Tag Archives: Synaesthesia

Friday 6th March – Nothing More Concert

Around this time three years ago, I was just beginning to hear the words in music clearly thanks to Johansen Individualised Auditory Stimulation therapy.

Music is what feelings sound like. I think I have always understood this. It still amazes me that sound can express emotions and make the listener empathise and feel the same thing. However until Johansen IAS therapy, I had no idea that songs had words which make the music a story as well. As someone who had always loved music, this was an incredible discovery for me. All the slurred mush and mouth noises interfering with (and as it seemed at the time, detracting from) the instrumental background started to make sense, and I realised that songs are as much about the lyrics as the tune.

Tonight I went to see a band which I love, and only heard for the first time a few months ago, Nothing More. Nothing More are amazing. Their music is a beautiful mix of melody and powerful metal, and the words to the songs are great in their own right. Another very wonderful thing about them is all the drums. Their drummer is phenomenal, and their singer also is a drummer. They have drums on stage which they hammer along with their powerful songs, and a bass solo which involves three of them playing a bass at the same time and spinning it on a stand, which is one of the most awesome thing’s I’ve ever seen and heard. Nothing More also have some of the few songs that make me cry. 

Before Johansen IAS therapy, I would have picked up on a tragic mood from hearing the instrumental parts of a song, but not understood exactly what it was about. Back then when I had serious Auditory Processing Disorder, most of the words I heard in music (and a large portion of speech I heard in general) sounded like Gibberish. Now when I hear a song I understand the story in it. Nothing More sing and play their songs with all their souls, songs with stories which come from their personal lives. Not only is their music amazing, they also use music as a form of activism. Every concert they play is an attempt to get people to stop being cogs in an increasingly corrupt system and think for themselves (MTV, Christ Copyright), never stop loving and caring for one another even when it hurts (I’ll be OK), and to fight the stigma associated with mental illness (Jenny). The song which had me nearly crying in the crowd is (God Went North), about the singer’s mother dying. Nothing More are a musical force for good, helping to save the world one concert hall at a time.     

Without Johansen IAS therapy, I would never have discovered Nothing More’s music in the first place, let alone be able to understand what it is about. Music is not only the most important thing in my life, in a way music also saved my life. 

Johansen IAS therapy music CDs strengthened sound-transmitting pathways in my brain, giving me the ability to hear speech clearly. I heard my family around the dinner table at background noise-filled birthday parties and started joining in the conversation, I made friends by joining conversations I was now able to be included in. Able to communicate with other people, I started to catch up with my age-group socially and emotionally. Sounds such as traffic came from the right directions and distances. The deafeningly loud mash of noise I heard when I was at school, the shops, in the street, dissipated and cleared like a fog lifting. I heard my own voice clearly for the first time and was startled at how it sounded different to the idea I had of my voice in my head. And I heard all the words in a song, which completely changed the course of my life. 

No longer scared of loud noises, which used to overwhelm me, I discovered my main passion, drums. 

So I thank Camilla, Johansen IAS and my family for giving me a second chance at life which I never would have had otherwise. I also thank my family’s tolerance of my decibel-heavy new interest. You are very awesome.  

I will continue this blog for as long as I can, writing about everything I learn along the way from being able to hear clearly. I hope that you find it useful and that it helps you to understand more about Auditory Processing Disorder, which (like Dyslexia) affects 10% of the world’s population. 


Sunday 7th December – Busking

This morning I went out for some busking, with a few Christmas Carols added to my repertoire. On the Royal Mile I met Elaine. She is the world’s most pierced woman, and a lovely person. Her colourful dress, dreadlocks, glittering facepaint and of course, many piercings bring colour to the Mile even in the winter.

She gave me some advice for busking and said that she liked my playing. When she came over to chat and listen to me play, some men wanted a photo with her. She told them to give me a pound instead, because she was busy listening to me right now.

I admire her courage to be the brightest and most colourful person in the street, not afraid to look unusual or to be herself. The world needs more people like Elaine.

