How my Aphantasia made me Delusional and Altered the Course of my Life


I am seeing a lot of people finding Aphantasia as something other than a condition…the “it’s simply a different way of experiencing life” argument. And I agree. Or Agreed. Until I realized that our experience is one in which we are literally not playing with a full deck…we are operating on a premise that is not providing us with only partial information and if we were afforded the same information or “abilities” (because I cannot forecast or foresee things that I have not already experienced in my life…I can recall things and impute things, but if it’s something that I’ve never gone through, then it’s not that real to me, as if I do not grasp the concept until I go through it). This altered my life and I have just recently realized it. And I’m pissed.

My whole story and why I’m pissed is in my Post in Discussions, the title is something like “How Has Aphantasia Affected You’re Life Decisions”. But, in essence, I was an attorney for 15 years (and I worked in the same law firm for 15 years before that because that was the “family farm”). So, I was there from 11 years old as a copyboy to 41 as a lead attorney, generating more income than the rest of the firm combined, was like a phenom at my job, won Best Attorney for years (even the year I quit), lived a extravagant life, threw money at everything, had bags and shoes and cars and boys and so much cocaine (which I’m realizing was my Happy Place escape…because one day that addiction just shut off and never bothered me again). It was everything you’d see in a music video. But, at the end of the day, I hated it because I never wanted to be a lawyer…I just could never see another way. Now I know I am unable to see forks in the road or to envision myself in a profession I have not experienced/worked in before. And even though I would end up being a great attorney, I knew (and I know) that I’d be good at anything I did…you know, except trying to figure out what to do when I grow up. And I quit all those times and sat there thinking how inadequate I must be because I can’t find something else to do. But it wasn’t me being inadequate, it was my Aphantasia and IF had I known I had this, then I would have sought counsel or something to help me. But without knowing that I have it, each time I looked at another profession, I couldn’t see myself doing it, and since I could always see myself being a lawyer, lawyer it must be, right? Even if my gut told me NO.

Then, in a perfect storm of events over my lifetime, I started becoming what I know now was falsely confident. The entire time I was running that law game I was increasingly feeling like I was manifesting my destiny and I kept getting more and more successful so I MUST HAVE been manifesting correctly, right? However, in reality, I was the best because I’m smart, I seek counsel or help when I need it and I never stopped working, up to 100 hours a week, I only knew to say yes to every client, and no matter how much staff I added, my micromanagement style is NOT supposed to ever be in charge of a business. But the money kept coming, WAY outside what is normal in the city I live, so again, I must be manifesting this, right? I believed or convinced myself that it was my “lack of goal-setting” or the fact that I was not thinking about my profession’s trajectory that was making that very trajectory happen. Thus, my “manifesting” was “do nothing to further your business and the universe is abundant so more will come” and more kept coming. Now, at this point, I was being reinforced in my erroneous thought that I’m following what every quote on Pinterest is saying by taking them ACTUALLY LITERALLY…like “BE YOU”, “Dance like no one is watching”, “Art is intelligence having fun” and I thought they were serious. In a factual sense, like go and dance like an idiot. And I suredid, ALL THE TIME while no one else really was. And people ate that shit up, they found it freeing and found me to be something to watch, a spectacle. My Snapchat and Instagram were popping because I was simply doing what I thought I was supposed to, and I must have some extra “je ne se quois” that makes me shine brighter than others, right? (Side Note: Literally today I was at the grocery store and someone I didn’t know came up and said “You’re Chetty, right? Omg, my friends and I watch your Snaps and love them. It’s a hard world, but you put smiles on our faces”. And I haven’t even been on Social Media since this all came down on me).

At this point, in my mind, from my journey I had become what in hindsight I can only label as “invincible”.  I called myself a Lawyer-Non-Lawyer, other lawyers said things like “I only play a lawyer in real life”. I was breaking barriers and I’m gay so I gayed up the entire legal scene, never wore a suit, didn’t own one, was always all colorful, always making a statement, people hated on me behind my back but kept bringing me more work. I was one of the best in my arena, while staying humble always, always leanring, and perpetually gracious (well, that is, until someone did something that was offensive or wrong or when another attorney would try and to go all lawyer on me, at which point I would snap and would verbally destroy him or her because I am a lyrical genius, probably due to my aphantasia.

