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Interview: how my synesthesia affects my life

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Jessikah

Hi, I only discovered last year that I have grapheme-colour synesthesia (I'm 20 now). I had always thought it was normal that letters and numbers had their own colour in my mind, apparently not! My alphabet goes like this:
A= red
B= pink
C= light brown
D= dark blue
E= light green
F= dark blue
G= yellowy-brown
H= brown
I= black
J= pink
K= yellow
L= light, pale blue
M= dark green
N= purple
O= white
P= yellow
Q= grey
R= orange
S= red
T= dark purple
U= cream
V= dark yellowy-green
W= yellow
X= orange
Y= yellow
Z= black
And numbers:
0= white
1= black
2= pink
3= green
4= yellow
5= dark blue
6= brown
7= really dark blue
8= red
9= yellow
I don't see numbers with multiple digits as a whole colour, I see it as two different colours. For example, 10 is black and white. However, words, such as the days of the week, I picture as the colour of the first letter of the word. For example, Wednesday is yellow. My numbers and letters also seem to have a gender, 2 is a girl, C is a boy. And for some of my letters and numbers, they also have personalities. For example, I absolutely hate 6 because he's mean and brown, so it looks ugly in my mind. But P is a very lady-like female, so I like that letter.
I've found (especially more recently), that I get very uncomfortable, almost to the point of queasy, if someone turns the volume to 6 (or another ugly number), or if there's a sign with different coloured letters on it and they're all wrong (I have to look away). I also find that if I have to colour anything in, such as letters for a heading, I can't physically bring myself to colour them in any other colour than what they appear to be in my head. It can get quite frustrating sometimes!
It's been interesting reading all the other stories, and nice to know there's others out there like me!

Hi Jessikah,
We have a lot in common with our synesthesia! I don't have the gender or personality connection, but see numbers like 10 in two colors, black for 1 and white for 0, for example. Also words take on the color of the first letter.


It is wonderful that you are learning this about yourself so early. Paying attention to it can help you remember things better, for one thing. Thanks for sharing!
Holly

Guest

I think I might have synesthesia. Is there such thing as number-taste synesthesia? For example:
15 goldfish
28 mcdonalds cheeseburgers
13 pickles
48 ice cream or chocolate or cream soda

Dear LS,
Indeed, this is a less common form of synesthesia that I do not share. Some people perceive taste from speaking words, and it sounds like you have a variant of this. Thanks for sharing!

PS: I just turned 49, which is red and gold for me, and way too flamboyant to represent my nature. I will just have to go with though. What choice do I have? In a year I can 50, which is a much more serene yellow and white.
Holly

nadia

I have synesthesia too. when I was little I thought that it was suppose to be like that and everyone sees names in colors. I remember thinking that my cousin and his wife match because his wife's name had the same color as his. until a few years ago, when I somehow told my sister that I see names in color i thought everyone had that. she looked at me weird and was very surprised something like that was possible. the weird thing is, some of my names or letters or days and months are not distinct colors and it bugs me when i actually think about it. but i don't think about it much often. I didn't know until recently, that there was a name for it.
by the way, not all of my names are the color of the first letter, but some are. and some are very faint, that I can't really tell. So in those cases I see them as weird greyish color. :)

Holly Erskine

Hi Meg,
What you describe sounds very much like synesthesia to me, even though it is a different experience for every synesthete. I am so sorry you are having trouble communicating your experience to those who are close to you. This can feel very isolating. Rather than continuing to push it, however, I would back off trying to explain it, and give them some time to process.

I find it really helpful to write down my experiences in a daily journal. It's literally thousands of pages long now after several years of keeping it! I like to think that some day people might read it and say, oh, so that's what synesthesia is like!

Some people need time to understand, and some people never will understand, that is the hard part. In those cases you may just have to give up and realize that understanding is difficult for some people.

I promise you though, there is a world of people out there that do understand and relate and you are not alone! Rejoice in your unique brain and share it with those who are able to respect it. You will find these people.

