Aphantasia: Mind Blown
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.
Reading through this post, I’m amazed how much I relate to it. I’m currently a primary school teacher in training and we’re always told to read, read, read! However, unless reading something non-fiction that interests me, my mind goes absolutely numb with boredom, with little to no information being processed. I play a lot of video games and watch YouTube/Netflix for my entertainment. However, as a child, I was a massive bookworm and absolutely loved reading. I think this was due to my Aphantasia not developing until later on but the funny thing is, we can’t visualise being able to visualise! So I’ll never really know if I used to have the ability!
Most of the people around me are able to visualise. It’s not a life-like image (that’s hyperphantasia – the opposite to aphantasia), but they can somehow picture things in a sort of blurry way I think.
I stumbled across Aphantasia when a video came up on my YouTube recommended: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewsGmhAjjjI . It’s an animated video about a girl who has Aphantasia talking about it and while she’s mostly aiming it towards people who can visualise, assuming most of her audience can, I related completely to what she was saying and discovered I had Aphantasia! She does a little test in it which I have repeated to everyone around me and they’ve all somewhat been able to complete the visualisation and rate themselves at a normal level. When I learnt what other people could do with their ‘mind’s eye’, I thought it to be a superpower too! My partner says he can look at someone when we’re sitting on a bus and picture what they’re able to see from their own eyes!
I was raised in a religious household but am now agnostic so I’m not sure about the religious link, but it’s a very interesting concept.
I had real trouble with multiplication too, until I had it drilled into me. I also love playing keyboard and ukulele, but like you described, I always have to find the chords online every single time I want to play a song because they never reach my long-term memory, with the exception of a couple songs I played every single day on repeat for my GCSE’s.
The dreams you describe sound like premonitions, which my family have had a history of. I’ve not had one in a long time but I’ve had a few in my life so far. My mother and grandmother have some amazing premonition stories. I am able to dream, but each time I wake up, I only remember what I was dreaming for a couple seconds before the memory slips away for good. I can only remember dreams if, when I wake up, I acknowledge something significant about that dream. For example, I had a nightmare about drowning the other week, and I can’t picture it now but I know it for a fact because I woke up very suddenly and immediately reflected on the fact that it was just a nightmare about drowning, and not a real event. This proves to me that I have the ability to visualise but when I’m concious, it all fogs up and my brain doesn’t make those connections which I believe could be my brains way of protecting me from trauma, as I’ve talked about in my last post.