But I hated the job…always did. So, upon coming to the realization that I was invincible, I simply up and quit. Like, one day I said it, let my staff go, literally mf’d the entire industry on Instagram and Facebook in an 11 minute and 17 second video with a HUGE grin on my face, and then I closed up shop and walked out. I never made any attempt to sell my queue, or the business even…I didn’t try to do anything except bounce. I had hated it for so long and now I was invincible so I KNEW that if I just “walk confidently in the direction of my dreams” everything would all just come to me as it always had. (The word “dreams”, of course, being euphemistic there).

But then it didn’t come. Nothing came. And then those same feelings of inadequacy came back that I had before…like, where do I go from here? AND THEN IT DAWNED ON ME that the fact that I can’t see something in the future or envision myself doing something that I haven’t already experienced MEANS THAT I can’t see me in another profession. HAD I KNOWN that other people could extrapolate about things in the future and place themselves in professions and see if they thought it was a good fit, like trying on clothes, and work towards it if it was a good fit or immediately discount the idea if they didn’t think so, I would have asked people about it and tried to find a way around it. But, again, given the set of what I thought were fundamental laws about how all of this works, I KNEWWWWW for sure that I had this in the bag.

Now, as I look back, I can finally understand why everyone said I was so reckless and cavalier. I was operating without full knowledge, or without the full human experience like everyone else. Like I wasn’t playing with a full deck. And now, currently, my world is collapsing…condo is in foreclosure, I can’t find a job in what I used to do because I literally burned every bridge and remote companies keep rejecting me because I’m “overqualified”. Like, I purposefully destroyed my life, without knowing what I was really doing. I purposefully killed that goose that was laying all those golden eggs, thinking another one would just pop right into existence because “the universe is abundant and I’m manifesting that”.

Anyway, sorry about that rant, it’s just hard because I can’t really explain this to anyone. It sounds like an excuse and it sounds like I was just acting immaturely, but IN ALL HONESTY, I really had no idea. I knew I was different, but the way things panned out for me made me think that difference was like a superpower or that I was special, when, in reality, I am technically different or medically different or whatever, and I lack what appears to be a pretty amazing ability, and that leads to me not being able to FORESEE detrimental consequences to my decisions…if I did see them, I wouldn’t have traveled that avenue. This was the first big decision I made in my life based solely on my manifestation and now I’m crashing and burning because I had no idea I was lacking something that 98% of people have had their entire lives and take for granted because it’s so ingrained in their being. I’m not whining, I’ll find my way, now that I know what I’m working with (or not working with). I have to recalibrate EVERYTHING and gain my confidence back under these new sets of rules, but I’ll win this again. It just didn’t need to be like this…I just simply didn’t need to put myself in a world of hurt like this…it was all so unnecessary and I know I wouldn’t have done it like this HAD I KNOWN. (Further, how do you explain this to a bank that’s foreclosing on your home, you know? I thought something would just come to me and that thought is immature at best. It really wasn’t to me, though, until I understood.

Lastly, I’ve figured out a “goal” through all of this, too, it’s like my first real goal lol…it’s to make sure that kids know if they have Aphantasia…because operational awareness and situational awareness of this would have fundamentally changed the course of my life, and I would hate to see someone else fall victim to thinking they’re winning when they’re really just not playing with a full deck.

