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Holly Phaneuf Erskine

Here are all the lovely comments I got on the original article, reposted on my new site here:

Tootsie said:
I hate those 2 and 5 tests because the two numbers are so close in color it doesn't seem fair. 2 is a yellow with the slightesdt tinge of yerllow-orange and 5 is also yellow but more on the orange side. Ug! I have the personality thing-unfortunatley with EVERYTHING! I would eat chocolate bunnies and feel incredibly guilty because, you know, IM KILLING THEM!!!!!! I can sorta actually see colors. With sudden and loud sounds, I can actually see the colors, but most of the time they're just in my head. Whenever my mom turns the blender or vacuum on I have to run to a different room because I feel so overwhelmed its just insane. Yes my A is red, but my B is a brownish-blue. Mostly brown. My X and my Z are both the hardest ones to explain, but they are more similar in color. My X is a black, but whenever I see it, it almost sparkles, but instead of a sort of light kind of sparkle, the "sparkles" are filled with colors like maroon and cyan. It has a lot of depth too. My Z is the same way except without the cyan and way less depth.... You get me? I am OK with noises of crowds and such, but whenever I turn on the music too loud with my headphones on I get like a mini heart attack because I'm terrified I'll get "lost" in my colors in my mind and if its loud enough in front of me too. I LOVE reading, but when I do it has to be perfectly quiet or it'll drive me insane how many colors there are! If the TV is on and I'm trying to read, I lock myself in my room just so it can be quiet. The problem with the quiet is that my ears ring. Constantly in the quiet, so usually when I read, the text may have more of a reddish-brownish things to it than if my ears didn't ring. Does my ear ringing have to do with synesthesia or is that a totally different thing? I do the name thing too! I once saw a black-haired Christina and I was like WHAT!?!?! Christinia can either have blonde hair or brown hair because C's are a yellow and the N and the H give is a brownish tinge....but HONESTLY!!!! One of my friends have been so encouraging about my synesthesia and I love her for that. She's really the only one that took my synesthesia seriously and she still hasn't asked me what color her name was (I kinda wish she would though. Its a very pretty shade of brown with a white and lime green tinge). I tried to tell other people about it and I did feel embarrassed. I think it was more uncomfortable for me than it was for them! Let's just hope that my best friend would understand that its not a type of disease... Yeah she called it that... But I wasn't too offended. If you've read Divergent, there is this one faction called Candor, and the faction's colors are black and white. My beat friend asked me what color the faction was and I blurted out "yellowish-brown". Then when she stared at me for a while, I shook it off and told her that its black and white.....I still get it mixed up.... :-)

LaShae said:
Dear Holly, I've found out about synesthesia quite recently (credit to Jacquelina Sheehan and her book Lost and Found). One of her characters has synesthesia who associates letters and numbers with colors, sounds, shapes, and sizes. She also associates pain in a certain part of the body with a color (banged knee with red-orange and appendicitis with a pale green) and an object has a certain smell. (Like piano keys smells like cinnamon) I wanted to find out if there are a lot of people who have synesthesia. Now knowing that there are and synesthesia has different varieties ( I guess you could call it that) makes me look at my life differently. I have a question, like you said add and amigo are red because of A. D is brown and M is black. With the letters after the first one, do they change the color of the first? In Amigo, the A is red and M is black. So would the M be a darker shade of red than A before it?

Anna Hutton
Anna Hutton said:
Hello My daughter age 17' has always been very sensitive and emotional when it came to viewing anything that shows a person getting hurt. This has greatly affected her ability to go to most movies, and she often has to excuse herself from some films shown in class. I has just learned that she has the ability to associate numbers with colors and I was told by her as a very young girl that she used to see colors around people. Can you tell me if this may be part of the synesthesia? Is this considered a disability ? Thank you
Reply | Edit | Mar 20, 2012 on Synesthesia Intervi…

