As mentioned in my last post, I feel like the topic of ‘a year in my nervous system’ could easily be a series. In the process of writing that post, I accidentally learned something ‘new’ about how I experience the world: that I have audio-tactile synesthesia. I say ‘new’ because it’s been this way most (all?) of my life, I just never had a name for it, or recognized it as being different from other peoples’ experience.
How did I figure this out?
Is the process of learning how I discovered this interesting? To me, yes. I was listening to music while writing that post, as I usually do, and I got on a side tangent trying to describe the experience of listening.
“This is straying from my nervous system, though it’s certainly interesting… and so much to say. It’s been almost 25 minutes and I feel I’m just getting started. Boo hiss. But it feels good to write like this. What is ‘good’? I’m not thinking about worries or what’s been going on, I’m bobbing, rolling and shifting to music. I feel (not all, but a lot?) music and while I’m certainly capable of being still, my body almost has this need to move to it.
Time is up. I’m.. happy? Certainly content, feet flat on the ground, breath even, inspired (whatever that means) or maybe hopeful… in this bubble. Ripples all over my body, arms, down to my calves, my back, even on top of my head. Rolling my neck back and shoulders relaxing and sitting up straighter. And now it’s in my upper chest and shoulders, upper arms.
More tingles. But this song feels different than the last one. Which makes sense.”
At that point, I stopped and blinked, realizing I’d closed my eyes. Makes sense how??, I thought. Synesthesia popped into my head, so I googled ‘synesthesia feeling sounds,’ and less than 10 minutes later I had a name for this thing. After a couple hours of mind hiking, I’d gathered a variety of perspectives on the topic, including general info like this easy to read page produced by a University of Washington neuroscientist/faculty, a ‘song swimming’ playlist made by another audio-tactile synesthete on youtube, some more in-depth reddit/quora/twitter threads (one seen below, the ‘julia-thummel’ link goes to a cool thing where you can “explore” different types of synesthesia!), and a scattering of research (focused mainly on apparently more common forms of synesthesia?).
My reaction(s) to learning this?
I was SO enamored with learning this. It was a whole new way of seeing the world, like a secret super power that had just been waiting for me to find it. When I listen to music, it can be a full body experience and depending on how I move, I can ‘bend’ or ‘tweak’ the sensations I have. I wanted to tell any and everyone about this very cool thing.
How did I *not* know??
Considering I have a minor in psychology, took anatomy and physiology classes in both high school and college, and am in a healthcare profession, I’ve wondered about this. Surely the topic of synesthesia came up at some point, but maybe just as a vocab word or a blip in a textbook. Or maybe not. I don’t remember. But I know I studied the ‘senses’ in numerous classes – the standard 5 plus balance, temperature, pain, and position (aka proprioception) and synesthesia is literally experiencing multiple senses (like hearing) at the same time. Then again, we don’t actually know how many senses we have, so maybe it’s not so strange to have not recognized this until now. I didn’t know other people didn’t have this.
Still figuring it out/gosh we are complicated.
In the time since, I have realized it’s not all sunshine and dance moves. I always pick up on the furnace or fridge running, and I can feel a difference between the sound of a lazy breeze through trees during the day and a strong driving gust at night. I’ve noticed that when I’m more stressed, I don’t consciously feel sounds as much… but they’re likely still impacting me. I assume this because at that point certain music doesn’t ‘work’ to cope at that point – I usually just want something very minimal or silence. I’m still learning what sounds seem to bother me, what sounds I ‘like,’ and how much this impacts my day-to-day.