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The human mind is a truly mysterious thing. While we do know how it functions and how different areas of the brain affect our motor functions, our emotions, and even our personalities, there are still plenty of things that even the most informed experts can’t explain about the human psyche.
As more effort goes into the study and analysis of the human mind, experts have also come to discover more inexplicable psychological phenomena.
Among these are mental illnesses so bizarre that they seem to be plucked straight out of horror stories or outlandish fairy tales. Thankfully, many of the truly odd ones are extremely rare, but that doesn’t diminish the absolutely maddening (and often horrifying) symptoms and mental side effects that they afflict upon their victims.
Here are ten of the most bizarre and stupefying mental disorders ever diagnosed.
1. Alice in Wonderland syndrome.
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Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS), also known as Todd syndrome, causes sufferers to experience distortions in their perceptions of time, space, or how their bodies appear in the world around them.
Those experiencing AIWS have been known to perceive things as being bigger or smaller than they really are, and can even think that parts of their bodies – like their hands or feet –are too small or large in the space they’re in. In truth, nothing is actually wrong or weird about their physiques.
Just like in the tale by famed author Lewis Caroll, the syndrome is so named due to the weird physical self-perceptions experienced by the main character Alice as she goes through the fantastically weird place that is Wonderland.
There is currently no definite cause for AIWS, but the condition is often associated with migraines, brain tumors, and use of drugs. Children between five and 10 years are also susceptible to the condition.
2. Cotard’s Delusion.
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Cotard’s Delusion is a terrifying mental condition that causes sufferers to believe that parts of their bodies are missing, or that they’re dying, dead, or even don’t exist. Patients who suffer from this condition may even think that nothing truly exists, and may exhibit harmful symptoms such as refusing to eat or wounding themselves physically.
One particular case of Cotard’s Delusion saw a woman admitted to the hospital after she claimed that she was dead and smelled like rotting fish. Upon admission, she asked to be placed in a morgue so that she could be with other dead people.
While the cause of this condition is not fully known, it has been linked to other underlying conditions such as dementia, stroke, and multiple sclerosis among others.
3. Paris syndrome.
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A mental disorder that is more amusing than it is freaky, Paris syndrome is defined as a sense of heavy disappointment by some individuals who – upon visiting Paris – experience extreme reality shock due to the city not living up to their expectations.
This highly novel condition comes with very real symptoms such as hallucinations, anxiety, dizziness, sweating, and vomiting, and can all be attributed to facing up to the large disconnect between what a sufferer had imagined Paris to be versus what the city really is.
The condition has been reported mostly amongst Japanese tourists who are obsessed with the prospect of visiting Paris and experiencing the beautiful culture and sights, but – upon their arrival – are overwhelmed by the language barrier, difference in formalities, and jet lag.
Add to that the shattering of the image of Paris portrayed in Japanese media (scuffed up sneakers instead of designer shoes everywhere, or fast food joints instead of alfresco-style cafes along the street, etc), and you have an intensely-stressed-out traveller with a lot of disappointment to deal with.
4. Stendhal syndrome.
Now here’s a peculiar one. Sufferers of Stendhal syndrome experience symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks, and hallucinations when exposed to art. Or more precisely, extremely beautiful art.
Of course, all art is subjective, but Stendhal syndrome has been documented most in people visiting places with plenty of art and architecture, such as museums and galleries. The condition was named after French author Marie-Henri Beyle (who went by the pen name Stendhal) after he documented his feelings of being elated but also extremely anxious after visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce in Italy in 1817.
Despite various cases of Stendhal syndrome being reported over the decades since, psychologists are still yet to determine whether or not Stendhal syndrome classifies as a legitimate mental condition.
5. Alien hand syndrome.
Alien hand syndrome causes individuals to experience the terrifying feeling that one of their hands has a mind of its own, with often horrifying effects.
While it’s a pretty rare disorder, those with Alien hand syndrome have been known to exhibit behavior showing one of their hands attempting to do something completely out of line with the individual’s main thinking.
Some people have claimed that their own hands have tried to choke them, scratch them or even rip off their own clothes, and experts are still trying to figure out a way to cure the disorder.
Alien hand syndrome has manifested most often in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, as well as those who have had both their brain hemispheres separated through surgery.
6. Capgras syndrome.
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Capgras syndrome (or Capgras delusion) brings paranoia to a whole new level by inflicting the sufferer with the unshakeable feeling that a person or a place familiar to them has been replaced by a perfectly identical impostor.
