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Essay

Synesthesia: How My Brain Swirls Color into Life

by Kelli Kehler

My name, to me, is yellow. This is because the letter K is yellow in my brain, therefore it colors the rest of my name, Kelli, in yellow. The number one is blue, the number two is red, and three is green. The song “The Geese of Beverly Road” by my favorite band, The National, is a swirling mix of deep emerald greens and flecks of gold. These colors dance across my mind’s eye, throughout my sub-conscious and conscious, as they come to mind, or are read or seen by me.

When I was in college over a decade ago, taking a psychology and sociology class, I learned that I had synesthesia. I sat in a large lecture hall with hundreds of other students, everyone bent over the same survey packet that would evaluate our personalities, our emotional history, our lives and so on — this would help the professor and his assistants sort us out into different studies, which is how we earned credit. As I answered each question (Have you ever experienced depression? Do you remember your childhood fondly?) I glanced up and looked at each friend on either side of me — they were pages ahead of me in the survey. I looked back down at my own packet of survey questions: Do you associate colors with numbers and letters? If no, skip to page 6. “Well of course I do,” I thought. Didn’t everyone?

Actually, everyone does not.


Image above: The colors my synesthesia associates to the above letters and numbers (the yellow is actually a bit hotter than what I see in my brain, but my 4-year-old didn’t have a warm yellow option so highlighter yellow will have to do).

Scientists believe about 3-5% of the population have some form of synesthesia — “a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” I also call this a “marriage of senses” when I’m describing it to people who say to me, “you have syne-WHAT?

I learned of this neurological phenomenon of mine when I was called up by my professor and his staff, who told me there was just one other person on campus who they knew to have synesthesia. Mind you, my school had about 43,000 students on campus studying in some capacity. I spent the next several months sitting in classrooms with my professor’s teaching aids who’d ask me various questions about my perception of color (Did it extend to calendar months and days? Did it occur through music?) and have me color on numbered transparency sheets to try to convey the way in which my brain saw these hues.

I quickly fulfilled my credit requirements for the class, and participated in a few more studies to earn monetary compensation (a great bonus for a college kid!). It still was completely mind-blowing to me that other people did not experience the world this way — a way I lived life for some 20 years without knowing was rare.

After college, while I was working my first job out of school as a journalist at a large newspaper, fellow reporters would look at me with wide eyes when my synesthesia came up in newsroom conversation. Ever the information-seekers and voracious researchers, my coworkers would grill me on how I saw the world, eager to hear a firsthand take. “I’ve never met anyone with synesthesia before,” one of them said, “hold on I have to call my friend and tell them!”

Come to think of it, I’ve never met a fellow synesthete either.

One of the questions I’m asked regularly is if my brain’s color coding trips me up when I see numbers that don’t match my own personal code (i.e. if I see a red #1, because #1 is blue to me). The short answer to that is yes, but I would have a very hard time getting through the day if I got stressed out by every number, letter, or so on that didn’t match my mind’s eye. Therefore, I try to push past the fact that they don’t match my brain’s color coding, and this basically involves me not dwelling on the colors of numbers, letters, and so on. Black numbers and letters are the easiest for me to experience.

The second question I get asked is, do I use synesthesia to help me remember things? Absolutely — but I do this involuntarily. If I can’t remember what floor my doctor’s appointment is on, but I see green in my brain, I realize it’s on the third floor. This isn’t something I actively focus on, it’s just the way my brain works.


Image above: This is as close as I can come to showing, in a tangible way, how my brain experiences the color it associates with a number.

Another question often asked of me involves music and how that interplays with color in my mind. The best way to describe this is: do you remember the Windows PC screen savers that would pair with your music player and make swirling, color-changing displays on a black backdrop? It looks something like that. This occurs both when I listen to music, or simply if there is a song stuck in my head. I am most comforted by the songs or chords that color my neurological landscape with deep greens, and blues and purples. Those are the songs that I return to again and again, but I am not sure why.

