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!!!