I have been a big admirer of synesthete Lynn Goode, MSW, ever since she took the podium at Vanderbilt University in Nashville a couple of years ago, where the American Synesthesia Association (ASA) was meeting in its annual conference. Such poise and warmth and wisdom -- and between the lines of a compelling presentation about the connections between synesthesia and trauma -- her inner "wounded healer" shone through.
This fascinating, beautiful Southern belle, who has overcome lots of challenges herself in life, is now shopping her first book, a memoir titled Marooned. Maroon is the color she sees for the letter M. And "m's" loom large in her personal landscape: they're her Mom, who attempted suicide when Lynn was a young girl; they're the isolated town of Marfa, Texas, which she left for Houston; they're the Multiple Sclerosis she battles daily.
Why did you become a psychotherapist?
That's a brilliant question, for which I have several answers. The first answer that comes to mind --which is glib-- was that I wanted to learn more about myself and human nature. But truthfully, I thought it would be a profession wherein I could work around any MS flare-ups and be able to provide for for myself after my divorce.
Do you think synesthesia gives you the empathy this requires?
Yes, I really do. Often, I wonder if I'm too empathic because I have a tendency to sense my client's emotions in color. I'm learning to work with this sense and to utilize it for both the client and myself by remembering what "color" he or she was during our previous session. From there, I compare it to the present state he or she is in.
What are the connections between synesthesia and trauma per your research?
My actual research was inconclusive essentially because I didn't ask enough questions. However, after the research was completed, I've heard from many synesthetes who experienced trauma in early childhood, as well as from several individuals who have spoken about how their synesthesia disappeared for a period of time after a traumatic episode in adulthood. The majority of the people who completed the survey wrote personal essays from their experiences about being adversely affected by certain colors.
In my particular case, I didn't realize why words that begin with "th" (which for me is related to a sea-foam green color), or why actually seeing that color gave me a queasy feeling until after the death of my mother. Before her death, I was unable to unravel a traumatic incident that occurred when I was five years-old. The situation was this---my mother attempted suicide in a sea-foam green bathroom and although i was only a mere child, I was present and ended up talking her out of taking her life.
It took me forty four years to connect the incident to the aversion to sea-foam green, partly because I never examined the incident in any real depth until my mother actually died when I was forty-nine years of age; and partly because I had no idea that there was a name for synesthesia until I took a writing workshop at the University of Iowa and my instructor told me about Patricia Duffy's book, Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens.
Reading Pat Duffy's book opened an entire world for me.Previously, I thought I lived alone on a technicolor island of words. Knowing that there was a name for this sensation, and that many others also have synesthesia, was profoundly life-altering.
However, shortly after reading Pat Duffy's book and applying to Smith College School for Social Work, my husband of many years asked for a divorce. I was still reeling from my mother's death, and in retrospect, I suppose that enrolling in the Smith Program was a godsend. During the years I spent in grad school, I learned so much about myself and how the traumatic incident in my childhood affected my attachments to others, as well as damaging my own sense of self.
I often wonder if many of the participants who reported having strong adverse reactions to certain colors are actually not yet conscious of a traumatic event related to the color. By example, a person abhors the color yellow---not sunny yellow, but a butterscotch yellow. It might be possible that he was in a car wreck earlier in life and the butterscotch yellow was the color of the car. Or perhaps a strong dislike for orangish-red is related to the name of a known assaulter, or the color of a room one was in when something unpleasant occurred. Until the conscious is ready to deal with trauma, it's often suppressed and remains in the unconscious.
Can you give us a synopsis of your book, Marooned?
Maroon is the color that forms in my mind whenever I hear a word beginning with M. Marooned began as a personal journal about my mother's death (Mother = maroon). After taking the writing class at University of Iowa, my instructor Mary Allen encouraged me to shape the essay into a memoir. From there, I went all the way back to my mother's suicide attempt during my childhood (after all, Freud said our stories always begin with our mothers); of being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was thirty-nine; and my subsequent move to the isolated West Texas town of Marfa, wherein I opened a bookstore, co-founded a theater and hosted a number of celebrities from the art and film world. Oops, I forget to add that prior to being diagnosed with M.S,, I owned an art gallery in Houston.
I left Marfa after I feel into a deep depression following my mother's death. It took me a solid year of therapy (not to mention Prozac---which in a gothic twist of fate is the same sea-foam green color that makes me queasy) to sort out that my mother's death was actually the tipping point for me. I had never grieved the loss of my health, the fact that I was isolated and lonely in Marfa, nor had I connected my Mother's suicide attempt as an anxiety disorder that we call Post-tramautic Stress Disorder.
I'm sure you've caught on, but Marfa, M.S. and Mom are all maroon. For me, being depressed and working through the grieving process calls to mind a blob of maroon. I'm aware that Picasso had a Blue Period, but I went through a painful maroon period.
In spite of all of the morose talk above, the book is about hope--and actually, my friends who read it said it's also quite humorous. It's also about coming clean with my PTSD and revealing the complete mess I was during that period. And finally, it's about working with other individuals who are grieving and/or suffering from trauma. My hope (that is, if it's ever published) is to convey that it's really okay to ask for help. It's a myth to think we can heal all on our own. We need support and a safe place to talk.