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Friday, 10 June 2011

(F1) Cotard's Syndrome: The Zombie Mind


Okay, so we should probably start this off with a BANG, right? That’s what I have for you today. It’s one man’s insight into a convoluted Psychological disorder (come on, you saw this coming) called Cotard's Syndrome.

AUTHOR: Andrew Kincaid is extremely versatile online and in life. He used to have this horrific blog called Stygian Underground (A Glimpse into the Darker Side of Life), which was the place where all the cool vamps, zombos, and creepy dolls went. But since Andrew wanted to merge it with his other blog (Lucid Dreams and Saturn Skies, which is more eclectic), he came to me with this homeless puppy (a.k.a. article), which I had to adopt because I’m a bleeding heart, mostly.
Andrew blogs, a LOT. He also has a book out available on Kindle called On Dark Paths, which is a collection of 13 paranormal stories (shuddering yet?), which you can find here. You can also find him twittering @AKincaid87.

In his own words, he is a ‘bundle of contradictions’: Buddhist/horror/metal enthusiast; science-major/paranormal-lover, etc. And he’s also a lot like me in this respect: “I watch really bad movies just to make fun of them.” Don’t we all?

I can go on and on listing his extracurriculars (seriously), so why don’t you give him a shout on his blog and tell him how much you loved his article? Though I suppose you have to read it first. So without further ado I give you...

Cotard’s Syndrome: The Zombie Mind
by Andrew Kincaid

Imagine waking one morning and feeling detached.  You feel adrift, like your body is not your own.  Worse, it feels like your body is dead.  You feel worms squirm under your skin and beetles skitter through your bones.  Your heart doesn’t beat, and one or more of your organs feels like they’re missing.

Imagine waking one morning, only to realize you’re the living dead.

Sound like a bad horror flick?  This is daily reality for sufferers of Cotard’s Syndrome.

The disorder was named after Jules Cotard, who first described the condition in 1880.  He found the syndrome had a range of symptoms, from mild to severe.  Mild cases are characterized by despair and a sense of self-loathing.  In more severe cases, however, the symptoms take a turn  to the bizarre.  Many patients are convinced that they are dead, or that some of their organs are missing.  Some feel like blood no longer flows in their veins.  Some feel they are rotting where they stand.

In very rare cases a bizarre sort of paradox occurs in sufferers of the syndrome.  They believe they are dead, which leads to a delusion of immortality.  After all if you’re already dead how can anything hurt you?  These people are dangers to themselves, obviously as they are more inclined to take greater risks that they wouldn’t take in a more normal state.

The syndrome is often associated with delusional disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but similar symptoms have also been associated with severe depressions, brain injury, and even migraines.

Being a syndrome, it has a wide spectrum of symptoms and causes.  No two cases are exactly alike.  In addition, most cases seem to have a strong religious component.  I didn’t see any scientific explanation as to why this is.  I don’t think though that the religious delusions are necessarily implicit to these kinds of disorders or to Cotard’s Syndrome itself.  Instead, I reckon that it’s more likely that the sufferers are filtering their delusions through the lens of their society and culture.  I’d be willing to bet that cases of Cotard’s in a tribal culture, for example, would be much different in their details than those in Western societies.

As it stands though, the bulk of the evidence that we have about Cotard’s comes from the West.  Mademoiselle X, the pseudonym for a patient in whom Jules Cotard examined the syndrome, believed there was no God or Devil.  She also denied the existence of many parts of her body and didn’t feel the need to eat.  Later she came to believe she was eternally damned.

In a more modern case, a man who suffered a motorcycle accident became convinced that he was dead.  After his release from the hospital, his mother took him to South Africa.  The heat in South Africa reinforced his delusion of death; he was convinced he’d gone to Hell, as confirmed by the hot climate. He believed he’d died from Septicemia, and that his mother’s spirit was taking him for a tour around Hell. 

Debilitating as it is, Cotard’s is a treatable condition.  Electroshock therapy and anti-psychotics seem to be the most effective treatments developed so far.  It’s interesting to note that the syndrome is related neurologically to the Capgras delusion, where the patient is convinced friends and families are really imposters.  Both disorders involve a misfiring of the section of the brain that processes faces, so sufferers of both conditions are unable to properly do so, the way you or I would.  In Capgras delusion, the processing error occurs when attempting to process the faces of others.  In Cotard’s the sufferer fails to recognize themselves.

Oh and another nickname for Cotard’s?  Walking Corpse Syndrome.

I guess in a way there really are zombies out there, if only in their own minds.


Executiveredhead said...

This is awesome. I've heard about the Capgras Delusion (I think it was on an episode of Law and Order SVU)and I saw a documentary about a woman who didn't know who her husband was. And there is a syndrome where people don't think their limbs are theirs. They usually end up amputating their arms and/or lets. But thinking you are dead-wow. There's definitely a story there.
This was a great post. I have a degree in psychology so this kind of thing fascinates me.

Executiveredhead said...

sigh-legs. I meant amputate their arms and/or l-e-g-s. I also teach first grade so that's about the level I operate on most of the year. Those kinds of mistakes are pretty commonplace for me.

Lyn Midnight said...

Hi Danielle. :) Did I know you had a Psychology degree? Must've slipped my mind. Anyway, I do too! Thus the zombie/disorder choice for feature. :)

It is interesting, Andrew is quite the researcher when it comes to the macabre.

I've also heard of such cases, I think there was an episode on E.R. or Grey's Anatomy. Not House though. (I love all three.) Ok, I'm shutting up now. :D

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the article! It's funny because my degree is (or rather will be) in Biology and Business (I'm double majoring) but I find psychology fascinating. Probably should have majored in that =P.

I've heard of the disorder where people want to cut off their limbs; they don't feel whole until they aren't I guess. Another interesting disorder I may do an article about is phantom limb syndrome. People still feel like their missing limbs are still attached, and there are times the limbs can still feel like they're moving or even actually hurt. There have even been reports of people feeling orgasms in their phantom limbs! Weird right?