Friday, 10 May 2013


When I was about either four or five years old and learning how to write and count, I found myself doing something I thought was normal but quickly learn't was strange. Instead of reaching for various cards and traditional methods used for teaching children numbers and letters, I reached for my pencil crayons. This is how I see numbers ....

When I was about five I decided that each number needed a colour and with that each number got a personality. Personalities eventually lead to a family. One is the leader (father) of the pack and to me green signifies leadership. I think green is leadership to me because of the army, people in the army wear green. Two is one of the only three females. She is obviously a girlie-girl and the mother to all the numbers. Three is yellow and he is a young boy, doesn't have much say, just loves to smile. A smile to me is the colour yellow. Four is a girl as well but she is a lot stronger than two, has a lot more to say and is not so blasé. Five is a guy, not so much a cool guy but much younger than one obviously, and is friends with six. Six and five are besties. Seven is too cool for five and six even though they are very close in age. Seven thinks of himself as a royal. Eight and nine are the grandparents to all the numbers. Eight the grandmother and nine the grandfather.

If you don't have synesthesia you probably just think I am weird. I think this is all weird to be completely honest, but it makes sense to me. I remember telling my sister about my coloured numbers thinking that she would tell me what colours her numbers were but she didn't. She had no idea what I was talking about. That was when I was five. The first time I spoke about this after 1996 was 2010. I told my typography lecturer about how all my numbers are coloured. I think he also thought I was strange but nonetheless thought I was unique. After 2010 the next time I mentioned it was when my sister came to me and told me she knew the name for what I have: Synaesthesia, I don't even think I can pronounce it properly. She found out about it from Listverse, her obsession.

synesthesia | ˌsinəsˈTHēZHə | (Brit. synaesthesia)
noun Physiology & Psychology
the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.

I obviously can not describe how all synesthetes live their lives, I can only describe how I live mine.

Listen to the strings
Things that aren't living have personalities. I played the violin for three years and all the strings had their own personalities and I chose them according to the sound each string made. The G was the lowest string (bass) so it was obviously the grumpy grandfather. D also had a bit of bass to it but it also had a lot more sunshine to it as well. D is your uncle who is younger than your father so he can still be fun. A is leader of the pack and is female. A string was always my favourite and when I would compose my own little music, I always started in A. E is the highest (soprano) string. She was quite dramatic because it always sounded like someone was screaming when E string was played.

The violin was the only thing I was really good at. I think I learnt how to play quickly because I had my synaesthesia help me learn which notes went together and how well they go together. A year after learning how to play, I started copying songs on the radio and composing. While writing this blog I can still hear the songs I used to compose. I'm thinking of going back to the violin, I might as well stick to what I'm good at.

I might count in colour but I don't colour by numbers. Numbers have colours but colours don't have numbers. It probably doesn't make sense as one would think that my synaesthesia would work in a vice versa fashion but it doesn't. I use colours to describe people's personalities, laughter, tears, smiles ... basically anything that could be described with words.
I'm not sure when I first mentioned that someone's smile is yellow but because I could not explain myself properly I never bothered to mention it again because everyone thought I was mentally ill.

Sounds also have colours. The more tribal and cultural a song is, the more yellow, orange and red it is. I know how people's voices feel, physically. Adele's voices feels like velvet and Jimi Hendrix like leather, red leather.

Synaesthesia is very difficult to explain and I am having difficulty explaining it in this post. When I read research about it, it all makes sense to me but I'm sure to someone else it just sounds like the One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest script.

Wassily Kandinsky's Yellow-Red-Blue
I am not the only person with Synaesthesia, many famous and well known people have it and have used it in their work. Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian painter used four senses to create his paintings; colour, smell, touch and hearing. Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D. has apparently experienced Synaesthesia and used it as the foundation of the band's album, Seeing Sounds. The author of Chocolat experiences colours as scents. Believe it or not there is even an American Synesthesia Association. Maybe I should create the South African Synaesthesia Association, but I can already imagine people claiming to be synesthetes.

After reading this blog post I'm sure you think I'm crazy and I just made up a term to deal with my mental illness. For years I didn't know that counting in colour as I do was normal to other people, I thought it was just something I made up as a child and it was part of one of my games. After research and learning that other people have it as well, I feel normal and I can now tell everyone and anyone about my synaesthesia experiences. Yes, I will get a few odd looks here and there but at least you can google it. Do yourself a favour and go to google images and google Synesthesia, you'll see that I am not crazy, just a different kind of normal.


Anonymous said...

Please don't treat it as a mental illness - it is more of a gift! Anyway, greetings from a synesthete in Durban :)

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