Italian Beauty

For the first time in my 30-year manual therapy career, I’ve given a client a code name: Italian Beauty. She is indeed gorgeous and has ties to Calabria, on the “heel” of Italy’s boot. But, my reasons are not about her visage or heritage. My neurocognitive differences have long fostered problems for me at work, and I keep making booking mistakes, many of them with this specific client. These scheduling errors are rooted in my synesthetic perceptions of her first name. I feel terrible about the conflicts I’ve created, so I’m trying something new, a workaround of sorts.

I’m a poly-synesthete with multiple forms of blended senses. I see all of my letters and numbers in distinct colors, a phenomenon called grapheme-color synesthesia. I have an adjacent cross-sensory experience, lexeme-color synesthesia, in which my perception of whole words is saturated with the hue of the word’s first letter. In the example below, two names with similar spellings (Jane and Janelle) are colored as I see them, first broken down into graphemes, then as lexemes:

I currently don’t have any regular clients named Jane or Janelle, so I chose these as stand-ins. “Jane” is a client I see every Wednesday. She has a physically demanding career, and manual therapy has proven effective in decreasing her neck and shoulder discomfort. “Janelle” (aka Italian Beauty) is someone I’ve known for many years. I see “Janelle” occasionally on Wednesdays, first thing in the morning.

Several times this year, I have opened my business software to see Janelle’s name on my Wednesday calendar for a 9AM appointment, only to mistake it for Jane because they are the same shade of purple. I don’t work with Jane at 9AM, so I think I’ve made a mistake, and I immediately erase Janelle’s booking, then verify that I do indeed have Jane in the correct spot for her weekly session. Invariably, someone else reaches out for a 9AM massage, and I offer them the timeslot I vacated by erasing Janelle’s appointment. Then, Janelle shows up for her 9AM Wednesday session and I have two people at my door both expecting sessions. 

I have nightmares about this type of snafu. I know my error must sound really strange to people who don’t have grapheme or lexeme synesthesias. But, the struggle is real, especially when magnified by my ADHD. After considering a number of possibilities…booking Janelle by her last name, adding her profession to her name, etc…I came up with the code name Italian Beauty. To me, it fits her perfectly! The bold white (Italian) and red (Beauty) colors of the name are a nod to Italy’s flag, and to the geraniums so common on the Italian peninsula. Also, Italian Beauty looks amazing in red; I think I’ve seen her in a photo wearing a red blazer with a white blouse. Hopefully, these manufactured associations will serve as helpful memory markers, deleting the royal purple I inherently associate with her true first name.

Synesthesia is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse. At its worst, it leaves me feeling like a ditz who can’t keep her schedule straight. I hope that using a code name will remind me of my past mistakes with Italian Beauty’s appointments, serving as a reminder to do better. Additionally, this code name feels like I’m taking the best of my grapheme and lexeme synesthesia, the vivid colors, and putting them to work for me. And that’s beautiful.