The last most frequently asked question pertains to my view of calendar months, and if each month has a distinct color, or if I view them in a progressing gradient of colors from month to month. My answer is the latter — I would have a hard time pinpointing an exact color swatch to you of my color for, say, October, but it changes and fades into November, which changes and fades into December, and so on, a different color family for each month. I recently took a by the University of Sussex, a 43-minute online survey of sorts that helps map and measure synesthesia. I was repeatedly given the same numbers, letters, calendar months, days of the week, musical instruments and musical chords and had to use a wide-range color spectrum to assign the exact hue I associated for each (over and over again). My numbers, letters and musical chords were right-on the same pinpointed color every time, but my calendar months were a bit more varied because I see a spectrum of shades for each month and have a hard time focusing on one exact color.

But color and number/letter/calendar/etc. association is just one of the many forms of synesthesia (called grapheme-color synesthesia). Some people taste certain words or sounds; others can feel sound on their skin.

If you have a hunch you might have synesthesia, you can take a test like the I took. I’m so curious since I’ve never interacted with another synesthete — do you have or think you have synesthesia? Do you know someone who does? I’d love to hear more in the comments!

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Comments

  • My husband has synesthesia! He sees words, numbers and people in colours. Not all people, but those he is close to. A lot of the wonderful men in his life are shades of darker green, while I am an orange. I’ve never asked him about months or songs!

    • Wow, Pam, seeing people in colors sounds so cool to me! Thanks for sharing – totally ask your husband about months or songs :)

      Kelli

  • I have synesthesia – I taste shapes. Like you, I didn’t realize it was a “thing” until I was an adult. When I was a kid, my parents had no idea what I was talking about when I said I didn’t like something because it “tasted round.”

    • That is fascinating, Lori! Does it influence your daily life in a negative or positive way, or is it just, essentially, “there”?

      Kelli

    • Oh, how wonderful to find another who tastes shapes! Tastes (and smells) have color, shape, and often position & rotation. I can’t imagine cooking without it!

  • I have grapheme synesthesia…1 is light blue for me! Seems so weird that this is rare because it feels so normal to me…I’ve always wondered if my associations were skewed by those letter/number magnets from my childhood.

    • Zoe that’s a great point, I always wondered that too. But my grapheme synesthesia extends so far beyond numbers that I thought it might have been solidified by the magnets if they happened to match my colors, because I really can’t explain how I would have been influenced by all the other things I see in color. After I learned of my synesthesia I used to ask my mom if she used a particular set of flash cards with me, and if she remembered their colors. And I agree, I still can’t believe our “normal” is not normal at all!

      Kelli

    • I have synesthesia with colors and letters/numbers. I have wondered this exact same thing about the magnets! We had them on our fridge for ages. For me, 2 is light blue. Always. And actually 1 doesn’t really have a strong color attached to it for me other than maybe black. No other color or number is black though… Odd.

      Someone above mentioned colors assigned to people. I didn’t really think about that being a synesthesia thing until now. My mom is reddish purple. Dad is bold red. Brother is blue and yellow… but also orange in some contexts. My SO is a rust color but he’s also like an olive green. My stepson is yellow.

      Also, I don’t think synesthesia is rare… My understanding is it’s something we all have when we’re young– it’s helps our young brains learn and make connections. As we age it fades (for lack of a better word) away for most people. I think mine has faded some, but I still have very srong connections with letters/numbers and colors and I’m nearly 40.

  • I have synesthesia too. I’ve had it as long as I can remember, but I didn’t realize it was unusual until graduate school. My experiences are very similar to yours, and you explain it beautifully. My colors differ from yours, of course. And I experience time differently. Time appears to me in spatial format, as if the year is a zoetrope floating in front of me, with January around 11:00 and October around 3:00. Times of day are similar; I can see my appointments floating out in front of me!

    • Hi Maggie, thanks for the kind words!

      Your experience with time is remarkable, do you tend to favor other times of day or year because of this?

      Kelli

    • I am amazed reading this. My times of day are exactly like yours. I don’t see numbers in color but numbers in my brain are set in a certain order organized by 1-29 in one column and then 30’s in another and so on and it reads from right to left. The months of the year are in a set pattern. January thru April on one line, May through August on a lower line with May under April and then extended. September is below August and then extended out through December. I’ve always asked others if they see numbers in this way and none have. I always thought I was weird but this blog post makes me feel a little less strange!

