One of the strangest cases I have encountered involves a man named Michael. Despite nearly three years of therapy and a rigorous regiment of drugs, he remains adamant that he is no longer alive. This thought is based in an affliction known as Cotard's delusion, in which a person believes they are dead. This causes him to retreat from others, and the impact on his life is pronounced. Even the act of eating is something that requires convincing, often requiring an IV, and causing him to be very underweight. Much of the time, the very essentials that are required to take care of him are things that are left up to other people, and despite the intensive treatment it only seems to be getting worse, leading to a belief that his body is gradually putrefying.
Cotard's syndrome starts with a very intense depression, along with hypochondria. As the disorder progresses, the individual begins to deny that parts of their bodies exist, or can even claim that do not exist at all. Michael's symptoms have been progressing for a while, starting after a traumatic experience in his mid twenties.
I had an opportunity to speak with Michael recently, and he seemed willing to speak on the incident that occurred years before. His family and doctors have encouraged this, in the hope that discussion will help to allow a confrontation with his delusion.
“I was traveling in Romania years ago. I had been sad, and was having trouble even getting out of bed, let alone going to work. I had vacation time, and I figured that maybe a trip to Europe would help break me out of it.
Like most of Europe, there are some incredible churches to visit. I have never been a religious person, but I could not pass up a chance to see such old buildings. I was in a small town, and though it was pleasant enough, it was the ornate chapel that caught my attention. I walked inside, only to realize I had walked in on a service. I found a seat off to the side and waited for it to finish, meanwhile taking in the unique interior. The stained glass was a predominated by greens, and lining the edges of the church were graves of what I assumed were some of the previous priest that presided there. The service was in Romanian, yet the mood was clear and still, the parishioners lingering on every word.