Over the past year I have gone from being a fully employed elementary school teacher of 23 years to an unemployed person who never leaves the house due to exhaustion from a lifetime of social anxiety disorder and persistent depressive disorder which, along with challenging situations at work, caused a mental breakdown. As I’ve been soul searching these past many months, I somehow, and I don’t remember exactly what I was even looking for online, came across a new concept for me: aphantasia. (Interestingly, the word “aphantasia” is being marked on my computer as a non word….is this concept really that fringe?)
So I asked my husband, “Can you ACTUALLY SEE anything when you close your eyes and try to visualize something?”
“No,” he replied.
I posted the question on Facebook. A majority of my friends also COULD NOT actually see anything when closing their eyes – but a few could. Interestingly, most of my friends are atheists, as am I. That totally makes me wonder if there is a connection between visualization and religious faith… but I digress.
I taught young children how to read for decades and, of course, visualization was a huge reading comprehension strategy and general learning strategy that I taught. However, I remember at one point leading a group of students through a creative visualization exercise and one young girl said, “I can’t see anything.”
My response was, “It’s okay. You’re not supposed to see anything. Just quiet your mind and think about the directions you hear me give.”
I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA THAT ANYONE COULD ACTUALLY SEE ANYTHING IN THEIR HEADS.
It still feels like a superpower. I’m 47 years old. I am forced to wonder if this lack of visualization ability has impacted my ability to learn over the years.
Maybe, maybe not. Having not ever been able to do this, I am unsure.
As a youngster in third grade, I could NOT memorize my multiplication tables despite my mother drilling me on them daily for the whole year. I eventually did memorize them effortlessly during my first year of teaching when I had to teach children about multiplication.
I’ve played the piano since I was in the 8th grade. Yet I still can’t memorize piano pieces without exceptional difficulty and even once memorized, which rarely has happened, they fall out of my head unless I play them every single day. Give me a few days off and all the hard work of memorizing evaporates!
In terms of reading, I know that in the first grade I was put into a remedial reading group because I had difficulty learning to read. I always thought it was because I was put into school a year earlier than I probably should have – my birthday being in October. So I started Kindergarten at age 4.
I learned to read and didn’t need remedial support beyond first grade. I can read quite well and also don’t have a problem with the written word. However, when reading, I 100% prefer informational text. I find literary text (novels, short stores, poetry, etc…) dreadfully boring. If I want a fantasy fix, I can play a computer game or watch something in a video format. The whole concept of becoming immersed in a world of books eludes me, and made put me in a minority of elementary school teachers who did not enjoy reading for pleasure. For me reading is a functional skill which stands in sharp contrast to most of my former colleagues who viewed reading primarily as something to be enjoyed and loved.
Can I EVER visualize? Well, I have one or two dreams a year that I can remember in which I have full vision…but I almost never have any dreams – at least any that have left any sort of a feeling of “I’ve had a dream.” The only dreams I ever have any conscious memory of tend to be prophetic in nature. I once had a dream about a bedroom. The room was dark and there was one window with the blinds down and closed – but with intense daylight peeking through from the cracks in and around the blinds. The paint on the wall was a rusty orange color and there was a bed to the left and a low dresser with attached mirror to the right. Some time after having this dream, I met my husband. Then I visited his mom with him. Then I saw her guest room. It was the same room from my dream.
Interestingly, in that SAME dream, prior to visiting the bedroom, I was outdoors on a sunny street (not one I have seen before or since) talking to a woman with long brown hair who told me that everything would be okay and that I would soon meet someone who would help me.
These are the sorts of dreams I remember – but they happen VERY VERY VERY VERY rarely… as in a handful of times in my life.
My mother can’t visualize despite LOVING to read fiction constantly. No idea if my dad could since he’s long since passed.
Anyway, I just discovered this website and haven’t had time to browse it much. I look forward to taking a look around and hearing about other people’s experiences with aphantasia.