    • This is exactly like me too! I have synesthesia as well…I have several types. I have the grapheme kind where I see numbers and letters in colors. Numbers show up stronger in color for me. My colors just slightly vary from yours. For me, 8 is yellow, 1 is clear or white, 6 is purple and 9 is like a rose color and 7 is green. Numbers and letters also have personas for me, so like I don’t really like even numbers…they bother me. Even numbers seem like they are egotistical and bratty. I think odd numbers are more humble. I also see numbers in a giant number line in my mind’s eye that trails off into infinity and starts at number 1. It’s kind of like a ribbon or a measuring tape in that I can “pull” it if I’m thinking of a number and go to that number, and the bigger the numbers get, the more coiled up the measuring tape is. But I also see colors when listening to music. Same thing as was mentioned about the Windows PC music application playing swirling colors when music is playing…I get that in my mind’s eye. Many favorite songs for me produce various shades of browns, deep grays, metallics and greens. And finally, I have what Maggie described above in the way I experience time. This was actually what made me want to research synesthesia from the start. I experience time in a spatial way, just like she describes. The way I explain it to others is that the year exists on a “track field” for me. It’s an oblong shape that I can see and manipulate in my mind, depending on where we are in the year. If it were a clock, those times are exactly how Maggie described as well, October, which was are currently in, would be around 3:00 or on a track field it would be the right hand side of the track. I can visualize months, weeks, years and hours of the day, too. That’s how I’m able to see my appointments and what we have going on. A week is also shaped like a “track field” and where ever we are in the week or the year, I can almost rotate the “track” almost like I’m running on it. So right now, in October, I am rounding the right side of the track field heading into winter. For me, whenever there is December, there’s a gap, where there’s just empty space, like a drop off, and then there’s January. I think this is my mind’s way of signifying a new year. Synesthesia is so fascinating to me! I love that I have it! Also assumed everyone saw time and numbers the way I did.

  • I remember a fellow student in college who asked a question in college during a lecture, something to the effect of “but don’t you agree that the number 3 is just, like, turquoise? And I think that traingles are brown”… or something of the sort.

    I think we all just boggled at her (she had many odd questions though, so we mostly dismissed this as another one in a string of off the wall questions) but years later I learned about synesthesia and wish I could go back in time and yell “No! but I think you have synesthesia!” I hope she found out eventually.

    • I hope she found out too, Kirsten! It definitely does sound out-there to people who don’t know about synesthesia :)

  • I have it too! I always thought everyone associated colors with numbers, letters etc. Then I saw a TED talk about it some years ago and realized I was a little different. Thanks for sharing your experience and the link to the evaluation. I’ll have to check it out!

  • I don’t experience synesthesia with letters or numbers but mildly with music. It’s more pronounced when I close my eyes. It’s very much like the wallpaper but usually it’s a wave of a single or two colors swirling around. I remember during college days, I sometimes enjoyed my most sleep deprived days because I used to see environmental halos and rainbows based on shape, distance, and color.

    Every action has a sound. When I see an action, my mind creates a sound to go with it and often I process it best when I verbalize that sound. With the popularity of gifs, I really notice this experience especially when the moving image is only a few frames and concentrates on a singular action. Some things sound like what others would identify as woosh of air or zoom noises, others are quite abstract and aren’t things you’d see captioned in a comic book. ;)

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • My 16 year old daughter has this! Her color scheme is different than yours. She says she doesn’t really see music like that, but letters and numbers have color. Each month has a different color scheme, and so do the days of the week. We never knew that there was a name for it. Thank you!

  • I don’t think I have synthesthesia, but I see the spellings of words when people speak. So my granddaughter named Eva, but pronounced Ava, gives me fits. I have to think before I say her name so I don’t say Eva with an ‘e’ sound and also to write her name I have to think to not write ‘Ava’. Just wondering if anyone else does this?
    I’m not trying to divert attention away from your article which was fascinating and I’ve never known anyone with synthesthesia. Doesn’t the character of Sheldon on Big Bang Theory have it?

    • I also spell things I hear and see. It used to drive me crazy, but now I have accepted it. Glad to find someone else out there who does the same thing. :)

  • So fascinating! While I don’t see colors — I’ve always said I can feel and see numbers and even months and days of the week. Which after reading your experience had me wondering if it was a form of synesthesia. A short google search later and turns out I have number-form synesthesia. And also that misophonia is a form of synesthesia— the sound of people eating can be anger inducing! Thanks for teaching me something new about myself!

