Synaesthetic Q&A.

I’ve recently been seeing a lot of synaesthete people in various places post asking people to give them some things like pieces of music, numbers, pictures, words, even names in name geeks communities, whatever their synaesthesia is about, and they’d tell them what are their synaesthetic associations with this thing. I myself have also had people ask me especially about their own names, what I associate them with, and some seemed quite flattered when I told them that they taste like something very yummy, as if it was something I actually had any control over and said it on purpose to give them a compliment. πŸ˜€ Good thing though that people don’t get offended when I tell them that I associate their name with something generally considered totally mundane and insignificant. So anyway, I thought perhaps I’d do it on here, for any of you that might be interested in this and how it works for me, of course I’m not going to be talking about other people’s synaesthesias because I’m not other people so I only know their experiences second-hand and feel competent to only talk about how it is for me. Everyone experiences it differently and has different associations with different stimuli. I have lexical-tactile (word-touch), lexical-gustatory (word-taste), and a bit less developed auditory-tactile (sound-touch) and auditory-gustatory (sound-taste) synaesthesia, but as you can see it mostly evolves around all things lexical, so if you’re curious what are my synaesthetic associations with any words, feel free to ask. Also if you have any other, more general questions about my specific synaesthesia, they’re welcome too.

I’ll just add for clarity’s sake that it seems like mine is a bit different to what I’ve heard of most people’s synaesthesias, so that I actually for a long time didn’t even call it synaesthesia despite it seeming very familiar and similar and despite I knew about the term, because I just wasn’t sure if it classifies. Even now I’m not exactly sure, but it has to be called somehow, and despite some differences, I guess they generally do count as synaesthesias. As a small kid (that is after I realised that, wow, other people don’t have it like that! which took me quite a long time to understand) I used to think that it’s something to do with my blindness. I still think that it possibly might somehow be related, some way of compensation or something, but that’s just my little theory which doesn’t have to be true at all. The differences for me vs most synaesthetes I’ve talked to/heard of are that there are things with which I have very strong, clear associations, and some that have either always felt kind of muffled, or have faded over time, so that sometimes I may feel for example some vague shape or texture of the word I’m hearing or reading or thinking about, but I’m unable to make out how it looks exactly. There are words, especially ones that I’ve acquired later on, that I don’t associate with anything at all, but it’s not like it’s a rule that I never have associations with such words, it just depends on a specific word I suppose. In languages other than Polish, especially ones with wild spelling vs pronunciation differences like English, I sometimes have separate associations for spelling and pronunciation. I generally don’t have to speak a language to have associations with its words but if something’s super exotic and unlike anything I know I probably won’t have any or clear ones. I’ll often have several things that I’ll associate with one stimulus, for example there might be a word with which I’ll have several tactile associations, or several gustatory ones, or both a tactile one and a gustatory one, or even several of both tactile and gustatory ones. On the other hand, there might be several words that I associate with the same or very similar tactile or gustatory thing. Often when I associate several words with the same thing, it’s because these words have something in common, especially in the way they sound, like, they may have the same prefix. A lot of my tactile associations tend to be things or fragments of things, sometimes a bit distorted I guess, of things that I experienced in very early childhood, but sometimes it’s quite difficult to figure out what the original object might have looked like. From what I’ve noticed, a lot of lexical-gustatory folks tend to have very weirdly specific and detailed, quite hilarious associations, which sometimes is the case with me and sometimes is not. With auditory synaesthesia, like I said it’s only like partial, it’s definitely not like every single sound has some synaesthetic association for me, but those that do tend to be very clear and powerful. Sometimes it takes a while for an association to form in connection to a sound, so it’s after I’ve repeatedly heard this sound, which I’m pretty sure is not a usual case with synaesthesia. Usually the kinds of auditory stimuli I’m likely to have/develop synaesthetic associations with are people’s voices, instruments, an overall sound of a language, pieces of music, some small, short-ish sounds, and when I was younger also space acoustics, I mean what the acoustics were in a specific room. I still remember what sort of synaesthetic associations I had with some space acoustics but I no longer feel it and it feels rather illogical for me nowadays the way it worked, it doesn’t make sense anymore at all, I would even have trouble explaining that in more detail to someone.

