It was 1995; I was 32 years old, with friends, discussing wine.
I was waxing lyrical over a wine I had recently tasted when my hostess interrupted me. “Mary,” she asked, “Do you by any chance see music in colour?”
I looked at her blankly for a moment and then said, “Well, yes – doesn’t everyone?”
“No,” she replied. You have synaesthesia; it’s very rare.”
Until that moment I had assumed that everyone had their senses all working together: that they heard sound in shapes and colours, tasted in sound and shape, smelled in colour and texture. Turns out – nope – they don’t.
Until my daughter was eleven, she assumed that words moved around on the page for everyone; she concluded she was just stupid, because everyone else in the class could read easily and she struggled. It was a chance remark to a friend that revealed she has Irlen’s syndrome. Irlen’s syndrome has elements in common with dyslexia and ADHD but is not often spotted by the educational system.
Until last week, my friend Richard was under the impression that everyone in the world struggles with thoughts of suicide from time to time; he thought that they else just hide it better. After all, until recently, the subject of mental health has been little discussed: he had no way of knowing. He was astounded to find that, no: most people do not experience the massive emotional ups and downs that, for him, is normality. Suddenly, a lot of things that had confused him made much more sense.
We all have our own normality which we do not query until it is challenged. That challenge can be a chance remark or question, or a traumatic event which reveals that we are “different”.
Then we are torn. On the one hand, while we want to be recognised as individuals, on the other hand, we don’t want to be different. “Different” in our tribal minds, means being ostracised; being taunted; being hunted down.
Thankfully, in the twenty-first century and in the Western World, our differences are usually accepted and, for those differences which create a challenge, help is sometimes available.
I’ve been lucky with my synaesthesia – it is not as overwhelming for me as it is to some, who find the over-stimulation a disability. And it comes in handy for the writing!
We have been lucky with my daughter. Although there is no “cure” for Irlens’ syndrome, a local specialist has helped her enormously and she can now read to a competent standard; although the other connected symptoms mean she does not learn as easily or quickly as others.
And Richard now knows he cannot expect automatic understanding from everyone around him: he needs to seek support from people who do understand.
Our “normality”, our struggles, may not be the normality of the world. We may have a handicap we know nothing about. Once we know, we can get help, or at least support.
Thank goodness for Moodscope: a great support indeed!
A Moodscope member.