    • oh! I didn’t know misophonia is a “thing.” I thought I was just a sound cranky curmudgeon! Amazing what you learn on this blog.
      : )

  • I didn’t realize that this wasn’t how it was for everyone until I was in my 20s. It’s how I have always done math, remembered dates, birthdays, names, phone numbers. I realized only fairly recently that I experience it in more subtle, barely tangible ways as well… even house numbers on the east side of the street… totally wrong. Even house numbers on the north side of a street? Also wrong. There are also some telephone numbers that I just can’t remember, I have this feeling that it’s a “bad” (not as in evil but as in…. just not… right) number because of the combination or sequence on numbers… it’s just wrong. And there are a few words that I can never spell, they also seem “wrong.” Can’t explain it better than that. I’m so curious if my kids also are synesthetes. But it’s hard to ask young ones without it being a leading question. My dad died young, also so curious if he was. For me music is ribbons, and if the ribbon is like a mobius strip, I almost always love the song…

    I’m so fascinated by the taste of shapes….

  • I think I have synesthesia but it seems to manifest more mildly than other people’s experience. For me 4’s and 7’s are emerald green and 6’s are primary red. That’s pretty much it. But, when I read about how other people experience synesthesia, it makes me wonder if maybe it’s possible that I haven’t fully tapped into what my brain is capable of…or that maybe none of us have.

  • I believe my four year old daughter may have synesthesia. When she was two we started noticing that she had “assigned” my husband and I colors. I am blue, he is yellow and she is red. Guests were always green. When we would be playing or coloring I was always, without fail handed a blue crayon, or blue block etc. I told an art teacher of hers about it and she told me about synesthesia. She also told us about the children’s book “My Blue is Happy” which takes you for though a little girl’s emotional association with various colors. Highly recommend!

    • My Daughter Would do her math homework with colored pencils throughout elementary school!
      Not until she was 14, we discovered this. She was reading a book , where the main character is a Synastete (spelling?)
      Such a neat “superpower”!

      • Do you know the name of the book? We just discovered that my 9 year old has synesthesia and I we have called it her superpower!

        • The main character in the Red Sparrow series in a synesthete, but those are definitely not kid appropriate books!

  • This was absolutely fascinating. I love hearing about how other people think and see the world, I think we all do it a little bit differently, but how the world comes together in your brain is really interesting. How you described the colours you associate with the months was wonderful.

    When I was younger I knew a boy who saw sounds as colours, so when we played in orchestra together his experience was sometimes a little overwhelming.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  • I figured out in my 20s that I had it. I would became very emotional when the name of a color didn’t match its “color” One day I read a review of a play about synesthesia and it clicked! A few years ago I wrote about it for a quilt magazine. A friend wanted to know what color she was (non-syns offered every color in the rainbow) – I was adamant she was yellow and magenta. I see music but that is harder to explain – it can be too bright or too dark and become agitating for me. Hope to find peace with it someday!

  • I learnt as a kid that I had synesthesia reading through an article in the newspaper.
    It was well hidden in the amusing-facts-section and I was a bit astonished by the tone of it that sounded like “did you know what some people experience?!”

    My vowels and numbers are colorful. Most of the time this is helpful. Especially with numbers.
    But I sometimes have a hard time remembering names:
    Erika & Regina for example show me the same color combination – white, yellow and brown
    Bernd, Jens, Gerd, Sven – all evoke the same white color in my mind, so I need to focus to remember them correctly
    and even the two cities Bochum and Dortmund are made of a dark blue and red. So I will confound them regularly.

    So far with every other „synesthesian” I met, the only common ground was a yellow “i”
    but apparently this is not universal either.

    By the examples you might guess where I live :)

    • Dying to know whether or not you perceive the words “Germany”, and “Deutschland” as the same color(s).

  • I have synesthesia too, and like you, until I learned about it, I thought everyone saw things the way I do. It makes me nervous to look at your list of numbers because they’re all wrong to me. Haha… One is white and two is yellow… I thought everyone knew that!! ;) I see things in shapes and taste letters and colors too. I can’t do that test (I tried years ago) because they present numbers in certain colors and I get stressed and mixed up when I have to look at something I know is white, in red or whatever. I keep waiting to find out that I’m brilliant because of it, but no such luck. ;)

  • I’ve heard of synesthesia, but never heard a first-person account. This is fascinating; thanks for educating me!

