Mindscapes: First interview with a dead man

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Mindscapes is our new column on brain science with a difference: we meet people who live with the world's most mysterious neurological conditions

Name: Graham

Condition: Cotard's syndrome

"When I was in hospital I kept on telling them that the tablets weren't going to do me any good 'cause my brain was dead. I lost my sense of smell and taste. I didn't need to eat, or speak, or do anything. I ended up spending time in the graveyard because that was the closest I could get to death."


Nine years ago, Graham woke up and discovered he was dead.

He was in the grip of Cotard's syndrome. People with this rare condition believe that they, or parts of their body, no longer exist.

For Graham, it was his brain that was dead, and he believed that he had killed it. Suffering from severe depression, he had tried to commit suicide by taking an electrical appliance with him into the bath.

Eight months later, he told his doctor his brain had died or was, at best, missing. "It's really hard to explain," he says. "I just felt like my brain didn't exist any more. I kept on telling the doctors that the tablets weren't going to do me any good because I didn't have a brain. I'd fried it in the bath."

Doctors found trying to rationalise with Graham was impossible. Even as he sat there talking, breathing – living – he could not accept that his brain was alive. "I just got annoyed. I didn't know how I could speak or do anything with no brain, but as far as I was concerned I hadn't got one."

Written By: Helen Thomson
continue to source article at newscientist.com

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  1. A fascinating article, thanks for picking it up. The following are two paragraphs from the body of the article that were eye-popping to read:

    “A peek inside Graham’s brain provided Zeman and Laureys with some explanation. They used positron emission tomography to monitor metabolism across his brain. It was the first PET scan ever taken of a person with Cotard’s (Cortex, DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2013.03.003). What they found was shocking: metabolic activity across large areas of the frontal and parietal brain regions was so low that it resembled that of someone in a vegetative state.”

    “I’ve been analysing PET scans for 15 years and I’ve never seen anyone who was on his feet, who was interacting with people, with such an abnormal scan result,” says Laureys. “Graham’s brain function resembles that of someone during anaesthesia or sleep. Seeing this pattern in someone who is awake is quite unique to my knowledge.”

    Happily, the patient is improving with various treatments.

    Mike

  2. Seems similar to someone I knew 30 years ago in NZ who was influenced by Indian gurus and mystics, especially prolonged meditation, extreme vegetarianism etc. I don’t know how things finally ended up but I heard he was eventually hospitalised after convincing himself he could exist on pure breath, without the benefit of any other nutrition. Not that different to anorexics.

    He was a brilliant mind, but became passive and lifeless, eventually being fired or leaving his job to focus on contemplating nirvana. Presumably he achieved his aspirations of merging with god and could be an excellent example to other deeply spiritual new age people of what they might achieve by taking supernatural assumptions seriously.

    Another guy from the same situation, probably owing to contact with the above individual, travelled to India to live with one of these cults. Fortunately he was jolted off the ‘true’ path to nirvana when his Rolls Royce driving guru handed out the AK47s. This was in response to subtle differences with rival cults over doctrinal interpretations about the true meaning of peace, harmony, and quiet contemplation of goodness and truth.

    • I have a family member who suffers from bipolar disorder with depressions being more severe than the manic episodes. When in the grip of depression, he doesn’t eat, speak or even move much. He once lost over 40 pounds during a month when he literally had to be spoon-fed water and liquid food because he would not eat or drink on his own. He would not respond to questions or initiate conversation; he didn’t shower, dress, shave or even get out of bed except to use the toilet (which he didn’t have to do often since he was dehydrated and anorexic). Hospitalization was required for “catatonia”. He eventually recovered on a strict medication regimen, and says that while he was depressed, he felt “dead”. I’d never heard of Cotard’s Syndrome, but now I wonder if he suffered from it.
      In reply to #5 by ridelo:

      How is this different from deep depression?

  3. Another guy from the same situation, probably owing to contact with the above individual, travelled to India to live with one of these cults. Fortunately he was jolted off the ‘true’ path to nirvana when his Rolls Royce driving guru handed out the AK47s. This was in response to subtle differences with rival cults over doctrinal interpretations about the true meaning of peace, harmony, and quiet contemplation of goodness and truth.

    lol! “Religion” all boils down to this doesn’t it?

  4. What I find interesting about his situation is that he essentially feels like a machine. Frequently we hear from others that they deeply feel a connection to God and all that there is. Many will even take drugs in order to experience this altered state thinking that it is the ultimate reality. Unfortunately, I don’t think that there is a pill that people can take to feel like this guy – half dead. It’s just more proof that our brain activity is physical in nature.

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