Imagine if, for all the things you love doing best, you had a handicap.
I can’t, but I have been living it since 2019.
A couple of years ago, I discovered I have aphantasia. This is a condition that affects approximately two to three per cent of people.
In a nutshell, I literally have no imagination.
It was both a startling discovery, but it has also been a huge relief. Knowing something is hindering me that I have no control over is a boost to my self-esteem.
The research into this condition is very new (the term aphantasia was only coined in 2015) and at first I thought it only applied to visual imagination, which explains why I struggle so much as an artist and creative writer unless I am physically looking at something when I am painting or describing it.
I speculated, however, that it could be multisensory and it turns out, it is.
I never knew that the rest of you have this superpower of being able to see images, hear music, smell scents, taste food and likely all kinds of other things you take for granted in your minds.
About 10 per cent of people have hyperphantasia in which the imagined images, sounds, scents and tastes are as real as the actual ones.
Knowing about this is really changing my life. Instead of trying to do things the way other people do them, I am finding strategies to overcome the imagination deficit.
Most recently, since approximately March of last year, I have been pouring most of my creative energy into playing music.
It always bothered me that other musicians seemed to be able to learn songs with ease and commit them to memory while I had to pick through them basically bar by bar to learn them and play them a gazillion times until muscle memory took over from mental memory.
I had a buddy back east, for example, who could hear a song once, then play it. I suspect he is hyperphantasic.
I always assumed he was just a far superior musician and that ability would come to me with time and practice.
It never has, so I’m adapting.
For one thing, I am becoming more comfortable with playing a supporting role such as bass (which I always loved) or rhythm guitar.
Fortunately, in a band situation, when I’m actually hearing the song being played, my recall improves. I am still self-conscious about having to crib off the other players to follow the changes or keep a chart in front of me, but I’m getting over it.
If I have to cheat, so be it.
I’d love to hear from other aphantasics, or hyperphantasics, or anybody in between.
Picture a horse. If you can’t; or if you feel like you could jump on it and ride it; or if it’s just a fuzzy, brown horse-shaped image, drop me a line.
We all experience the world differently, but tend to assume we don’t. I’d love to know your experience.