So what does a normal, bog standard day as a synesthete look like? Bright, that’s what. Quite frankly I’d never need to take drugs.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, colours are stimulated when I hear music or read words or numbers. But what does that really entail for daily life and does it get in the way? Well, yeah it does I guess, but as I have never seen any other way, then it’s only when I encounter a particular difficulty and pull it apart to find a solution that I find it’s either the synaesthesia at play or indeed just me being dumb.
For day to day activities, run of the mill as they are, there are only a few aspects where it truly interferes (I’ve got used to the rest or found ways round them). One of the biggest for me is the number thing. I get so confused between seeing 5s and 7s, 4s 6s and 9s that maths is really not my strong point. Having said that I manage to do accounts for my business and the charity I run and have even submitted tax returns without more than the usual four lettered exasperation. Like many of the dyslexic musicians I work with, we find coping strategies; simply a different way of getting to the same end result. I even managed the maths section of Countdown once, I gobsmacked myself.
I can’t really tell my left from right. My husband taught me the left hand L-between-your-thumb-and-forefinger thing at the grand age of 33. Learning to drive was fun at best. Never trust me giving directions. And because I do a lot of yoga I paint my toenails different colours on each foot, because upside down I have no idea which foot is attached to which side of my body. Again stategising.
But then there’s the music. Music is a whole different ball game. I have taught myself to zone out of listening (particularly helpful when someone is munching crisps near me on a commuter train) but sometimes I just can’t help it. And of course I often interject music deliberately just to spice things up a bit.
The way I ‘see’ sound is almost like the aurora borealis twisting, revealing and obscuring around what is actually right there in front of me, the colour dictated by the notation and tonality. The chromothesia seems to be triggered more readily by instrumental sections or pieces rather than a vocal line. Somehow the vocals ground the music in some reality which deadens the reaction. It doesn’t switch it off though and neither can I. This experience is great when I want it; at a gig or listening to a record, but it’s not so good when crossing a road listening to my ipod (other generic mp3 players are available). I wouldn’t moan about it as my own synaesthesia is something I have learnt to harness over the years, but there are down sides to being like this, and that’s something that non-synesthetes don’t seem to understand either.
This can be exhausting. I am easily distracted. I find I spend a large proportion of my day trying to zone out of things to carry on with a ‘normality’. And then when I’m home, safely in my studio can I really breathe out and let the colours flow just as they want to.