TW: discussion of brain trauma, discussion of mental illness
I’m doing Camp NaNo! I was excited, really, until it started, because I was writing more fiction things on an anonymous platform and then I was outed, and now I don’t have that outlet, and it’s back to putting my name on things and then having to discuss them because people have an annoying habit of quoting everything back and dissecting it to show that they liked it. If I comment on something, I pick one thing I liked and say this was interesting, and that is that. (I do not do this often, because one time I did it and the person got offended, and because she was offended and more important than me, it turned out like it would have in junior primary.) Hobbies should not be demoted to PES English assignments without consent.
I notice that when I write things a lot I feel better. A lot of the time the words don’t work, so when they do it’s really important to put them together and get them out. Hence, Camp NaNo. Unlike normal NaNo, it’s not in November when everything always seems to happen, including Yuletide, and also unlike normal NaNo, I get to set my own word goal. Woo!
Signing up to Camp NaNo came with some unexpected benefits. I don’t have to use Word anymore, because Camp NaNo people get a discount on specialised writing software! I plan to make a big bowl of pasta and work through the tutorial before I nap. (This is fraught, because I haven’t eaten in about three days, and I am in a ridiculous amount of pain.) I have an inbuilt community where I can talk to people – on July 1, there were a spate of “happy writing!” messages, and everyone else is dealing with their own barriers to making words make sense together. There’s also a forum! On this forum I can do one of my favourite things – relay otherwise useless information to people. (I’m also a WikiHow contributor, and they are very kind and never tell me I spelled anything wrong or that my words got mixed up, and they always understand what I meant to say.) There’s an entire subforum for that, in fact, and one of the topics was synaesthesia.
I haven’t looked too much into synaesthesia for myself that much, because it was always a thing I understood was different for me, the same way I understood people didn’t go through signs and posters and divide different numbers into the amount of letters, trying to make them even, or split posters into groups so there were the same amount in each group, like the rows in a game of Tetris. When I started taking singing lessons (a.k.a. the thing I do so that my psychiatrist doesn’t force me into formal speech therapy with the bitchy lady who told me her phone was too old to use for SMS and instead got an old email from somewhere and started harassing me, then sent me a letter with bold letters threatening appointment cancellation because she couldn’t get hold of me, even though I had told her by SMS that the time she gave me was not suitable, and SMS was the method my psychiatrist gave her to contact me with, so I don’t feel safe going there, especially since I know she lied about her availability as the only reason I agreed to her at all was because she sees a family friend, and I know when his appointments are to know that she was lying about only being available for 3 hours a week /rant), my teacher told me I have perfect pitch. Until then, I had always been a little ashamed of my singing – in school, I was allowed in the choir but never given a solo, I wasn’t allowed to sing in my range, I was harassed by other students for being in choir, I was forced to cross-dress for a performance, and then my brother banned me from singing in his house because, as he said, “you’re a tiny bit off and I hate it”. In dance class, before I quit, when the teacher asked for volunteers to sing for our show, my raised hand was ignored in favour of selecting a girl to take the singer position in the choreography and… not sing – it wasn’t the reason I quit, but when the teacher attacked me on Facebook for saying I felt uncomfortable due to being harassed and isolated because of my disability, it was certainly a thing I could hold on to in my mind so that I wouldn’t believe him saying it was my fault people laughed at the mute clumsy girl. The only person who encouraged me to sing was an abusive partner.
So I didn’t believe it, at first, and then I blamed my brain, even as it became obvious that this was a thing, and between accurately being able to sing back a note, and having relative pitch enough to be able to learn to sing (and only sing) a song just by hearing it. People get special skills after being concussed/traumatised, after all, and then they get special news stories and special treatment. Naturally I would develop perfect pitch, because my brain has to focus all its energy on making sounds, and because it’s not doing anything else, of course it would be perfect! It’s not like I can play songs back after hearing them, or that I can remember melodies instantly – I have never been able to do the former, and since I can’t control my hands very well now, that’s not going to happen, and the latter now requires a lot more effort. When I had to pick a song and learn it for the next class, I picked my song and listened to it 80 times over the next four days, and only that song. I still didn’t have it down by my next class. I used to be able to pick up songs after hearing them only a couple of times, and I had a lot of songs in my head that I heard as a child (we’re talking pre-school), and was only able to identify when I heard them again 20-25 years later. Those were songs I would have only heard on the radio, and we only had pop radio at the skating rink, so.
