Today we’ll look at some of the strangest maladies of the mind. When we think about mental illness, we tend to first think about psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and the sometimes-related psychoses. Perhaps we might even include certain serial killers who believe they hear voices telling them to do their bad deed, but some of the strangest things that can happen to people will fall under what we call neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia. In his book, “The man who mistook his wife for a hat,” the late, great British neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote in detail about patients of his whose realities were drastically altered because of changes in the brain. Hold on to your hats and welcome to this episode of the Infographics Show, Weirdest Brain Disorders
#1: Retrograde Amnesia
Now, short-term memory loss for anyone can be highly destabilizing. But we’ll tell you a more complex tale about someone living in the past. We are taking this from Oliver Sack’s book, only because he writes so well about the topic, in the chapter on what he calls brain deficits. Retrograde amnesia in its most basic form is not remembering anything before an accident or psychological event, or when an infection or disease occurs. One of Sack’s patients that turned up at his office was called Jimmie. Jimmie was 49, and the year was 1975, but Jimmie’s memories were all around 1945. Jimmie still thought he was a young guy. The worst thing is, he couldn’t form new short-term memories, so if you chatted with him, in a couple of minutes, he’d just forget what you said. He lived only in the place in the past, in which he’d just fought in a war, and he spoke like that young kid. Sacks wrote that Jimmie was “isolated in a single moment of being…. he is a man without a past (or future), stuck in a constantly changing, meaningless moment.” Jimmie isn’t alone; there are many famous cases in history when accidents or disease have led to this kind of thing happening. Imagine waking up one morning and having no idea where you are!
There are two main types of catatonia, one which can render the victim stiff in one position, unable to move, speak, or do anything. Kind of like being a living statue. You can also have a kind of opposite catatonia, where you are extremely hyperactive. It’s caused by a number of things, like infections such as encephalitis, but also by some psychiatric disorders. Sticking with Oliver Sacks, he once woke up some catatonic patients and it was made into a film starring Robert De Niro called, “Awakenings.” The film shows how even in the worst cases of catatonic rigidity, patients can still communicate a little. They can still think. One patient on a mental health forum we found described it like this, “I could still think things in my head, but my thoughts were very slow and actually verbalizing them was too much effort.” He came out of it, of course.
#3: Incredible delusions
There are way too many delusional disorders to list here, and they can be light or extreme. One extreme delusional disorder is that of “Boanthropy.” According to one journal, you’ll know when someone is suffering from this as they might be down on all fours trying to eat grass, Yes, these people believe they are cows. Sigmund Freud called it a dream that just persisted, but it’s a fairly unknown entity as far as madness goes.
As we said, there are many crazy delusional states people suffer from, and they are common. Just walk into any psychiatric hospital. But some of those delusional states deserve a mention. Next on our list is #4: “Capgras Syndrome.” It’s also sometimes called “Imposter Syndrome.” More common in women and children, the victim will think that someone close to him or her is someone else, an imposter, so you might call out your lover, wife, or brother, as a fake. It also sometimes involves animals or even houses, so one day you might come home and declare that your house of 10 years is not actually yours. A story appeared in the press in 2015 about an American man that was convinced his cat was an imposter. It can be caused by a number of things, including brain injury, cerebral dysfunction, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and may happen to people suffering from paranoid hallucinatory schizophrenia.
Now, that must be scary for the believer and of course their loved ones. But far worse you might think would be to suffer from #5: “Cotard Syndrome.” Ok, it’s very rare, but if you do get it, you will believe you are already dead, that your body is in a state of putrefaction, and basically that you no longer exist as a living being. For this reason, you don’t do anything, and can waste away. One recent case involved a Scottish man that had been sick and was then released from the hospital. His mother thought it would be a good idea to take him away to South Africa, except the man had developed Cotard Syndrome, believing the spirit of his mother was showing him around hell. It also recently happened to a former British soldier, who told the press in 2016, “I convinced myself I was actually dead. I felt I was literally a dead man walking. It was as if I was a ghost.” Again, there are a number of neurological and psychological reasons this might happen to someone.
#6: Tourette’s Syndrome
You’ve probably all heard about this as it has been so well documented on TV and in film, but that often only involves just one symptom of the disease which is people just spitting out curse words or insults to anyone and everyone. They have no control; it’s an excess of the mind. It can be verbal, but it can also be in the form of nervous ticks, such as hand movements, coughing, blinking, etc. These are often not that bad, and perhaps you know someone with the less extreme form of this disease. It’s thought about one percent of young people suffer from it. So, it might not sound too strange to you now. But one case that Oliver Sacks writes about is strange, as the victim, known as Witty Ticcy Ray, was “almost incapacitated by multiple tics of extreme violence coming in volleys every few seconds.” He was in a state of despair, hardly ever being able to stop these mini-convulsions. In fact, they did stop, when he played Jazz. They seemed to help his playing, giving him an element of originality and creativity. So, when he went on meds to slow him down, he became depressed that his jazz suffered. Sacks then agreed with Ray that he would only take the meds on weekdays, when he wasn’t playing, and on the weekends, he was back to his ticky-self and being a great, unpredictable jazz musician.
#7: Extreme self-mutilation disorders
Sticking with the subject of impulse control, there is something that could end up far worse than not being able to stop yourself calling your friend an ugly mother beep. That is Autophagia, or the impulse to eat yourself. It’s not strictly classified as a mental disorder, but it does occur, usually alongside another mental illness. The U.S. National Institute of Health reported in 2012 about an Indian man who couldn’t stop biting his fingernails. That didn’t give him enough satisfaction, so he moved onto his fingers…until he had none left on both hands. NCBI writes, “In our patient’s case, self-mutilating behaviour was associated with severe diabetic neuropathy, impulsivity, and social isolation.”
It could be worse. Some people suffer from something called #8: Apotemnophilia, or Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID). This is also linked to self-mutilation, but is perhaps more extreme than biting off your fingers. People suffering from Apotemnophilia have the sometimes-unstoppable desire to amputate a limb. Their own limb, of course. Even though there is nothing wrong with that limb, they believe it to be alien and want nothing more than to get rid of it. It’s thought there are only a few people who have self-amputated their limb, but apparently a lot of people are thinking about it.
In 2015, Vice interviewed a man called John. John had once had BIID, but has since removed his alien limb. “It was my left leg below the knee that bothered me. I was into my early teens when I figured out that I wanted to be an amputee,” he told Vice. He felt his limb just didn’t belong to him, and he found groups of other people online that had the same problems with one of their limbs. He said he planned to pretend to fall off his bike and let a train run over his leg, but John didn’t want to say how he actually ended up cutting off his leg. “Later, when it was done, I was awash with relief. It was over and I was free,” he said.
It’s thought this occurs when there has been damage to the brain’s right parietal lobe, but it’s still a condition that causes a lot of speculation between mental health professionals and neurologists. Other studies point towards erotic impulses or gender identity disorder. NCBI writes that it’s still a bit of mystery, but sufferers are usually men and they usually want to remove a leg, over an arm. Studies show us, though, given the number of participants, that there are quite a few of these people around.
So, do you know anyone with any of the aforementioned brain disorders? Or perhaps you’ve heard of a brain disorder that we didn’t mention? Tell us about in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called Worst Prison Experiments Conducted on Humans! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!