Reports surfaced early this week of a woman with amnesia finally recalling her true identity, which she was able to piece together through the most-used emojis on her phone.
27-year-old Mary Beth Barone experienced a dissociative fugue, during which she traveled several states away from her home in Natchez, Mississippi. When she woke up alone on a riverboat, she had no idea who she was. Luckily, she had her phone on hand and after several hours of analyzing her recently used emojis, a light bulb went off.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” says psychologist Liz Upton, who handled Barone’s case. “I mean, I’ve seen patients recover from amnesia before, but I’ve never seen one do it herself using nothing but her top 30 emojis.”
Barone says she doesn’t know what happened during her fugue state but she apparently wiped all the apps, contacts, and texts from her phone, leaving only her emoji keyboard, which allowed her to piece her memories back together, one tiny cartoon icon at a time.
“At first, all I knew about myself was that some of my frequently used emojis were the bunny ears leotard girls, a taco, fireworks, that caterpillar and the peace fingers,” says Barone. “I wondered what the fuck sort of person that made me – maybe a dancer who loved Mexican food, the Fourth of July, crawly bugs and being groovy?”
As it turns out, none of Barone’s first guesses about herself were right and it actually took her another day to put the full story of her existence back together.
“As I stared at my emojis, memories of who I must be came back to me slowly, bit by bit,” says Barone. “After a few hours, I realized the bunny-ears leotard girls were supposed to be me and my best friend Bethany. Apparently, I’d send it a bunch of times a day to let her know, like, ‘Hey! We’re friends.’ Then I realized the fireworks had to do with my job – I sold fireworks on the side of the road – and once I realized that, all my memories start to flood back at once.”
Other psychologists involved in Barone’s case say they’ve never seen this use of an emoji keyboard before.
“We were fascinated by how she rediscovered her identity,” says Upton. “Apparently, the caterpillar was Barone’s form of indicating approval of a text, like a thumb’s up only a bug instead, and the tacos were because her nickname was Taco and she just constantly wanted to remind everyone of that. Then the peace fingers, as you probably guessed, were because she felt pretty chill about a lot of things, including when a friend cancelled on dinner last minute.”
While it normally takes time in therapy to retrieve an amnesia patient’s memory, Barone seems to be making steady progress with the aid of her most-used emojis. At the conclusion of the interview, she could be seen texting multiple dinosaurs to a friend to indicate that yes, they should totally hang out tonight.