Gradually I’m getting to know more of the people of the Mile. There are a few human statues (you have to be on the Mile fairly early to get there before a Human Statue), Market traders with small stalls, some bagpipers, Elaine of course, and a kindly portrait artist who has helped me out with advice when I’ve been busking. Further down the Mile are Fire Jugglers, circus acts and escape artists. They are a part of the street and also a small community, and one of the things I love about Edinburgh. It’s a very different city from Glasgow, but it’s growing on me. 

Saturday 29th November 2014 – Day Off!

I took the opportunity of some energy combined with free time to fight the mould in my shower and write up this diary after an incredibly busy week.

Now that the mould kingdom is vanquished (or at least severely reduced, since it may have worked its way into the sealant) I can have a shower which actually feels clean.

One of my friends from college has a band, and I might go to see them play tonight. 

Cycled to the pub where the gig was being held. It was good to cycle. I’ve not been on my bike for a while, mainly because when I have a lack of mental energy, I do stupid things. If you want to live any considerable length, making stupid decisions in traffic is something best avoided.

My friend’s band were really good. They were like if the Beatles were into eco music and songs about plants. They had a really entertaining song about mushrooms and how they’re Fun Guys. Plant flashcards were brought out for the crowd at various points. Their drummer seemed to be their secret weapon. He drummed, played guitar, and sang, often two at the same time.

Fun night.

Thursday 20th November- The Pretty Reckless, Heaven’s Basement and Nothing More Concert at Glasgow O2

At College I came in early to try out a Personal Listening Device. This piece of equipment should help me to listen in lectures. If all goes well, I will have my own Personal Listener to use soon. Even in the small Learning Support room, where we tried the equipment, voices sounded clearer, directed straight into my ears, minimising background noise. My Learning Support teacher said that she may also look into getting a Personal Listening Device for someone with ADHD. It may help him concentrate in lectures too.

In the afternoon my class had a Weed, Pest, Disease and Disorder identification exam. Pests, weeds and diseased plant material was numbered and laid out on tables. We had to write the names of each problem on an exam sheet.

Tonight was something I’d been looking forward to for ages! I went straight from college to Glasgow for a concert. Way back in the summer I had booked a ticket to see Heaven’s Basement at Glasgow 02. They are supporting The Pretty Reckless.

I had never been to Glasgow 02 before. Until Johansen IAS therapy helped me with my serious Auditory Processing Disorder, I was scared of loud noise and didn’t go to concerts apart from the classical events which were part of my music school experience. This was the third of fourth rock concert I have been to.

I still have some difficulties with Auditory Processing, which is why I was trying a Personal Listening Device this morning. Back before Johansen, everything was deafeningly loud, even fairly quiet sounds such as people talking could feel painful, and sound distorted. Without Johansen IAS therapy, I would never have learned to play drums. Instead of being my favourite thing, the loud sound would still scare me.

Hearing the words in songs for the first time was a revelation. I had no idea that songs were also stories. Music had so much more meaning and I could hear each instrument. It used to be so unclear, any vocals being a mush of vowel sounds with instrumental backgrounds blending together like runny paint. After seeing Camilla at Johansen IAS, individual colours and shapes started to separate from a mush of sound.

As soon as I can, I’ll post a before and after drawing of my hearing in the Synaesthesia section of this website.

I have always loved music, but now it is INCREDIBLE. Able to hear clearly, I found the kind of music I like. I love Heaven’s Basement. They were the first band I saw after my Auditory Processing Disorder got better. They played at Glasgow Cathouse, somewhere else I had never been before. It was an amazing experience.  

The line was huge, stretching all around the side of the Glasgow O2 and down the road. Inside, I had to put my backpack in a ticketed cloakroom. Only handbags were allowed in. My folders of plant malfunctions and baked potato dinner wouldn’t fit in a handbag. I remembered to get my earplugs out my bag just in time. Now that I have clear hearing, there’s no way I want to start losing it. Backpack ransomed for a  ticket, I found a balcony seat.

