Aphantasia

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    Community Voices

    I’m new here!

    Hello, my name is Alexandra! I’m new to The Mighty. I'm a public health academic, currently training to be a certified doula and want to have a career in medicine. I'm a survivor of DV, sexual assault & police brutality, a recovered alcoholic and bulimic, who is diagnosed with c-PTSD, Major depression, generalized anxiety, ADHD, & Body dysmorphia. I also have aphantasia from an injury in early childhood. I'm currently struggling with my physical & mental health a lot and trying to cope with chronic pain and my recent diagnosis of c-PTSD. I'm joining this community to connect to other survivors of trauma and those who struggle with their health. . #MightyTogether #cptsd #ptsd #traumarecovery #livingwithdepressionandanxiety #recoveredalcoholic #recoveredbulimic #aphantasia #adhd #neurodivergent #bodydysmorphic #doula #lgbtq+

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    B.L. Acker

    Aphantasia and Mental Health: I Can't Picture Things in My Mind

    Aphantasia is a condition where you cannot visualize — in effect, you are “blind” in your mind’s eye. When most people are told to imagine an apple, they close their eyes and can actually see an apple in their mind. However, due to my aphantasia , when I close my eyes, I see nothing but darkness. So instead of images, my aphant mind connects words. When told to imagine an apple, my mind races to retrieve everything I know about apples, from their color, shape, size and taste, to things you can do with apples, stories that involve apples, pretty much anything apple-related. Admittedly, aphantasia is still a fairly new condition to be officially recognized by doctors and scientists, so there isn’t an abundance of information and data to be found, and research to better understand the condition is still being gathered. Nevertheless, wanting to better understand what makes my mind work differently from the majority of other people’s, I have frequently talked to friends and family to better understand what things are like through their eyes and in their own mind’s eye. From how it has been explained to me, when most people are told to close their eyes and imagine an apple, they simply see the apple and, if nothing more is asked of them, they conclude the exercise to be over and done with, and release the apple from their mind. That is something I cannot simply do. When asked to close my eyes and consciously imagine an apple, my mind goes into a state of information overload of everything I know about apples. I cannot help but believe that this dash to connect my mind to everything even remotely associated with the topic at hand plays a big part in how my mental illness presents itself, creating a perfect storm that often escalates and intensifies my condition. I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder ( MDD ) , generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Each one presents differently and they are frequently at odds with each other as I transition from one to another and back again. However, with all three, I often find myself trapped within periods of emotional overload, where my mind traverses a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of thoughts, feelings and memories that my mind has fashioned together as one. I believe this is due in part to my aphantasia . I have major depression . When I am spiraling downward, my aphant mind will often seek out and cling to a myriad of reasons I should hate myself and beat myself up, looking to connect thoughts and experiences that seem to fit in the moment. I have seen little cartoons illustrating how depression can keep a person up at night by haunting them with reliving one specific moment from their past. My mind never stops at one. There are many, linked in a daisy chain of pain, sadness, trauma and regret.  When I begin to spiral down into depression , my mind jumps from event to event, giving me even more ammunition for self-loathing. I have a generalized anxiety disorder . When my anxiety peaks, my aphant mind races to search for every catastrophic thing that might go wrong based on prior experiences or stories I’ve heard, giving my mind even more to worry about than the original topic at hand. As my mind races, every potential catastrophe that materializes in my mind feels not only possible, but probable. The ongoing quick and steady barrage often leaves me in a frazzled, frozen state of panic, where my chest is tight and heavy, and I struggle to function at all. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. Because my aphant mind looks to link things and make connections wherever possible, new traumas are frequently attached to old, increasing the magnitude of both so that even seemingly small new traumas carry with them the weight of old ones, and old traumas often feel fresh and raw again whenever something new happens. I have had people tell me that I cannot heal from old wounds if I keep dredging them up, reopening them and making them raw and fresh again. However, it is not anything I am doing intentionally. My brain itself has linked my traumas together. Addressing the newest trauma is like pulling on a magician’s handkerchief — if you pull one out, one by one all the rest will follow. I cannot select just one and be done with it. Since aphantasia is a fairly newly recognized condition, there really isn’t much information readily available about the condition, particularly as it applies to mental illness , which leaves me virtually on my own to try and understand how it affects my condition. From speaking to many others, I’ve come to realize, on average, things do present differently than they do for many others, particularly those with a mental illness diagnosis. I wouldn’t say worse because I don’t believe in quantifying, comparing and ranking other people’s pain and suffering, but definitely different. I am never looking for ways to make my depression worse, nor am I intentionally looking for more to be anxious about, nor do I wish to retraumatize myself or magnify my conditions in any way. I believe it is simply how my aphant mind works, racing to make connections, and to link my thoughts and experiences together. My mind is fueled by words and my mental illness always has a lot to say.

