There’s nothing like picking peach leaves in an orchard in absolute silence.
A silence that is only broken by the faint sounds of a tractor driving by, spraying for weeds, and the occasional, far-away crow of a rooster.
A silence that is not broken by my thoughts. Not even by the methodic counting in my head as I picked leaves for my new summer job.
I didn’t realize how empty I felt until that moment.
And it hit me like a truck.
Before I discovered I had aphantasia, not having a mind’s eye or ear never bothered me. I didn’t even realize I was blind in those senses growing up. That’s just how it was for me.
Now that I know, the silence is deafening.
Growing up, I felt like something was wrong with me. That there was something… not right. I never really felt like I fit in. I felt this emptiness in myself, which started in my chest and seemed to spread.
I noticed an emptiness around the time I entered high school, but I never did much about it. I became used to it, but something in me told me this wasn’t right.
I thought it was a mild depression. I went to therapy and some treatment for that, but it didn’t seem to stick much. And over time, it was an emptiness I grew attached to. It was a feeling that I hated but didn’t want to give up. It felt familiar to me.
Later, I developed severe headaches. Severe enough that it hurt even to be awake. I’d lie in bed in the dark, in absolute silence.
My mind was dark, too. Not even offering me company while I was in pain.
During those long days, I thought my headaches impaired my thought process. I was in so much pain I couldn’t think. That’s why I was unable to let my mind wander. It was an absolute emptiness that was only filled with pain.
I got treatment for that, too. I am better now. It’s been a few months since I had any headaches.
But the emptiness in my mind stayed.
It wasn’t until I was watching YouTube that I saw a video about aphantasia. I watched it, then watched it a second time.
It was at that moment that I realized I had aphantasia.
Finally, a name for the emptiness I felt.
It was both absolutely liberating to know there was a name for what was wrong with me. But it was also traumatizing at the same time.
As an author and an artist, I felt like a sham.
That I was cheated out of being able to visualize and made writing and doing art even harder than it was.
I never had an imaginary friend growing up. I never had an imaginary world like a typical kid would have. Compared to one of my friends, who had an entire world growing up at her fingertips.
The weirdest thing is that growing up, I didn’t know I wasn’t visualizing until I watched that YouTube video. I always thought I was visualizing.
I never explicitly thought the phrase “picture this” or “imagine this” was an exaggeration or metaphor, as many other aphants commonly think. I always thought I was doing what other people were doing.
It was crushing that I never actually fit in with others. I couldn’t actually relate to my friends when they said “Picture this” or “Imagine that” anymore.
I was the odd one out, with something no one had ever heard of before.
I think aphantasia has also impacted the way I view relationships, too. Especially romantic relationships. I don’t feel that longing, that desire to be with another person romantically.
I love my friends dearly, but I’ve never felt anything more for anyone else.
Never once have I related to ‘imagining’ myself saving my crush from a burning building or imagining myself talking or confessing my feelings towards them.
So figuring out what I feel romantically towards others has been really hard. I still don’t know what I feel because I’ve never had a crush before. And I can’t actually have the ‘typical’ symptoms of being in love.
And don’t get me started on memories. My memory is absolutely awful because I can’t picture any of it. I feel like I’ve missed years of my life because I can’t remember them. Pictures are like gold to me, but I hate being in them.
I have been forcibly grounded in the present against my will.
And that’s okay.
I’ve only known about aphantasia for a little over half a year, so it’s been difficult to come to terms with it.
Every day I realize new, little things about me that suddenly make sense that I struggle with. This includes but is not limited to navigating and driving, decision-making, insight, being spatially aware, and feelings of self-worth/confidence.
If you struggle with any of these things or other things I haven’t mentioned, and you have aphantasia, know that it isn’t your fault.
It can be hard to believe that at first, especially when you’ve been fed over time that “something is wrong with you.”
I know I have.
Especially when those things are often normalized in culture, and you seem to be the only one who just doesn’t get it, or something invisible is holding you back.
It is okay to feel bitter and angry but don’t let that take over you completely.
I have been trying to tell people I know about aphantasia to try to educate them. It helps me ground my belief in aphantasia. But sometimes, they don’t really seem to get it.
I told a coworker that I couldn’t visualize images or sounds, as he claimed he always had music playing in his head. That led to a thirty-minute conversation about mindfulness, one that I personally don’t think I need. I need the opposite of mindfulness, which will completely turn my brain on.
And that’s okay. Them not getting it doesn’t mean your aphantasia is any less real. It’s a complex concept to wrap your head around, but it also makes for some great icebreakers.
In the meantime, though, I will continue picking peach leaves in silence.