“Close your eyes, and picture an apple. Which color is it? Can you actually see it in your mind?”
I can’t count how many times I asked this question to someone. Even today, one year after discovering I have aphantasia, I still ask this question to every new person I meet.
But I won’t ever be tired of asking it. Because this question is, for most people, the link; the bridge; the way to a discovery. And I can’t even describe the amazing feeling I get when I see the little spark of curiosity in the eyes of the people I ask this question to. I won’t ever be tired of spotting this spark and making it grow with so many more questions—and answers.
And this is the reason behind everything I created about aphantasia during the past year.
Indeed, one year ago, I discovered I was aphantasic. Six months ago, I created a bilingual online community of aphants and a survey about aphantasia’s impacts on our daily lives. And finally, one month ago, I published a book about my experience and research. But more importantly: I joined an incredible community that I did not know existed, and I helped make aphantasia better known around the world. This was my mission, and I hope I succeeded.
Building A French Community
One of the first things I noticed when I discovered I had aphantasia was the lack of… pretty much everything. This imagery that we did not know we lacked of; the lack of information and research; and, above all, the lack of knowledge. Every conversation I had about this subject seemed holed because so many elements were missing; so many questions were left unanswered.
So I started to try and piece everything back together. I read every article, I watched every video, I spent hours on forums and websites, and I talked to everyone around me. But, soon enough, it wasn’t enough. I know I needed to do something. To act. I wanted to become one piece of the aphantasia puzzle; and I wanted this puzzle to be known by everyone around me, and everyone around the globe.
In order to do this, what’s better than a Twitter account? As a millennial, social media is something quite important in my life, and I knew immediately that Twitter would be a very useful tool to gather people interested in the same topic. A few hours later, @aphantasiaclub was born.
I created the whole visual identity myself, and I wanted it to be joyful. To be attractive and colorful; but serious at the same time. I wanted it to appeal to a maximum of people, because everyone can be an aphant. This is one of the best things about our community: it can resemble anyone and everyone.
And speaking of everyone: it was also very important to me that my account would reflect my bilingualism. I’m French, but I have been studying English for years at University, and so it just came naturally to me to start and post tweets in English as well as in French. This way, my work-in-progress community could be as rich as possible, and this was really the goal. I wished for my Twitter account to be a mix of people, of generations, with different backgrounds, nationalities and identities—a real “club”! And seeing today my daily notifications, I can tell you that this is exactly what I get from my 300+ followers.
Yet, this melting-pot also represented a struggle for me. Indeed, the places (on the Internet or in real life) where such an important mix of people are reunited are very rare—and so I had to make it work. I had to create a space where everyone would feel included, where everyone would feel safe, and where everyone would appreciate the content posted. All of this without losing the most important thing: being myself.
This is when I first thought about memes. I told myself: “everyone loves to laugh, right?” so I tried to make people laugh around the subject of aphantasia. Ever since, people seem to like my memes, to laugh at them, and more importantly: to find them relatable. They are a very quick and simple representation of aphantasia—but it seems to be working. I think it is also because we are not used to laughing about aphantasia. Therefore, I feel so happy about bringing this new idea and energy into our community.
Because this is what we are. We are a very broad, complex, mixed and fascinating community; so I could not wait to interview all of you. And this is exactly what I did after that!
As I told you, my main mission was to try and get more knowledge about the mental imagery spectrum. This is why I opened my Twitter account: because I believed that the community would be the best source of knowledge.
Of course, I am not a doctor nor a professional in any kind of domain linked to mental imagery; and I never pretended to be. I am just a French aphantasic young woman studying English—and I wanted my research to reflect just that. This is why I just let my mind flow as my hands were typing the questions on my computer—and I did not even think twice before I had written every question. Then, once they were done, I questioned myself on their purpose and put them into categories:
- Memory: We know aphantasia impacts our memory, but to what extent?
- Imagination: It always comes first in the conversations about aphantasia. “How can you imagine if you don’t see anything in your mind?”
- Art: Some say aphants cannot create art properly; but at the same time, there are many aphantasics artists. So, how does it work?
- Studies: Is it possible to analyze the link between our work methods and choices and our capacity to visualize (even if most people learn that they are aphantasic really late in life)?
- Relationships: Is aphantasia tangible between two humans in love?
- Senses: We mostly talk about visualization—but what about the other four? Can you hear, taste, smell or touch things in your mind?
Each category represented either something that was already linked with aphantasia but needed more answers; or it represented something that was (almost) never asked before. In any case, they were questions I needed answers for. I was so curious about aphantasic’s but also phantasic’s answers and comments for each one of those questions.
So… I asked them.
A few days later, my survey was finally published online. I shared it everywhere I could, and I tried to reach the largest number of people that I could possibly reach; with, once again, the wish for those people surveyed to be as diverse as possible. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit—I went on every social media I could think about where there was an existing community of aphants. But I also kept in mind that phantasic people’s interpretations and experiences were needed in order for the comparison to be interesting, so I asked everyone in my family and friends to share the survey as much as possible.
