Say the number six and it sits at my temples, a serrated, moist tangerine sheen moving like fire. I prefer the number seven, pale turquoise and floating like a cottony cloud before my eyes. But my favorite has always been the number four, earthy, silent, smelling of mushrooms and cube-shaped.
I can admit this now without self-consciousness.
As a child I thought everyone perceived the world in this way. Until I realized they didn’t. To avoid ridicule, I quickly learned to keep silent. The same silence recognized by some others of you reading this now. To me, numbers appear in color. Letters appear in color. Emotions are evoked by these splashes of hue. Have you ever burst out in tears while in a museum looking at Mark Rothko’s color field paintings? The experience is visceral and embarrassing. It offers some comfort to know that others have had this same experience or a similar one when listening to a piece of music.
Only a short decade ago I found out this condition has a name: synesthesia.
The world is perceived differently by a person with synesthesia. Furthermore, each synesthete perceives colors and senses in unique ways different from other synesthetes. Synesthesia is also not typically taught in medical school. To those unfamiliar with synesthesia, it may be falsely considered a disorder. No citations can be found in any of the major pediatric medical journals. In adult medical journals it has sometimes been associated with drug use or a personality trait along a broad continuum that, in its far extreme, includes schizophrenia. Classic migraine sufferers with visual auras may have a higher incidence of synesthesia. Some report a higher incidence in those with autism. One famous autistic synesthete is Daniel Tammet, author of Born on a Blue Day.