About heritability: none of my closest relatives have it, and it took a while for me to discover a number of people on my mom's side of the family that also had different forms of synesthesia. I don't think enough is known about what causes it and what genes might be involved. It may well be, like other biological traits, that several genes are involved, and that random mutations can produce it spontaneously without a family history.

I think there are some case studies of people who have had injuries which resulted in synesthesia. Most cases though show the person had linked senses ever since they can remember, from childhood. I wouldn't worry too much about how you got it--it is more fun to see how it can be of use to you. It stimulates you artistically in so many ways, and helps you memorize things if you use it consciously to do that!

Meg

I found out that I had synesthesia after reading A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. I also had to chose a topic to research last year in school and I chose color. I recently tried to tell my mom that I had synesthesia but she didn't believe me. And I started to doubt myself about having it. But I can't think of a time when I didn't have synesthesia. I have recently noticed that I would confuse the 2009-2010 school year with 2008 because the teacher I had in 2009-2010 reminded me of yellow and 8 is yellow. So every time I have ever written 2008 I probably ment 2009. And after thinking about it I realized that I had been thinking of phone numbers in color since I was little, because I can still remember my old phone number from when we lived in NY. I once told my mom that she reminded me of yellow and it seemed she didn't think anything of it. But now that she has read the mango shaped space book she thinks I'm making things up when I said that I don't like the color of the number 15 and that I want to stay at age 14 because I like that color better. She was quick to say that I was lying. What do I do about that? I want her to believe me. I am also wondering; does synesthesia have to be inherited or the result of an injury? I don't think that anyone in my family has it. Please reply.

Colin (Candalyman)

Another thing is that the strongest colored letters- the letters I see stick out at me the most- are a, e, y, g, s, b, and f.

Colin (Candalyman)

Another strange thing is that most other words don't have colors, the colors of the original letters just make up the words, and each word looks normal. I don't like certain words if they have weird letter colors in them. Also, some words have movements or images associated with them. Like whenever I hear the phrase "n as in nancy" I think of the airport outside of san francisco. I'm not sure if anyone else has THAT, but it's still pretty interesting. Oh and by the way, my full name is looked at in an imaginary space, just like the others.
-Colin (Which is White)

Colin (Candalyman)

Hello, I have had synesthesia for a long time now, and I hadn't realized it until last year. I look at black and white letters and see them in all different colors - I physically can't not do this! This is my alphabet:
a- red
b- blue
c- white
d- some sort of black color
e- light green
f- dark green
g- orange
h- greyish white
i- white
j- some sort of black color
k- pink
l- light orange
m- dark yellow
n- grey
o- I don't really have a color for this one... maybe black?
p- white
q- pink
r- dark purple
s- pink
t- some sort of black color
u- white
v- grey
w- black
x- black
y- yellow
z- white
Next - I also do this for numbers...
1- red
2- blue
3- dark yellow
4- dark green
5- white
6- pinkish purple
7- light yellow
8- some sort of black color
9- yellowish
10- doesn't really have a color... black/white?
I do this for days of the week, and months of the year also, here they are
monday- red
tuesday- blue
wednesday- dark green
thursday- pinkish purple
friday- yellow
saturday- black
sunday- grey
Months of the year:
january- black
february- orange and yellow
march- dark green
april- very light green
may- orange and red
june- white
july- black
august- pinkish-hard-to-describe-color
september- light pink
october- black
november- light brown
december- white
I also see the months of the year, the days of the week, the letters of the alphabet, all numbers, years (400 B.C. - Present) and other things. Hope this was interesting. Bye! :)

Tootsie

Hey, its me again. I just started high school this year and I have all these different colored pens that I use to write notes, ect. during class and a couple weeks ago I had this weird experience while I was writing with my orange pen. I had this bland citrus-ish taste in the back of my throat with the texture of toothpaste in my throat and my lips. I've never had an experience like that while I was looking at the orange ink on my paper and ever since then when I use that orange pen, the taste and the texture cokes back. Its really the weirdest thing...and I was wondering if other synesthetes have had a synesthesia experience that's totally new to them. I have never associated color with taste or vice versa. I thought it was weird. Anyways, I hope your mom is doing okay. Have a good rest of your day.