At first, I was expecting not more than 50 answers, maximum. When I got to 100 in only a few days, I told myself, “OK, you’re not closing it now.” And I didn’t. I did not close the survey, and I kept sharing it and talking to people about it. In less than two weeks, 528 people answered my 27 questions about the impact of their mental imagery capacity on their daily lives.
300 aphantasic people and 228 phantasic people—nearly half of them coming from France, and the other half from the rest of the world.
On the 7th of March 2021, the survey was closed. All I needed to do left was to read, regroup and analyze the 528 different outlooks on my 27 questions.
However, at this point, I still did not know that I was going to write a book.
Writing And Publishing My Book(s)
The idea of writing a book is not something that comes to your mind one morning after waking up. Well… For me, it was.
On this day, I woke up a bit early, and so I was alone in the living-room of my London apartment. I was thinking about my research, and the way it was going on. I was truly happy with what I was doing, because I found the results simply incredible. But one thing annoyed me a bit: the publication of those results. I knew I wanted my followers on @aphantasiaclub to be the first to know—but how should I do it? Should I create a website? Should I only post them on Twitter?
…What if I write a book? Could that be a good idea?
The answer was yes, of course. (Books are always a good idea.)
But then, the question is: how?
I am incredibly lucky to have, as one of my best friends, someone who already wrote and self-published several novels; so I knew who to call. Not even five minutes after I told her about my idea, she said: “Do it!”
And so… I did it.
Writing my book was a four-month-long process that began in lockdown and ended just at the same time as my year abroad did. It represented hours and hours of work (maybe even hundreds of hours) and I simply cannot describe everything in this article.
However, I can tell you that it was a hell of a roller-coaster! Each step I took, I met new struggles, difficulties, and I had to adapt every time. I am not a statistician, nor a graphic designer. I am definitely not a writer; neither a community manager. And even if it is a little closer to what I study, I am also not a translator. Nonetheless, I had to learn and borrow some characteristics of those (very complex) jobs in order for my book to be as credible, appreciable and professional as possible.
I started with the analysis of the survey’s results. I began with reading everything, and taking notes. The next day, I got fascinated, so I read everything again, just to make sure that these incredible results were real. Then, I started the (horrible) work of putting everything into an Excel spreadsheet in order to calculate the numbers and percentages and to create the graphs.
A few weeks later, I spent four or five days, all day long, writing the introduction of my book. I wanted to explain what aphantasia was, with my own words, in order for everyone to be able to understand what it meant. Then, I wrote about the moment when I discovered I was an aphant, and my reaction to it in the following days and months. I told my personal story in this introduction because I wished for everyone (phantasic or aphantasic and knowing the subject or not) to get a bit of this very special experience of the discovery. This is the same reason why I choose to create my own playful aphantasia test, named “What about me?”. This way, no one would feel like they did not understand the subject of the book—and that is exactly what I wanted: for everyone to feel included in this project.
And again, for the same reason, I translated my book (originally written in French) into English. I was helped by friends in both languages for the proofreading; but translating my own words was a very interesting experience that I was so happy to experiment.
Finally, the last step of the process was to put everything together—for both books. First the introduction, and then the test. And finally, the last (and longest part): the research. Made of the graphs but also paired with many explanations and comments, and also some testimonies from people who answered to the survey. But the hardest thing to do when you put a self-published book together is, of course, the editing of it. I used a graphic design software (and a lot of patience!) to try and create the perfect atmosphere for my book. I wanted it to be pretty, but also quite serious. I wanted the research to be very mathematical, but still accessible for everyone. I wanted something which looked like me; but at the same time, it had to be visually pleasant to different kinds and categories of people.
And that is exactly what I tried to do when I designed the cover as well. Actually, this is the last thing that I did—and it felt just like putting the final piece of a puzzle.
Making Aphantasia Better Known
As I am writing those final lines, my book has been published for more than a month now; and I could not feel more happy and grateful with this experience.
These two already traveled all around the world: in France of course, but in the US as well. I also sold some copies in other places in Europe, such as the UK, Germany, Spain or the Netherlands. Canada is also on the list, as well as Australia. And one copy was even shipped to Japan! All of this still seems completely unreal to me—but I think I do realize what is happening when people send me a message telling me that they are very happy that my book exists.
However, so many pieces of the aphantasia puzzle are still missing, and that is why we need more books, more studies, more art… and more answers.
In the end, my journey with aphantasia during the past year was a true roller-coaster—but I do not regret any second of it, because it was all worth it. Because playing a part in aphantasia’s growing research and community was my goal; and every time someone purchases my book, it makes me realize that I did it.
Thank you so much for getting to the end, and I hope this article inspired you in order to create your own piece of the aphantasia puzzle!
Thank you also to everyone who has been helping me and supporting me since the beginning of this journey; in real life or on Twitter. I am very grateful for all of you.
And last but not least: let me finish with a huge thank you to Aphantasia Network for the endless support. Your work is incredible, and I feel so truly honored to have had the chance to write on your amazing website.
Let’s continue to make aphantasia better known around the world together!