Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Olivia Lamberti
When Elizabeth Johnston was in third grade, she was shocked her mother didn’t know what color Tuesday was. The answer was clearly blue.
Due to a neurological condition known as synesthesia, Johnston associates different colors and genders with days of the week, numbers and letters. While synesthesia encompasses a number of unique sensations, such as associating music with taste and months with genders, less than one percent of people experience this phenomenon.
Yet Johnston wasn’t aware of her uniqueness when she was younger, leading to confusion when others didn’t think the same way she did.
“I talked about it pretty freely,” Johnston said. “I thought everyone made these associations.”
Friends of Johnston were surprised by her sensory differences at first, though they eventually became accustomed to the occasional mention of female letters or red days of the week.
Kristina Tepic, Johnston’s coworker, finds her condition to be compelling but unobtrusive.
“I think it’s really interesting and unique,” Tepic said. “I’ve never met anyone that’s had this.”
Johnston’s perspective is overwhelmingly positive. Her synesthesia aids her as a student and in daily life.
Memorization, for example, is a struggle for most people. Johnston, on the other hand, can use her synesthesia to her advantage.
“It definitely helps with names,” Johnston said. “If someone tells me their name is Kaitlyn, I can hear the ‘A’ sound, so their name is blue because A is blue.”
Finding this phenomenon helpful can be rare among those with synesthesia. Many people have trouble reading colored fonts or doing math, though Johnston finds her condition to be more of a novelty than a nuisance.
She counts herself lucky to be one of the few with synesthesia.
“I think it helps with visualizing and conceptualizing,” Johnston said. “It’s done more good than harm.”