    Community Voices

    Me

    I have lots of things wrong with me. I have Scoliosis. I have Aphantasia. I have overactive nerves. I am hypermobile. Unfotunently, this story can only have 1800 characters.

    I had Scoliosis. I had a 50-degree curve in my spine. Last August, I had spinal fusion surgery. I was diagnosed at 7 years old. At that time, I only had a 15-degree curve, so the doctor told my family not to worry. Fast forward 7 years. My back hurts like hell. My family takes me back to the doctor and two x-rays later, I have a 40-degree curve. I was fitted for a brace to wear at night. I would wake up in the middle of the night with muscle spasms and had to take it off. If you have never had a muscle spasm, it feels like there is a knife stabbing you from under your skin. I couldn’t wear it. Fast forward 6 months. My family takes me back to the doctor, and 2 x-rays later, I have a 50-degree curve. They said I was at “the point of no return”. They couldn’t stop the curve, and they couldn’t bring it back. If I didn’t want to be confined to a bed by 40, I had to have the surgery. I had my surgery on August 7th. I was in the hospital for 4 days. The first time I tried to sit, I puked. The first time I tried to stand, I puked. The first time I tried to walk, you guessed it, I puked. After I was finally able to walk stairs, I was discharged. I had to do arm exercises at home because my range of motion was terrible.

    Now it is 8 months later. I can do everything that I could before my surgery. (Aside from getting up from laying on the floor. I still need help with that.) I am in much less pain and am feeling a lot better. I am hoping to write more about my other conditions sometime soon. Thank you for reading this.

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    Community Voices

    Why don't people wonder what's going on in someone's head more?

    In school, you are assumed to be typical. Able to picture in your brain, record memories, neurotypical, everything. And what happens when people don't see the difference?

    I'm four time Neurodivergent. The autism is official and about to become even more so. The others however are not. I was diagnosed officially with narcolepsy last year and somehow on medication for it, the depression seems to be gone as well. I was deemed NT and put on medication for anxiety. Get this, I'm also pretty sure I'm ADHD, and aphantasia and sdam. It's a memory trait where you don't remember in the first place. The brain is unable to encode anything you think or feel resulting in a lack of eisodic memory.
    This includes no mental time travel so they are saying I'm an anxious NT with general anxiety. I finally discovered the word for my memory trait and it's likely a buffer against developing anxiety. I think i have a somewhat usual level of anxiety maybe in certain situations but I am unable to go through scenario after scenario of what if because it's a lot harder when your brain can't recall the past to predict the future. I'm relieved I don't have anxiety after all, but now it's to get the brain scans so people understand what I mean when I say I literally don't have memory. So many assumptions about me are wrong and I guess it's up to me and Christ to set them straight through help finding people willing to listen.

    Have you heard of aphantasia or severely deficient atuobiographical memory before this? Aphantasia has been around for years and finally given a name. I have total Aphantasia of all five senses whereas most people mostly just miss mental image and still have others.

    SDAM was only proven in 2015 with three healthy controls who are doing very well in their fields.

    Strange how many ways the mind works! And how it makes up for it in other ways.

    1 person is talking about this
    Community Voices

    A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words When.. (full title below

    A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words When Words are All You’ve Got – Living with #Aphantasia

    I have a condition called Aphantasia.  Simply put, I cannot visualize.  Where other people can close their eyes and conjure up images within their minds, all I see when I close my eyes is blackness.

    It might not sound like a big deal because in many ways it is not.  My Aphantasia did not prevent me from doing well in school or participating in activities and sports as a child.  I enjoy writing and art, I can cook and bake, and go through a thousand different menial tasks that are unimpeded by my condition.  My life in many ways is normal and unhindered.

    That is not to say that my Aphantasia does not impact my life in many random ways that others take for granted.

    For example, I am horrible with people’s names.  I can meet someone a dozen times and still have no clue what their name is when I meet them again.  There will be a familiar itch that scratches at my memory but until something rings a bell and a connection is made, I am at a loss.  Most people can simply close their eyes, conjure up a picture of someone and attach a name to that image.  My mind contains no images, only words.  My memory is full of descriptors.  For instance, I might remember someone by an event we attended together or a pet they own and until that descriptor is revealed once again, I will often draw a blank.

