I first became aware of my ‘condition’ as a small child. I could not get to sleep, and my father or my sister would say, “Just close your eyes, and picture sheep jumping over a wall. Count the sheep. You’ll soon go to sleep”. I tried, but told them I couldn’t see anything when I closed my eyes, just a greyness. Nobody believed me. “Don’t be silly everybody can see pictures when they close their eyes”. This was news to me, and I decided not to mention it again.
I was always getting told off for ‘telling stories’, making things up. Ironic that I am now a scriptwriter. I never told anybody else about my condition, because, it didn’t appear to affect my life too much. I must admit there were times when I wished that I could close my eyes and think of my late mother’s face. She had passed away when I was six. Apart from that, it was just natural to me.
My family were quite creative. My father was an amateur tenor opera singer. My sister was an accomplished pianist. My father’s idea of family entertainment was for us all to read Julius Caesar. I could recite Mark Anthony’s speech when I was about eight.
Because of this background, when my big sister said “I know. Let’s write a musical”, it didn’t occur to me to question her. Of course, I presumed that, being the musician, she would write the songs, but, no, she said she would write the story and I could write the songs.
I was too young and innocent to object. I had no knowledge of music theory, so I guessed that I should think them up in my head. After all, that’s how I listened to music most of the time. So, I wrote my first song ‘Under The Moonlight’. It was awful, bit it was a complete song.
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My sister soon lost interest, but I had gotten the bug. I even wrote a rough play. It had an opening dream sequence, that I soon realised was too complex for the stage, so I reimagined it as a feature film.
In all these imaginings, I never closed my eyes to visualise anything. I couldn’t. I could write songs with my eyes wide open, and visuals, I just described on paper.
At fifteen, I saw The Beatles for the first time, and knew what I would be doing for the rest of my life.
I started writing songs in earnest, formed a school group; eventually made records, turned professional, toured Europe, and then the band broke up in 1973.
I went into the business full time and I am now a music supervisor in the film, industry. I have also written four screenplays.
In none of my creative endeavours have I needed to ‘visualise’.
The matter of my ‘condition’ didn’t come up again, until in my thirties, and suffering from major stress, I started seeing a stress therapist.
Now, I was asked to lay on the therapist’s bed, to close my eyes and ‘Imagine your favourite place, a place where you felt peaceful.’ Once again, I could only see grey clouds. I decided to say nothing, but mentally ‘spoke’ the details of my favourite place, as if I was narrating a radio programme. Surprisingly, it worked, and I was able to successfully receive stress therapy and eventually deep meditation.
I have no idea if these two things are connected, but I have always had a shocking memory for events in my life. However, I can recall every song I ever wrote, and when I had a hard drive crash on me, I was able to recall in detail four film scripts.
Again, I have no idea if there is any connection, but I have a very high sense of audio, specifically music. I don’t have to close my eyes to ‘hear’ music. In times of great stress, my coping mechanism is to imagine a symphony orchestra playing.
I dream every night, and have had vivid Technicolor dreams. So what that tells the scientists, I don’t know.
It was with a sense of relief that I discovered that my condition had been researched and given a name – Aphantasia. Apparently not an illness, more like having blue eyes instead of brown, and I accepted this.
However, a couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I Googled ‘Is there a cure for Aphantasia’.
Not surprisingly the answer was ‘no’ but then I found a website, where it gave exercises to overcome the condition. I started to do them and within a few attempts, I was able to conjure up colours at will for the first time in my life. Then gradually shapes. Most notably a ‘wall’ of what looked like bathroom tiles in a vivid blue. I am hopeful.
Would I have swapped my life in music to not have Aphantasia if that was the reason for my musical gift. The answer would be No!
Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you’ve got something extraordinary to share please email email@example.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.