When you know that your mind doesn’t work in the same way that other people’s minds appear to work, you have a choice. You can either ignore it and get on with life, or you can worry away at it trying to find an answer. Either way you, and probably those around you, are going to be impacted. Most of my life I did my best to ignore it – what I don’t know about my differences won’t bother me. Until I realised that they did.
People – especially my family – consider me weird and crazy, and this doesn’t really bother me much. Sometimes it can be hurtful, but generally I’ve been quite happy to have the mantle of ‘weirdness’ thrown over me and, until recent years, I thought that it was because I have interests that no-one else in my family are even remotely interested in. However, a few years ago my life was impacted in an extremely distressing way and I began my journey to discover what it is that makes my mind appear to work in a different way to what I can observe in those around me. I needed to sort out what it was about me that brought about a particular situation that almost pushed me over the edge during a time when I was already teetering. What is it that makes me ‘weird’ in the eyes of my family.
I had considered that I could be on the Autism Spectrum, did some tests and yes, this is, apparently, “significantly” likely. Would it make the slightest bit of difference in my life if I went and had a full diagnosis? Nope. Not when I am in my 60’s! It’s far more valuable that children can be diagnosed and receive the help that will assist them move through this strange world. So that was pushed to the back of the list.
The first real ‘difference’ came to light a few years ago when I was studying for my Diploma in Meditation Therapy and Holistic Counselling. I discovered that visualising an item in your mind’s eye isn’t just a metaphor – most people really can ‘see’ things in their mind’s eye. I’ve since discovered that it varies a lot. Some people just see something hazy; some in almost a cartoon fashion. Some people see as clearly as if they were looking at the item with their physical eyes and some people can even manipulate the image in their mind – they can turn it around and look at it from a different direction, they can zoom in and out, and more. That was (please forgive the pun) a bit of an eye-opener! What I see most of the time (there have been a few exceptions) is black overlaid with a golden mist.
With this discovery, so much was explained. Further delving, taking some tests, becoming involved with research in Australia, UK, USA and Canada and I came to realise that the majority of people can also really ‘hear’ that song playing in their head; they can look back at their memories and see the face of a loved one in their minds-eye, hear their voice, re-create their smell or the touch of their hair. I can’t do any of those things because I have multi-sensory (total) aphantasia.
Does aphantasia complicate life, or could it possibly even aid it in some way? Not really. Aphants get along quite happily not knowing what we haven’t realised. Our minds have learned to sort out other ways to deal with memory and other topics that the majority of people use mental visualisation to deal with; but as most of us are born with this condition it’s just something we are used to. Some folk though have to deal with suddenly losing these skills due to trauma. That has to be really tough!
I read up on aphantasia, delved into me trying to work out all the quirks and found that I now have a better understanding of why I do things in certain ways. But it didn’t answer all my questions. It turns out that I am not the only aphant with a totally rotten memory.
About 4% of the population has aphantasia to some degree, but it is only 0.8% of people who have total aphantasia, and many aphants also have something called SDAM – Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory which refers to a lifelong inability to vividly recollect or re-experience personal past events from a first-person perspective. I only discovered this a few days ago and after reading some research documents, taking an on-line test (as with aphantasia, SDAM is a relatively newly recognised syndrome and so far there is no definitive test available) and joining a support group, I believe that this might fill in the rest of my gaps.
SDAM is not a brain disease, rather, it refers to the lifelong inability to mentally relive or re-experience personal past events It is where there are some differences in the brain structure and function, mainly in the right hippocampus.
And that brings me to now. Would being diagnosed with SDAM make any differences in my life? Nope, but in a world where many people have considered me “weird and crazy” it would be a relief to be able to have a name that helps me explain my craziness to me. I really don’t care what my family or others think, but I would like to know what it is that makes me feel as if my thought processes are not the same as most other people.
So many loved ones have left my life. Husband, parents, daughter, grandchildren, friends, people who have meant a lot to me; people I love. And I cannot see any of their faces. I cannot describe them. I cannot ‘hear’ their voice, ‘feel’ or ‘smell’ their hair or skin. I have no memories of what we did together – unless some outside source such as a photo, or a relevant topic in conversation triggers the opening of a ‘file’ stored somewhere in my soul and allows the information to come forward.
Right now I am on a Journey. A Journey to discover Who I Am. I may not be able to vividly re-live the various traumas and dramas of my life, but the emotional aspect of these is still very easily brought to life. It’s time to allow these things to be fully released. I need to move away from them and I am seeking who I, Auri’An, may be without the weight of the load I have carried for 67 years. I know that many people I know will not be able to see the connection of me working out the “whys” in order to be able to let go… but chalk it up to my weirdness. It makes sense to me.
If you want to discover more about Aphantasia: www.aphantasia.com
If you want to discover more about SDAM: www.sdamstudy.weebly.com