Monthly Archives: Dec 2020

#Aphantasia – this is me

I started to realise that maybe what I (don’t) see in my head was different to others a few years ago. We were at bookclub, and talking about how we visualise different characters (particularly when they differ very much in film versions). When it was my turn I said ‘I don’t see pictures. The words just appear in my head’. Conversation moved on. Maybe I thought other people were exagerating, I don’t know.

A year or so later, I was taking a course which involved several sections on mindfulness. This meant that our teacher led guided meditations for up to half an hour during the session. You know the type – imagine yourself on a beach, imagine a light moving through your body. When I said that I couldn’t do that I was told to try harder. I found it such a stressful experience that I didn’t actually go back to finish the course.

This week there has been a discussion about this very phenomenon on one of the book groups I am a member of on Facebook. It confirmed for me that I’m not weird, I’m just one of a small minority of people who can’t see images in their head. And that this condition has a name and people doing research about it.

What I can see in my head

  • I can see a vague image of places I know well and have a strong emotional attachment to. I’m not sure I can draw a picture from this though.
  • Blurry/vague images of situations that I have been involved in.
  • Body shapes from a distance of people who I know well.
  • My visual recall is better when I am on the edge of sleep, but that’s not so helpful for the everyday!

What I can’t see in my head

  • Pretty much everything else! I’ll be working on a jigsaw and someone will ask me what it’s about. I can give a vague description, but not detailed or particularly helpful most of the time.
  • Faces of people. Sometimes this means I’ll meet someone out of context and will struggle to name them, or even recall how I know them if I’ve only met them a couple of times.
  • Anything to do with stories. The words just go straight into my head. I honestly get nothing from long descriptive passages, which might be why I skipped large chunks of Lord of the Rings. Heck, half the time I can’t even remember the title/author of the book I’m currently reading!
  • Music. I taught myself grade 5 Music Theory, and passed by learning the maths of music. I can’t look at sheet music and hear the tune in my head. I always thought my dad was magic when he could do that at church! If I know the piece I can usually play a good approximation, but the bassoon part to ‘Cuban Overture’ stumped me – lots of patience from my fellow bassoonist meant I got that one eventually.
  • Hockey. I’ll sit and watch an entire match and I can’t replay any of the goals in my head; or the hits and fights. I can watch a replay and think ‘oh yes’, but I couldn’t often describe something I’ve just seen. One of my only hockey memories is of Matty Soda on the blue line against Bison. He found himself alone on the ice during a line change, looked at the bench and grinned, then took the shot and scored. If I was to watch a video of that I’m sure it wouldn’t match at all!
  • Revision/memory techniques. All this ‘I imagine a peg with a goat on it’ memory work that kids are taught in school. I just learn things and remember them.
  • Films. As with hockey, I can’t see clips of films in my head. I’m amazed when people say ‘oh, I love this bit’ before we get there when watching a film.
  • Art. I can paint what I see, but the magic of looking at a block of stone and turning it into something else… Just wow

I’m not sure why I’m feeling the need to blog this. Partly so that I can get my head around other people being able to see things that I can’t, and knowing that when they are asked to ‘imagine a six legged horse on a desert’ they can do that, and partly to share that we are all different; maybe someone else I know has similar experiences to me and this might help.


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