Holly Phaneuf Erskine

Hi Greg,


This is all very interesting data, and I don't know if any efforts have been made to compare drug-induced synesthesia to the endogenous variety. Perhaps some insights could be gained into the mechanisms involved, if they are at all the same.

My guess is that LSD experiences, which I am not personally familiar with, seem a lot more random in terms of what senses get hooked together and how. That would be an interesting question to answer. For me, for example, certain notes on my harp in the treble can be sparkly silver small dots, and that can not change. But under a hallucinogen, would input A (high pitched harp strings) always reliably produce output B (silver dots)? The consistency and non-random linking of two senses causes me to categorize things and memorize them more easily. As synesthesia is often found in those with Aspergers I wonder it that facilitates certain abilities with categorization and memory.

Another question to answer is whether the non-random patterns observed in synesthetes observations for certain stimuli (around 40% of synesthetes with grapheme perceive the letter A as red for example, which is remarkable!) persist under drug-induced synesthesia. I have no idea.

All the best,
Holly

Greg D.

I don't know if you will deem this comment appropriate but I figured I'd give it a shot. If you don't approve it oh well. :) I don't need the whole world to read anyway, just responding to you.

I am not a synesthete, but I have experienced synesthesia many times. Through the years I have taken quite a few trips on LSD. Among all the other interesting effects on perception while on LSD, I have always had overwhelming experiences with synesthesia for about the first five hours of my trips. I've read this is somewhat common by not everyone experiences it and not every time. Since I am not a synesthete normally it is always one of the mos amazing experiences I could ever imagine. I've had random moments of synesthesia like yours where letters or numbers have colors on my trips, but mostly different sounds had textures, and colors had tastes. The sad part is that I can't remember all of it. :) LSD is like that; the trip seems to bring so much insight while inebriated, however most of it evaporates once you come down. But there are quite a few I do remember, and they were always the same on each different trip. Here are the ones I remember

-High pitched laughter felt like sand between my toes
-Thunder felt like the feeling of rubbing my palms on denim
-A sharp exhalation of breath felt like oil on my hands
-Runnig water from a faucet felt (oddly) like sandpaper
-Ticking felt like the relieved feeling I get while urinating (weird, I know)
-Music is hard to explain. There was so much sound that felt so many different sensations at once. Sometimes it made me feel nauseous, actually. I do know moderately fast, upbeat electronic music had a generally slippery feel to it though. And that slow, sad songs felt very rough and dry.

The colors I remember a little better, though different shades had different tastes and I cannot possibly recall all of them.

-Normal blue tastes salty. Light blue tasted a lot like heavily salted potato chips, and dark blue tasted like lightly salted fish.
-Silver tasted like a retired brand of cigarettes, Newport M blends. This one happened kinda backwards. I didn't see silver and taste the cig, I smoked the cig and realized that is exactly the taste I had for silver.
-Bright green tastes like strawberries. Neon green tasted like banana. Dark green tasted tomatoey.
-Yellow tasted like dark beer. Gold tasted like cheese.
- Light brown tasted like fresh baked bread.
-Orange tasted like an orange! One of the very few that makes sense to my non synesthete brain.
-Pale pink tasted like the aftertaste of some artificial sweeteners.
-Purple tasted like chocolate.
-When I looked at certain trees, I tasted Red Baron cheese pizza.
-And the color of my eyes (light blue wih yellow around my pupil) tasted like bitter coffee. Lol.

Honestly, though my experience with synesthesia was wonderful every time I tripped, sometimes it was quite overwhelming. Maybe it was because my brain is not used to all those connections. If not though, I tip my hat toward all natural synesthetes for not freakin out on a daily basis! Lol

Liz

Thanks so much for sharing this!! I believe I have it too..I have always seen numbers and letters as colors, along with days of the week, months of the year, and years (i.e. A is red for me, too, but the word "February" is orange. The year 1980 is like a dark green, but like you I probably could not find the exact color on a color wheel or something). Oh the relief to know that I what I have, has a name - though for the longest time I assumed everyone thought of things like me, and saw the number 9 as purplish gray! :) And that there are so many versions of this! So interesting... Again, many many thanks for posting this!