But then I started noticing other things that were much more pronounced than ‘before’ – I was at a concert, and a man started wolf-whistling, and I had to leave because it hurt. Rather than being annoying and mildly uncomfortable, certain kinds of pop songs grated, giving me the spider sensation I described earlier. Songs had… shapes.
Take this, for example:
This is ‘Storytime’ by Nightwish. It feels round, because each line is slow and then fast, like it is descending and ascending. Rhythm games, like Singstar and Rock Band, are easy for me, because I can sense the shapes and know what I have to do next. (Obviously, I am not racing through the Singstar trophies!)
Also in that video, I can tell when the sync is off, even the tiniest bit, so watching television is fraught – not only do the words not make sense, I don’t hear them at the same time as the picture to be able to lipread, and subtitles are both saviour and bane. (Subtitles are often not correct, and always cover up part of the image. And they are always labelled ‘For Deaf and Hard of Hearing’, excluding me because I can hear them fine, and their shape, but not understand the content.)
Apparently, I can also instantly generate a harmony, or transpose for my voice (Singstar etc., are not friendly to this at all.) I am sensitive to sounds generally, sometimes to the point where all sound hurts, the same way all light hurts and my skin is hypersensitive to the point where I can’t shower or wear heavy clothes without pain. I can tell whether people are dangerous to me or not from their speech patterns and the shapes they make (I once identified a rapist in an anonymous chat room, because I recognised the shape of his words. It’s not just pitch and sound, but I was able to see his shape in just the text.)
So when this came up on Camp NaNo, I poked around and found this article, which is both the same as me, and yet very different. I have trouble recognising people out of context, I can tell direction pretty well, I’m told I have good pattern awareness, and I’m brilliant with maths. I do rank somewhere on the autism spectrum, though I was never told where. I can reproduce scales, and not just Western ones, though I don’t have the theory background to explain it, tell you whether something is major or minor, tell you how many notes are in a chord. I can’t translate that to the names, or go much beyond higher or lower. I often find myself crying when my teacher asks me what I’m doing, because I don’t know. It becomes a shape and I play with the shape and stuff comes back out, but I don’t know what that’s actually doing. I can tell you if something is the same note as something else because the shapes overlap at that point, or where a sample came from, or how different shapes in a song fit together, but my brain does it and I don’t know how. It’s not because I learned organ, or did choir, or because I got hit on the head – I got to do the first two things because of this, and it turns out that my brain was always wired this other way and it’s only now that I got hit on the head and have PTSD that it’s obvious.
I went to a work function and the younger people danced and the older people talked. I didn’t know anyone very well, having only been there three months, and so I mainly danced, you know, in a designer dress and 5″ heels. A couple of the girls had been brought up with calisthenics (being a rural child, I never had such wonderful opportunities), and one of them wanted to know where I learned, because I had all the forms correct, did not fall over once, and was able to predict the music to dance to songs I had never heard before nor would ever lower myself to hear again. All I was doing was the same I had done until then – listen to the music, see the shape, and move with it. When I did get to formal dance training, nobody believed I hadn’t had formal lessons before. I don’t know if that’s the same thing, but I was able to choreograph almost instantly, just by reproducing the shapes in the music.
So that’s my version of synaesthesia and perfect pitch and autism. I don’t know if I’m a special snowflake, or if someone else out there has shapes as well. My psychiatrist thinks that because that part of my brain isn’t being used as much, this may now be more pronounced, or because I have to work at it my skills are improving. You know, because I can’t reliably use the communication part of my brain and people have learned to talk again after having a stroke by singing their words instead of speaking (which is called speaking on note, and my psychiatrist is remarkably uninformed about this and I had to explain it to him. Sometimes I think he gets me to explain things so he doesn’t have to explain them to me…) so this is my brain fixing itself. I don’t know. I would rather keep this and never talk again, honestly. What I can do without is feeling pain as colours. White is the worst.
Which makes you wonder, you know, why people see white as pure, as being cleansed or reborn. No. White hurts.
‘White Light’ by Superfly.