Is it possible to ‘exist’ but not be aware of one’s existence? Do you ever feel like a zombie, imagines yourself to be dead, decomposing, and depressed with thoughts of suicide? You have no problem interacting with people anywhere, but, one belief that can never be taken away from you is that ‘you are 100% convinced you are dead.’
If you feel all these, you are not that far from the walking corpse syndrome. No doubt, this is a pretty weird life as a zombie.
Walking corpse syndrome which is also known as the Cotard’s Delusion, was named after Dr. Jules Cotard a French neurologist who first described the rare condition in 1882. Cotard gave the description after his encounter with a middle-aged woman who said she believed she had ‘no brain, no soul, no chest, stomach, and other organs. She also professed neither God nor Satan existed.
Like other delusions (bipolar disorder or schizophrenia), people with walking corpse syndrome tend to have depression, hallucinations, anxiety, disturbances of memory and personal identity, complaints of loss of blood and body parts. It can take years to be diagnosed with cotard’s, because, the delusion itself as well accompanies other mental illnesses.
“My liver and stomach are being destroyed,” a 20-year-old male with bipolar disorder described his feelings of distorted reality. And, “My heart doesn’t beat,” and, “I don’t have muscles.”
In a 2013 interview with Graham Harrison, a man who woke up in the hospital believing he was dead; he attempted suicide via electrical appliance in the bathroom. According to Graham:
When I was in hospital I kept on telling them that the tablets weren’t going to do me any good ’cause my brain was dead. I lost my sense of smell and taste. I didn’t need to eat, or speak, or do anything. I ended up spending time in the graveyard because that was the closest I could get to death.
Studies say walking corpse syndrome is a product of malfunction in the fusiform gyrus and amygdala, area of the brain which recognizes faces and that which processes emotion respectively.
Treating the walking corpse syndrome is currently seen as a difficult task, but studies say electroconvulsive therapy and the use of antidepressants or antipsychotic medication can possibly return patients to normal.
Helen Thomson, ‘Mindscapes: First Interview with a Dead Man’, New Scientist (23 May 2013).
Refinery29: The Strange Syndrome That Makes You Think You’re Dead
Ruminjo A, & Mekinulov B (2008). A Case Report of Cotard’s Syndrome. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 5 (6), 28-9 PMID: 19727279