I was talking with my friend Stacey the other day on Zoom and she mentioned her fractured wrist. It’s healing well, and she’s been diligent about doing mobility exercises while she waits for her scheduled rehab appointment. Stacey is a model patient in that she’s already doing everything she can to help her fracture heal. I’m sure she will have a positive outcome to what has been an unfortunate encounter with an errant 2 x 4, and a painful and frustrating experience.
For five of my twenty-eight years in practice, I worked as a massage therapist in an outpatient orthopedic physical therapy clinic that offered hand therapy among its treatments. As I was watching Stacey go through her stretches and range of motion, the types of exercises I used to help people with every day in the clinic, I got flashes of synaesthetic pain. They were launched by the sight of the healing scar on Stacey’s wrist, but also by her words and movements. She was sharing that supination exercises are still painful, and witnessing her attempts to rotate her palm toward the ceiling sent shocks of stinging electrical pain down my arms and legs.
“The cursed gift.”
This is what Stacey said to me when I told her that I had an immediate synaesthetic pain response to her wrist. The cursed gift. What perfect words to describe the outlier experiences of synaesthesia. Sometimes it feels like a superpower. Other times synaesthesia feels like an impediment. The cursed gift.
Stacey is six feet tall and we talked about the ways in which her exceptional height has been her own cursed gift.
Gift: She never needs a step stool in her kitchen to reach the highest cabinets.
Curse: When she was single, dating was a challenge.
Gift: She feels safer walking down the street at night than her shorter friends.
Curse: Finding clothes that fit can be a struggle.
Gift: She doesn’t feel smooshed in a crowd and can usually see over everyones heads.
Curse: Feeling uncomfortable with wearing heels i.e. not wanting to be 6’3’’.
For me, synaesthesia is a cursed gift. I love having the trait, but it’s not all pretty colored letters and sounds that make striking patterns of light and hue. Sometimes my synaesthesias cause me pain and psychosocial difficulties. And sometimes I make mistakes because synaesthesia can foster confusion.
Gift: Every word has a color, which makes it easy for me to remember names and dates.
Curse: I once gave my dog the wrong medication because I gave her the pill that matched the color of the name of the drug, and not the pill she was supposed to take. She ended up being okay, but it was a little scary.
Gift: I feel other peoples bodies as if they are my own, so seeing other people hug is really lovely.
Curse: I also feel every injury I see not only at the location of the wound, but as jolts of pain down my arms and legs and across my chest.
Gift: I don’t need reminders of appointments, and for decades, I never kept a calendar. Every time and date has a color that helps me keep them organized.
Curse: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to start using a calendar for my business and it feels really unnatural. I swear I make more scheduling mistakes now than when I just kept all of my appointments in my head.
Stacey and I talk quite a bit about neurodiversity and the ways in which our outlier traits create frustrations. But they can also create connections when we share our narratives, when we reveal the ways in which our attributes can be both exceptional and the source of angst. The cursed gift. I love this term, and it’s wonderful to have a friend who truly gets the concept.