My posts about aphantasia
In April 2018, I started to write about the subject of aphantasia. At the time, I thought the condition was an entertaining quirk, something I was amused to have unexpectedly discovered about myself, with few practical implications. The more I thought and wrote about it, though, the more it seemed to me that the absence of a visual imagination has had a profound effect on the way I perceive and relate to the world.
The posts listed below don’t reflect a consistent development in my thinking on the subject. Rather, I’ve been tentatively exploring the subjective experience of having this condition, and trying out ideas. It’s important that I emphasize that I’m neither a scientist nor medically qualified. What you will find here are merely the speculations of a fiction writer, attempting to record and respond to my own experience of aphantasia.
These are the pieces I’ve posted since April 2018 in reverse chronological order:
- Sex, SDAM and aphtantasia
I tried before to write about how aphantasia affects sex, but I wasn’t happy with the result. Now, several years later, I think I was overlooking two factors: the role of memory and the importance of other senses besides the visual.
- The upside of SDAM
Severely deficient autobiographical memory brings advantages as well as disadvantages. For example, people who have it tend to be good at abstract thought.
- Reading Wuthering Heights with aphantasia
This is the third issue of my newsletter, “Talk about books” on Substack, and (as the title suggests) it discusses the experience of reading Emily Brontë’s great novel when you can’t picture either the characters of the setting.
- Anxiety after all
In my late 50s, I was blindsided when a psychotherapist suggested that my life problems might be the result of unrecognized anxiety. Soon after that, I learned about aphantasia and SDAM and I preferred to believe that they rather than anxiety accounted for my difficulties. I’ve come to think that anxiety is indeed the culprit; but it’s a generalized anxiety because (as a result of SDAM) I don’t remember the particular occasions that gave rise to it.
- France, memory and live jazz: Once, in real time, without a rehearsal
My return to France may have been prompted by a desire to relive experiences that (because of SDAM and aphantasia) I can’t recall with any vividness. Prominent among those experiences were many live jazz performances that I went to in France and neighbouring countries. This leads me to think about the way I listen to jazz.
- I think I’m finally over France
For years, I’ve felt nostalgic for places where I used to live, particularly Dublin and France. I now think that my inability (because of SDAM) to recapture in memory my experiences in these places has led me to try to relive them in actuality, though I know this is impossible. It’s time to stop chasing something that I’m not equipped to catch.
- I forgot the future: SDAM, aphantasia and a purpose in life
Before I knew I had aphantasia and SDAM, a psychotherapist asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had no idea. But now I know. It helped that I discovered that it’s not necessary to see the future in order to have one.
- Does someone with aphantasia dream in colour?
For years, I believed that my dreams were vivid and eventful, I just couldn’t remember them. Then I tried keeping a dream diary.
- The five stages of coming to terms with aphantasia
2018 was the year that I discovered that my inability to visualize is not something that everbody shares, and that we don’t all imagine and remember in the same way. I look back on my changing thoughts and feelings about this discovery at the end of that first year.
- Motivation, productivity and aphantasia
It’s easy to overlook the importance of being able to “see” the thing that motivates you. It’s hard to imagine now but for years I believed that I could and should be motivated by an abstract idea.
- Aphantasia, sex and gender
I’m just starting to appreciate the extent to which sex and memory are intertwined. That has implications for me, as a person with SDAM, but I haven’t yet got very far in working out what those implications are.
- Aphantasia and executive function
It’s possible that an inability to visualize may impair our nonverbal working memory, an important executive function.
- Aphantasia can look a bit like ADHD
Inability to focus? Unfinished projects? A chaotic workspace and poor tidying-up skills? An unshakeable conviction that gratification deferred is gratification forgone? That’s all to be expected when you can’t “see” things in your head.
- Gender identity and aphantasia
Is the lack of a sense of gender identity the result of not having a visual self-image, or are the two absences independent of each other? It’s difficult to be sure when you can’t experience somebody else’s self-perception.
- Anxiety, identity and self-image
If you can’t form mental images, one of the things you won’t be able to picture in your head is yourself. Is a nonvisual self-concept actually better than an inevitably distorted self-image, or would it be preferable to have the pictures, however unreliable?
- Might aphantasia be learned behaviour?
Aphantasia is authoritatively believed to be inherited, but there is at least one known case of its being acquired following injury. So perhaps it can be either. I take a highly speculative look at my own childhood (to the extent I can remember it).
- There is no Plan A
People who can’t visualize are incapable of holding a road map, a plan or a workflow diagram in our heads, nor can we take a quick mental glance at our schedules. Some aphantasics have found workarounds for planning, prioritizing and scheduling, but by no means all of us.
- Aphantasia, memory and self-image
There seems to be a connection between aphantasia and SDAM (severely deficient autobiographical memory). After all, if you can’t “see” your memories, you’re hardly going to experience them vividly. Also: the disconcerting experience of failing to recognize oneself in a photo.
- Aphantasia is not a disability
Aphantasia affects different people in very different ways, depending on a variety of factors, notably their occupations, circumstances and personalities. For many it seems to have no adverse affects at all and for most it is no more than an inconvenience.
- Straight “A”s
I thought I might have long-undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder. The therapist surprised me by telling me that what I actually suffer from is anxiety. No doubt she’s right, but what I didn’t know while I was seeing her is that I also have aphantasia.
Finally, there’s a post about autobiographical or episodic memory, and how I dealt with that subject in a short story before I knew I had aphantasia:
Deficient episodic memory in my short story “The Bourne Indeterminacy”
Last updated by Art 30-Jul-2023