.

And if you’re dealing with someone who is clearly intelligent, but has issues that are related to visual things, maybe you should ask some questions. Because, let me tell you, until a few days ago I literally had no idea – zero – that normal people see anything other than black when they close their eyes.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

For more information on this fascinating condition, you may want to check out aphantasia.com. You can even become a member for $7 a month or $70 a year and network with others who deal with this interesting issue.

I Can’t Imagine

My mind is officially blown.

A year or so ago, I learned that some people can actually see pictures when they “close their eyes and imagine.” It really took me aback; when I “imagine,” I’m pretending to create pictures, but not really seeing them. I thought the whole concept was seriously cool, but didn’t think too much about it until this week when I was sick and awake in the middle of the night. I posted two questions on Facebook because I was wondering if there were any link between having a 24/7 monologue running in your head (Something I learned a while back that not everyone has) and actually seeing pictures when you close your eyes and imagine.

I was shocked to learn, in my tiny science experiment, that pretty much everyone had constant brain chatter, but I was the only one who couldn’t see pictures. That realization sent me to our old friend, Mr. Google.

It turns out I have aphantasia. It’s a condition that, according to the one article I’ve read, apparently only affects 1-3% of the population, and it means you have a limited (or nonexistent) ability to visualize or imagine in the literal sense. Of course, I only recently realized that there IS a literal sense because I’ve dealt with it my whole life. While I may on rare occasions be hit in the face with a flash of memory, I can’t consciously create or pull up anything.

Maybe I should have waited to blog about this when I’ve done more research, or at least had time to think about it, but… oh my word. This explains so much!

I remember when my grandson was a tiny baby. Some friends were holding him and I asked who they had. They were appalled. “He’s your grandson!” The fact that I didn’t recognize him blew them completely away and utterly humiliated me.

But now I get it. They recognized him because, having seen him recently, they carried pictures in their minds that matched him when he showed up. I didn’t have that. I could make notes in my brain, listing details like dimples or whatever, but he was so young that he was literally changing every day and my mental notes couldn’t keep up.

Ok, I’m almost in tears here.

This explains so many things. Pictures are important to me, because I want to remember what people and places looked like. If I have extensive mental notes, I can recreate those pictures mentally, in a sense…but I can’t really see them like most of you can. I can also be talking to someone and, when asked five minutes later what they looked like, I can’t tell you unless I had consciously pulled out my mental notebook and recorded the “picture.” I can usually tell you what we talked about, though, because my mental audio recorder works great.

There is so much to unpack here. It’s not every day you learn something so radical about yourself. And if I don’t stop right now this is going to turn into a legit ramble.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

Up next?
Aphantasia Revelations