Holly Phaneuf Erskine

Hi Hanna,
I love having synesthesia too! Dont worry, I am sure it never goes away once you are old enough to write (as you are doing!) I think that what you heard is in reference to very young children. Little toddlers might have some synesthesia but it can go away when they get a few years older. Once you are as old as you are though, a hallmark is that it is very stable over a lifetime.


On Jul 22, 2014, at 2:18 PM, Typepad wrote:

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A new comment from “Hannah” was received on the post “I confess--I have synesthesia--do you?” of the blog “Synesthesia”.

Comment:
This may sound a little strange, but I LOVE having synesthesia, and am a little worried because I read an article somewhere that says synesthesia can go away with age. Has this happened to anyone?


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Holly Phaneuf Erskine, PhD.
Medicinal Chemist
ask me a chemistry question


author ofHerbs Demystified

co-producer ofThe Emissary

holly@nightskyventures.com

Tootsie

Hey derek! I just read your comment and I just had to smile! Your son is so much like me! I can't taste words, but at times I crave the taste of colors-- especially when I am playing piano when the colors of the sounds are totally at its peak-- and it drives me nuts sometimes because most of the time I can't remember the food I ate that had a color like that! I can feel pain of others as well. I can't stand to watch surgery shows (but my mom LOVES them!) Well, thats a pretty awesome discovery for your son! Good luck!

Holly Phaneuf Erskine

What a wonderful email!


It sounds like you have a very, very special boy. This is more than the average type of synesthesia you are describing. You are so lucky to get a quick understanding of this early on, so you can help him understand it, and use it to his best advantage in life. Thank you so much for sharing this, and feel free to ask any questions, (not that I know everything but there are so many others out there that may)


All the best,
Holly

Derek

Hi,

Just stumbled across your site as I struggle with my son's unusual perception of the world.

It started about three weeks ago when his teacher asked him to draw some pictures while listening to music. He came home with a series of rainbow shapes in different colors and explained that no one else seemed to draw anything like him?? You see sound as streaming rainbows in a dashboard??? WHAT!!!

Then over the next three weeks I learned he sees letter and number in different colors, can actually taste words, can feel the pain of others and somehow sees a movie playing while he reads???

Sites like yours put my mind at ease and at least help me understand what he's experiencing.

Thanks for sharing

derek

Holly Phaneuf Erskine

Hey Tootsie! I love saying your name, which is my favorite color of brown. I finally got around to putting out a request for ideas on how to tell your friends and family you have synesthesia. I am sure other people have good ideas to add, so lets see what they say:


http://drholly.typepad.com/how_do_you_tell_people_yo/


Tootsie

Oh my goodness Holly thank you so much for the advice! You have no idea how much I needed this! I'll think about it for a little bit, what I'm going to say, how to explain it. I have A Mango-Shaped Space that I can use an example for, too. I also found out that Marilyn Monroe had synesthesia. Oh my gosh! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Holly!!!!! : D : D : D

Holly Phaneuf Erskine

Hi Tootsie,


Im honored and a little scared (because I might screw it up) to be asked to answer this. I think I will poll other synesthetes about how they have done it. I am taking my time to write a longer post to answer this important question, and will ask other people what their opinion is. I am sure you are not the only one wondering how to approach this.


When I tell people I have synesthesia, a lot of times they get uncomfortable and seem to want to change the subject. I dont like to make people uncomfortable. So, it definitely takes some thought. A lot of times the response is disappointing to me; it is clear they dont understand, and you have to let that be OK.


Some family members are more understanding than others! You cant makesomeone understand something, too. You can show examples, and say, I am one of these people that does this, too.


