It’s a mysterious and dangerous condition, as Cotard’s syndrome will make you think you’re a walking corpse and then forgo the basic necessities of being a human being.
- Cotard’s syndrome, or “walking corpse syndrome”, makes patients believe they’re dead
- It was discovered in the 19th century, by French neurologist, Jules Cotard
- Patients engage in risky behavior, in thinking that their physical bodies are no longer an issue
- It’s not yet known what causes it, though it has been linked to schizophrenic or bipolar patients
Since the recent years have been littered with zombie fiction, including movies, TV series, videogames, or generally an invasion in pop culture, it was noted that something similar exists. There is a condition that genuinely makes people believe they are walking corpses. It’s neither a dream nor fiction springing after watching a marathon of “The Walking Dead”.
A writer, Esmé Weijun Wang, recalled her firsthand experience with the unfortunate disease. For weeks before, she felt herself losing grip on reality and edging further away from her identity. Finally, on November 5th, 2013, Wang was travelling from London to her home in San Francisco when she fainted on the flight.
By the time she regained consciousness, she was convinced that she had died on that plane. From that moment on, she believed that she was in the afterlife. That was the beginning. Wang, now 32 years old, recalls that she didn’t feel particularly upset about it. She stated that she felt like she could have a do-over of her life, and this time do it much better.
It was more difficult to trace because Wang actually interact with her husband and their dog. She believed that they were dead as well, and they shared the afterlife. While that’s certainly a sweet thought, it wasn’t precisely paradise. She described it as “some kind of hell” though, where she “was on fire inside”.
Back in the 1880s, Jules Cotard first named and discovered the syndrome, attaching it to depression, which led to anxious melancholia and delusions. The case he found was a woman of 43 years old, who believed she had no brain, nerves, chest, stomach or intestines. Instead she thought all she had was a decomposing body and bones to hold it together.
The unfortunate case was a chronic version of the condition, which led the patient to death due to starvation.
According to Dr. Michael Birnbaum, those who suffer from the disease are at high risk. They believe their physical life has ended, which can lead to highly dangerous behavior. This includes anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, with basic actions like showering, going to work, interacting with others, or even eating left behind. Patients believe that if they’re dead, they’re no longer necessary.
It’s not yet known what exactly causes the disease. It was tied to several conditions, such as schizophrenia or in bipolar patients. Wang, for one, was particularly fortunate as the syndrome lifted by itself after two months. She was also diagnosed with Lyme disease after, which made experts believe there might’ve been a connection.
Cotard syndrome can last for days, weeks, months, or even years. It leaves behind symptoms, such as insomnia, fatigue, and weakness. However, nothing compares to the probable despair of thinking your life has ended.
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