Here we are, back with the second part of a two-part series about some pretty rare and astonishing mental illnesses. If you’re not careful your mind can COMPLETELY flip your world right on its head. Wait, that’s usually how you get mental illnesses. That was a bad analogy. Or was it? Maybe I didn’t say that at all and your mind is telling you I did! Let’s jump right in!
Supernumerary Phantom Limbs
What it is:
I know most of you have heard the joke about some guy having a “third leg”, inferring that his vein cane is so large he can prop himself up like a tripod.
Well, in extremely rare cases, particularly after a brain injury, an additional phantom limb can appear causing the sensation of a third hand, arm or leg. People can see this thing and feel it as though it’s really there. It’s even got bendable joints. In the amazing case of a 64-year-old librarian, doctors were actually able to plug her in to a brain scanner and “watch” her use it to touch her face. To further increase the crazy factor, the limb wasn’t permanently there hanging out and bumming off of her physical arm, she actually had to activate it. Presumably by saying something cool like “PHANTOM ARM… ARISE!!” and then the room would grow dark and the arm would appear in a bright flash of light with the sound of thunder. And then there would be an extreme camera close up on the fist opening and closing, followed by the camera panning quickly 360 around her body while the background is rushing past rapidly, and then the camera moves back out to show all 5 limbs in all of their glory.
And when she activated said phantom limb, the doctors saw activity from her right motor cortex. As the “arm” was approaching her face, they noted an increase in visual cortical activity. And when she told them that the limb was in fact touching her cheek, they saw increased activity in the region of the brain that says “Hey, there’s something touching your cheek”. Her brain had created a fully functional phantom arm, which was hardwired to operate with her actual limbs.
Well, if seeing, feeling and believing that you have an extra arm, leg or hand aren’t the symptoms you would expect for this disorder, then you need to get off of the computer now and go stick your finger in a light socket. It may jolt some sense in to you.
What causes it:
This seems to occur in a lot of stroke victims.
Jumping Frenchmen of Maine
What it is:
This is probably one of the most hilarious names for a mental disorder that I’ve ever heard. Just the name itself paints pictures. You can’t really “picture” what Capgras or Fregoli or Apotemnophilia is, but when you hear “Jumping Frenchmen of Maine”, the image of a pencil moustached Frenchman wearing a beret being startled and jumping into the air yelling “SACRE BLEU!!!” comes immediately to mind. These weren’t those type of Frenchmen though. These were fucking lumberjacks who wield large axes and saws.
First described by G. M. Beard in 1878, Jumping Frenchmen of Maine is an extremely rare disorder characterized by an unusually extreme startle reaction. From the man himself:
“One of the jumpers while sitting in his chair with a knife in his hand was told to throw it, and he threw it quickly, so that it struck in a beam opposite; at the same time he repeated the order to throw it…. When the commands are uttered in a quick loud voice the jumper repeats the order. When told to strike, he strikes, when told to throw it, he throws it, whatever he has in his hands…. all of these phenomena were indeed but parts of the general condition known as, jumping. It was not necessary that the sound should come from a human being: any sudden or unexpected noise, as the explosion of a gun or pistol, the falling of a window, or the slamming of the door, provided it be unexpected and loud enough, would cause the jumpers to exhibit some one or all of these phenomena….” (Beard, 1880a, pp. 487-490)
People with this disorder have a tendency to go completely ape shit when they are startled. They jump, flail, twitch, convulse, slap, hit, throw things, you can get them to do and say all sorts of crazy stuff on command, or even get them to mimic movements and words of the people around them. Apparently, even people in this culture think these people are great fun at parties!!
What Causes it:
What it is:
Well, synesthesia isn’t a “mental disorder” per se. It’s not listed in the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) or the ICD (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems). But, it’s neurological and damn interesting to boot, and I felt it appropriate to put it on my list.