The 02 is bigger on the inside. As crowds filled the building, speakers played Audioslave. I like Audioslave. They were also being played at Paisley Bungalow just before our first gig, which was last week.  My parents might say that  going to another city to see a concert on a college night means that I’m not focusing on my education. This is musical education. I would love to play music for a living. Tonight was an amazing field trip.

Nothing More were first on stage. They were astonishing. Their drummer was amazing and at one point, three of the band played one bass guitar on a specially made stand. The sound of three people playing one bass (one of them using drumsticks) was incredible. They got a huge tune out of it, which sounded like multiple instruments. One of the coolest things I’ve ever heard or seen. Their music is out of this world. I’m really happy to have seen them tonight because I have a feeling that before long, tickets to see Nothing More may be quite expensive.

Heaven’t Basement introduced themselves to the crowd as “We’re a legless band from England!” They were a bit legless, but still brilliant. I love their music. They played the same songs I heard at their last amazing gig I went to. One of the albums I’ve bought where I like every song on it. Their music was loaded full of energy, at the end they looked a bit like they wanted get back on their bus and pass out.

The headliners, The Pretty Reckless, were great. They have a huge sound. Songs I hadn’t heard before and really want to hear again. At the end there was a long drum solo. Incredible to watch. What an end to the night!


Monday 27th October- Bad Hearing Day

Tired. Today’s college lecture about Soil Structure was okay. I listened hard and took good notes.

Lunch with my friends. We went to a shopping centre together to get some stuff for a plant experiment.

With lunch time to spare, we crashed out on comfy chairs and giant beanbags in a university café. Very happy to be doing ordinary things like this with friends, chatting and my hearing was okay.

Our afternoon plant experiment went okay, although I struggled to concentrate. After college finished my brain began to grind to a halt.

I got off the bus by the shops for some groceries. By the time I had picked out some ingredients in Lidl I was keeping myself oriented by using a list of tasks, and finding it hard to think in words.

Carrying a Bargain! £2 for 3kilos! bag of fusilli pasta around with me did not help my energy. I went to the train station to collect tickets for tomorrow’s commute to band practice. Everything was loud, too many colourful sounds flying and floating about everywhere. Outside the ticket office, I heard this extremely annoying sound like four alternately pulsing white dots, with a white/clear line flying out from one of them which seemed to drill into my head. I followed the line going into my head in my mind’s eye to the position of the offending device on the wall. It was a box with the words, Bird Repeller on it. It was a very thin, pale, straight line. The higher the pitch of a sound, the sharper, thinner, lighter and straighter the sound tends to be. This sound was painfully high. Similar to the Rentokil cat-scarer I encountered during my job with a gardening company.

Nowadays, this counts as a bad hearing day. In the past, before Johansen IAS therapy, this would have been a normal, perhaps even a good day for me. Although it may sometimes seem like I still struggle with my Auditory Processing Difficulties, compared to how serious my APD was before I went to Johansen IAS for treatment (Camilla said that I was her most complex case so far) my hearing is amazing.

Moments like I had today is a reason why telling people about my APD is a very good idea. Then they can understand why most of the time I’m normal, happy and fully functioning, then suddenly one afternoon I seem almost mentally handicapped and might even need some guidance with crossing roads.

Right now I still don’t feel good. I’m really tired, but I know that an early night should sort me out. Writing this diary is really good because I don’t have to speak. Here, I can write out my thoughts fine despite how much my mental energy levels have crashed. But if you tried to ask me to speak to you about exactly how I feel right now, I might not be able to raise my game enough to do more than go ummmm….while I try to remember events, form them into words, then remember how to say it.

Tomorrow is a very big day. Work experience, then a very exciting band practice. I need to be thinking as clearly as possible for the best drumming I can manage.

Listening to new CDs after a hot chocolate with marshmallows for some instant sugar. Starting to feel a bit brighter. Dinner time soon.