  • My Daughter discovered that her extra perception of the world was not what everyone else saw at age 14. This threw me into a 2 day internet research binge! I was so fascinated, many things made sense in how she acted when she was a small child!
    She has always been extra sensitive to her environment, itchy clothes, loud noises, movie theatres were overwhelming, and will get headaches now after watching a movie at the theatre. She has a very active imagination, creative talents!
    I wonder if this is a common thread? I’ve read that many Senastetes (spelling?) are musicians and artists, Lady GaGa, Pharrell, and references to composers’ notes about colorful music.
    I’ve enjoyed your essay, a family member sent it to me.

  • While I do not have it, a friend of mine at church does. She directs our handbell choir and while she doesn’t have “perfect pitch”, she says she knows when someone plays a wrong note by the way her mind sees it in the sheet music.
    What a strange and beautiful gift!!

  • Your synesthesia discovery story sounds very similar to mine! As a kid, I remember my friends’ confused looks as I told them about my letter/number colors and asked what theirs were. It wasn’t until psychology class in college that I could put a name to this unique gift. I definitely think it gives me a memory advantage, like with spelling and memorizing phone numbers. I have wondered if there is an association between synesthesia and ADHD. I was diagnosed with ADHD about a year ago (at 31). Sometimes it feels like my jumbled thoughts are related to my jumbled senses. Do you or anyone else know of a connection between synesthesia and ADHD or other learning disabilities?

  • Great article. My daughter has this as well. She also found out when in a college class when this was being discussed. She kept thinking, “I do that”, and ‘I do that”, etc. She has it with words and colors, not with music and smell etc.

    Loved your take on this. Fascinating.

  • I don’t believe this is a form of synesthesia, but I do associate personalities with numbers? For some reason the number 7 is demure, for instance, and female. The number 9 is stubborn. The number 3 is creative, etc. And if there’s a “storyline” between a sequence of numbers I can remember them, but usually once it’s more than three numbers I either have to pair them up within the sequence or I completely jumble the sequence because I’m trying to associate the numbers by their personalities rather than their order – like a calm number should be between two opinionated numbers to stop them from fighting, even though they read calm-angry-angry. The number 2 for some reason gets along really well with both 7 and 9, so I end up constantly forgetting which one’s been paired up with the 2, which is awkward considering my birthday’s the 29th and I had to have a friend remember it for me in elementary school. And it’s only single digit numbers that have distinct personalities, after that I think I somehow average the double-digit numbers into some sort of mood spectrum, so after 10 (which codes as “lonely” or “standoffish”, which is somehow a blend of 1’s “independent/stoic” and 0’s “expansive/diffuse”) it’s really more like a mood ring – just a general sense of happy/positive, sad/negative, whatever.

    Very occasionally a number sequence will be utterly delightful and give me that shiver you get when you listen to AMSR videos. Those sequences are easy to remember, like my parking spot at work which I should have switched to a closer one years ago but I like seeing the number too much to change.

    • I do the same thing with numbers and personality traits! When I was younger I couldn’t set an alarm or put a microwave timer on for a time ending in the number 5 or 0 (i.e. 7:45 or 1:30). I would favor more “friendly/humble/welcoming” numbers like 4 and 6, especially when I wanted to wake up to a more soothing mood-number :) When I wanted to be excited or energized I like 3 and 7. Numbers 0, 5, and 8 were “haughty”, “selfish”, and “conceited” numbers. And 9 was mature, reliable, and sage. I use the past tense because I generally have to ignore those instincts to not get too hung up day by day, but it’s in the back of my mind and I still indulge myself from time to time :)

    • Yup, it’s called Ordinal-linguistic personification and it is a form of synesthesia!! :) Hi!! I smiled when I read your comment because I have it too and it’s so great to read/hear someone sharing similar experiences. It’s not often that someone talks about that particular form of synesthesia and I don’t mention it to others out of fear they would think I’m crazy or pushing it because I also see numbers and letters in colour and that is weird enough to most already. :) It’s not as strong as when I was a child, it’s there but I just don’t think too much about it. It entertained me as a kid and I felt like there were stories for each number without realizing that it was unusual. I found out what it was in my 20s. I’m now 48. Oh and in my head, 7 is definitely male and like a middle child, a brother stuck between two sisters. He is going along with things but can snap when he gets too much from the know it all 8 and can take it out on his younger nicer sister 6. Crazy no?? lol! Funny enough both 6 and 8 are yellow. Pale for 6 and warmer, darker like a yolk for 8. 7 is brown like bread or cookie dough. :)

