I’m a late bloomer; I learned the term synaesthesia 10 years ago, even though I’ve had blended senses from my earliest recollections. Identifying as a synesthete has been rewarding in so many ways, and has diminished the dissonance that defined my life prior to learning that my neurocognition is atypical. I love having synaesthesia, and I wouldn’t give it up for all the money in this world.
One might think that the best part of having synaesthesia is the pretty colored words, or the visual patterns that accompany music, or the ways in which mirror-touch makes me feel every hug I see, every gesture of affection I witness as if it’s happening to me. These aspects of synaesthesia are all quite wonderful, but what I love the most about my synesthesia is the ways in which it connects me to other synaesthetes. I have the loveliest flock of synnie friends, people from all over the globe with whom I’ve connected via our mutual experiences with conflated sensation. In synesthesia, I’ve found my neurotribe.
One of my favorite synnie friends is C. I am using their initial and not their whole name because I would typically ask permission before including someone in a blog post. I want this one to be a bit of a surprise, kind of a synnie friendship loveletter. So I’m writing this morning on the DL, and keeping C’s name under wraps.
I met C on Facebook where we have several friends in common. When we first connected, C lived abroad, but now they live in the US where the time difference isn’t so great, and we can converse via FB messenger IRT. C and I have never met in person, but that doesn’t really matter to me.
C and I are both polysynaesthetes, meaning we have multiple expressions of synesthesia, and we both have mirror-sensory synesthesia. For me, that form of syn comes with a boatload of psychosocial conflict, and I believe C would agree. What started out as conversations about the friction mirror-touch brings into our lives has turned into far ranging dialogues about our personal struggles, our challenges with other neurocognitive differences, and our mutual quests to find our way in a neuronormative world where our senses, perceptions, and behaviors aren’t always a match for social norms. Sometimes we laugh at ourselves and the funny situations that synesthesia foments, and sometimes we talk about our frustrations, but either way, I never realized how authentic a friendship could be when launched via social media. C has shown me so much support and love and understanding, and I hope I have been able to do the same.
I live in San Francisco, California, a city of 800,000 people, yet I only have one friend here who has synesthesia. J and I aren’t particularly close. We once worked together, and while I have huge respect for J, I haven’t seen him in a year or more. Also, we’ve only had the most casual conversations about synesthesia; it’s just not a big part of what unites J and I, and we are more likely to talk about politics, art, and health/wellness. In contrast, the beauty of my online synnie friendships is that our relationships were sparked over the topic of synesthesia, and that connection has, at least for me, fostered instant comfort with talking about the most private aspects of my sensory and cognitive experiences.
That’s how I feel about C with whom I had a quick rapport and a deep feeling of connection after just a few Facebook messages. C and I call each other occasionally or connect via FB video chat, and that has helped our friendship continue to blossom. We’ve never me IRL, but hopefully in the coming year, when travel is safe again, we will have that chance. For now, I am honored to have this friendship from afar, just as I appreciate chatting with my synnie friend S in The Netherlands, or my friend A who lives in Nigeria, and who is learning more about synesthesia to help his young daughter.
I don’t know where I would be at this point in my life without my synnie friends. Surely it would be a lonely experience, a more confusing experience to explore my conflated perceptions in solitude. I’ve learned so much from you C; you’ve been so forthright about your joys and frustrations and the ways synesthesia both enhances and complicates your life. I am grateful to call you my friend.