We don’t understand or have discovered many things about the human brain yet. We don’t know how powerful it can be. One delusion remains a mystery, Cotard’s Syndrome.
WARNING TRIGGERS: PTSD, Death Anxiety, Corpse, Death, Mental Illness, Suggestive Images, SUICIDE, Psychotherapy, Doctors, Medication.
Ask A Mortician She’ll Answer
Tonight, when going to bed, my husband and I turned on the television and YouTube. We watched our regular channels, including Ask A Mortician, hosted by Caitlin Doughty. She talked about a real and fascinating brain disorder, Cotard’s Syndrome. So, are you human, vampire or the walking dead?
Caitlin Doughty has a unique way of explaining a complicated subject and turning it into a simplistic way of understanding. I love how she expresses herself and uses her humor to take something morbid and make it relatable. For that reason, I had to know more.
Official Description of Cotard’s Syndrome
Cotard’s Syndrome is a form of anxious melancholia mixed with an extreme delusion of not existing. It revolves around the belief in one’s delusion of immortality. This condition is a rare neuropsychiatric condition.
Common names for the condition encompass “walking corpse syndrome” or “Cotard’s Delusion.”
Patients with this particular syndrome attest that their bodies, limbs, or organs, are missing, rotting, or dead. They think they do not exist at all. It goes to the extent of believing oneself to be dead.
This condition is so rare that WebMD reported only two-hundred cases worldwide. However, how many people aren’t treated and might be living with the thought they are dead?
How Does Living Dead Work?
Cotard’s Syndrome often follows either a traumatic event or becomes a result of a multitude of factors. Usually, this medical syndrome, which affects the brain, combines other mental disorders.
Experts believe Cortard’s Syndrome to be the result of brain damage. However, there is a debate as not everyone believes this theory is true. Generally, associations with dementia, paranoia, schizophrenia, migraines and brain injury are common.
In Ask A Mortician‘s episode about Cotard’s Syndrome, Caitlin mentions how people who lived with the syndrome came out of it. It’s almost like believing oneself to be dead is only temporary. In some situations, it comes and goes, and in others, it leaves not to return.
Who Becomes A Living Dead?
Despite the syndrome still at the infant stage of understanding in psychiatry, some common factors seem to surface. Mental disorders are often the cause and trauma, as mentioned above.
Depression, anxiety, paranoia, and OCD are mental disorders that can provoke Cotard’s Syndrome. Meanwhile, a trauma causing someone to come very close to death or fainting can also develop the syndrome.
There are also situations where someone strongly believes they died for seconds or minutes and came back wrong. Those people live with the syndrome and think they’re rotting, already dead, yet can still show signs of rationalism.
Remember that Cotard’s Syndrome is a syndrome, not a disease and isn’t contagious. A syndrome is hard to spot because it is usually attached to something else. In this case, Cotard’s Syndrome results from another mental disorder/s or provocation through trauma or brain damage.
Sometimes, Cotard’s Syndrome can be misdiagnosed because it’s a syndrome, not an illness. What does that mean? It means we must raise awareness and show compassion, i.e., not make fun of those who believe they are dead.
How Do We Spot The Walking Dead?
Patients living with Cotard’s Syndrome, according to WebMD, are antisocial. In some cases, people stop talking altogether while other head voices warn them of their death.
Most people with the syndrome don’t believe in eating anymore because when dead, food is irrelevant. This can grow into a substantial problem as they can starve to the “true” death or stop believing in hydration and other vital resources we need.
Some documented files report patients mentioning wanting a coffin. Some would request to be in the morgue or treated as a corpse. In their minds, they are dead or close to it.
Do you know how popular the term “Imposter Syndrome” became? It turns out it is, in fact, a mental disorder. Capgras Syndrome is the accurate term for Imposter Syndrome. However, in this form, a patient believes his family and friends to have been replaced by identical fakes. They can even complement one another. Also, Capgras Syndrome can either be misdiagnosed as Cotard’s Syndrome or vice versa.
Can A Fake Corpse Receive Treatment?
Cotard’s Syndrome might be an infant in the understanding of psychiatry, but yes, there are treatments available. Because it is a syndrome and not an illness, it’s only by treating the illness that the syndrome can eventually dissipate.
Usually, treatments for this syndrome result in a combination of medication and therapy. Preferably, psychotherapy to understand the patient’s view of themselves and their surroundings. It helps doctors understand better what their patients need and require from them and their medication.
The usual cocktail contains antipsychotics, antianxiety drugs, and antidepressants. Most patients need a cocktail, meaning more than one type of medication, as it wouldn’t do the trick alone. Remember, this syndrome is a combination of factors or disorders.
Is Frankenstein In The Making?
No, Frankenstein‘s Monster was a combination of dead body parts and organs and muscles, nervous system and whatnot, no mental disorders! Well…that came after the “It’s alive!” part of the story.