So yeah, that’s a bit of an introduction as to how I feel my synaesthesia or perhaps some near-synaesthetic experience works so that you know the basics. I’ll be happy to answer any of your questions whether about some specific stimuli or the nature of my synaesthesia in general, and if you have some kind of synaesthesia, I’m very curious to hear about yours. πŸ™‚

Question of the day.

What’s an insignifficant thing that triggers the shit out of you?

My answer:

I have a lot of anxieties and anxiety triggers that I guess most people would consider quite insignificant. I guess the most prime example though are some sounds/combinations of sounds/words that really crip me out in a sensory way. The degree to which they trigger me will depend on how I’m doing overall and the context and probably some other things, and also there are creepy sounds/words that are less scary than others, but it can feel really nasty. I guess usually people won’t be able to spot when this is going on. As a small kid I would start shrieking when something sensorily creeped me out particularly badly and a few times it made me feel freakishly weak physically and it was like one moment I’d be standing, and before I even fully realised what was going on I was sitting on the floor ’cause my legs were so wobbly haha, and I felt like I was going to faint or something. These days however, it most often just makes me freeze. Which perhaps works better in social situations as it’s more socially appropriate than screaming your lungs out and is more discreet so every random peep doesn’t need to know that “Wow, this creeps Bibiel out, good to know!” πŸ˜€ but other than that it stinks because even if I could extricate myself out of the triggery situation with no problem, I practically can’t because my brain’s stuck in a weird kind of limbo thing pretty much until the triggering stimulus goes away. And then it’s too late because my brain has already absorbed it and is going to be throwing it at me of its own accord, without the need for the external stimulus being present, until I basically either will eventually become kind of less sensitive to it or totally desensitised, or until it has something more interesting to throw at me, or unless I can manage to provide it enough distraction/other sensory stimuli that don’t creep me out. I suppose it’s a lot like hallucinations (actually when I was a kid that was what my Dad thought it was) except I know when I hear it for real and when not, but there’s still some irrational element to it. Like, I’m not just scared of the sound itself, I also have a strong feeling that something real real scary will happen while I’ll hear it, whether in the real world or in my brain. I wouldn’t be able to say what this potential scary event could be, but it could be anything, doesn’t even have to be realistically possible at all, could be a freakin’ zombie apocalypse, feels just as likely as anything in such situation. The fact that, so far, over the entire course of my life, nothing major has happened directly in connection with these stimuli, other than me being creeped out and all the fun consequences of it, doesn’t mean anything, because everything might still be to come. Sometimes these creepy sounds also automatically come with some kind of personifications associated with them, that are very basic and two-dimensional but this makes it feel even more realistic a threat. Especially if they appear in my sleep paralysis dreams, as they tend to, at least some of them.

This is also why silence is another insignificant thing that triggers the shit out of me, because it provides tons of occasions for my brain to throw its half-digested, auditory shit at me. And the sounds that can creep me out can be really, really insignificant and objectively inconspicuous, most of the time it’s hardly creepy for anyone and is totally neutral, but when I hear it, I have a very strong feeling like it’s just seething with aggression, or evil, and that it’s directed right at me. They can be words that are totally random for normal people, sequences of sounds in music, small bits of songs or entire songs, rarely single sounds and if so they would typically have to be rather elaborate or something, a lot of very specific sounds. As a kid, I would get particularly frequently scared of things like jingles, commercials etc. mostly music in them, later on also election commercials or however they’re called, I don’t even think this is the thing in all countries. It is a really weird phenomenon because there are a LOT of blind children who I know were scared of some jingle or ad at some point, each of different ones, of course, mostly around preschool age. This is freaky and I wish someone did some research on that at some point but I guess other than being very niche it would be quite difficult because it’s so specific to a person and I don’t think there are any rules or anything as to what kind of jingles have a higher likelihood of being creepy or not, I mean I could probably think of some criteria for myself, but it’s different from person to person at least from what I have noticed. However most people grow out of it at some point and to me it still happens (my Mum once said it’s because my brains are gonna be forever young hehehe) and there are still a few old jingles that are even no longer in use since like fifteen years that my brain still remembers very exactly and likes to throw at me out of the blue, and it just goes beyond my cognitive abilities to think why those people came up with such evil jingles and what they must have been thinking or what sort of people they must be to have such utterly evil ideas. It is this jingles thing that made some (sighted) folks around me think that perhaps I pick up on some subliminal stuff and that it’s this what creeps me out about them, haha and feels evil. πŸ˜€ This is all freakishly difficult to explain to people in a sensible way.

