Hypnopompia and Aphantasia
Aphantasia

Between Sleep and Awake – Where Someone with Aphantasia May “See” Imagery

My imagination is blind, meaning I can’t visualize. This neurodiversity is called aphantasia, and I was born with it. When I close my eyes and try to imagine something—an animal, a landscape, a person—all I see is black and grey and sometimes lava-lamp-like splotches of light purple and white. That’s the extent of my visual imagery.

But, on those rare occasions in the morning, between sleep and awake, when I’m conscious but the images from my dreams float behind my eyes, that’s when I revel in what it must be like to “see” imagery.

Hypnopompia and Hypnagogia

I recently tweeted about this experience and was surprised to learn that this in-between sleep and awake state had a name: hypnopompia. In contrast, there is hypnagogia which is the state between awake and sleep.

According to the HealthLine website:

. . . hypnopompia, which is the transitional state that occurs before you wake up . . . Hypnagogia is the transitional state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep.

Hypnagogia: How the State Between Wakefulness and Sleep Works. (2020, October 26). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/hypnagogia

Upon doing a little bit of research, I learned that what I am actually experiencing is called hypnopompic hallucinations. What? I’m hallucinating?

The Sleep Foundation website explains:

Hypnopompic hallucinations are hallucinations that occur in the morning as you’re waking up . . . For most people, hypnopompic hallucinations are considered normal and are not cause for concern.

Ryan, T. (2021, June 23). What Are Hypnopompic Hallucinations? Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/hypnopompic-hallucinations

Needless to say, I was relieved to read that: “not cause for concern.” Still, way to burst my bubble, internet.

What Having Aphantasia is Like

Having a blind imagination has never stopped me from achieving. For instance:

  • I got good grades in school. However, math and science were definitely not my strong suit. Arts and literary courses were my bag.
  • In my past corporate lives, I was a computer programmer, a support analyst, a project manager, a website developer, and a communications consultant.
  • I’m highly organized.
  • I read a lot of fiction, which astounds some people who learn I have aphantasia: “How can you follow the story if you can’t imagine the story as it unfolds?” The answer? I follow the story just fine. But, I skim over long descriptions of people, places, and things, and concentrate on dialog, relationships, feelings, etc.
  • I wrote a mystery novel which again, begged the question—”But how?” Simply put, the story unfolded as my mind played it out. I know what a car chase looks and sounds like, for instance. I can write about it without visualizing how it looks. It’s the difference between seeing it in your imagination, and perceiving it.
  • Recently, I wrote a children’s book about aphantasia.
  • I do pottery.

Having aphantasia doesn’t preclude me from being smart or creative. But, having aphantasia is frustrating sometimes.

  • I would appreciate a stronger ability to work with numbers and multidimensional concepts.
  • My sense of direction sucks. Thankfully, there’s GPS.
  • I wish the memory of my favorite places and events were accompanied by vivid mental images that I could relive at will. Photos and video help a lot in this regard.
  • Hypnosis and meditation would be a lot easier. For some, it’s impossible.
  • I would love to be able to close my eyes and picture the faces of my kids and grandkids on demand.

Where Aphantasia and Hypnopompia Cross Paths

Would I “cure” my blind imagination if I had the chance? First of all, aphantasia is not an illness or disease that demands a cure. But, if there was an opportunity to achieve vivid imagery, like many aphantasics, my response is: only if I could turn it on and off. The thought of having sudden, permanent imagery is overwhelming.

Until then, I will bask in the hypnopompic hallucinations that allow me to see images of my sweet mother, who passed in 2016… if only for a few brief, magical moments.

Feature image by Jr Korpa on Unsplash.

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