26 Jan 2011

Synesthesia, Dill Pickles & Potato Salad

I am a synesthete-but until a few years ago I didn't know that not everyone saw, thought, heard and tasted things the same way I did.

What I've gathered from recent discussions with friends, family and even some fellow synesthetes online, is that if you are a synesthete, you'll understand exactly what I'm talking about. If you are not, you'll ask what tree I recently fell from and how many branches I might have bumped my head on, on the way down.

I'm participating in a study right now-a British research team is conducting a study on synesthesia, and the different types. I have several types, some are complete, some are incomplete. I'll explain more of that a bit later...

My first realization of synesthesia was when Mark, ( my then fiance, now husband, yay!) had a conversation that went something like this: (I don't remember why I even asked...)

Corrie: Mark, how do YOU picture time?

Mark: huh?

Corrie: Like, in your head, what is your image of time?

Mark: I don't know what you're talking about.

Corrie: Well, when you're planning something-or remembering something, or just looking at a year at a time, or two, or all of history, or into the future, how do you picture it?

Mark: Silence.

Corrie: Mark?

Mark: I don't know what you mean. If I want "picture" time (he even did the Dr. Evil quotation twitch with his fingers) I'll look at a calendar.

Corrie: I don't mean picture a calendar. I mean, how do YOU see it, without the Calendar?

Mark: I don't.

Corrie: How do you function? How do you plan? how do you file away your day?

Mark: I think you're crazy.

You get the idea...this went on and on. This prompted me to do a little bit of Internet research-just to see what other supposed craziness might be housed in my brain.
oh boy.

Corrie: Um..Mark?

Mark: Yeah?

Corrie: you don't by any chance..um..know what pink tastes like do you?

Mark: what??

Corrie: Or what it sounds like?

Mark: what do you mean??

Corrie: or personify numbers/letters and associate colours with them? Or hear colours and tastes sounds? or assign colours to people you know?

Mark: No! I have NO idea what you're on about. Do YOU??

Corrie: um...well...yes. Yes I do.

Mark: you NERD! (I'm still convinced that he means this in the most endearing way. I mean, after all...he did still marry me, despite my quirks-And knowing fully well that we might make even quirkier synesthete babies!)

This led to me immediately calling my parents, sisters, best friends etc. I was absolutely shocked that my mother hadn't a clue what I was talking about. How could she not know?? I called my sister, Lindi.

"oh, yeah. I do that. What? it's a 'thing'?" (we've since compared how we picture time-totally different, I'm just comforted that I'm not the only one.)

We then together confronted Dad, and my other sister.
Dad knew. He KNEW! He pictures time-and personifies some numbers...

Then my youngest sister, Elise-she associates people with colours, and pictures time too.

Dad once asked my sisters and I what colour he was, and immediately, as if rehearsed, all three of us in unison said "brown". Weird. (we assured him that brown was pretty, not poopy.)

Basically-I hear certain noises or musical notes/chords, I'll see certain colours. No, I know that they aren't actually there-but it's very real. I don't know any other way to explain it than that.

Numbers and letters all have colours (almost. I have a few numbers without colours.)
Some numbers and letters have a personality. I remember doing this more when I was a kid than I do now.
Now, If anything, I get numbers and letters mixed up because often, they share the same colour.
For example, 3, F and R, they're all a pinkish colour. When I see any of these, I often mistakenly put down another pink character.
This does me NO favors when it comes to math, writing out addresses or reading out loud. (reading to myself I'm absolutely fine. Reading out loud though can be challenging from time to time.-Especially when certain words have their own colours....I won't get into that.)

Certain smells trigger certain feelings, sometimes a sharp pain in my side, or the bottom of my foot. Certain colours trigger tastes. (Purple can taste really bad-not at all like grapes!)

And of course, last but certainly not least, the whole picture of time. This is so complex that I'm not entirely sure that i could illustrate it-although I think I'm going to try, just for fun. Because of this image of time I have (it's not really an image, it's a 3 dimensional, intricate, moving system) I have a very good long term memory-and can remember being extremely young.

Synesthesia can be hereditary, but doesn't have to be. Zeke and Reuben each show a few signs, although I don't want to ask about it too much. It can be really overwhelming once you're made aware of how you're thinking.

Mark and Mom still don't understand the whole "picturing time" thing, we've all tried to explain it several times.
However, not too long ago, my Mom walked up to my sisters and I when we were discussing this, again at a family function and said

"I remembered something! When I was a kid, there were two girls in my class. They were sisters. And I don't know why, but one WAS dill pickles, and the other one WAS potato salad. No doubt about it."

Maybe it's a little more hereditary than we thought;)


  1. I get it. I don't think this way myself, but I've read of other people that do. I wouldn't doubt my sister thinks/processes like this. Check out:
    http://www.amalah.com/amalah/2009/12/but-i-know-one-thing.html Her oldest son, who also has some sensory challenges, thinks like this in terms of songs. Different songs are different colours. Some are tolerable, others aren't. It was interesting to read her point of view.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I had a genius piano-player-teacher in high school who would play the piano and ask us if we saw colors... I always thought he was so deeply genius that the music couldn't just be sounds to him - it had to be more. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Thanks for the link! I'll have to look at that today.
    Sarah, I know exactly what he was asking of you. To me, it's baffling that people don't see a colour when they hear a note, or songs, or chords. I'm in no way a musical genius because of it though. (Or genius of anything else, as a matter of fact. darn it!)

  4. Hi! I have it too! Only with numbers/letters and colours and picturing time. Not the sounds and smells. My brother has it too. I only found out when I was about 20. So weird to realize not everybody has it right?

  5. Wow, Corrie! This is incredible. I've never heard of it before but I am really intrigued. I'll have to read more about it. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I don't have this but I wish I did. I can kind of remember associating certain colors and objects with letters when I was little but that doesn't happen any more. I just read a book about a girl who has synesthesia its a fictional story for teens but you should check it out.