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Man with rare ailment believed he was a ZOMBIE

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Due to a very rare ailment called "Cotard's Syndrome," a U.K. man thought that he was literally a zombie, one of those shuffling brain eaters found in B-movies, after a failed suicide attempt. Fifty-seven-year-old Graham Harrison even took to frequenting graveyards as he felt he belonged there!

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Harrison described the nine years of hell he thought he was the living dead. He said he believed his brain had been "fried" after trying to electrocute himself and that he must be dead, even while continuing to breathe.

Cotard's Syndrome, also known as walking corpse syndrome is one of the rarest diseases in the world, affecting just a few hundred people. Sufferers believe they are dead, or that parts of their body no longer exist. Some die from starvation because they feel they no longer have to eat.

A former water contractor from Exeter, Devon, Harrison woke up after a botched suicide attempt, amazed he was able to talk - because he was convinced he had no brain. "I just got annoyed. I didn't know how I could speak nor do anything with no brain because as far as I was concerned I hadn't got one. My mind was blank. I couldn't hold any information in it. I took no pleasure from anything."

Harrison's feelings of dislocation and alienation intensified. "I lost my sense of smell and my sense of taste. There was no point in eating because I was dead. It was a waste of time speaking because I never had anything to say." Graham felt compelled to go to his local cemetery because he felt it was the only place he could fit in.

Cases of Cotard's Syndrome date back to 1788. It was formally identified by French neurologist Jules Cotard in 1880. Among the handful of cases over the years was a 53-year-old woman in New York who in 2008 claimed that she stank like rotting fish because she was dead.

Like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, Cotard's is another form of delusional psychosis, the only self-certifiable form of its kind.

Those who suffer from Cotard's often describe a loss of blood, organs and/or body parts.

This distorted reality is caused by a malfunction in an area of the brain called the fusiform gyrus, which recognizes faces, and also in the amygdala, an almond-shaped set of neurons that processes emotions.

A lack of recognition when viewing familiar faces -- even the face of the sufferer, leaves the person feeling disconnected with reality. There is currently no cure for Cotard's Syndrome.

There is a happy ending for Harrison. After years of psychotherapy and drug treatment, combined with help from providers and his brother, Graham gradually recovered and he is no longer in the grip of the disorder.

"I can't say I am really back to normal, but I feel a lot better now," he says.

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