I am a writer, artist, massage therapist, and synaesthete; my senses are conflated through a neurological phenomenon called synaesthesia. Like many people with this condition, I have multiple forms of interlinked perception, including spatial-sequential, number forms, grapheme-color, and mirror-touch, with a smattering of sound-to-shape and chromesthesia.
If you ask me what I’m doing tonight, I need to look up to find the coming hours. The concept of tomorrow is at my feet in front of me; time exists in three dimensional space around my body. My week looks like an oblique wheel that moves counter-clockwise, with colored days positioned like fat spokes. The year appears as a larger disk, but it moves clockwise in relation to the passage of time; it too has brightly hued wedges that represent the months. Because my perception of time units has color, location, and shape, watches, calendars, and agendas are a little confusing, although I’ve learned to make sense of them.
My number forms are similar to a scaffold in shape and stagger from right to left across my visual field. The numerals 1 through 20 are on the lower right and are much like a ladder, with the number 1 at the bottom, and the increasing numbers ascending in order. But, 21 is directly to the left of 20 and then another “ladder” is structured to 29. The number 30 is to the left of 29, where the next ladder begins. This scaffolding pattern continues to the left and upward to infinity.
Grapheme-color synaesthesia gives all of my letters and numerals hues that are unique to me. Numbers look like this when I envision them:
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
I have a better than average memory, which is a common trait among grapheme-color synaesthetes. Unfortunately, excellent recall is a double-edged sword…..
My mirror touch experience manifests in many ways including sensation, proprioception and synaesthesia-for-pain. When I see a wound or injury on another person, I feel something akin to an electrical shock that ignites my dermatomes, the nerves that bring sensation to the skin. Sometimes this happens when I see an object that can be the source of pain, such as broken glass, a hypodermic needle, or a rusty nail protruding from a board. Other times it happens when I see a person with crutches or a cast. Because I live in a dense urban area with multiple triggers for my mirror-touch, I feel synaesthetic pain many times each day.
Sound-to-shape synesthesia makes me see shape, texture, and color when I hear music or other sounds. It’s most pronounced when I’m falling to sleep, but I can also have intense experiences of shape and texture with particular songs. For example, I see “Miss You” by Danish artist Trentemøller as a field of white punctured with horizontal black spots that open and close.
The neuro-atypical experience of synaesthesia both enhances and complicates my life. I’ve had a long career in manual therapy. In every one of my therapeutic massage sessions, I feel the physical sensations of my mirror-touch synesthesia. I am also a writer, with a Master of Fine Arts from the University of San Francisco. Synesthetic perception consistently informs my prose. Additionally, I serve in the role of Secretary for the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists, and Scientists (IASAS). Vox Synaesthetica is my exploration of the advantages and obstacles of living with entwined senses. Thank you for joining me on this journey!
Carolyn “CC” Hart