    This extends from people to items, as well.  Even if someone catches me as I am headed to the store and asks me to pick up something for them, unless I am familiar with the specific item or write it down, chances are I might get it wrong.  Though I try to retain as much information as I can on the fly, I am easily thrown off and confused when faced with similar-looking items.  I cannot recall images, so I will question everything from size to brand to scent or flavor.  My mind will usually hone in on a color or a shape, leaving me to stand there, holding two similar items, trying to decipher which might be the right one.  Most people will simply take a mental snapshot to help them remember which item to get.  Instead of one picture that retains all the important information, I would have to store away the brand, size, color, flavor, scent, logos and a multitude of other descriptive words.

    I am severely directionally challenged.  I could pass through somewhere multiple times and still find myself lost when I go there again.  I get turned around easily, as well.  Most people can close their eyes and recreate images of places they have been before.  However, unless something very specific has happened in that location that I will distinctly remember with words, the image of most places remain in my head only as long as they are within my sight.  Because I cannot close my eyes and instantly picture a walk I have done many times before, there is a distinct chance I could get lost headed there again.  I might remember that there is a library on a specific street somewhere downtown but if the many random houses and buildings along the way mean nothing to me, nothing will feel familiar until the library comes into sight.  If I turn onto the street a couple blocks too far, I might wander the wrong way for a period of time before the neighborhood changes enough for me to realize I have gone the wrong way.

    I am also horrible with directions.  Many people can close their eyes and retrace their steps.  They can easily give detailed directions based on visuals they can recall, counting in their head, telling people to go down this street 8 blocks, take a right, go down 6 blocks more and take a left.  Even if I have been somewhere before, I have trouble giving precise directions like that.  Because I cannot visualize, short of memorizing every street and cross street in every town I have been in precisely in order, my brain has to come up with easier markers to remember, things that will stand out to me.  My directions might include a house that still has their Christmas lights up in July or a tree with a huge knot on it that looks like a face.  Simple things like a change in decor or a chopped down tree, however, will hurl me into a state of confusion that leaves me instantly lost again.

    Though I enjoy being artistic and have been told I have both talent and a good eye, I have trouble creating physical representations of things without having pictures readily available.  I love to sketch and paint, but cannot conjure up images in my mind so I need to reference actual pictures before I can get spacial differences and angles just right.  Because I have to rely on pictures, my artwork often lacks originality.  At best, it might contain inspiration from multiple sources, yet it still always feels vastly unoriginal to me.  My writing, on the other hand, has greatly benefited from my lack of visualization.  I tend to be superfluous with my words, always trying to verbally paint images others can understand even if, like me, they cannot see it in their head.

    I am overly sentimental and cling to mementos and photographs because they give me a physical reminder that I can see and hold, something that is more than just words.  No matter how many times I have seen someone’s face, the moment they leave my sight, I can no longer picture them.  In my mind, I will cling to the detail of edges and curves of faces and bodies, freckles and dimples, wrinkles and scars, to find descriptors that set them apart.  I have traced the angles of my fiance’s face a thousand times so I know the shape and feel of his face better than I know my own, because when I close my eyes, no matter how hard I try, I cannot see him.  Both my parents have passed away.  I don’t have any pictures of them so their faces are lost to me forever.  While watching a movie or show, I might see an actor and think “my father had a jaw like that” or “my mother stood like that when she was upset” but those are only small segments, similarities I recognize, random sparks and connections.  But the whole of their faces are gone.

    Though I take classes in both tai chi and yoga, I always feel an entire segment of my classes are wasted on me.  Whenever the instructors begin an exercise in meditation and visualization, it is completely lost on me.  They will suggest everyone closing our eyes and imagining warm lights emanating from our cores or roots taking form and helping to ground us to the earth.  When I close my eyes, however, all I can ever see is blackness.  I spend that time, instead, concentrating on the feel of my breath entering and leaving my body, the feel of the air on my skin.  I turn my entire focus inward to the here and now, trying to release the jumble of words ever-floating throughout my head.  It is not meditation as others might do it but it is the best I can do.

    I can go on and on with all the ways, big and small, that Aphantasia impacts my life.  Think of all the mental pictures most people store away in their minds.  Mental pictures for all the people, places and things they encounter every day of their lives.  Not being able to create mental images might seem like a very trivial thing – until you take the time to try and describe all those pictures using just words.

