Sound Waves on my Skin

January 15, 2009
I feel what I hear. When I was little I thought it was just a feeling that came from sound waves hitting my skin. But as I got older I began to realize that no one else seemed to experience this feeling. As the years went by I became increasingly aware that something about me wasn’t right somehow. Eventually my mom told me that I had a case of a neurological disorder called “Synesthesia” that causes me to feel something in response to something that I hear. Deep down I had always known that something about me was different and wrong; this was just the first time that I knew the name of it. I’m glad that I know the name of it for two reasons: it means that it’s something that I was born with, not something that I did wrong, and also it means that somewhere in the world there are other people who have it. However, I’ve spent my whole life wishing that this Synesthesia would just go away.

I woke up at midnight and heard the sound of rain outside of my house and suddenly I was soaking wet. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, and I looked completely dry. Something inside me knew that the rain wasn’t really there, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop trying to get it to go away. I wrapped a towel around me, but I was still soaking wet. I tried humming my favorite tune “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to myself because this song makes pleasant, soothing sounds. However, it didn’t work this time because the rain was loud enough to drown out my humming. Shivering, I went into my room and waited for the rain to stop so that I could go back to sleep. For me to try to sleep while it’s raining outside is just like any other person trying to sleep outside with the rain pouring down on them.

The next morning in school I was tired because the rain hadn’t stopped until around 5:00am. I like English class when we’re just reading silently to ourselves, but that day my teacher read a book out loud to the class and I hate it when they do that because I have to focus so hard on not wincing at painful words, not sweating when I hear hot words, not shivering at cold words, and not giggling when I hear words that tickle. It’s extremely difficult to focus on these things at the same time as thinking about what the story is actually about. For these reasons I don’t actually remember what the story was about, nor do I even remember what the title was. The teacher doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for me to listen when she is talking, so she got mad at me when I didn’t participate during class.

When I grow up, I want to be a writer. I want to be able to use words freely without worrying about whether they sound painful or not. Also, when I write I feel somewhat normal because I know that I can write the same way that everyone else can. In addition, writing doesn’t involve much talking; therefore it doesn’t involve quite as many painful noises as other professions do. Plus, I just enjoy writing, and I think I’m pretty good at it, and sometimes it seems like I’m not really good at anything else. Finally, I like writing because I can use my imagination, and I can become a totally different person, and I’m not at all limited by who I am, nor am I limited to what could realistically happen in my life.

I hate to watch TV and movies. The only time that I ever watch either of these things is at home when I watch old videos that don’t have sound or when I watch certain TV shows that are mostly visual and I just put the volume on mute. I’ve never been to the movie theatre before because it’s too loud. I prefer to spend my free time reading and writing. I read at least three books a week and I’ve filled up two journals in the past couple of months alone. The best way to describe me is a nerd who can’t stand school.

After English I went to History, which I hate, especially this year because we’re studying wars. Whenever I hear the word war invisible bullets pierce my pierce my skin and I can’t help but cry out in pain sometimes and everyone stares at me. Then sometimes they use the word enemy and I get really scared because I can feel them breathing on me. I hate history so much; however I wasn’t too happy when it ended because I had to go to science afterwards.

In Science that day we were studying bacteria and viruses, which I hate because whenever I hear either one of those words I feel sick. Sometimes my throat starts to burn, other times I feel nauseous or dizzy, and sometimes my nose starts to get irritated. In addition, I wince whenever I hear the word vaccination because I feel like there’s a needle stabbing into my skin and it hurts. I have trouble deciding whether science or history is my least favorite subject because I hate them both so much.

After Science I had Spanish class, which I don’t like very much either, but hate pretty much everything about school so Spanish doesn’t seem that bad when I compare it to science and history. However, it can be pretty bad and that day instead of written work I had to do the oral portion of the test that we’re taking this week and I really hate that because my teacher sais a lot of painful words during that. However, my teacher is somewhat understanding and I’m allowed to not say certain words because they sound painful. However, that day it was harder than usual because I was tired because of the rain and because I had already had a bad morning. My score was a D , which isn’t all that horrible for me because I’ve done a whole lot worse many times in the past. I was glad when the oral test was over, though, because the teacher told me that I could spend the rest of class doing quiet work in the classroom.