The treatment called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) sounds terrifying, at least to me! It sounds like electroshock therapy they used to do in hospices and mental asylums. It is similar in that it sends small electric currents through the brain. It changes the brain’s chemistry and can clear some mental health symptoms.
Then again, I wouldn’t be eager to try it. I might need to do deeper research as it sounds a little barbaric to me.
Another fun fact about someone who went through Cotard’s Syndrome and had a PET scan of his brain revealed quite strange. His brain activity turned out to be similar to someone sleeping or under anesthesia. Facial recognition was at its lowest, and other factors were also low. Intriguing, isn’t it?
So, What Do We Do Next, Undead?
What can we do? Aside from raising awareness of a syndrome I didn’t know existed an hour ago? I would say, reflect on your life and see if there is one time when you thought you met the Grim Reaper or saw the light at the end of the tunnel. We all had that moment where we thought, “that was it,” and it passed. Consider yourself lucky it did go away!
Cotard’s Syndrome, in a nutshell, has some of the affected people believe without a doubt they are dead. They think they do not exist or are putrefying and have lost their blood or internal organs. Does that make them crazy? Absolutely not.
Society wants us to believe so, but they aren’t. They are confused. Confusion and crazy have pretty different definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary and aren’t on the same page. Those people have a relationship with death that most of us will never know or experience.
Doubting your own existence is a fearful thought in itself. People going through or living with Cotard’s Syndrome are going through an existential crisis on the highest level possible.
Imagine the reported patients who sat in front of a psychiatrist spitting their guts out—pun intended—saying those are missing or rotting, followed by, “What do you think, Doctor?” Scary, isn’t it?
The Awareness Of Being Undead Or Alive
I lived with Cotard’s Syndrome for a month without knowing it. I felt I had to be insane to believe such a thing when it happened. Here is a little chapter of my life I kept to myself because I thought I was alone in the world.
When watching Ask A Mortician, I fought to keep my tears within. I checked many boxes as she unrivaled the definition of this mental syndrome. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy, I was just…traumatized.
Also, this little story I’m about to tell is proof that we must raise awareness about Cotard’s Syndrome. I would’ve talked about it with the therapist I saw a few months later if I knew about it. Or maybe I wouldn’t have waited to see someone.
So, here goes nothing…
Can My Heart Stop Beating But Remain Alive?
It happened in the early Spring after my grandfather, the most beloved person in my life, passed away. A few days before Christmas in Canada, I was without a coat or boots. I wore simple PJs beside the corpse of the man who raised me. I performed chest compressions for twenty minutes before the paramedics showed up, and I was told I performed CPR on a corpse.
My life took a drastic turn after that day. I was in a crisis. My OCD took my life into charge, and chronic anxiety disorder spun out of control. I would eat, sleep, or think straight. I developed death anxiety, cibophobia, cardiophobia, and paranoia, among other fears. Night terrors took over my few hours of sleep, and I could do nothing right.
One day, I remember writing a novel of mine when a sensation took over my body by surprise. Shivers crawled up my spine and spread through my brain and chest. I stood up and grabbed my cell phone. I called my husband—my back then-boyfriend—and asked him a question that forever changed my life.
I never mentioned that sentence again or what happened. I lived with the belief that I was walking between life and death for a while. I lived knowing I would die for good soon because I was in-between.
My Cotard’s Syndrome Leaving Me
I don’t think I could ever get over the fact that I believed I was dead and alive at the same time, so undead. But yes, I did stop eating for the most part and took very long walks to reflect on myself and my life. I secluded myself and wanted to remain alone. Now able to put a name on what I went through brings some closure.
In a year, I lost roughly eighty-two pounds. Cotard’s Syndrome caused me many phobias to remain behind because I didn’t know it was a syndrome! I didn’t want the title of “lunatic,” so I never mentioned it before.
To be honest, I don’t think it left me a hundred percent. I feel like it’s right next door, as a neighbor to my anxiety and OCD, but not coming out to say hi.
I’m a rational person who believes in science and some strange theories. I love the brain and psychology. I know the difference between real and fiction, and I know that everything we choose is based on our perception of right and wrong. I am aware.
But, if you ask me, “Kimberly, are you alive?” my answer might be, “I am not-not alive.”
A Fundraiser On The Rise
I will look into starting a fundraiser to raise awareness for Cotard’s Syndrome. It is crucial that people who suffer like I did know they aren’t alone.
If you wish to keep yourself informed in my pursuit to create awareness, please subscribe to my newsletter, and I will keep you informed. If you want to participate in raising awareness, I will soon make available a digital logo/sticker that anyone can put on their digital or print work, or devices, so we can spread the word.
Remember, mental disorders aren’t contagious. They are unique and need understanding and awareness.