synesthesia of the day

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Petar Milošević CC-BY-SA – tap for original

Synesthesia of the Day — Misophonia

For the first time in a long time I don’t feel as if I’m up to my elbows in work. It seems like after I finish writing a novel is when I get really busy. It has to be prepared for publication, then it has to be published, and there’s a lot to that for someone who does it himself. Then there’s the recording, which took a month for The Plainsrunner, and preparing that for release. So I’ve been busy and it’s letting up, and now I find myself looking around for anything I’ve missed. Wracking my brain in case there was some little detail I’ve left out. I guess I’ve gotten used to being busy, and it’s taking a while to slow down. As I do slow down, though, I realize that I now have time for a blog post that isn’t about the book. Here’s one about synesthesia.

In a previous post — Most Unpleasant Sounds — we looked at Dr Sukhbinder Kumar of Newcastle University and a small study where he came up with a list of the ten most unpleasant sounds, as selected by volunteers. The list would seem reasonable to most normal people, although I’m sure most people could easily alter it, either with the sounds themselves or the order of their unpleasantness.

It turns out that Dr Kumar works with people for whom unpleasant sounds go far beyond any list that normal people might make. The list would be much longer and the reaction to the sounds would go beyond unpleasantness or discomfort. For the people suffering with misophonia, some sounds can get down to their primordial emotions, from uneasy fear to terror. Mere sounds can evoke a classic fight-or-flight response. Unless they can find a way to insulate themselves from the sounds, they could live their whole day in a state of extreme stress.

It’s easy to dismiss the complaints of people with misophonia. Why should I have to worry about every little sound I make just because somebody’s a little sensitive. Tiny little sounds that everyone makes unconsciously every day. The popping or smacking of lips. Sniffing. Even the way we breathe. And that’s just few from one small part of the body. There are a lot of triggers — largely things we could control if we tried — and we would have to be on our guard all day long to avoid bothering anyone with misophonia. Can’t they just suck it up and deal with it?

No, they can’t. With therapy they can learn how to deal with it better, but there’s no cure. Unlike other forms of synesthesia, which can be pleasant, or at least interesting, misophonia seems to be unrelentengly bad. Sufferers soon give up trying to get the rest of us to give them a break, and look for ways to live with it. Typically that means cutting themselves off from people. Working from home. Staying single. Since the bad sounds are largely made by people, who could avoid making them — that’s an important part of it, that it’s not just any sounds, but sounds that people make when they don’t have to — the most effective course is to avoid people.

Next time you hear someone drag their fingernails across a blackboard, and you recoil, your skin crawling, try to imagine if you also felt primeval fear, your thighs quivering in preparation for running away. Then try to imagine feeling that way if someone snapped their fingers or sucked their teeth. Misophonia — hatred of sound — might be the worst form of synesthesia.

Read this BBC article about Margot, and how she lives with misophonia.


Carol Steen / American Synesthesia Association

Synesthesia of the Day – Temporo-Spatial Synesthesia

Temporo-Spatial Synesthesia, also known as Time-Space Synesthesia, mixes the senses of space and time. People with this form of synesthesia see time as having a visible form. When thinking about the year, they might see it as a circle wrapped around them. A week or a month might be a sequence of rectangles laid out in a consistent pattern. A day is often a circle. Whatever form it takes for them, it does so consistently. For some, in addition to the shape, different parts can have different colors.

Credit Dankonikolic – CC-BY-SA – tap for larger

For as long as I can remember my year has been egg-shaped, with the pointy end centered on the last week in December and the broad end comprising the summer, particularly July and August. I know that makes the oval asymmetrical, with the spring side being longer than the autumn side, but that’s my egg. Depending on where I am looking in the year, I might see the months stretching out ahead and curving to the right, or behind and curving to the left. The winter end is darker and the summer lighter. The spring side is greener and bluer, while autumn is yellower and redder. There are many more details that show themselves under closer looking, and everything looks different depending on where on the year I am. I did not know that this was a form of synesthesia. If I had thought about it, I would have assumed that it was the same for everyone. Neither of these images looks like my year.

My months are graduated segments of the track of my year. My weeks are straight pieces with humps for the weekends. They can be parts of a month, or they can be isolated. My days are two twelve hour circles, bright or dark depending on the time. It seems obvious that these shapes are the result of how time was depicted in the culture I grew up in. I’m glad I grew up with analog clocks.-)

Here are a couple of links. This one is by a woman who tells a story clearly and well. This one is for people who like and understand phrases like projector-associator distinction and visual salience.

Does your year have a shape?