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TOPIC: So *that's* what's wrong with me!

So *that's* what's wrong with me! 1 year 3 weeks ago #4668

  • Robert
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I wanted to introduce myself, and to say how glad I am to have found this forum!

Like so many of you, I suspect, I had no ideal that people actually could visually imagine things; I always assumed that everyone's brains functioned the same, and when people used phrases like "picture this" or "imagine you are...", they were just figures of speech -- like the way people talk about the "soul" or being "heart-broken". And I have always had a very productive imagination, it simply doesn't have a visual component. The model I use is that of a non-hierarchical data-tree, with nodes being concepts rather than images. And oddly enough, I do have visual dreams, although they are not vividly so.

It wasn't until about 9 months ago, when my wife got some guided-imagery CDs for helping her with late-stage cancer, that I began to grasp that there was something different about my mind. We were having a conversation about the imagination. I was dubious about how anyone could imagine the sorts of scenarios the CDs were describing, and asked her how it was working for her. When I said that I couldn't "see" anything with my eyes closed, she was equally dubious. Her description of what she "saw" was astonishingly vivid. She said that she could imagine whatever she wanted, with near-photographic detail, could manipulate these scenes, and even run them as if they were a movie. I put this down to her having some uncommon ability.

And then, a few days ago I posted a quiz that I made up, on my Facebook page, asking friends to weigh-in on whether or not they could imagine such things. I was shocked to read their responses: every one of them said that they could do pretty much the same thing, and none of them had any idea why I couldn't (or indeed, that there was anyone who couldn't!)

I described this curious discovery to my therapist on Monday, and she said that she had recently read about something called "aphantasia" that "the guy who started Mozilla Firefox" wrote about having. An on-line search led me to a half-dozen articles on the subject, and this site.

It's bittersweet being here. On the one hand, it's intellectually interesting to learn that this is a known thing. Discovering, at age 53, something this fundamental to the function of my mind, is nothing short of confounding. It's also comforting to know that I'm not the only person who is like this (although I'm sorry that anyone is). It makes me hopeful that research might be able to address some of what we have to deal with. And it also breaks my heart, since my wife lost her battle against cancer a few months ago, and I am unable to picture her face. To know that if my mind were different, I might have the comfort of visual memories of her, is heartbreaking.

Like others, no doubt, I have countless questions. Are visual stimuli being recorded in the brain, but just not made available for recall, or is it that they're not being recorded in the first place? Is there any correlation between aphantasia and ADD (which I have)? Is there any possibility of developing a visual imagination? Are there any coping mechanisms worth developing? How closely does aphantasia connect with memory-skills? No doubt there are other questions that will occur. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to participating here.

-- Robert
San Francisco
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So *that's* what's wrong with me! 1 year 2 weeks ago #4730

  • Opicana
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I'm so sorry for your loss.

I lost my father a year ago...very suddenly. We had been estranged for awhile and were starting to reconnect. He lived in Florida, and I in Toledo, Ohio (I've since moved to Virginia), so I only saw him once in the past ten years (two years ago). I wish I could conjure him more vividly. But if I could, would the pain be worse?

I feel finding out about my condition, and being in this community, is also bittersweet. I was perfectly fine for 33 years not knowing I had something different about me. Now I know, but I can't change it. It's a bit frustrating.

I also have always had an active imagination...I'm a story-teller with everything. People tell me I have a wonderful imagination all the time. I love make-believe, fantasy, Disney, roleplaying games, story-telling, fiction....and I've always defined myself this way. I'm now struggling with how to describe myself, since I guess I don't have a "true" imagination in the strictest sense.
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So *that's* what's wrong with me! 1 year 2 weeks ago #4741

  • 1madsci
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It bothered me a lot the first few weeks after I learned that most people can visualize and I cannot. I slowly began to realize that it made me better at some things which "normal" people find difficult to understand. Some of us have learned to use it to our advantage. Remember the saying "Cant see the forest for the trees"? I suspect it is a lot easier to be creative when the brain is not using so many resources to process and store vast amounts of visual images.

I found many interesting discussions in the other threads. It does help to know that others are like us and together we are beginning to understand how the inability to visualize images has affected our lives.It may not be incurable. How do you teach the brain to do something for which it has no context to learn from? Would we loose those other enhanced skills if our brains would have to start processing and saving detailed images?
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So *that's* what's wrong with me! 11 months 4 weeks ago #4784

  • Blackstage
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Thank you, Robert, for sharing your story. Very sorry for your so recent loss. I am also 53 and losing my husband to cancer. I know I will not be able to see his face in my mind, but I know I do attach many feelings with my memories instead of pictures, so I am hopeful I can recall many things later in that way.

He is also has hyperphantasia: can "see movies" in his mind, manipulate pictures, etc
When he fixes things he can make explosion drawings in his mind, try out solutions to a mechanical problem by putting things in different places and watching them MOVE in his mind to figure out if his solution will work before physically doing the fix, wow. Crazy stuff.

It is amazing to me to think of what I might have been able to accomplish in life if I could do that! However, maybe the possibilities would have just overwhelmed me and I would have gotten less done! One of my sons also has hyperphantasic and he and my husband both are very, very similar and DO actually accomplish less and complain about how complicated things are. Hmmm. My other son has aphantasia. Both he and I cut through many (to us, superfluous) details in almost any given topic to attain the basic simplicity of the matter. I didn't even realize that he has aphantasia until a couple of months ago, I just thought we were both more practical and less lazy!
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So *that's* what's wrong with me! 9 months 3 weeks ago #4983

I have aphantasia, ADD and consider myself to be an empath.

Coping tools=> How to ADHD (youtube channel) and having a bujo notebook. I suspect ADHD and aphantasia work together to give me a terrible memory.
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So *that's* what's wrong with me! 9 months 1 week ago #5013

  • Charlise
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Robert I cried when I read this line, "And it also breaks my heart, since my wife lost her battle against cancer a few months ago, and I am unable to picture her face. To know that if my mind were different, I might have the comfort of visual memories of her, is heartbreaking." It was moving. Blackstage I relate to your comment, "but I know I do attach many feelings with my memories instead of pictures."

I work in a transition house and have supported many women and children over the years. Sometimes a colleague will say, "remember Jane" and I can't see her face. Blank. I didn't know I had aphantasia so it was disturbing that I would so-called "forget" people. I can't remember someone who I didn't have a memorable experience with. For example if she stayed a few days and we didn't talk very much. Though mostly I have rich, detailed memories about conversations, perceptions, and emotions. I can vividly recall so many qualities about a woman, and how I felt during moments together.
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So *that's* what's wrong with me! 5 months 6 days ago #39279

Hi Robert,

I'm so sorry for your loss. I find that when I view a photo of someone dear, or just think of them, it brings back to me all the feelings i had when I spent time with them - so I hope you have this emotional connection, if not a visual one.

I want to thank you for your conceptual node explanation. I have struggled to explain to others how I can think about things if it is not visual, and this has started to explain this for me.

Thankyou, Ruth
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