*Read the original article by James Picard in the Huffington Post
People with Synesthesia make up 4% of the population, which means 1 in every 280,000,000 have this condition and experience reality differently than the rest of us on the planet.
Synesthesia is a perceptual condition in which the stimulation of one sense triggers an automatic and involuntary experience in another sense. Synesthesia can occur between just about any combination of the cognitive pathways. Synesthetes, or people with Synesthesia, may see sounds, taste words or feel sensations on the skin when they smell certain scents. I myself, see sound.
Synesthesia is a sensory phenomenon that is unrelated to memory so if you do not have Synesthesia your brain will never respond in the same way as someone who has it. In other words, you’re born this way and it cannot be taught. That being said, I can definitely tell you that this condition can be very uncomfortable at times. I often see colours floating and swirling around in the air that are being triggered by a conversation I’m having with someone or it could be triggered by music that is playing in the background in a store, but regardless of the trigger, it can be extremely distracting. I’ve had more than one person tell me that I am not a good listener, I am a daydreamer, a dis-associative person, or simply that I am not being present in the conversation or moment for that matter.
At times there is a constant feeling of sensory overload and can cause a feeling of being quite overwhelmed to say the least. I liken these moments to a panic attack, filled with mass anxiety with colours swirling around me. This is not an easy thing to describe to someone who has not experienced it, and I must admit, that although I have attempted explaining my condition to others, I mostly keep quiet about it and keep it to myself. I did just that as a child, I hid my Synesthesia from everyone. The times when I did share my “swirling colours” with those around me, I was mocked, teased and called both crazy and a liar, so I chose to keep it to myself. I lived with the daily thought I was either a freak of nature or simply crazy. I was even told by a doctor that I may have a tumour pressing on my optic nerve that was causing these “colour spells”, he suggested removing my eye…I never went back to see him again.
I also always found it a funny thing that everyone had such a fascination with rainbows for example, and double rainbows were just pure magic, to everyone around me but I never got that excited as the rainbows and the colours were such a part of my daily existence on the planet, both indoors and out, rain or shine. As I grew older I secretly began to enjoy my different way of seeing and hearing and kept my secret into my adulthood until, while in my late forties, I heard a doctor speaking about Synesthesia on the radio. I was glued to that interview and by the end of the program was crying tears of joy. I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.
My career, or rather my life’s work, is being an artist. I have done this since I was a very young child. I paint, draw, sculpt and find that the colours I use when painting are completely enhanced by my Synesthesia. The colours become more vibrant, they “swirl” around the palette and can physically go through a painting and come out the other side. I always listen to music when I paint or draw as it is the sound that creates these colours that float and dance in front of my eyes. It is a beautiful thing. Though I must say it can be tricky driving but, like most disabilities, you get used to it and learn to adapt. The sad thing however, is that I have yet to meet another artist like myself with Synesthesia; I have only read about them. Artists like singer/songwriter Tori Amos, composer Leonard Bernstein, composer/pianist Duke Ellington, artist David Hockney, musician Billy Joel and actor Geoffrey Rush. It is even speculated that Vincent Van Gogh was a synesthete.
Though I still keep my condition mostly to myself, it has helped me tremendously knowing I am not alone in my Synesthesia, which is one of the reasons I have written this article, to let other synesthetes know that they are not alone. I talk about it openly when questioned and to be honest, I wish that everyone could experience it.
In a world where sound can create dancing waves of colour certainly makes the world always feel like a magical place. It makes one slow down and enjoy the beauty that is all around, and isn’t that truly what life is really all about.