I aim to be asleep by eight. My brain needs to reboot.

Saturday 20th September- Brain For Hire

Not feeling great today. I’m tired from busy times and processing, Auditory and otherwise, is slow.

I’m a student. Students need money. One way for students to earn money is to sign up to help PHD students with experiments. Earlier this year, I earned a little money for taking part in a Synaesthesia study. I don’t mind hiring out my brain for some easy computerised tests. For this I would earn £6, which is equal to 6 1-kilo bags of potatoes. I think in potatoes quite a lot since I’ve become a student.

Today I helped with a memory test at the Psychology building. Because I can play a few instruments and read music notation. The tests were computerised, but not easy. They involved a lot of listening to 12-note atonal tunes. Since Auditory tests are a weak area for me, my brain felt fried after an hour of 12-note atonal tunes. But £6 in hand, in headed home, fried but happy. Probably thinking of potatoes.

Before the musical memory test, because I had thought ahead, I made a poster advertising my services as a Brain for Hire. The psychology building is closed to the public and I normally wouldn’t be allowed inside, so while I was there, I put up an advert on the noticeboard. I thought that since I have synaesthesia, maybe more students would want to hire me for my brain. I made a new email address specially for it. Worth a try. My poster isn’t subtle, but it’s to the point, and £4 an hour is competitive with the average PHD study rate.

After lunch I was still tired and a small patch of my vision went a bit sparkly. Life has been much busier than I’m used to. After a break I had dinner and went out to a friend’s birthday party. We have literally known each other since we were born, our mothers being in the same maternity group. Great to see him, catch up, and make some new friends.

Surprisingly, my hearing had recovered by then thanks to a chill out back at the flat. It still amazes me that years after I had Johansen IAS therapy to help me with serious Auditory Processing Disorder, I’m still noticing improvements.

Thursday 11th September- Day 4 of Student Life – Fresher’s Week Rock Gig

Tonight I went to a rock gig with the Edinburgh Uni Goth & Rock Society. They’re really nice people with a passion for music and a great sense of humour. I wished I had brought my earplugs because it was so loud, but it was great. There were other first-years there too and we swapped phone numbers. I met the society’s Grand Vizier, who jokingly introduced himself as “the Grand Vizier Self-Titled”. I love how they are much less serious than other Edinburgh uni societies.

When one of my new friends asked the organizer what was the name of “that big guy with long hair”, he said that didn’t really narrow it down. Some people there looked a bit scary, but they were really friendly. Despite the loud music, I could hear no worse than anyone else there, probably better than most, if they were regularly exposed to this decibel level without earplugs.

There were four different bands. The first sounded something like Guns ‘n’ Roses. The second group were a loud punk band. After than came screaming heavy metallers with garden gnome facial hair. The final band played industrial music. I hadn’t heard much industrial music before, but I liked this. The group I saw performing were kind of like the Prodigy meets Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. There was a woman in a black headdress behind a sound board, and two men, one singing and the other drumming. They were both smeared with black paint. It sounded stranger than most music but I’d definitely listen to it again. Industrial music is darker in colour than most music, because of the bass. The singing is distorted and so instead of the ordinary pinkish line of a voice, it’s a darker shade, sometimes white or yellow. Blue tinges for lower vocals. The shape of the singer’s voice was rippled and cut into slices midair by the electronic distortion and sometimes had a texture like 3-dimensional static from a TV screen. The bass was zigzaggy and the electronic backing more brightly colourful and beautiful. The undistorted electric tones were smoother, slightly glassy and transparent and bright, pure colours. Smooth, oval-like shapes. They were at the background of a stage-sized mass of distorted, grainy, zigzagging, spiky sound slamming out into the room. The drums gave it some more even, solid flattish pulses of colour, and the cymbals put gold into the mix from the side of the stage. It was unusual looking music, like standing inside a fireworks factory in the middle of an arson attack. Quite a night.

Wednesday 10th September- Day 3 of Student Life- Wind Band tryout

After some course-related paperwork in the morning, I went to the Societies Fair with some of my flatmates.

