Whoa: The disease that makes you think you’re dead

Have you ever heard of Cotard’s syndrome? If you haven’t, that’s OK — and don’t go and Web M.D. it right now, there’s no need for that. There’s a high chance you don’t actually have Cotard’s syndrome. Why? Well, if you find yourself with the symptoms Cotard’s syndrome, also knows as the walking corpse syndrome, you believe you’re dead.

Nope, this isn’t something out of American Horror Story or even Walking Dead. Cotard’s syndrome is defined as, “a rare mental illness, in which an afflicted person holds the delusion that they are dead, either figuratively or literally.” Those who suffer from the illness have a distorted reality in which they believe they in fact are dead — yet still walk among the living — or parts of their body, either limbs or internal, are slowly decomposing.

Esmé Weijun Wang first wrote about Cotard’s syndrome in a story for The Toast, and recently talked to the Washington Post about her struggles with the illness. On a flight from London to San Francisco, she fainted and came in and out of consciousness for hours. Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her, and back on land Wang felt completely different. She felt like she was dead. Like, zombie dead, but without the flesh cravings, thankfully.

“I was convinced that I had died on that flight, and I was in the afterlife and hadn’t realized it,” she explained to the Washington Post,  “That was the beginning of when I was convinced that I was dead. But I wasn’t upset about it, because I thought that I could do things [in my life] over and do them better.”

The illness affected Wang in many ways. According to The Washington Post, Wang “found herself in a place that looked just like her old life but evoked no emotion in her, which led to anxiety, fear and agitation. She frequently descended into catatonic psychosis, a condition marked by periods of not being able to move, interspersed with overactive movement.”

Wang also had to process with the firm belief she held that she was dead. And she struggled to go on living day to day. Not with thoughts of suicide, but the fact that if she was dead, why do the things living people do? She wrote on The Toast,

The feeling of being dead is just one that those with Cotard’s syndrome have. Some patients do suffer from suicidal thoughts, as well as depression and anxiety. If that’s not enough, doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes it, but can trace it back to some forms of mental illness. However, cases have also been linked to something as commonplace as migraine headaches. In Wang’s case, she thinks it has something to do with her Lyme disease.

Thankfully, Cotard’s syndrome generally doesn’t last forever. For Wang, it lasted only two months, and after that she returned to her normal every day life knowing she was truly alive. This is still something completely crazy and kinda scary to think about. Zombies and ghosts are certainly cool to watch on TV, but not living it out in real life.

Image via American Zoetrope