I’ve 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.
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.