Synesthetes, the name given to people who experience synesthesia (in some circles I believe they are called “hippies”) see letters, numbers and even sounds as colors. Days of the week have their own personalities. You tell a synesthete to piss off, they can taste that shit. Basically, things they experience with one sense evoke a reaction in another sense. Like a constant LSD trip without the horrible “flashbacks” later on in life.
There’s multiple different types of synesthesia and it can occur between any two of the senses. These are the most common:
- Grapheme/Color – Letters and numbers each have their own shades of color and the colors are usually common with most synesthetes i.e. A is red, B is brown, D is green, 1 is yellow, and 2 is… not surprisingly… brown.
- Sound/Color – As demonstrated by the clever graphic above, sounds create colors and fireworks that dance around and eventually fade as the sound goes away. Imagine what a migraine would “look like”? The pounding pulse in your head. You wouldn’t know whether to break out the glow sticks and start raving or cry into your pillow and try to keep from throwing up.
- Lexical/Gustatory – Words are experienced as taste.
- Personification – Days and months, numbers and letters are associated with personalities. For example, according to notable synesthesia researcher Richard E. Cytowic, one synesthete says, “T’s are generally crabbed, ungenerous creatures. U is a soulless sort of thing. 4 is honest, but… 3 I cannot trust… 9 is dark, a gentleman, tall and graceful, but politic under his suavity.”
There are obviously other less common combo’s like sound-odor, temperature-color, taste-touch, touch-smell, and vision-touch. Despite the horrific potential for some of these combinations, synesthetes enjoy their condition and wouldn’t change it.
The symptoms are basically the condition. If you really need help here just go back and re-read the previous section.
What Causes it:
Different parts of the brain are obviously responsible for different bodily functions. An increase in the communication, or even different parts being activated at the same time may be responsible for this. Another possible explanation could be dis-inhibited feedback between pathways in the brain. These are two of the most common explanations.
Genital Retraction Syndrome
What it is:
Oh boy. Just looking at the name for this one makes you cringe. This is another one of those culture specific disorders (just like the Jumping Frenchmen of Maine) that is sort of exclusive to Southeast Asia (mainly China, where it is known as shuk yang, although researchers call it Koro). Sufferers, who are usually men, have the astonishing belief that their penis is shrinking and will shortly disappear into nothingness. Likewise, women who suffer from Koro fear that their vulva and boobs will shrink into nothing and their chests will resemble that of a 5-year-old boy. Oh, and then they believe they will die.
The fear usually arises when a man takes a pee in the cold or if he is stressed out, maybe he’s gained a little weight and hasn’t really noticed, and when he takes a look down his junk is smaller. Now, most people are aware of “shrinkage” when it’s cold, but a man’s penis also tends to shrink up a bit when he’s really stressed or if he’s gained some poundage; the pelvic muscles tighten up and it kind of retracts a bit. Then, the mindfuck begins. People in this part of the world have a lot of cultural beliefs in regards to the penis. So much so in fact that they have entire restaurants dedicated to them. To them, the penis is the source of a man’s vitality. So, when they notice that their livelihood is fading, it MUST be a sign of certain death. Now, you won’t usually see this disorder occurring in western cultures, because we don’t fundamentally share the same spiritual beliefs as eastern cultures; however, I don’t know of many men who WOULDN’T want to die if they lost their package.
Well, obviously GRS sufferers go into panic mode that their penis is shrinking and the episodes can last for hours to days at a time. Sometimes its isolated to just a single episode, sometimes it’s chronic with recurring attacks. On top of the apparent shrinkage, other symptoms include the perception that the shape of their penis has changed and a loss of penile muscular tone. Often, to counteract the retraction, these guys will go to extreme measures. Remember when you were young and had a loose tooth and your grandfather would say, “tie one end of a string to your tooth and the other end of a door knob and slam the door”? Well, they do this with their dicks. Or they have the other family members pull on one end in a sort of penile tug of war. UUUGGGHHHH…
What Causes it:
Guilt from masturbating too often, or from sexual promiscuity (the sperm is supposed to be the source of a man’s “essence”, so frequent ejaculation equals a loss of vitality), personality factors, depression, and cultural beliefs are considered primary causes contributing to GRS.