Another such thing that I can think of right now that triggers me pretty badly sometimes is when people diminish other people’s trauma and I happen to witness it or something. This is so weird because I myself have had some shitty experiences in life that I think have increased my risk for getting mental illness and eventually contributed in some smaller or bigger part to it developing, but while in my subjective experience it was really difficult, I don’t like thinking about it as traumatic, because there are SO many trauma survivors out there, and I call my experience trauma, then what should people with stuff like CPTSD call theirs? I think what has largely contributed to things having been as difficult for me as they were is lack of resilience, plus some other things thrown in the mix, not that my experiences as such were traumatic in nature. There are plenty of people who have been through similar things and are doing just fine. I suppose it’s quite difficult to figure out what is and what isn’t trauma. Yet, with that all being said, when I hear people talk about/to someone else, about how this person’s trauma isn’t valid, despite there being evidence that they have been through something that has been really stressful for them in a way that has impacted their life in a major way and despite them showing actual signs of trauma, this can really trigger me. Both in that I feel really upset or even angry about how this person is treated, and also because some of my own brain stuff gets stirred and starts boiling all over again and I don’t like how it makes me feel. I guess we could say that I find witnessing emotional invalidation in general triggering.

What are such seemingly mini triggers for you, be it for anxiety, phobias, trauma, or whatever else they might trigger? πŸ™‚

Question of the day.

What are your thoughts on ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response)? Have you heard of it/tried/experienced it?

My answer:

For those who don’t know at all what it is, ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) is a sort of tingly sensation you may feel, I believe especially on your upper body, when your brain is stimulated with sounds that trigger this response. It’s probably most known because of the popularity of YouTube videos with common ASMR trigger sounds, which help some people relax or fall asleep or just make them feel better, because this sensation is perceived as pleasant.

I think this is an interesting topic in itself, totally regardless of what I think of ASMR or whether it works for me. So interesting, in fact, that I already once wrote one HUGE blog post full of digressions on my old, Polish blog, all about ASMR – minus the multiple and long-winded digressions. – I actually just read that post, because my old Polish blog is still floating and drifting somewhere in the internet world all alone,even though I’m not doing anything with it anymore and am not going to. At the time when I decided I wanted to focus on my English blog and no longer wanted to continue the old one and felt the need to step away from the blind community, I decided to leave it be and not delete it because I thought I produced some quite interesting posts over the course of… I don’t know how long I was writing there, half a year I guess, so not long at all. And now, freshly after reading that post, I have to say that, despite I approached it with a lot of trepidation and despite (or maybe in part thanks to) all the digressions, I still find it a fun, enjoyable and thought-sparkling read. So I guess it was a good post, if I could read it without cringing after what feels like such a long time.

Anyway, I mentioned that old post because what made me write about ASMR there in the first place was that one of my UK penfriends at the time wrote me that I should check it out if I haven’t already, and she thought that this would be definitely something for me, because it’s a weird brain thing, plus I’m blind, and blind people, according to her, have “heightened sensory perception” so I’ll surely have ASMR. Later on she also said that she could picture me having a podcast or something like this and doing this myself. Which, in a way, isn’t a bad idea, and I liked the creativity of it, but I feel like something like this has to be high quality to work at all, in any way, for anyone who takes their brain seriously, and I’m pretty sure I don’t have the technical abilities for that, and talking isn’t really my thing. Still, on that other blog, I decided to write about ASMR as it being a potentially interesting field to work in.