A Societies Fair is where you can sign up to join a huge range of activities. About one hundred choices, ranging from the Tea-appreciation society to the Cheese society, Pole-dancing society and the Anarchist Society. I joined mostly music societies, one of them being a Wind Band. Their first rehearsal of the year is tonight.

At Wind Band, my Auditory Processing Difficulties were not a problem, in the past, before Johansen Individualised Auditory Stimulation therapy, I had found it difficult to hear conductors’ instructions such as what bar number we were starting from. In fact, this was the first time I had played in a wind band since my hearing was fixed. However, tonight I  had other things to worry about.

When I signed up to Wind Band, I hadn’t thought things through. All that had computed with me was that I would have the chance to play on an acoustic drum kit. I missed my drums back home in Glasgow and my electric kit was still in pieces in IKEA bags in my new room. Already playing that acoustic kit in my mind, I hadn’t even considered some important things such as:

  • I haven’t played in a wind band in about five years
  • I have never played drums in a wind band or with a conductor before
  • I have been playing drums less than a year and a half
  • Rock, punk and metal drumming will not be helpful in a wind band
  • I have never played drums in front of anyone besides my mum (when my times up and she wants to use the attic computer) and my bandmates (in our cosy little studio room)

I arrived, I was enthusiastic, and I didn’t know how to put a drum kit together from pieces. Luckily the percussion section were much more cluefull than me and we were soon set up.

My first attempt at playing drums in front of sixty people went badly. I couldn’t read the music because it was on two lines instead of a music stave. I had to stop before I’d started and one of the other drummers took over. He played it perfectly.

Standing around not sure what to do, something else dawned on me. Oh yeah, I’ve never played percussion either.

That’s when they gave me the hand-cymbal part to Liberty March.

Hand cymbals are huge, hand-held cymbals which you slam together in a specified rhythm. For most of Liberty March, you slam them together every second beat. Slamming is really fun until your arms get tired. Halfway through the piece, I began to slam gradually more slowly. If I were on triangle duty, I would have got off scot-free, but unfortunately, I was the loudest thing in the room.

Somehow we got through to the end of Liberty March. Now I was on triangle duty.

The percussion section were lovely. They were supportive of my lack of ability and tried to make me feel better. Their great sense of humour and carefree attitude cheered me up a bit. At first I had felt like crying with frustration, but now I saw the funny side of my situation- I was a talented music school-trained flautist, choosing to play very badly in the percussion section.

After a slightly disastrous first attempt at playing a rack of long, silver tubes (which had beautiful colours) I had a chance to go back on the drums. I had a lot to live up to. The other two drummers were very talented. The not only kept time with the conductor, but also improvised parts of the music while sight-reading. And they could do rolls on the snare, which I envied.

The chosen piece was YMCA. It is not hard, but I had never played in front of a crowd, let alone sight-read. I enthusiastically hammered out a messy, out of time beat, struggling to follow then conductor and read at the same time. I had forgotten whether arms up or arms down signalled the first beat in a bar. I was so nervous, I probably tried both just to be sure.

I feel like the conductor might be glad to see the back of me after that.

Probably looking very sheepish by now, the lovely percussion people gave me coconuts to play, and fairly easy-looking coconut notation. Coconuts are a percussion instrument I had only ever seen in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. I was excited to try them. This went okay. Coconuts were fun and about my level. Matte-White, circular sounds, the size of small balloons, in the air just in front of me.

Rehearsal over, the percussionists told me not to worry, and said I’d learn percussion if I came to rehearsals. I think I might just stick to trying to improve my drum skills on my electric kit back at the flat. I’d like to see them again, but I might not be cut out for Wind Band drumming.

I have the enthusiasm to be a good drummer, but beside the other drummers, who may have been music students, my playing was pathetic in the loudest way possible. I still had fun, but realised that if I want to be as good as those guys I will have to practice, practice, practice. I will. I’d love to be a good drummer.