    Aphantasia can be exhausting.  Most people store a multitude of images in their minds because it is faster, easier and more efficient.  Imagine if you had to describe every one of those images using words to someone who had never seen what you were describing.  You had no way to show them a picture, no way to help them understand other than describing everything. Imagine if you had to rely solely on your words.  Imagine how time consuming it would be to collect a variety of descriptors for every item instead of being able to share one simple image.  Now imagine that being your every minute, every day.  Imagine only being able to pull up words for everything instead of images.  How many words would you need?

    In high school, my algebra teacher gave the class an assignment to write a paper, step by step, on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The purpose was to teach the importance of showing all the work and not leaving out any steps.  However, I think this technique would work wonders for raising awareness for Aphantasia.  It would be a good exercise to have someone have to describe things in their lives, from the most important to the everyday trivial, to a sketch artist using only words.  Much like nobody in my algebra class could successfully make a peanut butter sandwich by writing out the detailed steps one by one, I imagine most people would struggle equally as hard to find all the words to accurately describe a snapshot of their life.

    People often assume I am forgetful or absent-minded, easily confused and lost in my own mind.  The truth is, I often have to work at least two or three times as hard to recall anything because I cannot take the shortcut of storing pictures instead of words in my memory.  People often say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Take a moment and think of a vacation picture or an old family photo that means a lot to you.  Think of the different shades in that sunset along the coastline on your honeymoon or the creases in your deceased grandparents’ faces when they smiled, that small scratch on the rear side just above the bumper on your first car or the way your prom date looked standing next to it.  Imagine trying to recreate those whole scenes again, by memory, piece by piece, using only words.  Would a thousand words be enough?  Welcome to my world.

    This piece originally appeared on Unlovable at: unlovablebook.wordpress.com/2018/09/24/a-picture-is-worth-a-...

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    Amanda Blankenship

    My Life With Aphantasia

    A few nights ago a friend of mine and I had this conversation. My friend: “Like if I read you a story, you wouldn’t imagine it?” Me: “Nope, it’s just a bunch of words.” My friend: “Like what the people looked like or were doing?” Me: “I don’t see any of that. I can’t form a picture by thinking of a word.” My friend: “So if I said Edward was tall, with white creamy skin, green eyes that pierced right thru you. You wouldn’t form an Edward in thought?” Me: “Not at all.” This revelation always seems to puzzle people. It’s as if they can’t imagine living in a world without visual imagery in their mind. And likewise, I can’t imagine (literally) what it’s like to have that ability. It seems like something as extraordinary as a superpower! I’ve always known I see the world differently than everyone around me. I struggled to keep up in school. I am the only child in my family who can’t put faces with famous names. Musicians, actors, actresses, poets, famous authors… I have to google them every. single. time. I hate reading and get lost in all the descriptive words that attempt to “paint pictures” for you throughout the entire book. I’m not sure I see this as a disability, although it comes with its own set of struggles. But that’s mostly related to the fact that our language, customs, writing, famous sayings, and educational system are set up for those who have the ability to visualize in their “mind’s eye.” So in that way, it’s quite a challenge! I’m sure it’s something most don’t even think about, but here are a few examples. Even the way people talk is geared towards those who hold that “superpower.” “I can see it now!” “I can only imagine!” “I can’t imagine!” and “Picture this.” These are just some examples of very common phrases in our daily language. Some of the most common forms of therapy start with saying, “Close your eyes and picture an ocean. Now picture a seashell on the white sandy beach. Now picture yourself walking barefoot on the edge of the ocean.” This kind of therapy is one way used to treat PTSD, which I have. Needless to say, I cannot do this kind of therapy. I get lost at “Close your eyes.” I can’t understand why someone would say, “Close your eyes and picture…” It seems very counterproductive to me. “Picturing” to me would require me to hold an actual picture of a person, item, or place and see it with my eyes. At that point the word “ocean” and the picture of the “ocean” can be linked. But when I take the picture away, the picture is gone. All that’s left is the word “ocean” and the facts I have logged away about an ocean, such as: it’s blue. It’s wet. It’s huge. It has sharks and whales in it. But those words are just facts known… it’s not imagery. The way things are filed as “memories” for me is in vast amounts of facts, filed-away descriptions. This makes my recent loss of some important pictures of my children a huge loss. It’s not like I can readily pull up those times in my head. When the pictures are gone… they are gone. In most cases I know it happened and I know details about what happened, but the only time the movie replays as if an actual movie playing is when I dream. Parenting has been tricky in several ways because I have children who talk to me with great detail. When they are excited about their day, they love to “paint a picture” for me with their words. But actually the more descriptive details they use, the more frustrating it is for me. I do much better when they bottom line it. If they like a movie, they like to tell me what happened in the movie. I can’t picture what they are saying and I just get lost in all of the words being used. Recently, my preschooler had an animal visit her school that she didn’t know the name of, so she tried describing it to me. I had to tell her to wait so she could tell her older sisters when they returned home from school. Parenting these visual minds can be like a puzzle at times, and my children are learning that mom gets lost in too many descriptive words. This is true in outside life interactions as well! Friends talk to me in descriptive wording, maybe describing the “perfect addition” they are thinking of buying for their room. If I’m lost and need directions somewhere, again it’s a very descriptive picture they try to paint for me. “You’re going to go straight until you see a fork in the road and then turn right when you see the thing that looks like a circle, but instead of following it you stay on until you come to the fifth stop sign with the animal crossing sign by it.” Never going to happen! I’ve been known to follow the first step and stop and ask for directions all over again once I’ve made it that far. Another hard one is having to glance down at a telephone number and trying to remember it so I can dial it. That never works for me! I either have to write it down or look back at it four or five times. My daughter and friend have informed me that when they think of a certain person, they “see” them in their mind. That is surreal to me! When I think of a certain person there’s no visual picturing going on, although I know facts about them I can tell you if need be. I can tell you what color their hair is, whether or not they wear glasses, if they are tall or short… but these are facts I have stored away. I was diagnosed with a “processing” delay, and now that makes sense to me. My mind is constantly filtering out the words I don’t need and trying to keep only the stuff I can understand. I’m continually trying to keep up and so I can easily get lost in details at doctor’s offices, meetings, speaking with teachers, conferences, and conversations. Chances are if I have a visual in front of me while we talk, I’m going to get what you’re saying a whole lot faster than if I don’t. Living with aphantasia in a world that can’t “imagine” what that’s even like is a challenge. Most don’t even realize it’s a reality for others. But it’s one I press through daily, and have always lived with, but I don’t know any different. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by Oatawa.