Named after Jean Marie Joseph Capgras – the scientist who first identified the condition, Capgras syndrome most often occurs in individuals suffering from neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, and to a certain degree, also in those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
There is often no explanation as to when, how, or why a person with Capgras syndrome may start feeling that their loved ones are replaced by impostors, but it’s often said that trying to live and treat a person with the disorder can be a emotionally painful and draining experience.
7. Clinical lycanthropy.
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In fantasy fiction, lycanthropy is the affliction whereby an individual becomes werewolf, and is able to shape-shift into the form of a wolf under certain conditions (such as a full moon).
In the real world however, clinical lycanthropy is the delusion experienced by someone who thinks they have turned into an animal.
Those diagnosed with clinical lycanthropy believe that they are in the process of transforming into animals, or have already become animals. Observations made on patients with clinical lycanthropy have revealed the their experiences range from having felt like they were animals, or simply behaving like animals by growling, howling, or crawling, for example.
Clinical lycanthropy has been associated with the altered states of the mind that come with psychosis (the mental state that involves things like delusions or hallucinations), and despite its name, sufferers aren’t just limited to thinking they’re becoming (or have become) wolves. In fact, clinical lycanthropy can include delusions of becoming all sorts of animals, from foxes, to frogs, to dogs, and even birds.
8. Klüver–Bucy Syndrome.
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At some point, you may have felt the urge to put something random in your mouth – like a pen or a paper clip. But that urge pales in comparison to the ones felt by those suffering from Klüver–Bucy syndrome.
Described as an extremely rare cerebral neurological disorder stemming from damage to both the patient’s temporal lobes, Klüver–Bucy syndrome causes sufferers to have unusually strong urges to place objects in their mouths, and also have the tendency to engage in inappropriate sexual behavior.
While it may sound pretty funny, it probably isn’t as much fun for those suffering from the disorder.
Other symptoms include placidity (the state of being extremely calm), loss of memory, changes in appetite, as well as hypermetamorophosis (the urge or need explore everything).
Due to the disorder stemming from damage to the key areas of the brain, Klüver–Bucy syndrome is pretty uncommon, and is usually treated with the use of psychotropics.
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Boanthropy is similar to clinical lycanthropy in the sense that sufferers believe they’ve turned into animals. However, Boanthropy is specific to individuals who believe that they’re cows. Yes, cows.
One of the rarest documented psychological disorders, Boanthropy causes sufferers to think and act just as if their were cows or oxen, with their physical behavior closely mimicking the behavior of the bovine species.
Patients experiencing Boanthropy have been recorded walking on all fours, mooing, eating grass, and even join other cattle to graze and hang around in green pastures.
The exact cause of this mental disorder is still unknown, and many have thought that it stems from witchcraft or overly religious beliefs. More realistically, some experts also think that it may come from other existing conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
As such, treatment for such a condition is still vague, although experts prefer to revert to classic psychotherapy methods to see if the patient can be “persuaded” to give up the delusion that eating grass and mooing is completely normal.
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Imagine having an uncontrollable desire to get rid of certain parts of your body. That’s exactly what sufferers of Apotemnophilia or body integrity identity disorder (BIID) experience for extended periods of time.
More specifically, sufferers of this disorder constantly have the sensation of being “overly complete” to the point that they feel a certain part of their body – possibly an arm, or a toe, or a foot – should be cut away.
This horrifying mental illness has been determined by experts to be caused by neurological problems, and some patients who actually had their limbs amputated to satiate their desires unnervingly reported experiencing better quality of life due to finally feeling “complete”, even despite having to live the rest of their lives with certain handicaps.
11. Koro syndrome.
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Koro syndrome takes genital-related anxiety and cranks it all the way to eleven.
It’s described as a psychiatric disorder where individuals experience extreme irrational paranoia that their penises (for males) or vulva/nipples (for females) are shrinking into their bodies, and will eventually cause their deaths.
The syndrome has been more commonly exhibited by males, and is more common in Southeast Asia than anywhere else in the world. It has also been classed as being an Obsessive Compulsive disorder.
Those suffering from Koro syndrome have claimed that their obsessions with their “shrinking genitalia” can range from being quite mild all the way to extreme, with some patients being compelled to measure their privates multiple times a day.
Experts have attempted to treat Koro syndrome with medication such as antidepressants as well as behavioral therapy, with varying degrees of success.