I went to the cafeteria for lunch after Spanish class was over. The cafeteria is very loud, so I don’t like lunch so much, so I tend to eat at a table on my own with my friend Caroline. I spend the entire time either humming “Over the Rainbow” to myself or closing my ears with my fingers. Caroline and I talk a little bit, but only when there isn’t too much other noise because when there is a lot of other noise I have to keep my ears fingers over my ears. I wait to eat until everyone has left so that I don’t have to keep on trying to avoid the sounds. After lunch is recess and I spend the time hiding in the bathroom and Caroline hides with me. After that I go to class early so that I can avoid all the noise that gets made in the hall way when everyone comes back in from recess.

No one except for me and the people who I know really well are aware that I’m not just shy; I was born anti-social. Also, if I tried to be social I know that people wouldn’t accept me as a friend because of how strange I’ve always seemed to them. It’s not my fault; it’s the fault of a combination of how I was born and how people have judged me. It’s like I’m stuck in a hole that I’m in by the fault of nobody, but I did nothing to get myself in here, and I can’t do anything to get myself out. Plus, when people judge me they just make the hole deeper and deeper.

One of the things that I hate about my synesthesia is that it forces me to judge books by their covers. I simply can’t be friends with people who have painful voices or who say painful words a lot. I feel bad about this because I know that there are plenty of good people all around me who would have been good friends of mine had it not been for my synesthesia. However, it is simply unavoidable and I do have to judge people based solely on their voices but I don’t do this without a good excuse for why I do this.

The first class that I have after recess is math. Math is my favorite subject because it’s mostly written work and on the rare occasion that we do talk it’s not as hard for me because there aren’t as many facts that I have to remember so as long as I understand the big picture I can just focus on not reacting to painful or unpleasant noises. Plus, the sound of numbers being said is not as painful as words for some reason. Math class is one of the very few positive experiences that I have during the school day.

The final class that I had before sports is music. I play the violin, and I like doing this. I like music class most of the time because I like most of the music and I can play “Over the Rainbow.” Also, my teacher lets me just play the songs that I like and go out to the hall during the songs that I don’t like very much. In addition, I don’t have to remember any facts about what goes on in music class other than how to play the music. Finally, I’m just good at music because my ears are extremely sensitive so I know when I’ve hit the wrong note and I know when it’s time for me to start playing because I feel the same feeling every time, therefore I have a visual cue from my teacher, an auditory cue, and a physical cue to remind me to come in. Music is another one of the few things that I actually enjoy doing at school.

After school that day I had yoga class, which I like because there isn’t too much noise and the only noises that I can hear are relaxing noises. When I was little I played basketball on a team because I it was the only sports option that my school offered and after school sports was a requirement. That was terrible because whenever the whistle was I’d feel nauseous and I’d feel something slap me. Also, people’s shoes were always squeaking and that felt like a whip, slapping the back of my neck. In addition, whenever someone called a play who knows what that sound might have felt like, and because of this I couldn’t focus on actually going where I was supposed to go and then the couch would yell at me. If there’s one thing in this world that I can’t stand, it’s being yelled at or listening when someone else is being yelled at. When people yell at me I can feel the tension of my parents arguing before they got divorced, and I can feel the fear rushing through me that I always felt when my Dad got mad at me. Being yelled at is one of the biggest things that I’ve avoided throughout my life.

Most days when we had practice I’d pretend to be sick or injured. One time I twisted my ankle on purpose so that I wouldn’t have to play. It didn’t make it any less painful to be sitting on the sideline, but at least I didn’t get yelled at and I didn’t have to be embarrassed because of the way that I react to things. Also, when I was no longer able to pretend I was sick or hurt I would try hiding in the bathroom instead, but this meant running the risk of being yelled at later. Every basketball practice and game was a lose-lose situation for me; either I’d end up with a twisted ankle, in extreme pain, or being yelled at.