    Alethea Mshar

    Living With Aphantasia, a 'Blind Mind's Eye'

    You’re reading a fabulous novel; the imagery is perfect. You can see the characters, the setting, every detail;  if you close your eyes, it’s like you’re there. This is a part of the normal experience for almost everyone, but imagine having no ability to create mental pictures. A blind mind’s eye, if you will. That is my reality. I have no ability to conjure images in my mind. In 2015 this condition was described by science and given a name, aphantasia. Art by Alethea’s daughter. For years, I never realized I was different. I assumed the term “mental picture” was metaphorical, that everyone was like me.  I began to wonder about it when my daughter could remember detailed images, and from memory draw accurate pictures of people, places and things. She told me she just sees them in her mind, and meant it quite literally. Her mind’s eye seems especially acute; I’m afraid she got my share.  She’s aware of the dichotomy between us, and often, when she envisions things then describes them, she will turn to me and and sadly say, “but you can’t picture it.” If you tell me to think of a chair, I know what a chair is, and can think of different types of chairs — a plush upholstered chair, a wooden kitchen chair and the like, but I don’t get any type of picture in my mind. I can describe to you the chairs in my kitchen with fair accuracy, but I cannot envision them. I can remember every detail about my husband’s appearance in words, but not picture his face. My dreams are primarily experiential and auditory, with strong emotions and only vague, fuzzy imagery. It seems that even in sleep, my mind is incapable of visualization. Upon reading the BBC article which describes the phenomenon, I felt a strange blend of feelings. Having verbiage for my experience is helpful, but also uncomfortable. I feel like more of an “oddball.”  I don’t necessarily feel like I am missing anything, as it’s the only experience I’ve ever known, but now I understand why relaxing visualization techniques have always mystified me. The soft voice describing a beach setting at sunrise is just words to me, so I was baffled that other people were so engrossed by such things, until I discovered the answer. What I lack in my mind’s eye I accommodate for in auditory processing and memory. And while I cannot picture a person’s face, I can recognize people, even from years before,with ease.  As you may suspect, I consider hearing my primary sense, and vision a distant second. I am especially attuned to the sounds of my environment, which as a parent is as good as eyes in the back of my head. I don’t know if I would change it if I could. I cannot imagine what life is like with a visual imagination. I suppose I’m fine as is, even if some people might think I’m missing out. The Mighty is asking the following: Write the article you wish you’d found the first time you Googled your or a loved one’s diagnosis. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.