Aphantasia - Being blind in your mind

Aphantasia... What is it? 
Have you ever heard of it? 
What a beautiful word, isn't it? 

Almost three years ago I decided that it was time to follow my childhood dream, which is to become a writer.

I had no self-esteem, no courage, no faith that I can do it, so I had to listen to motivational speeches and subliminal messages (I still do, daily) to make me go against my instincts.
Because I could not see myself in the future as a writer, I needed to learn meditation and visualization to achieve my goals. 
I read uncountable articles and books. I followed and applied suggestions and advice that people with experience give to people like me. 
After three years, I am back to square one.
I cannot see a thing. I cannot stop my mind from thinking.
I stopped it from thinking too many things that harmed me, but I could not shut it down.
I could not step outside my body, my mind, and my situation.
It's like fighting against the wind. 

Are you a writer who cannot see a story before it's written? 
Do you have troubles imaging any scene in your book? 
Have you given up on your dream to become a writer because of this? 
I haven't and you shouldn't either. 

Aphantasia is the inability to see pictures, images, scenes (or anything for that matter) in your mind. You can't visualize. 
Aphantasia or the blind mental eye. 
You cannot see what's not there. 
You cannot picture something in your mind. 

There are many people affected by this condition to various degrees:

  • some hear sounds, 
  • some can smell, 
  • some can see without hearing, 
  • and some are completely deaf and blind. Like me. 

It's not the end of the world, and it's not a deadly affliction. 
If you suffer from it, you are luckier than an uncountable number of people who suffer from serious illnesses. 
The lack of the ability to see what's not there is nothing compared to the real suffering of many.  

But if you want to achieve something great, you need to be able to visualize it in your mind before it happened. 
Are you familiar with Napoleon Hill's work? 
Have you ever heard of "Think and Grow Rich?" 

Napoleon Hill stresses so much on the power of visualization.
Everybody speaks about meditation and visualization. Some (many) affirm that nothing huge can be done without both or one.

As I am very determined to reach my goal, I tried (and try) various techniques of visualization. None worked/works. I cannot stop my mind, I cannot see a thing, a shape, a shadow, nothing except blackness.

I thought and believed it's just a matter of practice. I tried more. Again, and again and again and again.

I tried with objects, smells, sounds. Nothing worked.
I became extremely frustrated, but I still thought it was just lack of practice and something quite common among people. Maybe I didn't try hard enough.
"If others can, I can too." That's my belief.

I asked my brother if he can visualize and he said: "Yes, I do that since I was a child. I can see anything I want."

At that moment I realized that I have never, ever been able to visualize anything in my entire life.

I often write about the fact that as I child I could not see myself in the future as other children I knew. That made me think that I was not going to have a future. I knew then it was not right not being able to see or imagine something that doesn’t exist.

I cannot draw, I cannot recall a scent, a sound, a feeling, a memory… nothing.
Weirdly enough I write about past experiences (I published quite a few memoirs) but only as facts and if it’s something tragic, I feel the pain as I know I felt when the traumatic event happened.
I know I felt that because I am very empathetic and sensitive, but I cannot go back at that moment.
I cannot feel what I felt then. If I cry is because I am reliving.... without remembering.
Does this make sense to you? 

What is even weirder is the fact that I can write a story from scratch.

As I start typing, the story flows. I don’t know from where. If I sat down and try to imagine a scene in it, it does not happen. I must type, then it comes.

If it doesn’t, I give up because no matter how hard I try, I cannot see something that it is not in front of my eyes.

I know now that I have aphantasia and I am worried because I am afraid I will never get where I work so hard to get without the power of visualization. I am way behind my schedule.

Aphantasia is such a beautiful name, but an unfortunate characteristic of a writer (artist).  

This evening I came across this article on https://www.magneticmemorymethod.com that speaks about aphantasia and teaches you techniques to play around it. 
I found it extremely interesting and exhaustive. 

If you think or know you are incapable of seeing with the mind, read it. It will definitely "open your eyes."

Can you see something like in the image below?
I can't.
I can only see what's in front of my eyes.

