Sunday, December 10, 2017

Memories, light the corners of my mind ... or do they ?

My friends Pat and Sandy visit me every year.  They each come for a week and we have wonderful times exploring beaches and having adventures.

Right now I cannot tell you what we did when last they visited.

If I try to remember what we did I get nothing.  But that makes sense because if I try to visualize Pat and Sandy's faces I get nada, zip, zilch, zippo.   My mind's eye is sightless.

Close your eyes and imagine an apple.   Can you see an apple ?   I cannot see an apple.

I cannot see my beloved mom and dad.

If my daughter disappeared I could not describe her.  I know her when I see her, but I cannot describe her even though I love her with all my heart, as my mind's eye is blank.

When I meet new people, since I cannot hold their image in my mind's eye I do not remember them.  I've taken to telling people I'm "face blind" as that seems to help them understand.  I'll ask the person not to be offended if when next we meet I act like I don't know them.  I ask them to remind me of their name and of our last meeting. 

I always assumed I wasn't paying attention and just was lousy with faces and names.

It was only after listening to a program on CBC Radio last spring that I learned my condition had a name; Aphantasia.   I never had thought about my lack of a "mind's eye".   I never realized that other people were seeing real pictures in their heads.  I could not understand why my friends would talk about their memories of things involving me and my parents that I could not.  I'd often ask "was I there?".

I have no internal visual images of my childhood and since memories are built on mental images you can see where I'm going here ...

Nope.  Nuthin'.  

I know those are my parents with my brother Darrell and I but I have no memories attached.

I know this is my mom and I.  I remember that she was going blind.  I know I loved her and dad passionately but I don't know where this photo was taken or what we did that day...or any other day.

I've always wondered why I take photos almost obsessively.  I now realize that it is my way of trying to create a memory for myself.  

Before Sandy and Pat next visit I will haul out my laptop and look for photos of their last visits so I'll know what we did.  Too many times I've said "Hey we should visit Scots Bay, you'll love it" and my patient friend has said "Yeah it's lovely we had a great time there last time".   Sigh ...

Looks like Pat and I went to Peggy's Cove

and visited Fjord horses on the Noel Shore,

'course we did these things on different visits but that's just a detail.  lol

On past visits Sandy and I have ... wait ... lemme see how to finish that sentence ...

apparently we've  been to a taping of "This hour has 22 minutes",  coz here is a photo to remind me.     

And remember that time she came in February and we went to Peggy's Cove for a nice lunch at the S'ou wester Restaurant ?

I remember it now because looking at this photo reminds me, but unless there are other pictures from the same day I cannot recall what else we did that day.


Through my first 66 years I did not know that other people could see REAL pictures in their minds eye.  I've spent a lot of time since last spring having my own internal pity party; jealous that my friends can visualize my parents when I cannot.

My blogging chum Kathy who writes "Lake Superior Spirit", also has Aphantasia (along with 2% of the population) , but figured out on her own many years ago that she lacked the ability to see in her head and has a more positive attitude toward what I see as a loss.  Here is her take on living with this condition: "Close your eyes and imagine your dead father's face".

After chatting on-line with Kathy I came to realize that some of the things about the way I see the world are different from how most folk see the world.

Once a week I cross the MacDonald Bridge over the Halifax Harbour to go to choir and each time I do I marvel at the view; the island out in the harbour, the cargo ships below and the ferries criss-crossing the harbour.  Though I know what this bridge and view are like, because I can't hold those images in my head I think that each time I cross it the experience is new and fresh.  Not exactly but almost like it's the first time.

Perhaps it's why I love walking in the woods.  So much to see with something akin to fresh eyes.

I often feel a fresh sense of wonder when I walk in the woods,
or on a beach where I spot amazing wonders.

I sometimes notice things that others seem to overlook.  Perhaps because I don't hold images in my head I see the world slightly differently never losing that child like sense of wonder ?

Perhaps this is another reason I like hanging out with Wendy and Sooki.  

I suspect that they live very much for the moment and share my joy at life's small wonders.

And though I wish things were different I am learning to be content with the way they are.


  1. I find it very interesting that I have this exact same condition. I believe I have carried a camera for over 40 years because of that. I make annual photo books and often look at them to remind me of things I have done. My husband gets offended if I don't notice that he has shaved his beard...but I didn't even realize his face was different (this has happened repeatedly). It's a very strange way to live, and I never knew it was a "thing".

    1. Hey Sara, I tell that same story about my hubby shaving off his mustache.

      It does make life interesting.

  2. What happens when you have to drive somewhere? Do you get lost going home?

    1. I'm pretty good with directions though sometimes I think I'm better than I really am ... hence my getting lost in the woods and the need for a lol

  3. This is fascinating. I've never heard of aphantasia before. It's so great that you live in the modern age and can at least document memories with photos. In previous eras that would not have been possible. And I'm sure the silver lining or special gift in all this is your delight in each visual moment as a new moment to you.

    1. I must learn to make the best of what I see as a bad thing.

  4. I, also, recently read of this condition. Anyway, I enjoy your photos.

    1. Thanks. I enjoy taking and sharing them. You are looking at my memories.

  5. So glad to read of your experience, Sybil. Looks like a few of us are "coming out of the closet" so to speak! It's so interesting comparing our experiences. We're both coming full circle into acceptance of this different way of viewing. I guess the primary difference, perhaps, is that I haven't (usually) wanted to visualize and have enjoyed this other way of perceiving. But can see totally--no pun intended--how one might grieve this. Great blog!

    1. P.S. I "remember" your daughter's picture from before. Not her face, but the way the energy dances through and around her.

    2. You seem to have a gift for finding the positive way to look at things. I think now that when I share photos I am sharing MY memories. It's like I'm letting folk see what I see. Since I cannot see them in my mind I see them externally.

  6. What a thought-provoking post, Sybil. I also saw Kathy's blog on this condition - I too had no idea that it was 'thing' either. Thank you for sharing your experience with it.

    1. You are very welcome Reggie. Life is so very different for each of us isn't it ?

  7. Sorry to get here so late, Sybil, I was recovering from surgery when you posted this. I've heard of face-blindness, prosopagnosia, but the aphantasia you describe is difficult for me to imagine. I figured out I had a face-blindness after reading about Jane Goodall's experience with it. I remember how excited I was to discover that this was the reason I had such a hard time distinguishing characters in a movie! But on the other hand, I do think in pictures. For instance, I can picture my daughter's home and all the furniture and her. But I still cannot distinguish all her neighbors from each other. It's kind of embarrassing. Anyhow, I love what you shared here and feel I understand what you are grappling with a little better.


Thanks for stopping by. I really do love to read your comments.