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When Synesthesia Gave Me the Color Depression Took Away From Me

The composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky once said “There are many thorns, but the roses are there, too.” To have synesthesia as an INFJ and a person with depression is a weird but interesting experience. I see colors when I hear different keys. When I hear a song in the key of F major, I see it in pink. When I hear a song in the key of G flat major, I see it in the key of bright yellow. When I hear a song in the key of G major, I see the color brown. And so on. It has colored my experiences in the oddest but most beautiful, complex ways.

And having depression adds an interesting level to it. During my first year at Smith College, my depression hit its worst point. Since I hadn’t taken it seriously during my middle and high school years and hadn’t gone in to get it treated, I was deeply and painfully lonely even though I interacted and laughed with tons of people every day. INFJs can be hard to figure out. We love people and we also love alone time. I would cry at songs not many people would cry to because I would see the color of the key and it just amped up the loneliness I felt. All I wanted was to experience beauty because depression was blocking it out and making me feel numb to it – even though there was so much around me.

I remember sitting alone and crying in the dining hall one time in my first year even though I had friends I could have reached out to. When “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift came on, I wanted to leave the dining hall before I started crying, but by the time I had left I was crying. I felt embarrassed because there were other students walking around and I didn’t want them to see how lonely and sad I felt. This continued well into senior year of college. Again, I had loving friends, professors, peers and family I could have reached out to, but depression numbed me to it all to the point where the only energy I had was to study alone in my room, go to class, go back to my room, go to orchestra rehearsal or a lecture, put dinner from the dining hall in Tupperware and then go back to my room to study. I wanted to experience some sort of beauty even while facing this deep crushing inner darkness.

When I was feeling deeply lonely and spending several days at a time alone in my room studying copiously, I would go on YouTube or my iPod and listen to music of various genres. I often listened to the same songs over and over again because every time I heard them they evoked this beauty I yearned to feel for so long. Even if the songs weren’t really supposed to make me cry, I found them beautiful and often teared up. Because I was so focused on the color a particular song evoked for me, that color held a precious shard of beauty that depression threatened to take away from me. By the end of my senior year I was listening to musical works such as “Loyal” by Chris Brown, “Ooh Na Na” by Trey Songz and Symphony No. 10, Adagio by Gustav Mahler. And seeing bright yellow (G flat major) when I heard these works made me cry because I was already feeling quite lonely because of depression. I remember music history class my sophomore year of college was particularly difficult because I wanted to describe the classical compositions in my weekly analyses in terms of the colors that the pieces evoked for me. Brahms Symphony No. 4 evoked the color black and made me cry, but I had to get technical about my analysis and it felt constraining.

However, being an INFJ with depression and synesthesia brought an interesting dimension to my cello performance. I was in the school orchestra and playing the music was always moving for me because I felt so lonely and empty walking around campus in my daily life. Whenever I was playing onstage during an orchestra concert, I got to escape the depression and feel the deepest most beautiful happiness and evoke the deepest emotions while playing my cello. The only other place where I felt I could evoke such emotions was my journal. I remember after playing my solo for the pre-commencement orchestra concert for graduating seniors, my orchestra conductor hugged me and told me how unique he thought I was. In retrospect I think it was because I was an INFJ and a synesthete who was also battling this deep dark mental illness, and orchestra was one of the few avenues where I felt truly happy and comfortable expressing myself.

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