Holly Phaneuf Erskine
Holly Phaneuf Erskine said:
Hello, You ask a very perceptive and important question, one that perhaps different synesthetes might answer differently, I dont know. Id be curious about what others say. It seems that what your question is pointing to is whether or not the meaning or the shape of the symbol has more impact in determining the color association, which is a very important question to ask if you want to try to figure out how this cross-wiring is taking place. What I can say for myself is that the case is not important to me, lower case and upper case A and a are both red, and I can say the same for all the other letters as well. These seems to imply that the meaning is more important than the shape of the symbol, at least for me. However, I have often reflected (and I may be cherry picking the data so I am always skeptical of my own subjective observations) that it seems to me that curvy letters are more light-colored and straight-lined ones are more dark. Sometimes I think that symbols with crossed lines through them like H and A, the number 4, and a plus sign are red (though I cant explain why T is brown.) Now that I think about it, the word add is red since it starts with an A, so that may be why I associate a + with red, (the word minus is black because M is black, and indeed a minus sign is black.) What is interesting is that certainly when I was a little girl, when I first remember having these associations and assume I developed them, I was notaware of the Greek letter alpha or of other Greek letters for that matter.But now, having encountered it a lot in science of course, I would say that alpha is of course red. The symbol does not look that different from the lower case letter, though, and the word alpha name starts with the letter a. The beginning letter of a word does determine the overall color of a word. So I would have to reflect further on other greek letters to see whether this trend holds up. The symbol pi to me has the same color as P which is pale turquoise. Beta is blue, just like B. Now, other Greek symbols I am less used to, and although they take on the color of the first letter of their name, when I LOOK at the ones I am less familiar with, they dont really have a definite color. Sigma, the upper case symbol, looks more Z colored than S colored to me because it looks like a damn Z. (S is pale yellow and Z is maroon, very different.) However, the lower case sigma symbol does look properly s-colored, and it looks more like an s, too. Theta as a symbol has no color, maybe it looks a bit white like an O, but the word theta is of course brown (because T is brown.) Phi as a symbol also mostly looks like the white O, so is mostly white, with the pale turquoise tinge of the letter P sort of glimmering around it. Gamma as a symbol looks more Y-colored than G-colored (the symbol looks pale yellow, like Y, whereas the name gamma is G-colored, which is a reddish orange. Now, rho looks like the letter P, so the symbol has the same color as p, which is pale turquoise. However, the name Rho is the same color as the letter R, which is dark brown. Mu, the word, is black, because M is black, but the symbol has a tinge of U color (because it sort of looks like a U, so it is black with a tinge of grey/silver.) Of course Tau is brown like T, but it looks like a T. No problem there. The lower case delta does look like a d, so it looks brown like a d, but the upper case delta looks like a triangle, which is rather orangey, I have no idea why. Maybe because it reminds me of fire, and we use that triangle symbol to indicate heat added over a reaction arrow in chemistry. Here is something that blew my mind recently and may have relevance to your interest: I realized that although I normally thought of Y as pale yellow, and of most words starting with the letter Y to also be the same pale yellow color, (yesterday is yellow) I realized there were some interesting exceptions! These were just a few words that sounded like the letter U, such as you and your. These are the same color as the letter U, which is (of course!) a bluish, silvery, grey. So once again that tells me that the meaning has importance which is superceding that of the shape of the letter. Chinese symbols, for example, dont have a color unless they superficially resemble an English letter. (I have always been intrigued by how you can turn a symbol around, or upside down, and sometimes its color dramatically changes! Ta Da! Like you take a black M, turn it upside down, and it turns into this beigey orange W! Crazy! Or you take a blue b, turn it around, and it becomes a brown d. Wild.) Thanks for the thought provoking questions! Holly

Dbriers.wordpress.com said:
Hello Dr Holly, I am a pre-med college student and I am even more curious about the conundrums of the brain after reading your post. I have a good friend who is also a synesthete and not so oddly loves music like you do. I do have a question about response 7, dealing with letters and language. You said each letter has a particular color, but does uppercase A vs lowercase a vs alpha(greek letter a) appear the same? If that were true does the color you see relate to a permanence your brain has given to certain letters. As in since you recognize the upper and lower case "A/a" to be the same thing, does that mean they appear the same color? If so then what if you were to see the Greek letter alpha, recognizing that alpha represents the same meaning as the letters A or a, would that produce the same color. I would inquire further about different character sets/topics but i dont want to seem like im picking your brain any more than I already am. I plan on writing an article on my web blog about synesthesia in a few days "dbriers.com/tutorials/"

Kat said:
I have synesthesia too. I associate genders and personalities with pretty much everything. I constantly apologize when I drop or hit an object accidentally, and people always give me a weird look. I get what you mean though by you can't turn it off. I'm getting to hate it because I can't see an object without a gender and personality. I know it's abnormal and it bugs me but I can't turn it off. No one I know understands it so I feel alone about it.

I think that my daughter has Synesthesia and she is now refusing to go to school due to anxiety and panic attacks which I am sure are linked. The condition Ian t mentioned in the ICD/ten book that they use to diagnose mental illness so how will I get it diagnosed? She has been referred for help but when Mentioned it to her therapist she didn t know about it? I just hope now I can understand a bit more how she sees the world to help her cope. Thank you for your info.

Aaron W
Dear Holly, Thank you for posting your interview. I don't have Synesthesia, but i like to learn things. (I am a student attending middle school). Today i decided to look it up, and it brought me to this. I'm sorry if i say anything ignorant or stupid, i just don't fully understand how it happens. Can Synesthesia affect taste too? Because whenever i hear my friend josh talk, i taste Oreos. But hes the only one (maybe im crazy). Anyways, can you explain it to me? Sincerley, Your Newest Fan, Aaron Wisdom.