I didn’t, however, write there in detail of what I think about the whole thing overall, so I’ll do it here.

I’m not sure what I think of the phenomenon itself, like, whether it exists or not, I’ve read that there’s been some scientific research on it but I don’t really know how much or how good, but there seems to be a lot of contradictions about it, or so it feels for me. Like, there’s this whole ASMR genre of YouTube videos which you have certainly heard of if you’ve heard of ASMR as a phenomenon. Considering that ASMR is rare as it’s said, why are these videos so popular? On the other hand there is frisson so perhaps ASMR is just a form of frisson? Or a tactile synaesthesia, but simply one that manifests in a different way than it otherwise does? Other than that, what’s the whole thing with meridians? I find their existence questionable in the first place, and what’s their role in ASMR, I just don’t understand and find it rather odd.

As for my own ASMR experience, my first time trying it was after that penfriend of mine mentioned it to me, and for quite some time I couldn’t quite figure out what’s the deal with those videos, why are all those people whispering, talking to themselves as if they were having a dialogue etc.? Until I started reading about it. It did sound like something I could strongly relate to indeed, but only in theory. In practice, common triggers hardly affect me. In fact, it made me discover that I may have some misophonia (which many people seem to think is like the opposite of ASMR) because I totally don’t understand how listening to a binaural, close-up recording of someone eating could give anyone any pleasant sensations! Aaaaaaarghhhhhh! I’ll never get it! I don’t have problems hearing people eat in real life, not usually, but binaurally it’s a bit of a different kettle of fish. But mostly, common triggers just don’t affect me. I don’t get the hype of whispering. Why is it even so necessary?

Later, I learned that everyone has their own triggers, and not everything will work for everyone, which makes sense because obviously our brains are different. Still, I have never managed to find a YouTube video that would give me proper tingles, the sort of tingles like I’m used to with stuff like intense frisson or braingasms that I can get with some sounds or words. I did occasionally get some small tingles for a moment, but, like I said, not what I’m used to. I know that my triggers are quite specific, but I thought that perhaps if there are more people with something similar, there would be some more overlap between my triggers and theirs and I could find more everyday sounds that would work for me too. Then again, if that was the case, I’d probably have discovered them a lot earlier on than that. Things that make me tingle, aside from music which is typical with frisson, are some fabulous-sounding words in my favourite languages, especially when I just learn a new word and feel how beautiful it is and then maybe a few more times when I hear it again, also people talking in my favourite languages, especially with an accent that turns my brain on particularly, or even just if I haven’t heard the language for a long time anyone will make me tingle I believe. My faza people make me tingle big time, and cat purr when I hear it from a very close distance like when I lean my head on Misha a little bit. The fun thing is that I often get tingles before falling asleep or waking up and am still a bit between the worlds. In such a state, even just a bit of one of my languages will do.

I don’t know if this is ASMR or if not what else it could be. I have auditory-tactile and lexical-tactile synaesthesia, and I know that some people (if not most people) with tactile synaesthesias experience such paresthesias and other such sensations. What I mean by auditory/lexical-tactile synaesthesia is something more concrete, because when I hear a sound or a word I can feel it as an object, or at least some more or less clear shape or texture, usually of something that actually exists. Also tingles come and go as they want, while my synaesthesias are relatively unchangeable, my associations may fade a bit over time but it has to be a really long time when somehow my perception of a sound or word or the thing I associate it with has changed. Also my tingles are not on-demand, I cannot will myself into that, ever. Meanwhile I can always clearly feel my synaesthetic associations whenever I think of a sound/word or hear it.

That makes me think, that, for me, the tingles thing is largely psychological rather than sensory. Just to be clear, I’m not making an assumption that ASMR is psychological rather than sensory, or any assumption at all, for that matter, because I don’t know. I’m talking about myself here. All the stuff that makes me tingle tends to be something I have a strong emotional connection to, and, after all, when I get this fab feeling, it’s always the emotional sensations that are key for me, not the tingles, goosebumps or whatever else there might be. This is only an addition enhancing the experience. I don’t know if it’s the same for ASMR people.

