A man with walking dead syndrome who awoke nine years ago after a suicide attempt believing that he was a corpse has broken his silence. In an amazing interview with Helen Thomson in New Scientist, a patient identified only as Graham shared his story of what it’s like to think you’re one of the dead.
When he was revived in the aftermath of a suicide attempt, he believed that he was dead because of a very rare condition also called Cotard’s syndrome or walking corpse syndrome. He had tried to kill himself by dropping an electric appliance into his bath water, which apparently damaged his brain even though the doctors were able to save his life.
In the heart-breaking confession, he detailed his feelings of only being at home in the cemetery:
“I didn’t have a brain. I’d fried it in the bath…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.”
Almost nothing is known about the rare disease, which is rarely encountered. UK addictions expert Dr. Mark Griffiths summarized the limited information available about it on his website, where he explains that victims of walking dead syndrome either believe that they are dead or that parts of their body are somehow dead.
The first known case, described by the Dr. Cotard who gave the syndrome its name, was a woman who thought she didn’t need to eat because she had already died. She passed away from starvation.
Graham, of course, does in fact have a brain. However, in a chilling twist, when he submitted to a brain scan performed by neurologists Adam Zeman and Steven Laureys, the doctors discovered that some areas of his brain had levels of activity similar to a person in a kind of coma called a vegetative state.
Dr. Laureys, a neurologist at the University of Liege in Belgium, said that he had never seen a brain scan result like it from a person who was still able to walk and talk. He said that Graham’s brain looked more like someone who was under anesthesia.
Dr. Griffiths’ report said that the disease has been successfully treated, and Graham himself said that he’s getting better as a result of drugs and other therapy.
Although still not one hundred percent, the walking dead syndrome patient no longer thinks his brain has died.
[Kensal Green cemetery photo by Elaine Radford]