A rare mental illness called Cotard disease makes people feel like they are actual zombies, and that nothing they experience is real.
The burden of living with this condition was detailed by writer Esmé Weijun Wang, in a gut-wrenching essay called “Perdition Days”.
As she revealed, those who are affected by Cotard disease believe they have already died, and that they are simply haunting the Earth, with no purpose or impact on others.
“I was doomed to wander forever, in a world that was not mine, in a body that was not mine (…) surrounded by creatures and so-called people that mimicked the lovely world that I’d once known”, explained Wang.
The onset of the mental disease was actually signaled by several minor symptoms several weeks before. As the days went by, the woman felt less in tune with the surrounding reality, and increasingly more confused and disoriented.
She was no longer certain of who exactly she was, and could no longer keep track of the events unfolding around her.
Initially, she believed she was at the beginning of an episode of psychosis, and tried to deter its evolution by resorting to self-help books and reorganizing her professional work.
The unusual thoughts about being a zombie emerged on November 5, 2013, a month after falling in and out of consciousness for around 4 hours during a flight from London, UK, to the United States.
Upon carefully analyzing that incident, which had been left unexplained by physicians, she felt certain that in fact she had died, and was now in the afterlife.
Wang was just as sure that her husband and dog were also no longer alive as well. Her initial reaction however wasn’t that of dismay, but of hope and comfort that she might now be able to rewind her mistakes and finally make amends.
Despite reassurances from her husband that they were all in fact very much alive, the woman could no longer accept that fact.
Progressively, her conviction that she was dead grew, as she no longer felt any emotion towards the events occurring in her life, or towards the people surrounding her.
She also lost the will to eat, work or communicate with others, believing everything was futile since she had already passed away. There were also instances of catatonic psychosis, characterized by periods of inability to move, mixed with frenetic activity.
Eventually, after 2 nightmarish months, the symptoms simply vanished one day. As Wang woke up next to her husband, she no longer felt as if she was a part of the walking dead, and suddenly realized she was a breathing, living creature.
She now believes that the condition was caused by untreated Lyme disease which brought about neuroinflammation, although previously she had been diagnosed with bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder as well.
According to researchers, Cotard disease, which was first described in 1880, appears due to organic lesions sustained by the parietal lobe, in the cerebrum.
French neurologist Jules Cotard thought it was a type of depression, causing anxiety, melancholy and body dysmorphia. For instance, one such patient described she only had a decomposing body, made out of rotting skin and bones.
This type of brain damage is a real threat to people’s health and well-being, because it causes extensive emotional turmoil, which can be prolonged for months or years.
In fact, the vivid delusions it triggers can even lead to suicidal thoughts, because sufferers imagine they are already nonexistent, so they can’t sustain any injury. They are also under the wrong impression that by “dying again” they might escape this unbearable purgatory and be reunited with their former selves.
Cotard’s disease is hard to diagnose, since it can be confused with schizophrenia and isn’t included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
However, the condition, also known as the “walking source syndrome” can easily be combated using medical treatment and psychotherapy, declared psychiatrist Jesús Ramírez-Bermúdez, at the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery of Mexico.
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