Many of the relaxation aids I’ve tried (including Glenn Harrold’s hypnotherapy track featured in my last post) require some kind of visualisation. You know: “Picture some clouds in the sky”, “picture a deserted beach”, “picture a box, full of your troubles”, that kind of thing. My problem is, I just can’t.
I mean, of course I know what they look like, but I just can’t conjure them up in my mind’s eye. I find it extremely difficult to hold on to any image, let alone being able to mentally engineer the clouds clearing, the tide going out, or my troubles floating away in a neatly wrapped parcel – whatever it is that’s supposed to make me chill out enough to sleep. This is why, when preparing for the birth of my son, I had to find and print off pictures of all the things that were supposed to help me with my breathing. It would all be alright, I was told, if I could just imagine myself blowing hot air over an ice cube or extinguishing a candle. Yes, I actually googled the phrase ‘melting ice cube’ and printed off one of the results. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight I realise my diligent photo printing activities were a complete waste of time. Imagining yourself blowing out a candle does not take the pain of childbirth away. A marvellous dose of pethidine does a much better job.
My partner found the whole photo printing exercise hilarious. He thinks my affliction is rather sweet and another sign of the ‘special’ way my brain works compared with the entirely normal way his grey matter functions. But I was relieved and felt slightly vindicated to discover that my problem has a name – aphantasia. I stumbled across this article a while ago and it turns out there are other weirdos like me. So I hadn’t imagined not being able to imagine things after all! In fact, there are some people who can’t visualise anything at all in their mind’s eye, whereas I can hold an image for a moment or two. I can also picture my family, though admittedly not in massive detail. Fortunately I’m an identical twin, so if I come unstuck on that particular family member, I just have to sneak a look in the mirror for a quick visual clue.
So I suppose I should come clean. Calling my blog The Sheep Counter is a bit naughty of me. Because I can only ever count about three fairly blurry looking sheep. And I don’t know about you, but three sheep just isn’t enough to get me back to sleep. Having this ‘condition’, if I can call it that, doesn’t stop the relaxation stuff working though. I find it’s as much about drowning out whatever thoughts are keeping me awake and giving myself permission to relax. If I focus on the stuff I can do, then it doesn’t matter that the box of worries gets left on the shore, my body is relaxed enough to allow me to sleep.
I’ve just redone the test in the article and I get 12/40. Why not have a go yourself and let me know how you get on? In case you’re a low scorer like me, here are a few of my own images for you to have a look when your mind’s eye has gone on strike.
Thanks for reading.