  • So fun to see all these other synesthetes. Until I was about 18 I thought my weekdays hat colours because this was the way I learned the days and later found out that my best friend from primary school is also a synesthetes which to me explains why I thought for a really long time that this was just how everyone sees things.
    I see letters, numbers (and therefore weekdays and months/years as calenders). I feel like I haven’t really tapped into the music thing or maybe I just don’t have it….I changed my phone number once because I didn’t like it and imagine I would have a really hard time choosing a name for a child which feels and looks good, but other than that I really don’t think there is a negative impact from synesthesia.

    It helps so much and I can really recommend using your ‘ability’ when learning a foreign language. It really helped my with grammar, tense and vocabulary!

    I did the Essex study for a while, but the tests would really stress me out, even though you can choose from a wide range of colours, I have a hard time choosing on from the scale because it does not reflect any other aspect (e.g. colours being lucid or bold) and emotional aspects of the colour and I always feel like the choice I make is just a little off.

  • I have it too! When I was little my mom would have my brother and I (he has it too) tell people about our letters and numbers. Mine not only have colors but personalities too. When I was a teenager this was diagnosed as OCD and I was given medicine for it. :( I also have ADHD.

  • HI! I have it, too! *waves* Thanks so much for the great article, it’s always nice to hear someone else’s take since we’re so few and far between. I tried taking the battery, but they keep GIVING me colors and it’s throwing me off my usual. Does that happen to anyone else? I’ll keep taking them from home, since I shouldn’t be doing this at work. Thank you!

  • Yes, yes, yes, this is how I remember area codes! (818 is green black green, for example.) My first grade teacher kept referring to a big colored alphabet chart on the wall while we were learning to read. This made sense to me, but I saw a flaw. I told the poor woman that at least half of the letters were the wrong color, and then I went on to tell her what they “should” be!

    I’m also not the only one in my family with synesthesia. I once asked my mother, with no explanation, what color the days of the week were to her. She didn’t even blink and just told me. Some of her colors were different from mine, which we both thought was interesting. My dad listened to this in utter bewilderment, convinced we were playing a joke on him.

  • It’s so cool to read about other folks with this. I have Grapheme-color synesthesia which is the common one (seeing numbers, letters, months, days and even names in colour). I also have gender and personalities attached to my numbers, letters, months and days. It’s more strong with the numbers though. It sounds crazy trying to explain it but I’m just glad there is a name for it: Ordinal-linguistic personification. :) Seeing the examples up in this post made me smile but it also stressed me out because my numbers don’t match haha! You used the perfect blue (a Facebook blue I now call it) but I use it for the number 4! The number 1 is white in my head. It’s so hard to see it blue here. My 3 is green too (but a bit paler) and the rest threw me off haha! Words end up being mixes or blurs from the coloured letters. The months are more one colour unlike names that get multicoloured.

    Personalities and gender to numbers and letters are: brother or sister, some elders and youngsters, quiet ones, loud ones, selfish ones, fair ones, sage ones, independent ones, leaders, supporters, followers, pushovers lol! As a kid I used to have stories for them. It entertained me but at the time I had no idea that it was an unusual thing. Now I just accept it for what it is and don’t give it much thought. Their personalities shine when single or teaming up (2-3 digits). I’ve discovered I had synesthesia in my twenties. I’m 48 now and my oldest of my 3 daughters have it. She is now 28 but she was 11 when I discovered that she had it after we argued over what the year 2000 should look like haha! I suspect my youngest (8) has it too but I did not test it yet. She used to assign us to colours. It is not life changing but it is interesting. I know it can be passed down from a mother who has synesthesia. So I wouldn’t be surprised if all my daughters have. There were studies for this and I almost joined one when I was pregnant in 2006 after reading an add for it. They would study the mother and follow up after with the child but eventually I preferred to keep my little one out of it. There is a lot of info out there and many questions here could be answered quickly with a bit of reading. The idea of letters and numbers coming from a childhood memory from fridge magnets has been proven to be wrong. It goes way beyond that anyway! :) It’s fun but as an illustrator and someone who plays with colour a lot, I can’t say that it really helps me in that department. Or maybe it does subconsciously? It’s not something I can overthink. It’s just present. I feel it helps me more with memory but that can be conflicting too. Names that have similar colours in my head can get mixed up even if they don’t sound the same. Numbers I dislike or that have a weird colour combo don’t stick in my head as well. Like my freaking postal code haha!

