A friend of mine started a conversation on Facebook recently, in which people were discussing Synaesthesia.
At it’s most basic, Synaesthesia is an unusual association between the senses, and it’s not well understood because it presents differently from person to person. You might hear colours, feel sounds as textures, or as was the case with several people in the conversation, assign colours to days of the week.
If you have it, you might not even realise it because it’s something you’ve always had and is therefore entirely normal to you, and even if you mentioned it as a child, it would probably be dismissed as silly, so it becomes internalised. It used to be considered rare, probably because it’s so normal for the individual and doesn’t necessarily register as a conversation piece, but sometimes it’s pretty extreme, and recently it’s becoming a hot topic. An article about the condition was shared (find it here ) and the guy who was featured in it was trying to explain, but it was hard to understand his particular unusual association, because it involved his taste-buds and felt horrendously intrusive.
I have a heightened sense of smell, but was unaware it was anything special until relatively recently. And it’s even more recently that I realised my association between smells, emotions and feelings (of both the intuitive and physical kind) is actually a lot more complex than just knowing the expected properties of an oil.
I’ve mentioned already that several people in the conversation had assigned set colours to days of the week. This is something that is utterly incomprehensible to me, because my synaesthesia is linked to energetic vibration and (I think) barometric pressure*, so, living in the UK, colours can change from moment to moment, let alone day to day.
I wrote* “Today was quite purple, because the sky smelled higher than it looked.” (Don’t worry, it surprised me too!) What I was referring to was that the sky looked quite cloudy, so the day should have smelled grey and soft, but actually it was warm and fresh and smelled a lot like today – Today there is not a cloud in the pale blue sky and I can smell what I’d expect, which is a faintly metallic note that registers in my brain as exactly the same colour as the sky. So I can only surmise that the purple I was registering yesterday came from the disconnect between what I could see and what I could smell.
It’s very confusing to try and explain, because it’s not something I normally think about in much detail,if at all.
The first time I consciously realised I did this was when I went to perfumery school, and suddenly I just knew that unicorns smell the way pearls look! That is definitely not a smell I could create with pure essential oils, so actually capturing it to the point where my tutor knew it represented something “not of this earth” from perfumery ingredients was deeply special for me, and was the moment I actually, finally, understood and accepted that I have a talent.
For 12 years prior to that, I’d been making amazing essential oil blends that created all sorts of magic for people, both physically and emotionally, and I’d always put it down to the fact that essential oils are beautiful and you’d have to be an idiot to get it wrong. How sad is that?
However, the real clincher for me was when I got Flu over New Year 2016/2017. When I recovered from being utterly bed-bound, my sense of smell was completely gone. There was absolutely nothing – and my world went completely flat, in the most literal sense. I truly couldn’t see things the way I used to and I felt like all the texture had been sucked out of my world.
You know how in The Wizard of Oz (my favourite film ever), Dorothy’s real life in Kansas is filmed in black and white but when she lands in Oz, everything is bold and colourful? That’s how stark the difference was to me. Usually I am delighted by nature, all the tiny things, like dew on a spiders web, or sunlight playing on the leaves, or the breeze dancing through the weeping willow I can see through my window – but for three months there was NOTHING. I could still see those things if I looked for them, but my emotional link to them was absent. It was truly awful, and, in light of how happy I was with my newly uncovered talent for perfumery it was also devastating.
I was lucky though, because Anosmia, as the inability to detect smells is known, can be permanent, but eventually my sense of smell did return. At first it was fleeting “glimpses” of a single note, but it quickly ramped up and then one day, as suddenly as it had disappeared, my sense of smell was back, bringing with it new levels of awareness around what I now know to be “my” synaesthesia, as well as barrow-loads of joy and gratitude.
Since I started noticing that HOW I do what I do is a little bit unusual, I’m having fun with it – and as with most self-awareness exercises, it’s making me a better, more complete version of myself. That first year after my perfume course, there were some ingredients that I simply couldn’t fix in my brain in their own right, I had to smell them every single time I opened the bottle to remember them! I knew that if I blended them with certain other ingredients they would do “X” but associating them with a physical feeling or a colour of their own has really helped me understand them better.
Have a think about what you take for granted that might well be unique just to you! I’d love to hear about it, so do leave a comment below.