I wonder how many people have had a moment in their life where they realize their reality is different from the reality of others. A moment where you realize that your perspective on the world is unique and different from those around you.
I had that moment.
It occurred during a summer course in high school. I was prepping to take the MCAT and my parents had decided I should take college classes over the summer to help me prepare for the test. During the course, we were discussing the somatosensory system when the teacher began to describe synesthesia. In her lecture, she described what someone with synesthesia experienced when their cognitive pathway was involuntarily stimulated. The further she delved into the neurological condition, the more I realized it was what I had been experiencing my entire life. After the lecture was finished, I stayed after to ask her if there was a medical test for synesthesia. Much to my dismay, she said that most doctors weren’t well-versed in synesthesia detection and that I would be better off contacting someone who was conducting synesthesia research. After much searching, I found that there was a group of people at the University of Missouri- Columbia who were involved in synesthesia research and I contacted them.
A few months later, I was contacted by a researcher in California who wanted to know if I would be willing to be tested. I was very enthusiastic and I wanted to know all about the procedures for testing. A couple of weeks later I ventured to the UM-Columbia campus and went through a battery of tests. The tests showed that I experienced several different forms of synesthesia.
It was exciting and life-altering. I had been having synesthetic experiences as long as I could remember, but I had always assumed it was “normal.” When I would tell someone that a certain word sounded “blue and thick like oil,” they would just shrug it off as a child with an over active imagination. It got to the point that I stopped describing my experiences to other people because I didn’t want them to think I was odd.
After the tests were finished, I felt validated and complete. I finally understood that I was lucky enough to experience something that very few people would ever get the chance to understand. I began to research synesthesia extensively and even conducted some of my own experiments to see if I could identify other types of synesthetic experiences I may be having.
All in all I was able to identify quite a few unique types of synesthesia:
Emotions –> colours, temperature
Sounds (general, lexical, phoneme) –> colours, movement, units of time, flavours (gustatory)
Graphemes –> colours
Musical sounds –> colours, movements, units of time
Pain –> colours
Personalities –> colours
Orgasm –> colours, movement
Touch –> colours
Temperatures –> colours, pressure
This really opened my eyes to how I had been perceiving the world around me for so many years. It is something that I continue to grapple with to this day.
The one thing synesthesia has helped me accomplish was in narrowing down my field of study in medicine. After learning more about the neurological condition, I realized I wanted to study neurology and ultimately neuroendocrinolgy.
It is also something I would never give up and I wish that I could let others experience it, so that they could see the world the way I have.