That all being said, I sometimes listen to a few ASMR YouTubers and podcasters whose content I like and come back to, when I’m in the mood for it (Sophie Michelle ASMR is my newest discovery). Not because of any sensory sensations, but simply because I like listening to cool sounding sounds even if they don’t have any spectacular fireworks effect on my nervous system. When it’s high quality ASMR that you can instantly hear and feel that someone put an effort into – not just some kid with painfully distorted audio whispering about everything and nothing, smacking, blowing and spitting into their poor, poor mic – it can be real fun, and a form of art, actually. I do find a lot of pleasure in a lot of daily life sounds. And I totally see how it can be relaxing or soothing for people, with or without tingles, or maybe even sleepifying.

What do you think? πŸ™‚

(Syn)Aesthete, or a brief explanation of some top secrets of my freaky brain.

While I’m blind, so visual value of things around me isn’t always of great importance to me, I still consider myself an aesthete.

A language aesthete. It particularly applies to my mother language, but also in all the other languages I know it is important to me to write and speak possibly aesthetically – which doesn’t always mean very seriously, politely or flamboyantly, but above all just so that it is nice to read or listen and doesn’t make other innocent individuals cringe too much. I also like when other people speak or write aesthetically, and when someone messes up with spelling a lot or uses words like they don’t know what they mean, it often drives me crazy, or close to it.

I am a total language geek and besides being an aesthete as long as I can remember, I am also a synaesthete.

Since my very early childhood, I’ve had some weird connections in my brain between sounds/words and touch, or taste, or something else sometimes. For many years I was convinced that this is just how our brains work, not just my own quirk, and that everyone perceives things the same way as me. That led to many weird, and often funny nowadays, misunderstandings, for example when I tried to describe things to people.

It was not until I was like 6 that I started to see others don’t necessarily think in shapes, textures and tastes and other things like this.

Many years after I got to this conclusion I realised it has to be some form of synaesthesia, although as far as I know this form isn’t very common, that your brain transfers sound stimuli into touch related associations. I know only one person who has it similar to me in some way, and he is also blind, so I guess it has to do with my blindness, and maybe also a little that I still am somewhere on the autism spectrum apparently.

If you don’t know or don’t understand how synaesthesia works, it’s like there is a correlation between two (or more) of your senses. Most people of those who have synaesthesia seem to have auditory-visual corelations, for example they hear a sound, and see it in colour, or see numbers in colours, or even people may have their own colours apparently, or words, or colours may have particular textures/temperatures for them, etc. etc.

For me it is so that if I hear or think about a word, at the same time I sort of feel what I associate with this word. It’s not like a delusion, I know I don’t feel it, I’d rather say it’s like when you hear a song in your head. You know it isn’t playing, but you still hear it in your head.

For me it’s not only words that I associate with shapes/objects/textures/tastes, but also many separate sounds, like sounds of particular instruments, people’s voices etc. And these aren’t always sound to touch or sound to taste associations. Sometimes it’s much more complex and not always on just sensual level. Sometimes, hearing a particular word or phrase makes me feel in a very particular way, or I may even sometimes associate words or phrases with whole scenes or lots of different, unrelated things, etc. Some words I associate with objects that I can’t recall ever seeing, so I guess they have to be made up by my brain or something. I associate many words with edible things, which is quite fun, or with things that have to do with nature. I often can associate many words that aren’t objectively similar to each other with the same thing.

it’s very complicated.

I think it’s also synaesthesia that helps me understand the colours in some way, anyway I don’t know what else it could be. I am blind since birth so have no practical idea about colours, but I’ve always had some imaginary idea about colours, and even many distinct shades. It’s often very hard for me to describe them, it’s hard to put it into adequate words, but when I was in integration school years ago, I learned that my understanding of colours isn’t that far from how they really are as I could think. My classmates were doing something with one of Picasso’s paintings during art class, and since I of course wasn’t able to do the same, the teacher asked me questions about all the colours, just out of curiosity, like very speciffic questions about colours – whether they’re calm or vivid, dark or bright, warm or cold, etc. And both her and me were incredibly surprised when I said all of them right. πŸ˜€ Of course I’d already got some basic understanding of colours, like that the sun is yellow or the sky is blue, but no one had taught me about how to actually define colours nor described them for me since it’s rather impossible.

