I couldn’t sleep more than four hours per night. Every face I saw was already rotting, before my very eyes. I couldn’t stop seeing the inside of my own coffin, every time I closed my eyes. I had to force myself to eat, because the morbid and macabre images were so palpable, they made me nauseous. More than once, I felt like just running out into traffic, to see the cars go through my ghostly form; more than once, I expected to see the doctors trying to resuscitate me, through a billboard advertisement. I couldn’t stop these thoughts, and they became more and more disturbing as time went by. I was afraid to tell anyone, because I was afraid I might be insane… or, perhaps, that my fears were true… that I was already dead.
How did this devastating disorder start? Did I fall from some lofty height, and get a concussion? Did I, suddenly and inexplicably, develop dementia? Had I been hypnotized? No; I was simply given the wrong cocktail of drugs, for an illness on mental health professional thought I had.
This form of thought has a name: Cotard Syndrome. After doing some research, I discovered that it was first diagnosed in the late 1800’s, by a French psychologist. He had a patient that came in, who believed that his body was already dead, and simply animated by his own iron will. It was devastating to the elderly man, who wanted to commit acts of suicide to prove he was already dead. The horror of it all is, to the affected mind, it seems to make perfect sense. After all, if the brain does retain an electrical charge up to six months after death, isn’t it possible that we’re already dead, experiencing some kind of dream of our former lives? Films like “the Matrix” and “the Sixth Sense”, and shows like “Buffy: the Vampire Slayer”, didn’t really help, either: as engrossing as they may have been, they were also disturbing enough to lodge the concept of postmortem mental incarceration deep within my psyche.
How did I get through it? Not easily, that’s for sure. The first step was to realize what the Bible says. Unfortunately, the Bible offers what seem to be different perspectives on death, depending on the book and testament. In Ecclesiastes and some of the Psalms, for example, the dead are spoken of as being in an unconscious state of sleep. However, in the New Testament, Christ and Paul both make allusions to existence beyond death. Either way, if you’re conscious after death, there’s only one destination for you; and it’s neither wandering the Earth as a ghost, nor rotting in your own body. No, it would seem to be Hades, where all the dead are kept until Judgment Day; at which time they will be sent either to Heaven, or to Hell, as their final destinations. Either way, you don’t remain conscious in your dead body: of that much, we can be certain.
The next thing I had to do, was to decide if I would seek the possibility that I was dead, or live out a life in what could very well be a wonderland of my own design. On the one hand, I’ve never been one to shun the truth for comfort. I’ve sought the truth for comfort, yes; but, when it came down to a choice between the two, I always chose the path of self-effacement. In this case, however, I realized that there would be nothing I could do about my death. Even so, if this world was my creation, I would be like the God of this world; which meant I could make a far better life for myself. The pragmatic choice, then, was obvious: I would choose to live in the alleged delusion of life.
My third step was to force my mind to stay off the subject, and defy my own physical revulsions. I would purposefully stare at others, when I saw their bodies rotting before my eyes. I would deliberately force myself to eat, and concentrate on the flavour of the food. I would force myself to block out all distractions – usually by playing Kid Rock’s “Only God Knows Why”, repeatedly in my head, until I could feel it burrowing through the creases of my own brain, – in order to sleep. I would relish the dreams I had, no matter how morbid, disturbing, or senseless. I forced myself to feel happy, and to take note of every little detail in this life. Soon, I realized that there were too many contradictions in this world – too many differences between this version of reality, and my ideal version (I was, after all, homeless and broke, being forced to take drugs to placate the authorities in my life), – for this reality to be truly of my own design.
The last, and certainly most potentially dangerous, of all the steps was to get myself off the drugs that were, undoubtedly, causing me such distress. Let me tell you: in 100-+ degree weather, severely dehydrated, it’s not easy. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, without the help of a trained professional. In this case, however, it was so distressing, and my transition to another location so imminent, I had no other choice. Eventually, I stopped taking both my medications: Depakote E.R., and Risperidal (500 mg. twice daily, and 50 mg. once daily, respectively). After the near month it took for their effects to wear off, I realized that my cognition was more frantic, but enjoyably so; and I was able to think more clearly. Indeed, I had come to the revelation that I was mainly influenced by two factors: the news about how the last episode of “the Sopranos” ended, and my grievously improper medication.
Cotard Syndrome is still something I deal with every day. I have to constantly remind myself that this is no zombie’s nightmare; nor am I some rotting revenant. However, I am now well enough to relegate that theory to an afterthought. I got through it, with some good, old-fashioned deductive reasoning and self-awareness. Sadly, it’s often far from being that simple…
If you, or someone you know, have symptoms of Cotard Syndrome, DO NOT seek to commit suicide, just because you think you may already be dead! I cannot stress that enough! You must continue to entertain the possibility that you may be alive, and your brain may simply be malfunctioning, for whatever cause. Get help, from a competent professional, IMMEDIATELY! Most of all, find someone you can trust, and talk about it with them. And remember: one of the ways we know we’re alive is because the world is in such bad shape… and one of the reasons we have to live, is because we can do something about it; at least, for those around us.
May God bless each and every one of you, in every conceivable manner.