What it is:
I have saved the best for last! I’m a big fan of zombies so this one is close to my heart. It’s called the Cotard Delusion, and in some circles it’s also known as Walking Dead Syndrome. First described by a French neurologist by the name of Jules Cotard in 1880. Sufferers of Cotard’s are emotionless, no feeling sonsabitches. Sights, sounds, tastes, smells, colors, people, cute, furry little puppies, NOTHING will get a rise out of these people. Why is that you say? Because they believe that they are dead. The brain sort of says, “Well, you aren’t able to feel anything. The only state in which this possible is death. Sooooo, you must be dead!” And it is virtually impossible to convince them otherwise. They can often smell their flesh rotting from their bodies and sometimes believe that, since they are already dead, they are immortal. I’d wager to say that they’d probably be pretty damn boring on a date.
Once they believe that they are dead, it is utterly impossible to convince the person that they’re alive. They will say that since they are undead, they don’t bleed. Stab them in the leg, and they will bleed, but say then say that maybe they hadn’t quite lost all of their blood yet and members of the exclusive club called “dead” that haven’t lost all of their blood will indeed bleed. Show them that the arm they say was rotting away is still in tip-top shape and they will say it’s rotting from the inside out. Kick them in the groin and watch them fall into a fetal position. Because NO ONE can take a kick to the dick and not cringe. Then laugh and say “I guess not!” Stubborn. On another note, if you mix zombies and ninjas, shit get’s EPIC. Zombie ninja. That’s like the ultimate tier of awesome right there. It’s enough to make your head ache from the awesomeness.
Oh, and they make a zombie ninja Halloween costume.
One of the most famous examples cited for signs and symptoms is those in a modern-day sufferer of Cotard as noted by researches Young and Leafhead:
“[The patient’s] symptoms occurred in the context of more general feelings of unreality and being dead. In January 1990, after his discharge from hospital in Edinburgh, his mother took him to South Africa. He was convinced that he had been taken to hell (which was confirmed by the heat), and that he had died of septicaemia (which had been a risk early in his recovery), or perhaps from AIDS (he had read a story in The Scotsman about someone with AIDS who died from septicaemia), or from an overdose of a yellow fever injection. He thought he had “borrowed my mother’s spirit to show me round hell”, and that she was asleep in Scotland.” Young, A.W. & Leafhead, K.M. (1996) (in P.W. Halligan & J.C. Marshall. (eds.) Method in Madness: Case studies in Cognitive Neuropsychiatry). Betwixt Life and Death: Case Studies of the Cotard Delusion. Hove: Psychology Press. p. 155.
He borrowed his mother’s spirit to show him… around… hell. . . Good lord.
What Causes it:
Similar to Cagras, it is theorized that this delusion stems from a disconnect in the areas in the brain that control facial recognition and emotion like the amygdala and other limbic structures. It can also stem from schizophrenia, bi polar disorder, or other psychotic disorders, as well.
As an aside, if there ever IS going to be a zombie apocalypse, this will probably be the cause, ladies and gentlemen. So all of you fan boys out there who sleep with your copy of World War Z and frequently check and recheck your zombie survival kit, be ready because it could go down at any time!!!
You know… Sometimes, shit happens. One day you’re cooling out, doing your thing, you know… Riding your bike. Playing World of War Craft. Drinking some beer. Surfing gigantic waves. Cooking up some meth. Doing whatever the hell it is you do, and then, shit goes horribly wrong. You wake up thinking you are a zombie and can literally SMELL your flesh rotting from your body. In addition, fuck your left arm because it doesn’t need to be there, and also because you just discovered that you have a third arm that you never knew about anyway. Your best friend really isn’t your best friend. Sure, he looks, sounds and smells like him, but it’s a double posing as him. Yes, my friend, welcome to the world of crazy fuck mental illnesses.
