I Don’t Have a Mind’s Eye: Here’s What It’s Like

Rachel Yerks

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Setting the scene for a life-changing realization

Friday morning at around 4:30 AM, I’m scrolling Reddit, as one does. I find a post where a woman explains to her boyfriend about her synesthesia and the guy realizes he has aphantasia because he has no concept of what she’s explaining.

Aphantasia is a condition with which someone cannot voluntarily visualize mental imagery. Many people with aphantasia also report an inability to recall sounds, smells, or sensations of touch. Some also cannot recognize faces.

After reading this, I’m confused, and slowly realizing I have aphantasia, too. I’m upset. I didn’t know people could visualize on command, visualize old memories, recall sounds, smells, or touch. I started freaking out.

I woke my boyfriend up to ask if he can picture an apple instantly with full color, and yes, he can. He thinks I’m a weirdo for not being able to. He went back to sleep.

I’ve been asked to picture things my whole life. I always thought it was a strange expression, but never complained. When I’m asked to picture something, I think really hard about the words being asked, and still, darkness or I continue staring at the scenery in the room. I thought it was some sort of memory practice to help memorize the words and topic being discussed.

I can’t picture my house or my parents' faces, or my partner’s. But I do recognize them once I run into them. I can’t recall any smells, sounds, or touch, but I recognize them when I run into them, in most cases.

When I go to the dentist for cavities, my dentist tells me to picture wherever I want to be instead and close my eyes. So the entire time I’m at the dentist I always think “pretty flower field” over and over in my head, sitting there with my eyes closed in darkness.

Did I think it was weird? Yes. Did it distract me? Yes. But the idea that the rest of you can … teleport … your mind to pretty scenery on command or remember old memories and experiences in detail? I’m shocked.

On a smaller scale, I “imagine” this is what people with color blindness feel like when they realize their experience is vastly different from that of others. But, don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for what I can experience.

The good parts of my experience in not having a mind’s eye

Unlike some people with aphantasia, I have vivid, image-filled dreams. I’ve never noticed any smells or sounds in my dreams, but there are touch sensations present. I’m grateful I can at least have a somewhat typical dreaming experience, and I have learned how to lucid dream as well.

I have quite a bit of undiagnosed anxiety, and I tend to think situations over in my mind for hours. I’m now very grateful I can’t picture the situations I am thinking about, like someone looking at me rudely or something embarrassing I did. I wouldn’t be able to stand imagining people being rude to me, over and over again.

I’m not alone. My mother has it too. Like me, she wasn’t aware she was missing anything until I brought it up in my panic. She says she can’t picture my face. I can’t picture hers, either.

This makes sense, considering aphantasia has been thought to include a genetic component in people who have had it their entire lives. In other cases, aphantasia can occur after a physical injury.

You can have an imagination and have aphantasia

Perhaps the most interesting misconception of aphantasia I’ve read so far is a lack of imagination. Yes, I cannot imagine in terms of images, but I am quite creative. I published a book at the age of fifteen. Read that News Break story here.

I am a freelance writer for a living. I credit my memory and education to being able to create worlds through my own writing that nearly everyone can experience except me.

I enjoy books. I memorized the characters, I re-read them, and I wish I could live in them. I don’t see any of the characters or the setting in my mind, but I think of what it would be like to live there. I think not being able to imagine fantasy stories is what makes me the saddest about this realization, that and not being able to see my old memories on command.

I have been accused of not having an imagination before and I was deeply offended. Maybe this condition is what they were alluding to. I’ll never know.

How my life will change going forward

To be honest, not much will change. I think I’ll be a bit sad about missing out for a long while, and then I’ll move on. I may take the time to lucid dream more at night so I get to experience more images and situations. I know not everyone can lucid dream, so I’m grateful I can at the very least do that.

I’ll stop asking people for directions. I can’t visualize a map, and every time I ask I just sit there, smile politely, and after they get done explaining, I then realize asking in the first place was useless. Now I know why. GPS is my friend.

I don’t know if I’ll tell people about my aphantasia. I wrote a panicked Reddit post about it that seems to be going viral at this rate, and I feel bad for the multiple commenters who are now aware of what they are also missing, living with aphantasia. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just sad to find out you’re missing out on something everyone else is experiencing. The “FOMO” is real.

Only 1–3% of the population has aphantasia, so it’s not like I’ll run into people who have it in most cases, but it may confuse people if I explain it to them. My best friend knew what it was and says I’m the first person he knows (besides my mother) who has it. He never thought to ask because most people don’t have it.

Regardless, it was an interesting realization to come to at 4:30 AM on a Friday. I hope I don’t give too many of you the same realization, but if I do, you aren’t alone.

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Owings Mills, MD
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