Everyday Synaesthesia: Podcasts, coping, & lilacs.

For an archive of my synaesthesia related posts see my blog Everyday Synaesthesia

On podcasts, coping, and lilacs. 

I haven’t posted on Everday Synaesthesia in a while, I suppose because I’ve been busy with my PhD. Also, because I went through a phase there of being a bit embarrassed to talk about my synaesthesia stuff. Sometimes it feels indulgent. But, a few friends had been kindly asking me questions about it, and it’s gotten me back into the habit of observing my synaesthetic responses. I’ve also been part of a few exciting synaesthesia studies recently, which reminds me of the importance of examining the condition and helping people to understand it.

Today I realised something interesting. My fluctuating listening habits – that of podcasts versus music – changes depending on my mood and follows a discernible pattern usually lasting weeks or even several months, linked to my synaesthesia. Let me explain…

Happiness and excitement lends itself to modern music, often pop, hip hop, or R&B. If I start to feel the need for comfort, a nostalgia phase is initiated where I only listen to music from the 80s and earlier. These are songs I know and love with clear stories, such as folk, jazz and country music. The more stressed I become, the more I listen to podcasts. Sometimes it becomes unbearable to not have one on in the background. When I binge podcasts it is because I am feeling lost, sad, or lonely. This isn’t particularly exceptional behaviour. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to changes in their listening routines depending on how they’re feeling.

What I realised was true for me, was that there was a synaesthetic reason behind my particular pattern. When I want to immerse myself in my positive feelings – turn up the volume on them so-to-speak – I listen to music which is very ‘colourful’ to me as a synaesthete. This mixes with the thoughts and feelings I’m having to create a rainbow of tastes, smells, and textures within which, I exist. It magnifies what I’m experiencing. In those moments I am living inside my own little night club, but one I can take with me anywhere.

When I am low, I don’t want to know what I am thinking or feeling. I don’t want the colours or the endless fog horn drone of sadness. Listening to music only boosts these emotions, no matter what kind of music it is. So, I play podcasts. Recently, on Stuff You Should Know, Josh (I think) pondered why anyone would listen to a podcast episode more than once.  Well, I can tell you this – I listen to some of my favourite episodes over and over again because they act as kind of soothing audible wallpaper. The first time I listen, it’s to actually hear and learn. After that, I listen so as to let the words the presenters are speaking block out my own thoughts. Again, I bet this is true for a lot of people, not just synaesthetes. But for me, it just means that I can no longer see my own anxiety as clearly. When I think, I see speech bubbles, or words going along on a ticker tape, like a teleprompter. When someone else is speaking continously, I can no longer ‘see’ my own bubbles. Their words replace mine. When I am calm and adjusted, I need less audio stimulation. I have nothing that needs blocking out. I don’t need to be protected from my own thoughts. I am happy to fill the silence with speech bubbles I’m not afraid of reading.

I am incredibly indebted to all the podcasters who have allowed me to enjoy their work for free, and who have enabled me to cope, when life became stormy. I’m going to include a list of my favourite podcasts at the bottom of this post, with links.

Finally, to end on an upbeat note…

Yesterday I attended a performance of Sleeping Beauty by the Moscow City Ballet company. It was absolutely wonderful. I’ve seen this group perform many times, and really love their energy and the magic they bring to their shows. For this ballet, many of the dancers were wearing beautiful dresses in lilacs; lots of shades of blues and purples and pinks. Coincidentally, I had chosen to wear a perfume called Violet Eyes by Elizabeth Taylor. Now, whoever created the branding and scent for this knew what they were doing because it really does smell purple. As I was watching the ladies dance, it was wonderful to see the lilac dresses, and find that they matched what I could smell on my clothes, perfectly. It really made my mouth water, like I was eating a packet of parma violet sweets you used to get in pic and mixes.


Right now, I’m binge-listening to The End of the World: with Josh Clark. It’s perfect because Josh’s voice is very soothing, and the light background music means my field of vision is flooded with gentle, pastel shades. I was a bit nervous about listening to this at first. I love Josh & Chuck’s style on SYSK, but wasn’t sure I could handle existential risks right now. The news cycle is bad enough as it is. But actually, the show counters the more gloomy predictions with a Carl Sagan-esque wide-eyed wonder at humankind’s potential in the universe. It’s a beautiful podcast; if you’re a science fiction fan you’re bound to enjoy it.

I support these awesome podcasts on Patreon: Supercontext; Uncanny Japan

I love these podcasts, for too many reasons to go into here:

Stuff You Should Know; Nothing Much Happens; Stuff to Blow Your Mind; Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know; Ridiculous History; Movie Crush; Steampunk Dollhouse; Schoolin Life; Trek Geeks; Criminal.

Ps. since writing this post, I’ve become completely addicted to the brilliant: Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe. It’s astrophysics & cosmology made accessible for all ages, it’s also funny and charming; beautiful and mind-expanding. Go subscribe!

Wishing you a happy week filled with colourful things.


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