I have something called Aphantasia. I am an aphantasiac. I cannot picture things in my mind’s eye. I did not realize that it was actually possible to do so until just a few years ago. I assumed it was a metaphor. I assumed everyone was like me.
2% of the population is like me. We cannot see things in our heads. I cannot imagine the faces of people I know well, I cannot picture places I used to live, I cannot see my dog, unless these things are right in front of me.
I can describe things. I know the nice guy I met has brown eyes and a great smile full of straight, white teeth, and he’s darker complected than I am and often wears a hat. However, those are words. I am not envisioning him as I write them. My mind is dark. I see nothing. All these words are merely facts.
I am a police sketch artist’s worst nightmare.
Photographs have always been important to me. In them are all the details my brain has stored away, but I cannot access like most people do. People, places, colors, shapes. I need the photos to recapture these things others have ability to recall at will. I take thousands of photos, everywhere I go. Fortunately, my father did, too. Much of my life can be reconstructed through them.
I cannot see my father’s face without a photo.
In my dreams the people have no faces, the places are almost never ones I have been to before. I do not relive experiences. I can’t. My nightmares are unseen: feelings and sensations and shadowy things lurking just beyond my sight.
I forget so much of my past. It’s like I am being erased from the beginning, and have to outrun the eraser by living faster. I don’t remember classmates, or events that happened, or things I have done, without writing them down. Sometimes when people say “remember that one time…” I smile and say that I do. But I don’t.
When I tell a story I am frequently accused of being too descriptive, and taking too much time to get to the point. But for me, therein lies the beauty. I crave the details I cannot picture. I tell you about a tree, and you can imagine it. For me, I need the words. All the words. There are no trees in my own mind.
It’s just dark in there.