Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Neurological Condition

Did you know that I'm a total freak of nature?

Don't answer that.

But yes, a little-known fact about me is that I have a peculiar neurological condition called synesthesia. The reason I'm writing about it today is that when I was scouting ahead to see which letters I'd be covering during our A to Z challenge, I noticed that I had the letters H, N, T, and Z, all of which are in the yellow-orange color range.
And that's where I've lost you, haven't I?

Allow me to explain. People with synesthesia, or "synesthetes", like me have this weird thing with our brains in which we connect two "sensory pathways." The most common is the kind I have (see, I'm not a total freak) in which people see letters in color. Other kinds can cause people to see colors associated with musical notes, give spatial placement to numbers or dates, or any number of other odd connections.

I think I may have been in my teens when I brought up my colorful alphabet to my family members, and I discovered that my brother had the same thing. We compared colors, thinking that maybe it was just because we learned our letters using the multicolored alphabet magnets on the fridge as kids, but we discovered that we had almost completely separate color assignments for each letter. (His were ALL wrong, in my opinion- I mean really, F is brown? Seriously? F is totally purple.)

Since then I've casually mentioned this to other people, like my husband, for one, and I mostly get those squinty-eyed, furrowed-eyebrow looks that come when people are weighing how difficult it might be to get you committed to a mental institution.

Fortunately, a few years ago I happened upon a tv news article (Dateline, maybe?) that discussed synesthesia and how it manifests in different ways. As I recall, I jumped off my couch, pointed at the tv and started yelling, "SEE???? I'M NOT CRAZY! I'M NOT CRAZY!!!"

Yeah, no one was around. I wasn't exactly helping the case for my mental competency.

I've read up on the phenomenon since then (I much prefer "phenomenon" to "condition") and I've discovered that it actually does run in families (it's "congenital") and out of curiosity before writing this post I casually asked my 6-year-old what color the letter "A" is. She said, "Huh?" I said, "Well, when you close your eyes and imagine the letter A, what color is it?" She thought for a moment, then said confidently, "Purple." I asked her about a few more letters and she quickly spouted off her assigned color for each letter. When I did the same exercise with my 7-year-old son later he had the same response. Both were able to respond readily with specific colors ("No, Mom, K is more like a bluish-green than a forest green").

Hooray! I'm not the only freak in my house!

I'm not sure if my synesthesia helps with my writing. I believe it's helped me with spelling, however, because having certain letters in words can change their whole chromatic scheme. For example, the word "cemetery". The only "warm" tones in that word for me are the t (orange-yellow), the r (red), and the y (yellow). The c (gray), the e's (forest green), and m (blue) all keep that word in the cool spectrum. If you tossed out an e and added in an a (yellow) at the end instead, it would change that balance. But here's the rub- my brother, also a synesthete, is a lousy speller (sorry Erik, you know it's true). Soo...who knows?

Bet you didn't know I saw a rainbow every time I read and write, did you? If you'd like to find out more about my freakish brain, check out this Wikipedia article on synesthesia. But totally ignore that colorful graphic they have there- the only colors that are close to being right are the e's and the number 3. Sheesh.

Do you or someone you know have synesthesia? Leave a comment! We'll form a support group! ;-)


  1. You inherited this from me. "A" is yellow; B is blue, C is pink, D is brown . . . shall I continue?

    1. I couldn't remember if it was you or Dad or if Erik and I were anomalies- and no, do not continue because you are all wrong!!! ;-)

  2. Wow, how interesting! Never heard of this before.

    Nice to meet you, and I hope you're enjoying the Challenge!

    A to Z Challenge Host

  3. I don't have it. Never heard of it, but it is very interesting and fascinating! Did you quiz your children a second or third time weeks or months later to see if their colors matched their original colors? So do you actually SEE the colors when you're reading and writing, or only when you close your eyes?

    I also forgot to let all you fine ladies know that I have an award for you on my blog! Check it out!

    1. I haven't quizzed them again- I need to write down all our colors and then come back to them in a year or so. From what I've read of cases they've studied, the colors don't change. It's kind of difficult to explain about how I "see" the colors- it's almost more of a feeling about the letters than actually seeing them in color...I don't know how to explain it! They just ARE those colors! It's crazy!



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