I don’t know any other person who would be congenitally blind and have it like that, people usually don’t care about colours, or have to learn about them from others, like have to memorise what colours fit together when they choose their clothes, but I am lucky and I just somehow get it, despite that I see literally nothing (and no, it isn’t black! It’s just nothing). It’s just so so weird, but I like it. It often helps me with writing for example short stories, and describing people, one of my blind friends told me that “Wow! you write as if you were sighted!” hahaha whatever that means, I guess it was just it, that I can create people and nature that looks naturally and is colourful, some blind people tend to understandably forget about visual details or sometimes make them feel not matched or not very precise.

And yet another thing that my synaesthesia helps me with are languages. So many language learning experts and teachers say it’s good if you associate every word you learn with something. I don’t have to think about the associations. They just come to me on their own. That makes things easier to remember, I guess. And more fun, and interesting. And if you have it like this it’s just normal and obvious that you’re fascinated with words. Some of my associations may be scary or something, but most of them are very positive, creative and quirky. If I’m learning a language that is a bit out there for me (like Welsh was for quite a while, despite my love for it), forming associations may take some time, you need to listen to the language a lot and immerse in it, familiarise your brain with it, and then it comes naturally. Though there still are words – even in Polish – that I don’t have clear associations with, sometimes the shapes I see in relation to them are sort of blurred, or hard to describe, or like a few unrelated things strangely and not very harmoniously stucked together. It is not a perfect strategy for learning a language, because as I said there are many words that I associate with the same things, and I may confuse them. Normal people may confuse words that are similar in sound or meaning or something and it happens to me too, but usually I confuse words because I associate them with the same/similar things and then my statements can seem a bit enigmatic for an uninitiatedΒ  person, if the words aren’t objectively too similar. πŸ˜€ I’ve had lots of awkward situations in Swedish like that, and my poor teacher couldn’t figure out what I am talking about sometimes. πŸ˜€

 

I’m thinking about what example to give you to show you how my synaesthesia works. OK< let it be my Mum.

My Mum’s voice sounds like a piano to me. She has a rather dark voice, and when she speaks quieter/lower it reminds me of black, melted chocolate, the shade of her voice then is just similar, it just feels similar to black chocolate and I guess it is my dominant association with her as a whole. Also when I hear my Mum’s voice I feel as if I was touching the black keys of a piano. The word Mum – in all the languages I know so far, makes me think about a little plastic hat that my favourite and oly doll that I ever played with – named Eliza – had when I was a kid. πŸ˜€ That’s very weird. The word Mum as it is written in English, I associate with a little baby sleeping soundly with a dummy, and this characteristic smell of a sleeping baby. The same smell always surrounds Misha when he sleeps or is freshly awake. My Mum’s name is Anna, and the name Anna I associate with a horse – its hair, the sound of a horse galloping, the smell of horses, etc. As I mentioned in a few of my previous posts I also have other types of special associations with names, and looking this way Anna is a pure essence of femininity to me, but I won’t go into details about how I imagine a typical ANna – her appearance, personality etc. that would be way too long, I might write name characteristics some time in the future on my blog maybe. Other things I associate with my Mum are the colour black and the sound of the French language, but these aren’t only about synaesthesia, because my Mum loves black, and was learning French at school, though she doesn’t speak it now.

any other synaesthetes of any kind out there? How does your synaesthesia manifest? πŸ™‚

Or maybe anyone would like to know what things I associate with something? Some people seem to find it quite entertaining for some reason. πŸ˜€ Feel free to ask if you’re curious about anything, be it any word/sound or any questions you have as for this thing in general, I know it’s pretty rare and I realise how weird it is, so I’m open to your questions if you have any. πŸ˜€