Aphantasia: Our Memories of Love

Turn around the corner and you can’t remember what your girlfriend looks like. Get the picture?

Lose a loved one and you forget their face forever. This is what life is for me – a  person with aphantasia. I can’t remember clearly how my beloved great-grandmother looks like even though the last time I saw her was really not that long ago. Nor can I remember my mother’s face.

Aphantasia is a neurological condition that blocks the production of images and memories in the mind. To put it in simple terms, people with aphantasia are generally unable to picture people or places when they read a book. It’s a scientific condition which affects a small portion of people in the world, according to a study by the University of Exeter. According to Dr Adam Zeman, the long-ignored condition needs further study in order to improve the quality of life of the men and women with aphantasia, many of whom Dr Zeman has met in person, such as one who can’t even remember smells, tastes and moments spent with his girlfriend and friends.

Thankfully, in today’s tech-savvy world, while I’m unable to visualize my boyfriend’s face in my mind despite seeing him just a moment ago, there are many forms of external memory options such as photographs and videos. Sometimes, when I look at a photograph of my boyfriend, it takes me almost immediately to know that that’s him, but at the same time….that doesn’t seem to be what I remember him looking like.

My boyfriend is hyperphantasic

He can imagine me doing funny stuffs with his eyes closed or opened. Or that I’ve turned into a cat, with an eagle perched on my head.

I find that pretty amazing, especially when he can visualize clearly and describe to me how my mother looks like (despite the fact that he’s only met her a couple of times), and I can’t. Yes, I can’t describe to you how my mother looks like.

Yup, it’s sad.

I do envy him to a certain point but that being said, I can imagine sounds, tastes and sensations very clearly. In fact, I can be better than him in certain aspects such as remembering voices, tones, words and situations. (Hah!)

Yes, as aphantasiacs we may not be able to do many of those things, but thanks to that we don’t get stuck reliving traumatic memories in detail. We also tend to not focus on appearance as much as content. It is really just a neurological difference, with no inherent moral connotation to it, nor is it a personality trait.  It has its advantages and disadvantages. But it really isn’t such a bad thing.

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