What it is:
Plainly put, Apotemnophilia is a neurological disorder in which a normal and otherwise sane person has an extreme desire to cut off a perfectly healthy limb or limbs. First described and named by psychologist Gregg Furth and sexologist John Money in 1977, these people think “Why do I have this left arm? Left arms are ugly!” and seek to have said limb removed, often times injuring the fuck out of it to FORCE amputation. Patients of Apotemnophilia are usually patients of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) because they aren’t satisfied with specific parts of their body and they want it cut the fuck off or otherwise removed A.S.A.P. Also, these people get off on the idea of having their limbs removed. Hey, whatever rocks your socks.
Oh, and apparently there are three types of people obsessed with having their limbs removed:
- “Pretenders” are perfectly (physically) healthy people who use wheelchairs, crutches and other miscellaneous devices to make people think they are disabled. They want you to tell them “Oh your leg is bad? Fuck that, just cut it off!!” It’s an ironic kind of guilt “trip”. Get it? Trip? Because you need legs and these people don’t want them? HA HA HA… oooh, boy. Let’s move on.
- “Devotees” are sexually attracted to people with amputations. This is also a mental illness called “Acrotomophilia”. Acrotomophilia is often a counterpart to Apotemnophilia as they go hand and hand. Get it? Hand in hand? Because they don’t like hands? HA! Well, anyway an interesting fact about Acrotomophiliacs is that these people were actually surveyed and apparently they prefer leg amputations over arm amputations, they dig amputations of a single limb, over both, and amputations that left a stump, were more “in” than those that left no stump. (Solvang, P. (2007). The amputee body desired: Beauty destabilized? Disability re-valued? Sex and Disability, 25, 51–64.) There’s a million different directions that I can go with that, so I’m going to move on.
- “Wannabes”, the most attention whore-ish group of the bunch, LIVE to have their limbs amputated. Basically, the “Wiggers” of the Apotemnophilia community.
Symptoms are severe depression with social withdrawal and intentionally injuring your limbs. Capgras sufferers will also do thing like purposely introducing infection to the limb, all in an effort to get that shit removed.
What Causes it:
There are no known direct causes of apotemnophilia. However, recent medical research has shown that apotemnophilia has been linked to abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex. Apotemnophiles have shown traits for the desire for amputation at a young age.
8. Capgras Delusion
What it is:
Capgras Delusion is named after Joseph Capgras, a French psychiatrist who first described this disorder in 1923. Basically, people with this disorder have the impression that the people very close to them, such as spouses, family, friends, etc. have been replaced by exact replicas of the person. Everyone they know is an imposter. These people have an otherwise clean bill of health, except… for the fact… that they think their friends and family are exact duplicates. And in some cases they even believe they themselves are duplicates, even after seeing themselves in a mirror. In fact, it can be so bad that one capgras sufferer, a married woman, flew into a jealous rage every time she saw herself in a mirror. She actually believed that the woman in the mirror was “another woman” who was trying to steal her husband. Crazy fuck that she was, her husband eventually had to cover every reflective surface in the house to keep her from trying to whoop her reflection’s ass.
In some cases, sufferers of Capgras see duplicate objects rather than duplicate people. One patient believed that his pet poodle had been replaced with an identical dog. Another believed that his shoes and many of his other personal possessions were being replaced with exact duplicates.
Pretty damn obvious:
- Belief that relatives and friends are imposters
What Causes It:
The exact cause of Capgras isn’t known and a method of treatment has not yet been developed. The only thing that IS certain is that there is a SEVERE breakdown in normal face perception. This is real life “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” shit.
7. Fregoli Delusion
What it is:
Alright, to get an idea what this is about, saaaay a friend invites you to birthday party. When you get there, GASP!, you find that everyone at the party is your friend in fucking disguise. And the REAL reason why were you invited? Well, isn’t it obvious?!? So that they can all murder you.
Fregoli Delusion, named after Leopoldi Fregoli, a stage actor known for his quick changes between scenes, is the opposite Capgras. Sufferers of Fregoli believe that everyone they know, and hell everyone else, are in fact the same person who simply changes their appearance or is in disguise. And the reason for this? This specific person is out to get them.
