Writer Esme Weijun Wang started to believe she was dead, following weeks of feeling more and more fractured and losing grip on reality and her own identity.
The belief that one is already dead is called Cotard's syndrome, named after the French neurologist who first diagnosed the mental delusion after working with a female patient who was firm in her belief that she was already dead.
‘A rare mental illness called Cotard disease makes people feel like they are actual zombies, and that nothing they experience is real. The burden of living with this condition was detailed by writer Esme Weijun Wang, in a gut-wrenching essay called “Perdition Days”.
Esme Weijun Wang was among the people who experienced the syndrome firsthand. Thinking of it as the early symptoms of psychosis, she sought self-help, reorganized her workspace, and reexamined herself being a writer.
The unusual thoughts about being a zombie emerged on November 5, 2013, a month after falling in and out of consciousness for around 4 hours during a flight from London, UK, to the United States.
Upon carefully analyzing that incident, which had been left unexplained by physicians, she felt certain that in fact she had died, and was now in the afterlife.
In her essay, "Perdition Days," Wang relived the experience, in which she felt was "some kind of hell" where she "was on fire inside."
What was afflicting Wang has a name: Cotard syndrome, where the patient believes she is either dead or nonexistent. In the 1880s, French neurologist Jules Cotard first described the condition as a kind of depression marked by anxious melancholia and deluded thoughts about one's body.
Dr. Michael Birnbaum, director of North Shore-LIJ Health System's Early Treatment Program, said that people suffering from the delusion are at risk, mainly due to their belief that their physical life has already ended.
Though Wang was able to conquer her delusions, she said that she still feels fatigue, weakness, insomnia, as well as joint pains. For her, however, these inconveniences are nothing compared to the despair that she felt when she saw herself as a rotting corpse.