But I am not giving up. I know that one day, I will be able to see the future I want and deserve to have.

P.S. I wrote several fantasy stories which I haven't published yet.
I think it's time though.

Aphantasia, being blind in your mind by Cristina G. Exeter
Photo credit: Pixabay
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2 comments

  1. Hi there, Cristina. I'm an artist, with aphantasia too. Your post makes absolute sense to me.

    I have relived without remembering as well. I can remember how I felt at the time, too.

    I've dabbled with writing short fiction before. I can't imagine how things will really turn out in my writing, but I can do rough plotting beforehand if desired. Either way, it feels often like I am writing(typing) to find out what I will write, or I write(type) to find out what I think.

    I remember hearing writers say something like, "the first sentence of a story decides what the story will be like." For me, it feels like I am tossing dice blindly, starting from that first sentence. It's like I am embarking on a journey with limitless possibilities. I have to make choices all the time, especially in the beginning, that I feel unsure about making. I understand that the story could be taken into multiple directions, but I don't know which one is best, which one will actually be interesting to read. From that first sentence can be birthed thousands of different stories, with different flavors and messages. I try to pick directions that are internally consistent to what I've chosen so far. But because of that, I find it is quite easy that I will write myself into a boring, or bad story (all well). However, when I'm not busy making decisions, that is when the writing flows mysteriously, just as you said. It's a lovely feeling.

    When I draw, the essence of the act is almost the same. I don't know what I will draw, or what I want to draw. When I try to think too much about it, I end up paralyzing myself! I start out with drawing something I've drawn many times before (muscle memory), and then I start adding on to it, throwing at it seemingly random elements and features that do not go against what I put down before. It's like I have stored within me visual vocabulary. I have to draw new things in order to increase it. I have internal principles of design within me that help me make decisions about what I've put down on my drawing. After my first drawing is down, it's then that I can really react to it and start having a better idea exactly what it is that I want to draw in that moment. Precisely, it is the case again that I draw to figure out what it is I will draw.

    Thank you for your post, Cristina. I find that when I am reacting to others, I am able to gain insight into exactly what I think about things, or how exactly I do things. Seeing one others' experience, and seeing how I resonate with it, I think is another aspect of aphantasia. I would not be able to be an artist if everybody else stopped making art. It's through their art that I love, that I am able to realize what it is I want to create. I think it's probably the case too, that when I write, I am pulling on what I've read before to get me through it.

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  2. Hi Ryan,

    I thank you so, so much for your testimony. It means the world to me.
    Sorry for the late reply, I receive a lot of spam.

    It looks that we have a lot much in common. I am really sorry because I know how you feel.
    I am happy, though, that you are not upset and angry about this. This makes it harder and angriness is so destructive.
    We lack this magical power and only the universe knows why.
    Maybe we have developed other “supernatural powers” we are not paying attention to. I don’t know.
    Have you ever wondered if aphantasia is a skill?
    Sometimes, I think it’s a curse, a punishment. But I was born with it, from what we know, everybody is born clean.
    Unless, of course, we believe in second, third, forth and so on life. In this case, I think the punishment makes sense. Who knows what we’ve done in a past life because we had the power of visualisation?
    I am mad, I know. You should read the story I write now. It’s the worst story ever written. But I will publish it. I know many will relate to it, although no one will read it.

    It’s so amazing that you can write stories if you don’t force yourself. Yes. I know the feeling.
    I have so many stories in my mind (ideas) but when I want to write one, another one I never thought of takes the lead. So I let this story write itself. I type and type and when I can’t, I know it is finished. It happened last week. For 15 days a story wrote itself in front me. I was so amazed. I didn’t mind I was a puppet. It sounded like a great story.
    Of course, it’s not always that easy because the story has to make some sense. But I am of the idea that every story/book, painting, etc., has a market. Pity we are not business people.
    Artists with determination try everything, and sometimes it’s frustrating.
    I wish you all the best, Ryan, and if one day you realize that you can see your future, let me know what you’ve done to achieve that.
    I would give anything to be able to see what I want to see.

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