In the 1980s, a group of Japanese tourists set out on a journey to visit Paris, the city of love! Impatient and excited, they couldn’t wait to finally land and share a kiss under the beautiful Eiffel tower. But what was waiting for them was far from what they had expected – the city was overcrowded and polluted, and instead of fashion models, homeless people walked the streets. They were so shocked by this discovery that they experienced severe psychological distress – anxiety, hallucinations, delusions, and even some heart problems and dizziness. Surprised by these symptoms, a Japanese psychiatrist Hiroaki Ota coined the term Paris Syndrome – a sense of extreme disappointment when visiting Paris.
It may not be cited in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but experts believe that Paris syndrome should be recognized as a rare, but real phenomenon. Professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina Mathieu Deflem said that it should be regarded as an extreme form of culture shock. Have you ever thought that being disappointed by a city can bring people so much distress? Unfortunately, there are many psychological disorders with rare and unusual symptoms, symptoms that bring as much suffering as commonly known mental illnesses. Let’s find out more about these extremely rare symptoms!
Alice In Wonderland Syndrome
Let’s dive back into our childhoods for a moment and remember Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. After falling down the rabbit hole, she found an odd looking potion bottle and a magical cookie. The odd looking potion made her become smaller and smaller, and the magical cookie made her grow back, but not to her regular size – she grew bigger than the White Rabbit’s house.
Alice’s story later became more than a bedtime story – it gave the name to a psychological disorder called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. A 2017 paper published in Journal of Neuroscience and Neuropsychology described a case study of a 30 year man suffering from this illness. He came to the hospital because of a persistent, pulsating headache he felt on the left side of his head. He’d been dealing with these painful attacks at least once a week. But the odd thing about these headaches was what happened before them. He said that he saw objects around him distorted – some of them were much larger than they normally are, but when he looked down at his fingers, he saw they suddenly appeared much smaller.
The doctors then realized that he was suffering from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. Like when Alice began getting bigger and then smaller, patients with this syndrome suffer from visual hallucinations that are called micropsia and macropsia. And just like the patient we described, they also suffer from intense headaches around 30 minutes after hallucinating.
Let’s take a look at another case study! A 24 year old male veteran suffered from a wide range of psychological disorders. He struggled with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder… But what brought him to hospital one day was when he started to suspect that his mother wasn’t actually his mother. He believed that she was actually replaced by a government employee who came to punish him for what he did in the military. Even after he got to the psychiatric unit, he stated that his entire family had been replaced by imposters. This case study published in the journal Federal Practitioner in 2017 describes an example of a Capgras delusion. The key symptom of this disorder is misidentification of people: patients don’t recognize people in their lives, their friends, partners, family members, or even pets! Instead, it seems to them like they are actually duplicates, impostors with bad intentions.
Dealing with this disorder seems extremely difficult. It must be so exhausting not knowing who to believe, not being able to trust anyone… But luckily, Capgras delusion can be treated. With the correct dose of medications, the man from our example was able to leave the hospital after only 6 days!
Do you sometimes get indecisive? It can be about a small thing, like deciding between chocolate or vanilla ice-cream. Or you just can’t decide between two Universities or two jobs. We all have trouble with deciding from time to time, but to people who suffer from aboulomania this indecisiveness becomes pathological. A performance psychologist Haley Perlus said for PsychCentral that aboulomania makes a person indecisive to the point of obsession. Their constant dilemmas severely affect their daily lives. Have you seen the TV show The Good Place? If you have, you might remember Chidi Anagonye, an ethics professor who had such a hard time making any decisions! He couldn’t decide on a stance for his manuscript, what books to read, which muffin to choose… And his inability to choose a bar to go to even caused his death and brought him to the Good Place.
Although we don’t know if he actually suffers from aboulomania or not, one of Chidi’s quotes could possibly describe the struggles these people face: “My entire life has been a torture chamber of indecision.”
And last but not least, have you heard about The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat? This is the name of a book written by Oliver Sacks, who was a famous neurologist and writer. In his book, he illustrated his patient’s story – a story of Dr. P who literally mistook his wife’s head for a floating hat. Dr. P. was suffering from a rare condition called visual agnosia. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, visual agnosia is an inability to recognize and identify objects or people, and is caused by brain damage. People with this disorder are unable to describe an object even if it’s sitting right in front of them! Like in the case of Dr. P., they might have trouble recognizing faces of the people they love, which must feel so lonely and scary… And in some cases, as Sacks wrote in his book, they can see faces in objects such as water hydrants or doorknobs.
Apart from Dr. P., Dr. Sacks’s book describes a few more rare neurological disorders, including a man who can’t remember anything for more than a few seconds and two women who reported hearing loud, beautiful music in their heads . We linked the book down below in case you want to check it out!
As we said before, these disorders may be rare, but they are very real to those who struggle with these terrible symptoms! Hopefully, by learning more about them, we can help raise awareness about this side of mental health that is often neglected. Apart from these four disorders, psychologists have also identified some rare fears that people might have. To learn more about them, check out 7 rarest phobias you may have never heard of!
Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/63697.The_Man_Who_Mistook_His_Wife_for_a_Hat_and_Other_Clinical_Tales
Agnosia. (n.d.). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/agnosia
BBC NEWS. (n.d.). “Paris Syndrome” Strikes Japanese. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6197921.stm
Buyukgol, H., Gunes, M. and Eren, F.A. (2018.) Alice In Wonderland Syndrome: Case Report. J Neurosci Neuropsyc, 2(101). doi: 10.18875/2577-7890.2.101
Chhaya, T. (2017). She’s not my mother: A 24-year-old man with capgras delusion. Federal Practitioner, 34(12).
Chidi Anagonye. (n.d.). The Good Place Wiki. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://thegoodplace.fandom.com/wiki/Chidi_Anagonye
Contributors to Wikimedia projects. (2022, November 28). Alice in Wonderland syndrome. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_in_Wonderland_syndrome
Dahl, M. (2015, August 31). Remembering 7 of Oliver Sacks’s most fascinating case studies. The Cut. https://www.thecut.com/2015/08/7-of-oliver-sacks-most-fascinating-case-studies.html
Phelan, J. (2022, July 5). What is Paris syndrome? Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/what-is-paris-syndrome
Vogel, K. (2022, May 20). Why am I so indecisive? 10 methods that can help you make decisions. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/health/coping-with-indecision