Another major drawback to having synesthesia is that I’m pretty much always embarrassed. My Mom has always told me not to be embarrassed by it, but that’s easier said than done. I know that everyone else gets embarrassed too, but it’s not the same. It’s hard going through life knowing that something about my brain is different than other peoples’ brains; and it’s also hard to know that my brain works the way it does by accident. Also, when other people get embarrassed, it’s normally because something small and insignificant that they did wrong, such as forgetting to do their homework, smelling bad, spilling their water in the cafeteria, etc. However, when I get embarrassed it’s due to something that’s wrong with me. In addition, other people understand each other because they often share the same flaws and make similar mistakes. On the other hand, when I get embarrassed because of my synesthesia, I feel like no one understands me. There are a few people, like my mom and my best friend Caroline who at least try to understand me, but really, they don’t even come close. I’m on my own; I’m the only one who really gets it, who really knows what it’s like to be me.

After I finished yoga class I went home and my best friend Caroline came over. Caroline is the only friend who I have because she’s the only one who understands what words she can say and what words she can’t say and she also understands why I react to certain words in certain ways. I never go over to Caroline’s house because she lives near a busy road and she has three younger brothers who are always making noise. These two things put together are way too much noise for me to handle. Caroline and I have a secret hideout in my attic. It’s not completely quiet up there but it’s the best it gets. Up there we can talk and only an occasional noise will bother me. Sometimes when someone’s making noise in downstairs I’ll sneak up the attic and hide under a blanket so that I can avoid the painful sounds. However, when I’m up there I can still hear the rain; I can still here noise from the street, as well as any other noise that takes place outside.

I think that my case of synesthesia is a lot worse than most cases. The reason is because you can’t escape from sounds. If you feel, hear, smell or taste in response to sight, then all you have to do is close your eyes or look at something else to get it to go away. Seeing, smelling, feeling or hearing in response to tasting something isn’t that bad because you aren’t eating most of the time therefore you only have trouble on certain times of the day. Seeing in response to any other sense isn’t all that bad because nobody but you can really tell what you see. To have smelling something trigger other senses isn’t that bad because most places don’t smell too bad and even if they do, you can just plug your nose or breathe through your mouth and most of the smell goes away. Plus, if there is a bad smell somewhere and you hold your nose everyone else does the same so you don’t look so weird and people won’t stare at you. In addition, anything that triggers hearing isn’t that bad because hearing isn’t painful unless it’s a really loud sound. However, hearing and feeling is the worst combination because no matter where you go you’ll still be able to hear something and I think that everyone would agree that feeling something bad can get much worse than hearing, seeing, smelling or tasting something really bad.

After Caroline went home I stayed in the attic because my mom was cooking something on the stove and the sizzling noises that that makes are extremely hot and painful. When it was time for dinner I went downstairs and unfortunately my older brother was there and he started saying painful words which he knew would hurt me and he was doing it for that very reason. My mom used to try to make him stop doing it but she gave up eventually because she couldn’t get him to stop without yelling at him and I would prefer to have him picking on me than hear anyone yelling. I hate having an older sibling. I hate school so much and I wish that I could go home to some peace and quiet, but when my brother is home he doesn’t let me do that. It seems that wherever I go I seem to end up in pain. However, I can’t blame him; I’ve had a pretty negative impact on his life. For instance, the ringer on his cell phone has to be on silent at all times when I’m nearby, when his friends come over they can’t hang out in the house if I’m there, and he can’t turn the TV on when I’m in the house. All of these things make noises that bother me. Although my brother really annoys me and I want him to go away, I understand that he probably feels the exact same way about me.

