About a year ago, I discovered I wasn’t normal. I mean, I’m a writer who has made a career in television. I’ve never been normal. However, I discovered I am a part of a small group of humans who do not see with their mind’s eye. I have Aphantasia.
“Aphantasia is the inability to visualize. Otherwise known as image-free thinking. People with aphantasia don’t create any pictures of familiar objects, people, or places in their mind’s eye. Not for thoughts, memories, or images of the future.”
I never knew that I was different. I always thought that when people said they saw pictures in their heads, they were speaking figuratively. It wasn’t until I was working with a friend, editing a story, did I learn it wasn’t a figure of speech. He asked me to picture the scene and my head, and I told him I couldn’t. This sparked a long conversation about how when I close my eyes, I only see darkness, and if there are lights, I’ll see yellows or oranges where the lights are. Being unable to see images in my head is probably why my writing is, so dialogue driven. It also probably has a lot to do with why I love to take pictures of everything that happens. I can look at pictures, know what was happening, and it evokes emotions, but I can’t recall a memory and see it in my head.
I haven’t always been this way. Or at least there are a few distinct moments I know I saw images in my head.
The first moment was my first year of high school. My drama teacher was out, and we had a substitute. I can’t recall his appearance, but I still hear his voice. Thinking back at this moment as an adult and teacher, what he did was weird as shit, but as a high school freshman, it was pretty cool. The substitute asked us if we wanted to be part of a group activity where he guided us through a past life regression trip. I am unsure if we knew what that meant, but it sounded way more interesting than reading our anthologies and writing a response.
The substitute had us line up in a row in front of desks. He asked us to close our eyes and focus on his voice. He told us to imagine a blank chalkboard, and on the chalkboard, we were supposed to draw a circle. We were guided to draw the number 5 (or ten; I can’t remember everything from twenty years ago), erase it, and continue until we reached zero. Once we reached zero, he told us to imagine a field with flowers and warm sun. We should feel safe there.
And what is crazy is that I could picture all of this in my head. When I try to do this now, I only see darkness. It wasn’t until I was talking to my editor did this moment come back to me. I had, at one point, actually seen images in my head.
After the substitute guided us to the field, he went down the line and asked each one of us a question. I don’t remember exactly what my classmates said, but I know one said she was a princess. I think another said she was in the holocaust, and one said she was on the Titanic. Each time he asked them if they felt safe, and oddly, every one of them said yes.
When he got to me, I wasn’t prepared for what came out of my mouth. He asked me what I saw around me, and I said I felt sand, and he asked me if I was at the beach. I told him no. He then asked me to look around, and I told him I couldn’t because it was night and dark. He asked me if I was standing or sitting, and I told him I was kneeling. I told him my hands were bound, and I heard people rushing towards me. I told him that the hair I could see in front of my face was dark, and it was not mine. And then he asked me if I was safe. My heart raced, and I told him no. Next, all I remember was his voice getting louder and louder, telling me to wake up, and I remember feeling sweaty and having my classmates look at me, unsure of what was happening.
For the next seven years, I would have random dreams that would expand on what I had in my supposed past life regression. Do I think that this was a past life that I led? No. I’m unsure what I experienced, but it was very vivid.
It wasn’t until I was halfway through college before I could get the story out of my head. I took a scrip writing class and asked my teacher if I could write a historical script. He said he didn’t approve of them because students did a horrible job writing them. I didn’t like that answer. I had to get this story out of my head. So I asked if that meant I couldn’t write a historical piece. He told me to go ahead, but the likelihood of me passing with a good grade was slim to none.
I wanted to impress my teacher. He was a former writer for Golden Girls and Dallas, among other shows.
I took what he said as a challenge. I knew I could write a fantastic script. So for the next few months, I wrote my 90-page script. He had the class break the project into 30-page chunks. When I turned in act one, I expected him to tell me to try again. But the only note I received was, ” please edit your work so I can give you a better grade.” I was excited by that and went on writing. By the end of the semester, I had finished the script and the story I started seven years ago. I never saw those images again. But what I had was a script called Blue Lotus, and the only A in that class.
After going back and reading the script, I couldn’t help but giggle. Some of the dialogue is totally cheesy, but I still love it.