Packing away my sticks and getting out my helmet for the homewards cycle, I was asked by one of the leaders of wind band, I thing,  if I played any other instruments as well as percussion. I think they saw I was a bit crestfallen about my deafeningly-displayed lack of ability and were trying to make me feel fetter. I said that I didn’t play percussion, this was my first try. I said that I could play flute too. Well, they said, smiling warmly. We take players of all abilities.

The next time I’ll play drums in public will probably be with my bandmates at our first gig. It’s reassuring to think that at least it probably won’t be as bad as tonight.

Monday 8th September- Day 1 of Student Life

My first morning in a new city was sunny.

Today I had a cycle around the city centre, finding food shops, clothes shops, supermarkets second hand CD shops, a cycle store, and a drum shop, where the shop keeper talked to me for ages and taught me things I’d never known about cymbals. Also a book shop with paperback novels stacked to the ceiling because they’d run out of shelf space. The bike shop gave me a new light and some advice about cycling in my new city. They said to watch out for the tram lines- they’re not recessed into the ground properly and on a wet day, if you don’t cross them at a 90 degree angle, it can be dangerously slippy and could knock me off my bike.

Cycling is something I enjoy, and it’s a good way to get around. I’ve been able to ride a bike since I was about six, but only cycled regularly in the past year or so. I’m no bike expert. The Jennymobile was purchased at a Fair for £10 and has five gears, most of which I don’t use. It’s rare for me to cycle farther than four miles in the same day, so I’m not a particularly fit cyclist. I am also ignorant of the highway code. It’s good exercise and free transport which is faster than walking.

To be able to cycle safely on roads requires not just good hearing, but also accurate judgement of the direction and distance of sounds. Before Johansen IAS therapy, cycling on the roads would have been a stupid idea. I couldn’t identify the direction of sounds, or the size of the vehicle making them. When my hearing was at its worst, and most distorted, I had auditory hallucinations such as phantom bicycles on the empty pavement behind me when I walked. Traffic was just one solid block of deafening noise- not separated into sounds of individual vehicles as it is now. Because of my synaesthesia, in my mind’s eye, the solid block of traffic sound resulted in a solid block of coloured, rapidly moving shapes blocking the air above the road surface. This made crossing roads and dealing with traffic feel complicated and stressful. After Johansen IAS therapy, the solid block of sounds became more like pockets surrounding the vehicles, with a few sounds drifting through empty air gaps between vehicles. I’ve been meaning to draw this for a while, because the changes in my sound synaesthesia has reflected changes in my hearing. I’ll try post it in the pictures section soon, as well as adding it to  this blog post.

 Going to the Movement and Learning Centre was equally important to my cycling skills. Thanks to Ian, I have good balance and coordination and the confidence to cycle alongside traffic.

 Despite my wonderful new hearing skills, I still dress brightly to be safe, and take care on the roads. My bike has bright lights, front and back, and I wear a retina-singeing reflective yellow anti-death jacket.

Usually, I go on cycle trips for food-gathering purposes. Since I am the engine of the Jennymobile, it’s important to eat lots. I found a large supermarket about a mile from the flat and had my first big food shop.

Friday 6th July

It was a hot, sunny day.

“I thought you’d escaped” was what my gardening supervisor said when I turned up at the yard. Although I have officially left the company, I was doing an extra day to help cover someone on leave. I would have preferred a day off, but I was happy to see them.

I like spending time in the van with the kind, funny gardeners with their banter and hilarious stories.  We had a discussion about what if everyone drove hamster balls instead of cars, and got attacked by what my friend described as “super midges” in a garden on the banks of Loch Lomond.

All day I thought about Grandpa. He was asleep since Tuesday and a doctor suggested he may need to go to hospital. His colours were different from normal when I visited on Tuesday. He usually has a little eggshell blue around him. When I got home my mum told me that he seems fully recovered, sitting up this morning in his chair and eating breakfast! Maybe he just needed some extra sleep.