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Rant accepted. 🙂 I made a choice to respond to your comment because I believe you may have fallen into yet another trap as I see a definite analog to my own life experience, minus the giant FU to my industry of choice and professional bridges. 🙂 I can relate to the lack of visualization regarding seeing myself in different roles, or exploring new and unexplored capabilities. That said, after some long introspection I came to the realization that it  was not in fact the lack of visualization that was holding me back. In my particular case, and possibly yours, I had an inherent lack of any kind of confidence factor in myself or my own capabilities. Much of this stemmed from school systems that had no understanding of our way of thinking, and as a result I realize that I had slowly been bludgeoned into believing that I was simply “wrong” about many things and my understanding of them (don’t get me started on reading analog hands of a clock in school). I was lucky, however, that I was an early starter and a pioneer in many ways within my own professional field and professional passion for computer sciences. I had early access to computers that most did not have, and I remember teaching my “teachers” in grade school how to use and teach early learning languages like Logo, and how to use the new technology being handed to them. Being aphantasic afforded me quite a lot of advantages over others in my field – because I do not rely on visual memory to work operationally I realized that, without knowing it, I was like a super computer myself, building each and every process in real time, every time, often with iterative improvement along the way. I could not understand why others would find themselves “stuck” when under operational stress; Knowing what I know now about myself and others, I can almost hear the flood of images crashing through their minds as their visual brains are flooded with so many causality scenarios that a sort of panic ensues. Being aphantasic, we are the epitome of “present”. Yet while, like you, I felt on the top of the world as I could procedurally think circles around everyone around me, a seed of doubt always existed. An echo of a past of being always wrong.. and somehow internally accepting it.. in just about every other area in life. Discovering my aphantasia has unbound me in many ways, most importantly because I now know that I was not always wrong, simply because I had to come to the same conclusions via other means. I used to be scared of touching anything mechanical, basic things like changing the brakes on a car absolutely terrified me. Once I managed to subdue that lifetime of self doubt I started to realize how absolutely EASY so many things are, if I simply let myself be OK with my sometimes radically different way of understanding them. People argue that we congenital aphantasics have a disorder, or are fundamentally flawed. I used to somewhat subscribe to that line of thinking, but it never quite sat well with me. It did not feel right. One could argue that we are fundamentally flawed  because we lack something that others have, and could explain away any advantages in the name of necessary strengthening of other capabilities to compensate for our “disability”. Logical, but as someone living it, I have to still disagree. We are talking about a fundamental concept here, veiled by a very simplistic description of “the inability to form mental images that are not present”. While that is a biproduct, it is an oversimplification to say the least. We once theorized that humans in fact think in pictures, and this general thought seemed to make sense. I would say that the general acceptance of such a specific statement to be true in part proves how fundamental pictures are to a normal persons thought process. Visualization is at the core of most people’s cognitive process, more so than I think anyone realizes. I theorize that the visual memory for normal people acts as a sort of “index”, or reference structure to that enormous database that is in our heads. We have the database too, and probably a heck of a lot more meta data than most on just about everything. So, what happens when you take away the pictures and you remove the index? It sure sounds like we should simply fall over in a slump with a nice trail of drool emitting from our gaping mouths. But we do not. Some say we compensate for the lack of visual memory by piping some of that fundamental data through other areas of our brain to compensate. While I might hesitate at the word “compensate”, there may be some truth to this. For instance after some detailed thought, I came to realize that my imprint of many things, say letters or iconography, obviously is not visual, but in fact based on the motion used to make them. Accepting this allowed me to also accept similar methods to my personal ‘learning tools’ arsenal. And while I have learned quite a lot about myself and the condition through reading others’ stories and being brutally and honestly introspective, I still struggle with trying to define, or explain in words the fundamentally different way that my brain works, or describe in detail the torrent of real-time processing I am doing at all times for all that I do, because it’s simply how I think. This is a mind shattering concept, and one of the reasons that I do not necessarily equate congenital aphantasia with that brought upon someone by circumstance or trauma, though there are obvious similarities. Knowing what I know now about my own thought process and the bits and pieces I am able to explain, it is as alien to a visual thinker as the concept of being able to picture something in my head is to me.

My apologies for the novella, however, I felt that some basic understanding of my own journey might help explain my challenge to you. I challenge your assumption that you are not playing with a full deck. I challenge that your relation of visual thought to seeing yourself in a new career might actually simply be fear, and self doubt. It’s hard to be honest with ourselves sometimes because fear is often perceived as weakness… yet it exists in all beings. I let it guide me in many aspects of my life as I managed to delude myself about my own capabilities even as far as to think of myself as a “fraud” when I would find success outside of my niche (photography being a very prime example for me).. because I didn’t do it like others. Think hard, because like you I was great at what I did, and I still am; but coming to the realization that I am more than that, and accepting my unfounded fear face to face has afforded me a freedom I never knew before. These are all of course simply my own experiences, and while I feel an analog to your story, it may not be so – however challenging ones’ assumptions I have found to be a worthy exercise that often results in a greater understanding, one way or another. 🙂