Chris said:
I've got auditory/tactile/olfactory synesthesia, as well as autism and bipolar disorder. I also was diagnosed with something else. A couple of months ago I decided that I was receiving the wrong treatment, largely because my condition had deteriorated. I discontinued it and seeked another doctor who agrees that I had an incorrect diagnosis. This confirms it. Thank you for posting.

sam said:
those damn cicadas, i agree. and techno music kills. i can taste, feel, and see music. thanks for the awesome interview posting, i needed to know i wasnt alone in having syn...

thursday said:
I only heard about synesthesia a few months ago, myself. Wow! I really enjoyed reading about how you've dealt with it throughout your life. It never occurred to me how difficult seeing colors for noises and words could be. Thank you for being so candid. (Also, I'm quite disturbed about the schizophrenia diagnosis when you were young - how frightening for you).

Ava said:
I really appreciated reading your interview. I have just recently discovered that I am a synesthete. I am studying counseling and behavioral science at university (in Australia but am originally from Canada, if that means anything). For one of my units in psychology we had a list of 25 topics to choose from and synesthesia, creativity and art popped out at me straight away. I am an artist, photographer and singer and was a make-up artist for 15 years in my life before motherhood (oh the stimulation from that, pots and pans!). I have sound->colour and emotion->colour synesthesia (according to the Battery by Eagleman). I have only begun to realize how much this has been so deeply ingrained in my life! I come from a long line of artists, musicians, photographers, etc. and my brother is dyslexic (if that means anything). I enjoyed reading your bit about spelling and remembering numbers. I can do this but not because I see coloured numbers or letters but I see the image just outside my head. It only takes using a number a couple of times and I know it by heart. I still remember numbers of things from years ago. I worked as a cashier in a grocery store in 1989 and the code for tomatoes is and will always be in my head 34. Strange hey! Anyway, I just wanted to say that this has been the most amazing weekend I've had in a very long time. I'm not distracted by this form of synesthesia but I do feel overloaded in big cities. I come from Vancouver (tried the busiest part for a year but had to get out, I could feel the noise everywhere I went and couldn't get to sleep because of it). Now I live in a lovely little city full of artists in Australia. My favourite place to go is at the end of a long road with a lighthouse at the end and the ocean all around me. I love going on really windy days because it feels like the cobwebs leave my head and I think more clearly afterward. Thanks again! Ava
Reply | Edit | Sep 29, 2008 on Synesthesia Intervi…

Ann w
In the process of trying to understand some things about my daughters problems with perception of number symbols, I learned about synesthesia and think that I have that. Your experience is very like mine but mine is not as intense. I do attribute colors to letters mostly and some numbers in my minds eye, but I do not really see color as I'm reading or doing math. Only when I focus attention on a symbol by itself or on a group of symbols. I have the most intensly repeatable experience with music. I sometimes see a color flash when I listen to music and then am suddenly aware of what note was played. For me each key has been colored since I can remember. Somehow when I learned to read piano music, I read by the context of colors that I saw coming up over the next few measures. Teachers could not get me to recognize a note from a flashcard, I had to see the relationship of notes on a score and they would be colored by key. If playing in the key of C I would see predominantly red music with flashes of color for the other notes coming along. After raising my daughter and having to help her try to learn note reading I discovered that somewhere in the last 5 years, I can now read the flashcards because the notes are now colored. I have similar experiences to you with regard to overstimulation, both visually and auditorily and I also fight mild agoraphobia. I avoid parties because I am very sensitive to body language. Too many people, too many voices and too much noise make it difficult for me to listen to conversation. I am bushed when I get home. I'm not sure this has anything to do with my synesthesia. I think it is that my attention keeps getting called away by things I notice. I can't watch the Witches of Eastwick because the music is so figurative that I can only listen to the musical score and miss the movie action. All this may be related but not necessarly blamed on synethesia, unless I am suppressing the colors and other responses to cope and am not aware. My daughter behaves like she has something going on percptually also, though she won't talk to me about these things. She hummed through her whole childhood, is constantly exhausted, easily frustrated. Her perception is very concrete and she is a prodigious artist, writer and musician. She has trouble abstracting number symbols and tries to execute her algebra on the concrete images so she fails to see when to simplify a term. It's likely we both have perceptual difficulties though very different. It's fastinating to learn about peoples differences. BYW, I also see my months colored in a circle like others desribe doing. My days of the week are colored as well. Hail diversity.

