The Condition That Makes Words Literally Hurt Me


I never really thought about it, but recently it hit me hard. It all started with a debate on a Facebook page where one particular word kept coming up. I learned the following things: I don’t understand the meaning of the word, and it is a sharp, red word that makes me dizzy and nauseous

Wait, what!?

Yep, I see and feel words. I always have since I was a child, but only recently did I realize how strongly it affected me. Synesthesia (also spelled synaesthesia) is the official word for it, and it is most likely part of my sensory mix-up caused by my autism.

My sensory mix-up doesn’t stop at words. In fact, it was while I was playing my Grandma’s piano at age 5 that my mum noticed my unusual description of a note being “brown.” I also called sunshine “loud” and had a meltdown in a shop because Mum took me through the “spiky pain section,” more commonly known as the perfume department!

I have lost important points on English writing assignments due to the discomfort of writing “my friends and I” instead of “me and my friends” and failed a math test because the number three gave me a headache. Many meltdowns have been caused because a carer has said a word that hurts me, and I’ve been unable to explain why I have ended up lying on the floor, acting like I have been stabbed in the leg.

It’s not all bad, though. I get good mix-up too. There is something so comforting about words that have diphthongs, such as “ae” and “oe,” which may also explain my strong interest in Dutch. I am a talented (but amateur) musician thanks to the strong visual images that come alongside different pitches and sounds, and I’ve shocked people with my ability to copy a song from beginning to end on a keyboard. It’s just a shame my short little fingers can’t keep up with my brain; I’d be one of those prodigies! Prodigy tastes like jam…

So the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not correct. Some words really hurt me! Now excuse me while I go and pace for 20 minutes to calm my senses down from writing a painful word.

A blurred photo featuring different colors: red in the center, then blue and green
A visual depiction of Lucy’s experience with synesthesia and a particular word

Follow this journey on A Lifetime of Labels.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


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