If someone told you that The Walking Dead was actually happening in real life, you might not believe them. Are zombies really taking over the world? Are they turning other people into mindless beings just like them too? Maybe it’s not that extreme, but people have actually thought that they were dead. These people are suffering from a mental disorder known as Cotard’s syndrome, otherwise dubbed the walking corpse syndrome.
One writer, Esmè Weijun Wang, suffered this phenomenon after months of confusion and depression. She would organize and reorganize her life, trying to get a grasp on the reality around her. Nothing gave her the satisfaction that it once did.
Then, Wang woke up one day with the horrifying idea that she had actually died several weeks before. At first, she thrilled at this thought, finally discovering the answer to her strange lack of emotion toward life.
As time went on, however, Wang experienced periods when she did not want to do anything at all. She started believing that she was being punished by having to live in a world similar to her previous one, but without the enjoyment.
No matter how much anyone tried to explain that she was living, Wang thought dogmatically that she was dead. Thankfully, one day, she realized that her attitude had changed and that she felt alive again. Wang now attributes this troubling mental disorder to her Lyme disease, which had gone undiagnosed for years.
The Science Behind It
While scientists know little about any outside causes of the disease, they currently pin it to several misfires in the brain. The first misfire in a person occurs in the portion that recognizes familiar faces around them. This problem often leads the patient to think that a loved one or even their own reflection is not the true person that they once knew.
Then, the second misfire occurs in the part of the brain that controls emotions. Often, people with walking corpse syndrome show lack of feeling to their favorite people, food, and activities.
While the syndrome can display itself in several different ways, some people actually believe that they are dead. Like Wang, they might come to this conclusion because they experience little emotion for the life they usually love. Other people might think that they are missing organs or that they are a rotting corpse. Sometimes, the sufferers turn violent, trying to commit suicide or hurt other people.
In another case of the walking corpse syndrome, one person named Graham suffered from severe depression. Graham’s case of Cotard’s syndrome started showing up when he attested that he had no brain or head. Graham stopped eating food, went to the graveyard often, and tried to commit suicide several times.
When doctors performed a brain scan, they were surprised to see low activity levels in areas that control normal motor functions and memory. According to neurologist Steven Laurey, Graham’s brain was showing the same patterns as someone asleep or under anesthesia.
Graham’s brain was literally sleeping awake, making him lose sight of the reality around him. According to research in Hong Kong and Mexico, the walking corpse syndrome could affect as much as .6 percent of a country’s population.
Currently, doctors and psychologists treat the symptoms with several medications, including antidepressants and antipsychotics. Some professionals attest that electroconvulsive treatments work better than medication, but scientists have done little research in this area. Many times, the delusion lifts from the patient after several months, but some people do suffer with it for years.
While The Walking Dead show might not have a place in reality, the walking corpse syndrome does truly affect people. Although rare, it does cause patients to completely lose sight of the real world. They might even come to the conclusion that they are actually dead. The next time someone tells you that The Walking Dead is actually real, you can nod your head in agreement and watch the look on your friend’s face as you explain.
This article first appeared on AskDrManny.com.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.