It was first described by Courbon and Fail in 1927 in a case study of, get this, a “coarse featured 27-year old single woman” who led a life of taking shit jobs, sleeping in hostels, and going to the theater. I’m not sure what “coarse featured means” but I’m guessing she had a shit ton of facial hair and/or acne scars. And she was probably pretty ugly. Anyway, she believed that two of the most famous actresses of the day, Robine and Sarah Bernhardt were following her around, disguising themselves (either by dressing to look like those people or actually entering their body to take them over) as other people and doing things like taking over her thoughts and making her do crazy shit, like masturbate. So from now on, if you’re ever caught “in the act”, just claim Fregoli and say (insert actor/actress name here) MADE you do it. Then look that person in the eye and finish like a boss.
Again, pretty freakin’ obvious:
- Deficit in self awareness
- Belief that everyone you see is someone else in disguise.
What Causes It:
- Levodopa Treatment – L-DOPA treatment, as it is usually called, is used to treat Parkinson’s Disease. After a shit ton of experiments, medical studies, fact finding missions and fucking with people in general, it was found that prolonged use of antiparkinsonian medications are a HUGE cause of Fregoli
- Traumatic brain injury
- Fusiform Gyrus
- Abnormal P300
Alien Hand Syndrome
What it is:
Take a look at your hands. Now, imagine one of your hands lifts itself up and starts choking the shit out of you. You have to have help prying your fingers open to release it’s grip on your neck. It’s possessed and has a mind of it’s own. You can feel it there on the end of your arm as though it’s yours, however, you have no control over what it does, you aren’t aware of what it’s doing and it does a whole bunch of shit it’s not supposed to do when it’s not supposed to do it.
Alien hand syndrome is a rare disorder in which one hand functions involuntarily, with the victim completely unaware of its action. It was first identified in 1909, though it wasn’t clearly defined until about 1972 It’s different than involuntary limb movement because the hand will perform actions with a purpose; whether it be a simple gasping motion, picking up a pen, unbuttoning your shirt, or slapping the ever loving shit out of your face.
Oh, but it gets better. There are actually a few different subtypes of alien hand syndrome that appear to be associated with specific brain injuries. For reference purposes, here’s a picture of the brain and it’s various lobes:
Damage to the corpus callosum, a wide, flat bundle of neural fibers that connect the two hemispheres of the brain, can give rise to “purposeful” actions to the alien hand. An individual who is left-hemisphere-dominant will experience the left hand becoming alien, the opposite for a right-hemisphere dominant person. I can also lead to a problem called “inter manual conflict” in which the person’s two hands seem to have opposing purposes, sort of like having dueling hands.
Injury to a person’s frontal lobe can cause reaching, grasping and other purposeful movements in the alien hand. In the case of anteromedial (located toward the front and in the middle) frontal lobe injury, movements are often exploratory reaching movements in which external objects such as tools and such are grasped and actually fucking used without the person even knowing they are doing it. Oh, and once the object is actually in the alien hand the patient usually can’t release the object, and literally has to peel the fingers of the hand back off of the object.
Parietal and occipital lobes
Damage to the parietal lobe and/or occipital lobe of the brain cause movements in the alien hand tend to withdraw the palm of the hand away from any sort of contact rather than reaching out to specifically grasp objects. The hand basically moves on it’s own to specifically AVOID contact with things in the palm of the hand and are usually less coordinated then movements shown in the frontal lobe variation of the syndrome. So forget about wishing this alien hand will give you it’s own version of “the stranger”.
Suffers of AHS can feel the hand and they know it’s there. They don’t want it cut off or anything, but they feel that their hand has a mind of it’s own and acts of it’s own free will, independent of their normal behavior. They feel that they have no control over the movements of the ‘alien’ hand and that the hand has the capability of acting autonomously.
What Causes It:
Well, if you read about the various different types of this syndrome then you know it’s usually caused by brain injuries.