  • This is wonderful to read. I struggled as a young child in school when learning about mixing colors, and addition in math. To me, red=1, yellow=3 and green=4 so you can imagine that learning 1+3=4 didn’t match red+yellow=orange was upsetting. I’ve struggled with math my whole life. I am very attuned to colors. My synesthesia is very mild so I don’t think about it much. As Berangere said, above, “It’s not something I can overthink. It’s just present.”

  • Another fellow synesthete here – in addition to colors associated with letters and numbers, I find that I’m fairly sensitive to sensory input in general, which may be related to the migraines I’ve experienced since childhood. During a migraine episode, everything seems “turned up,” including perception of light and color. I’ve had to be very intentional about the textures and colors I curate throughout my home. My house is FULL of bold colors, but I’ve stayed away from the trend of typography and quotes on walls, as the “noise” they create through the color of each character is just too exhausting for me to process every day.

  • YES!!!

    I have synesthesia too! My mum had it before me, so I grew up thinking and feeling that it was completely normal. We saw some words as the same colours as each other, whereas other words would be very different. Which I guess could lead to some weird conversations where we’d find ourselves saying that we couldn’t believe someone didn’t recognise that Mondays were red, and could actually end up having a good tempered arguments when we disagreed over the colour of Wednesdays.

    For me, I don’t really see numbers as colours, just letters, so numbers only have colour when written as words. Also hard consonant sounds have a cooler colour spectrum than soft warm vowel sounds. The colour of most words are informed by the letters they start with, but the rest of the letters within the word affects the tone and shade of the colour.

    I sometimes forget how weird it can sound to someone else. For a colleague’s birthday a few years back a few of us went to buy her some flowers, and couldn’t decide on which colour. I immediately said, ‘well pink of course, her name’s Emma’ E names are almost always pink to me. They couldn’t understand, that I saw it that way, and that it has nothing to do with favourite colours, or colours that suit a person. My name is a pink name, it’s one I see when people use my name, but green is my favourite colour, and mustard yellow looks best on me.

    The other form of synesthesia that I shared with my mother is feeling real pain when other people describe painful things that have happened to them, or seeing painful things happen. It’s weird, like an echo of real pain, or a jingle of alarm bells in my nervous system, centering around the area in my body that corresponds to the hurt area. This one has taken a lifetime to learn to control and get over. I’ve had to train myself to try and turn it off, or get better at ignoring it. I’m much better if I know the pain isn’t real, or I expect it. For example on a tv show, or when someone is recounting a story. But if it comes as a surprise, it gets me every time. It’s far worse as well with people I care about than with strangers, which is odd, and I always think of it as an extreme form of empathy. I don’t get it when I think back to my own past injuries though, I guess I anticipate those feelings.

    I wonder if other people who have synesthesia feel the same as me that they’re very good at making connections between things in their head, and good empaths? I sometimes think that my synapses go crazy and that there are too many links in my brain, connecting everything to everything else. Including colours to words, and what I see or hear to my nerves. Like a massive misfiring everywhere. But I guess I wouldn’t swap for a less colourful experience.

  • I have it, too! I also though it was normal until I tried to teach a drawing class on colour, and asked everyone to draw their colours of the days of the week. Fifteen blank expressions in front of me. I fumbled about to explain the task more clearly, and eventually one mature-age student said, “I think you have Synesthesia!”

    Mine is most clear with days of the week, and my Mum and I used to argue over what day was what colour (because how could Friday POSSIBLY be black, when it is so OBVIOUSLY orange?)
    There are a couple of other quirks: when I am drifting off to sleep, an unexpected sound will manifest as a flash of white light before I even hear it. Also when I scratch a certain part of my ear I can smell the carpet of my first classroom at school!
    And… erm… anyone else have colourful orgasms? 😳😁🎉

  • This is probably a very late response and a bit different than the others but when I was pregnant I found I had taste sensations from colour and not favourable ones (lol). I paint, and at the time, mixing colours made me incredibly nauseous. Watching the colours blend together was so difficult that I had to stop painting for a while. It even makes me queasy just picturing it now.

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