Catherine said:
Hi Holly! I am 13, and I just found out about a week ago that I have synesthesia. Since then I have been researching it nonstop, trying to find out everything I can, and just when I thought I had drained the web dry, I found this. The colors of your numbers, letters, and sounds are so similar to mine! I know exactly what you mean about everything, it was so comforting to find someone who is so much like me. Sometimes I feel really alone, none of my friends understand what I go through every day. I love my synesthesia, but at the same time it can occasionally be a little much for me. You are so lucky you can be so open about yours- I am having a lot of trouble finding the courage to tell my friends and family. It just feels so good to have a name for my colors, something that I can type in on Google and have a thousand hits come up for, just so I can point to it and say, "See? See this? I'm not lying! I'm not crazy!". I have what I now know is called grapheme, like you, and also certain sounds have colors and shapes. My numbers have personalities too, and I just found out the other day that that was actually yet another form of synesthesia! I always thought I just had an overactive imagination. My weekdays also have different colors, and I always used to wonder why. I used to think, shouldn't Friday be a light green, because of the F? But to me it has always been a dark navy blue. Apperently, that is another kind, too! How does the year look to you? My months don't have seperate colors, but I see them (not actually in front of me in space like everything else, but in my mind's eye) as having a specific location around me, for instance March, April, and May are always infront of me, slightly to the left, but farther back away from me than the other months. January is about half a foot to my left, and December is just where I can't reach anymore to my right. I read somewhere that that isn't normal... but it seems so normal to me, I can hardly believe it's not! Does that happen to you? Also it is always so embarassing for me when I slip up and mention my colors. When I was younger and didn't know not everyone saw things the way I did, I used to wonder why people looked at me funny. For a while I thought it was actually rude to talk about your colors, since I thought everyone had them and that they all had different ones, so it was like talking about... I don't know, race or religion or something. I am so relieved to finally know what I have! In health when we talk about drugs, my teacher once mentioned that some people, when taking LSD, see colors when they hear sounds. This really scared me, for a while I actually thought something was wrong with me, like I was somehow being drugged without knowing it! haha. I am so glad to finally understand my condition, and now that it's not my fault... that it's not even a fault at all! And now that I do, I want to be able to tell my friends and family, but I have only told two friends so far. I am going to tell my family soon, just... I am kind of embarassed. And the people I have told so far, they don't understand- it's just like you said, they think I am physcic or something! They ask me, if their name is purple, what that says about them! Like I am a fotune teller! It really bothers me, because I am just a normal person, I just have an... and extra way of seeing the world. It'a a neurological thing, not a magical thing! Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think you and your whole page are really cool, this is deffenitely my favorite website on synesthesia now, it helped me a lot, even if just to remind me that I am not totally alone. Thank you so much! Xoxoxo, Catherine (I love X's and O's because to me they are black and white, and I think it's so ironic! haha)

Shayne said:
Hi Holly, This is one of the most interesting and personal pieces I've read on synethesia. That's for posting it. Shayne

another synesthete
another synesthete said:
Dear Holly - I have just read your interview on your website concerning synaesthesia - thanks so much for posting this online - I have very very similar synaesthesia to you - especially sounds. Although I know a lot about synaesthesia and have written about it for publication I don't think I have ever read anything as similar to my own experience in regard to sound - It's the way you describe it - it's almost identical. I have had such a noisy day - and concentration is almost impossible - I really just wanted say thanks, because although I am quite aware of my synaesthesia, there are days when I just feel totally intruded on by noise and don't like going out - this morning a woman's voice in the park - very arched, with sharp edges like blades on a chain saw and disgustingly colourful - green lines, red lines, purple arches - just lodged in my head and it's taking all day to get over it. It's so difficult to explain to others so it was good to read your descriptions of your synnie experience - keep up the good work! thanks again, B

Thanks, B, I didn't know if anyone even read my interview, but put it up as a sort of cathartic measure. It's so reassuring to get your email and hear that you have similar experiences. Yes, I can spend all day trying to rid myself of an exhausting sensation from a particular sound--and yes, voices are often lines that arch or curl or zig zag, and come in various colors. As much as I love listening to National Public Radio, the voice of the popular commentator Nina Totenberg drives me up the wall, it is so grey and sharp, I have to shut the radio off. The shame of it is that I am actually interested in what she has to say. Here are some tips: Leight brand ear plugs are the best. I carry them everywhere. I'll go for a long run with some music or sounds playing in my ipod which drive out the past annoying stimulus (what I call an "ear worm".) I'll play my own music on my harp or sing my own songs, just making up my own sounds, to drive out the previous stimulus. pseudoephedrine ("Sudafed") makes ears worms much worse for me, though I take it occasionally anyway for congestion and regret the consequences. In a social situation you can always excuse yourself to go to the restroom and just take some deep breaths there, usually it is more quiet in there. And know you aren't alone! All the best, Holly (annoyingly fuzzy red name because of the "H")

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