A while back a friend made a post about mental illness and, while trying to explain to other commenters about how anyone can get a mental health problem, I inadvertantly started a discussion about self-image being easily warped and mentioned that words are important. I thoroughly believe this. If you’re continually told that you’re worthless then you’re going to start believing it at some point. As the network I’m using is playing silly buggers at the moment I wasn’t able to go into further detail (despite trying on three occasions) but the whole thing got me thinking about self image in general and extreme cases in particular.
The Cotard delusion is named after it’s discoverer Jules Cotard, a French neurologist who first described the condition during a lecture in Paris in the year 1880. Mild cases of Cotard’s are characterised by the subject experiencing a constant despair and self-loathing. In most cases they stay that way, having built up from minor self image problems. Severe cases of the Cotard delusion increase until the subject believes that they are dead. They believe that their perceptions have been altered to hide this fact from them but that they have managed to figure it out. They know that their flesh is putrifying, their organs turning to mush and their blood turning to powder. Anyone who tells them otherwise is thought to be in on whatever conspiracy is doing this to the sufferer. As time goes on they will cease to believe in certain parts of their body (perhaps believing them to have rotted away) and will start to believe they are cursed or immortal. The patient that Cotard described believed she was eternally damned, had ceased to believe in several body parts, believed she no longer needed to eat and thought she could no longer die from a natural death.
Imagine if you can being absolutely sure that you’re dead, feeling that your flesh is rotting around you and you can’t escape it, knowing for certain that your God is punishing you for something, having everything in the world around you warped to convince you of this. Imagine the absolute horror of going through your life as a living zombie.