WARNING: If you have aphantasia and don’t realise it, this might ruin your life. If you’d like to continue living without any change in your life, turn back now.
The best way to describe aphantasia is with this small exercise. Close your eyes and imagine a five-pointed red star, completely coloured in. Now open your eyes and look at the chart below. Which one is closest to your red star?
I’m a 1.
When I close my eyes and do the exercise, I get nothing, just total darkness. My wife, my dad and two of my brothers all put themselves at a 6. My other two brothers are at a 1, just like me. I can’t even fathom being able to see a 6. My mind’s eye is blank. This is aphantasia.
Living With Aphantasia
I first learned about my aphantasia about a year ago from AmyRightMeow’s video titled “I have APHANTASIA (and you may too… without realising it!)“. In some ways, I wish I hadn’t found out. If you have aphantasia and are discovering it from this post, I sincerely apologise. But there’s a reason for this. Very few people know about aphantasia. The so-called mind’s eye is basically a sixth sense that many people in the world live without, and most people have NO IDEA.
Living with aphantasia, you just kind of assume that everybody is being metaphorical when they say “imagine the audience in their underwear”. You don’t realise that daydreaming is basically dreaming during the day. You think that a photographic memory just means being able to see images in your head. You look at people who can draw without a reference and wonder how they do it, not realising that they are literally just imagining what they want to draw. You play Dungeons and Dragons and still manage to have fun, even though you’re not actually picturing anything that’s happening in the game. Your parents wonder why as a kid you didn’t understand how to play with toys properly and had to get into all the cupboards and see everything (because you were incapable of imagining stuff).
It’s a condition that seems to be extremely common, and yet there is next to no awareness of it. The more people that know many people are living with aphantasia, the more research will be done on it, and the better the chance we have to know how and why it happens. Is it genetic? Is it from having a dominant left brain? Can it be cured?
I wouldn’t say I lack an imagination entirely. When I try to imagine something, I feel like I can see it, but the best way I can describe it is that the images are behind my head. I can’t see them, but I get the impression that they are there. I can feel them around me, but I’d still describe myself as a 1 on the image above. I would NEVER describe myself as a 6, which is why I can confidently say I am living with aphantasia to some extent. I also can’t imagine smells, taste or touch, which apparently people can do. However, I CAN imagine music and sound, so I’m not completely imaginary-senseless.
Somehow, I’ve managed to write a 125,000 word fantasy novel without actually being able to imagine any of the scenes. With the knowledge that I have a blind mind’s eye, I would now describe my writing process as fumbling around in a dark room until I bump into a table, at which point I realise that there’s a table in the scene. If I want to describe the table, I’ll use facts that I know about tables, or Google some cool tables and describe one of those. So I manage, but it does make it hard. Especially when I’m stuck on a scene and my wife says, “Well what does it look like?” and I respond with, “I have no idea. I haven’t written it yet.”
If you’re just now realising that you too have aphantasia, it might seem completely hopeless. And I have to be honest: it kind of is. I haven’t seen many instances of people actually fixing their aphantasia, however, there ARE cases where people claim to have done so.
I’ll put some links below, but basically, the technique is to close your eyes and rub them gently for a few seconds, and hopefully, you will see something. For me, I usually see yellowish lights in random squiggly shapes. Just describe them, out loud and to either someone or something (like your phone with sound recording on). Apparently, this is important because your brain needs to know that something is taking in the words. Do this for about ten minutes. Do this every day for a few weeks, and hopefully, the images get stronger. You’d be much better off going to this link and learning about it there, but that’s the basic idea.
I haven’t had enough discipline to do this over a long period of time yet. However, after a few days, I did feel like I was maybe making a bit of progress. It could have just been wishful thinking. I don’t know, give it a try. Who knows, it could change your life. I know it would change mine. Even if it doesn’t, the more people that know about this the better. Because living with aphantasia is hard.
Grieving your newly discovered lack of mind’s eye? Find other people like you on Reddit.
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