The most important thing is to reassure them that it is not a disease or a disorder. You dont need to see a doctor for this! It is a gift, like a photographic memory. Their first instinct naturally will be to worry about whether you are OK. Id show them some examples of famous people with synesthesia, or find a book on it that you like, and show them this, and then say, well, I have this, too.

Tootsie

Sorry to bother you again, but I have a question for you Holly. I am only 13 and I only just a couple months ago have discovered I have synesthesia. I tried to tell my parents what I have discovered about myself, but at times it just gets too awkward or I can't get the words out. I have asked my mom if she had a colorful alphabet, too, but she gave me the weirdest look I don't really want to bring it up again. I have mentioned it to a few friends, what it was called and whatever and they have taken it as the coolest thing, but I know my parents won't take it the same way my friends would. One of my friends as at least the graphme-color synesthesia, but I haven't been able to talk to her at all lately. How can I talk to my parents about it so it won't be so awkward or nerve-wracking? I just recently got a B on a History test for important dates because on a few of them, the colors of the years didn't match up to the description of the event. Uhhh... I guess all am I trying to say is what do I do?

Tootsie

Hey Holly (which is a beautiful shade of brown BTW)
Yes, the motion-sound does get INCREDIBLY distracting- especially when its quiet! I have gotten very used to it, but it still can distract me.
: )

Holly Phaneuf Erskine

Hi Tootsie,
Thanks for sharing your delightful and fascinating synesthesia! I posted your comment so other people can see it too. It sounds like you also have a rarer form, related to hearing sounds when there is motion. It must be very distracting! I know I dont like motion in my peripheral vision at all, but at least it has no sounds associated.


Keep exploring, making notes, and finding the best and most creative ways to use this gift. Sure, it can be a distraction, but I am glad you think it is a gift, too. Thanks!
Holly


Tootsie

Hahaha!!! I TOTALLY agree!! I flippin HATE it when there is text that is TOTALLY the wrong color!!! It drives me up the wall (oh and BTW not to be rude, but 2 is an orangish yellow but is incredibly stuck up....just sayin) Music is my life. And yes, blue and green are the rarest colors I see in music too. But if I do see them they're mostly in the electric bass and stuff like that. Does any one else have colors for certain kinds of voices? There was this one boy who had a pink voice and I just laughed to myself. What boy has a pink voice?
Anyways, sometimes I'd be taking a test or something and there would be movement and I can concentrate because the FLIPPIN MOVEMENT HAS A FLIPPIN working withSOUND!!!!!!! I have learned online that I have Auditory-Tactile, where something that moves would make a "sound". It is one of the rarest types. For example, if a pin dropped and didn't make an actual sound, I would "hear" a little "thump". Unfortunately, with every single movement there is a little "whooshing" or a "thump" sound....even if people are walking, they are making a sound, no matter what ANYONE thinks!!!
I am 13, and it was only until about the beginning of March this year when I noticed that something was a little off. We were working with mnemonics and I told my friend Jessica (a beautiful darker cyan blue) that Babe Ruth and Rube Foster (The father of black baseball) were the same color. She made the connection of Rube and Ruth were both baseball and so similar, but I made the connection of the beautiful dark maroon and velvet dark pink and dark blues. She thought I was crazy! But other friends were supportive; some called me a "SUPER HERO" while others were like "Oh my gosh! I would die!" But I really enjoy it : )

Penny Lane

Oh my gosh! I just read the sudoku part– I do that too!

Did I forget to mention I have synesthesia too?

By the way, does it ever frustrate you when something is the wrong color? Like (in my case) when the letter R is sunshine yellow instead of dark purple? I don't know, it really just bothers me. I have to usually go outside and take a break from all of the colors and letters and numbers and personalities that make me question my sanity.

Anonymous

Hello!
I'm excited to have this! Letters and numbers are coloured, as are months and days of the week. They all have genders and vague personalities, too. The number 2, for instance, is yellow in colour and is a giggly, playful kindergarten-age little girl. When I read others' perceptions they seem drastically wrong.

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