I have always wondered how police forensic sketch artists produce drawings of criminals as per witness/victim accounts. To be precise, how do people even remember the criminal’s face? It is this very thought that brought me to the realisation that I can’t even recollect from memory or imagine my loved ones’ face using my mind’s eye. That I cannot visualise a single image in my head. But what truly drove the realisation home was the fact that I couldn’t even picturise the place I had visited mere minutes ago.
Whenever people around me recollected fond memories, I thought they were hallucinating. Can you imagine living a life where, at your lowest point, you can’t even imagine a good memory that can give instil in you the hope to keep plugging on? Whenever you were lying in bed in your hostel room on a sleepless night and reminiscing about your family, these memories always helped, right? But can you imagine a life where you can’t even remember your family’s face? What if it’s all just darkness when you close your eyes?
That’s my reality. That’s every moment of my life.
While students around me prepared mind maps while preparing for their exams, I had to learn entirely by rote as I could not use such tactics. Since I cannot imagine any images, I could not grasp the subjects that require a higher degree of spatial relationship between the numbers, creating mental representations and visual imagination – such as computer science and geometry or trigonometry.
Kept something somewhere and forgot? Guess what! I can’t recollect any images in to help aid my quest in finding the misplaced object. Talking about excreta at the dinner table? No, there won’t be a reaction from me even as everyone else exclaims with disdain and disgust at the person who brought up the subject – I can keep eating as there was no mental image that was stirred in my mind.
The worst part of living with this condition is that I can’t even recollect fond memories of loved ones who have left this world – something that became all too apparent during these pandemic years.
So why has this happened to me? Is this condition treatable? According to Adam Zeman’s 2015 study titled ‘Lives without imagery: congenital aphantasia’, I have a rare congenital developmental condition called aphantasia. This is a condition in which one cannot visualise an image, create mental images of anything that is not visibly present around you at that moment.
Aphantasia, which literally means “without imagination or appearance”. As of now, there isn’t any known cure but there are several studies looking into the matter.
The visibility of individuals with aphantasia is meagre. We need more awareness about it, so that those suffering from it can step forward and share their stories. Being aphantasic is not something to be ashamed of. In academia we have to put in double the effort, but what can stop us if we set the sky as the limit for our dreams?
Kevin T. Sabu is a student of MA in Diplomacy, Law & Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University and a graduate of B.A (Hons). History from St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi.