An interior and sometimes exterior world filled with colour, tastes, textures and sounds, that’s how I would describe synaesthesia.
The Oxford Dictionary gives this cryptic but accurate definition:
Noun[mass noun] Physiology & Psychology
- the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.
Many years ago, I discovered that synaethesia was not how everyone experienced their daily life when I studied my degree in Psychology at UCL. As a cohort, we were put through batteries of tests and experiments and I got picked for a research project on people who saw colours. It sounds quite abstract but synaesthesia is different for each individual but it’s marked by an involuntary merging of two or more senses and one sense can trigger another. It’s not an expression of illness but a different way of percieving the world, I can only describe it how I experience it.
I see and feel in colours, they’re like an internal flash inside the front of my mind around my forehead and can sometimes be intrusive. They vary in intensity from a gentle whisp to a full on opaque, almost acidic ripple or burst. These colour experiences are hard-wired into me and can be triggered by feelings and emotions, by people I see right in-front of me or who I think about. I can be eating a certain food and that can trigger a mind’s eye colour flash and on the rare occassion, I get a taste when I hear a sound, word or feel an emotion. Different types of physical pain also push colours into my mind.
Sounds, music and someone’s voice can take on a colour quality or textural feeling. People’s names can sometimes get confusing, as I may know one person who to me is blue streaked with green but another person with the same name might illicit red honey tones and multi-layers of colours can battle for dominance in my head at the same time.
Music can immerse me in coloured waves and submerge me in a textural quality, which feels like an actual bodily touch of warmth and glistening. I wouldn’t change the way I experience my life. It adds layer upon layer of richness to the everyday across a whole emotional range. My senses feel turned up and kaleidoscopic, with shades and hues interspering in short bursts and interrupting and flowing through each other in a wonderful synergy. This is beautiful but dark, dirge like depression is underscored with sombre colour that’s heavier, denser and feels more chunky than the usual erupting sparkles.
I made the national press without knowing it; I am the woman whose emotions trigger colours. I was called back to UCL for a follow-up interview by my lecturer who did the original research. Here, I was told a series of articles had been published about me a few years ago and journalists at the time wanted to interview me. This was a suprise to me as it was never mentioned at the time and I was oblvious to the fact that I was filling up column inches.
As a young child, I used to have re-occuring nightmares where an entirely monochrome scene would be dominated with tall oppressive white and black walls, some with tiny newspaper print scribbling up the sides like letter spiders. This colourless world would be occupied by masculine figures made out of bold letters, like N, with bowler hats and clipped black shoes, stomping heavily around the contrasty surrounds. It always had a 20s gangster threatening feel to it. Just writing about it sends a weird shiver down my spine, I couldn’t imagine experiencing my world without colour – make of that what you will Freud!