I’ve had synaethesia my whole life, but didn’t realise until I was about 15. I just thought everyone had the same kind of concepts in regards to senses as I did. I can’t imagine life without it, and I feel like I experience something really special. I don’t pick the colour or sensations I get, they just happen.
If you don’t know:
Synaesthesia is a condition where a sensation in one of the senses, such as hearing, triggers a sensation in another, such as taste. There are at least 80 different types of synaesthesia
For example, some people with synaesthesia can taste numbers or hear colours. Some people give personalities to days of the week or their emotions have colours. Read more about different types here.
A wide range of different synaesthetic experiences have been reported and recorded – a typical example is someone who described experiencing the colour red every time he heard the word “Monday”. You may have read about musicians who can hear colours. synesthetes are often very creative. Some artists to have reported having synaethesia are, David Hockney, Pharell Williams and Billy Joel.
What it’s like for me
I’ve read a lot about people hearing colours, which I do get but my strongest sense is smells triggering colours. I have always smelt colours and describe a smell to my friends as specific colours. Generally, unpleasant smells evoke this horrible yellow colour which repulses me, whilst clean and pleasant smells evoke different blues (which is my favourite colour, because of this). I have an incredibly strong sense of smell and can often smells things most people can’t, so sometimes there can be a bit of a sensory overload for me.
Apparently, this form of synesthesia is very rare. I’d love to meet someone who also experiences this, because I find it fascinating and there isn’t a lot of literature on it.
Colours are also slightly tied up in emotions for me. When I first met my boyfriend I had a strong sense of blue towards him. Whereas people that I’m not so keen on are very orange. A loud annoying orange. This is also a rare one, typically of me. Some people’s personalities have colours, but not all.
When I look at letters, they have a sense of being ‘odd or even’. This also makes days of the week and months odd and even. I think this is related to the shape of the letters. The ones with more circular forms are even, whereas long thin letters are odd. I used to see colours for the different months, but I know longer has that sense. I also visualise time in a loop with dates going around it.
Different notes don’t have specific colours, but the sound an instrument produces does. For example the drums create a spectrum of greys. Not all instruments have colours though.
What’s the cause?
It’s likely that the brain of someone with synaesthesia is “wired” differently, or has extra connections.
A brain imaging study has shown that when some people with synaesthesia hear spoken words, a part of their brain normally used to process colour from vision lights up.
Synaesthesia runs in families, although it may skip a generation and may not affect immediate relatives. It’s possible for only one twin to have the condition, or for family members to show different types of synaesthesia. In summary, there is a genetic contribution to synaesthesia, but the environment is also important.
I only know one other person with synaethesia and we aren’t related. No one, as far as I am aware has this in my family. Saying that, I’m the first known hypermobile and dyspraxic person and one of the only who is left handed….so I like to be special.
It’s possible for people to “grow out of” synaesthesia: there have been cases of people claiming that they used to experience synaesthesia, but no longer do. For a while I thought I had. It had dampened down a lot for me for a couple of years, but recently is has grown stronger again. Which I’m pleased about, because I would hate to lose it.
Is it common?
Synaesthesia has been estimated to affect at least 4% of the UK population.
Researchers at the University of Sussex have estimated that 1-2% of the UK population experience colour when they see, hear or think about letters and numbers, and that synaesthesia is just as common in women as in men (read the study).
Do you think you may have it? Let me know :)!