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I am thinking about the limitations my aphantasia imposes on me at times.
The topic has been getting more attention the past few years, but honestly, I do not keep up with any of it, so I don't know if they made any progress in what causes it, if it's even "real", how to treat it, and so on.
I just know that most of the time, I do not have a mental image. At all. Just knowledge. Internally visualizing stuff largely does not work for me. I never got the joke about "not thinking about the pink elephant" because of it. I read books and I don't see anything. I play pen and paper roleplay and I don't see anything. Not being able to see anything in front of my mental eye has shaped the way I understand 3D space, math, and art. When I do art, I work on it until it looks right for me. I sadly cannot imagine something and then bring it to the medium like it is in my head. I would love to have a finished product in my head and then following along my mental image until it looks like it does in my head.
It's more like I have a checklist of things I'd like it to be without any image references, and then I work on it until I am satisfied, because I need to see it actually in front of me to visualize it. I think that's also why I need my hobbies to be so.. reversible. I cannot imagine a step before I take it, in terms of embroidery, a brush stroke, a sewn hem. I only see how it looks like (and if it's wrong or not) if I already hold it in my hands, seeing the result. So I need to backtrack and reverse a lot. That's also why I end up with mistakes others would not make, because I don't mentally preview the result and see it's wrong/not working before they commit to it. This makes sewing the hardest of all my hobbies. I can absolutely not envision a finished piece as a flat thing on a piece of fabric, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how the flat pattern is supposed to look like as a finished 3D piece. But I still try! I made an apron (easy flat thing), a wearable pin cushion and two crop tops I need to finish up, as well as a pair of pants with the help of my girlfriend.
I've also discovered that this is why I suck at puzzles through how I suck a bit at Lego sets. I think other people can mentally rotate a piece and see all its fits, but I really can't, and if something is flipped, I don't register or see that I just need to rotate it and then it fits. This might be where the autism and dyscalculia intersect with it as well.
It's only been the past few months that I actually decided to do anything about it. I found specific meditations that feature focusing on a specific body part every minute or so and then mixing in having to visualize an apple or a football or whatever make it easier for me to see at least some sort of image, a blurred one, for a few seconds, or a very zoomed in detail of the thing. Now when I read, I make pauses to force myself to conjure up an image in my head about what I want it to look like. I try my best with DnD roleplay sessions as well. They are all just still lives, no motion, no video, nothing happening. But it's a start. Maybe I can train myself into somewhat of an image. I also try and remember peoples faces more now, or how they look like in general, and try to see them mentally when I think of them.
I do notice though that if I slack for a while, I go back to 0. It really is a constant effort. I hope one day it will be normalized in my head and come easy to me, but until then, it is always a conscious effort I have to remember and try hard at.
I think because of my struggles, my mind seems to latch on to real-world things that already exist when it tries to remember or think of things. Trying to visualize a beach is easier when I think of one that I have already been to than making one up "from scratch". If I try to visualize a scene in a book, it's often puzzled together by stuff in my daily life. I often have to cut myself off from seeing too much of other people's art because if I wanna make my own, all I can conjure up is theirs or something extremely similar, and of course I want more of my own creative ideas than just copying someone. So I almost always never followed fellow artists anywhere or only 1-2 at most. Seeing too much of others' work drowns mine out, since my mind relies too hard on their art for my ideas then - because visualizing something that doesn't exist yet in front of me is impossible for me.
Weirdly, I dream like everyone else, very vividly and detailed even, and often remember it. I cannot replay the dream in my head though as if I was watching it again, it really is just knowledge to me again. I wonder why my brain can dream so nicely, but refuses to create images of something while I read or try to think of art projects. It's also kind of frustrating and sad that even flashbacks work fine. They could be less vivid than others', but I still see things a lot better than when I consciously try.
And, in comparison to other aphantasiacs, I am able to imagine smell, taste and touch just fine, as if they were actually happening right now. I want a taste in my mouth as if I am eating it, I can do that. I can imagine touch perfectly. I can perfectly recall all kinds of smells as if it was around me right now. I can play songs in my head like my own little radio. I can imagine anyone's voice that I've heard a couple times say anything in my head if I want to. I could make Yoda say nasty shit in my head as if it was actually a line in the movies.
But a mental image? No. Only with really, really hard and consistent practice, and then it is blurry and gone in a few seconds. It feels like mentally trying to open eyelids that are extremely heavy. It saddens me at times because my art would be so much better and I'd have so much more fun playing pen and paper games, but I guess all I can do is keep training.
Interesting essay about it by the co-founder of Firefox.
𓇽 ° . ༻ 𓈒 ꒪ ๋ ° .𓏲⠀ ๋࣭ ♡ ͘ ࣭⠀⸰ ⋆ ֗ ִ ᨒ .⋆ﾟ. ͘ ࣭⠀⸰ ♡ 𓂂 ◌ 𓇽 ° . ๋ 𓂂 ⠀✼ 𓇽