My mom has always told me to be positive about my synesthesia. She reminds me that I do get good feelings as well as good ones from the sounds. I do the best that I can, however it seems that whenever I’m experiencing a positive moment of my synesthesia it is interrupted by a negative moment. I try my best to see the bright side of my condition, but it’s hard. It really isn’t easy to be me. I guess this synesthesia thing wouldn’t be so bad if everyone else had it, it’s just hard to feel like you’re the only one and that you’re all on your own. Also, it’s hard to look positively upon anything that’s called a “disorder.” By the very definition of the word, a disorder is a bad thing. I do the best that I can, but it’s hard to look to the bright side of my condition.

After dinner I did my homework. Although I hate school, I don’t mind homework because it doesn’t involve any noise. Also, homework gives me confidence because every day after I leave school I feel like the dumbest person in the world because I’m always the only one who can’t stand to listen during class; who can’t remember later on what happened in class, who seems incompetent at taking notes, and who’s absolutely terrified of war, bacteria, viruses and many other scary terms. When I’m doing my homework, I feel like I’m competent, like I do have my place in the world, and like I’m actually good at something.

Later that night my brother went to sleep and I climbed up the attic stair and went to my hideout. It was one of those rare moments when you listen as hard as you can and all you hear is complete silence. I sat down and I couldn’t feel anything but the attic floor beneath me. It was amazing. I sat on the attic floor for about fifteen minutes and then I began humming quietly to myself. I hummed “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and it was very soothing. I felt relaxed and comfortable, as if I was lying in a really soft bed with a really warm and soft blanket wrapped around me.

A lot of people think that I’m just socially dumb and I don’t have any idea what other people think of me. However, this is not true. I know that everyone thinks I’m weird, and I do feel self-conscious about it, however there’s not that much that I can do about it. Sometimes I wish that my synesthesia would at least allow me to communicate better with other kids. However, I just can’t make many friends because of how odd I seem to other people, and it’s not my fault. Still, I wish that people would just try to understand me. I really don’t understand why people see what they are not used to as bad things. It’s as if they are superior beings who are better than everyone else, and it doesn’t make too much sense when you think about it.

While I was sitting there I thought to myself “Maybe this is what it’s like to be a normal kid.” And then I began to think that maybe synesthesia shouldn’t be called a disorder, maybe it should just be called a trait, no different from blond hair, brown hair, blue eyes or green eyes. If everything that was known as unusual was called a disorder, there wouldn’t be a person in the world who didn’t have one. There are plenty of people whose brains have trouble with numbers, words or visual things, and these are just the things that make us different from each other. After all, “No two snowflakes are alike,” therefore if one person is very different from every other person, maybe this shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. My synesthesia makes me different from most people, but everyone has something about them that is unique, that’s special, and maybe they shouldn’t try to hide it.

After I hummed “Over the Rainbow” a couple of times, I went downstairs to bed. But before I went to sleep, I plopped down in my bed, and spent a couple more minutes just listening to nothing. Eventually I went to sleep, feeling just like a normal kid. I slept well that night, and I enjoyed this rare opportunity to forget why I was so different from the other people, because I knew that I didn’t have much time before the sound waves would hit my skin again.

Join the Discussion

This article has 4 comments. Post your own now!

peacepoet22 said...
Jul. 29, 2009 at 10:30 pm
this is a really good idea, and i like your writing a lot. some of the descriptions don't quite fit synesthesia, though... i somewhat have it and i know people who do. often, even if a word produces a feeling, it's not so painful or incapacitating as to make the person completely socially inept. but keep writing, i would love to read some more of your work :)
ThisLitIsBananas This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
May 31, 2010 at 5:27 pm
I also have synesthesia, and I agree with peacepoet in that some of the descriptions were a little out there. Still, it was really interesting  - I've never heard of synesthesia like this.
Fangz said...
Jun. 16, 2009 at 1:05 pm
Thats different. I like the idea.
cariedub22 said...
Feb. 19, 2009 at 9:01 pm
awsome story em! im honored that u named the best friend after me! haha
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