Never let yourself forget how much we still don't know about our brains and bodies. Specifically, the relationship between the two. Not only can a placebo fool the body into thinking sugar is a pain reliever, but the brain can fool the body into thinking it's sick, complete with physical symptoms.
And we're not talking about bullshit symptoms like headaches, either. We're talking ...
#5. False pregnancy
You're a woman. You missed your period, and now you have morning sickness. Congratulations! Or not! After a few weeks, your abdomen swells. Eventually, you start having labor pains ...
... but the doctor says there is no baby, and that there never was one. Either you are having a ghost baby, or it was all in your head.
"Yup, that's your problem: You have a baby embedded in your brain."
They used to call it "hysterical pregnancy" -- a term that dates back to when male scientists had declared that all mental disorders radiated from female lady parts. It's now referred to as pseudocyesis, and it's shockingly common -- as many as one out of every few hundred pregnancies turns out to be pseudocyesis. That is, nonexistent.
What causes it? Were you impregnated by an incubus, and are you about to give birth to an invisible spiritual entity? Probably not. But that guess is as good as anybody's.
"Girl or boy? I don't care as long as it's healthy and filled with inhuman rage."
After all, it'd be one thing if these false pregnancies just caused some nausea and weight gain -- it's easy to imagine somebody tricking themselves into some stomach issues. But the condition also disrupts menstruation and causes other common pregnancy symptoms such as breast sensitivity. In the weirdest cases -- such as this 1960s case of a woman in Rochester -- the abdomen will become distended as if there's a fetus pushing out (doctors have found they can make this go away with anesthesia. Apparently, while awake, the mother is involuntarily forcing the belly out with her abdominal muscles ... or something).
Sufferers even claim they feel the baby "kick." What the hell?
We'll let Sigourney Weaver handle this one.
It's not like we haven't had time to study it; reports of false pregnancy have been around as far back as recorded history goes. Hippocrates (the dude the Hippocratic oath comes from) wrote about women with the disorder around 300 BC. In one of the most famous cases, the Queen of England, Mary I or Bloody Mary, was so desperate to bear a child that she had a fake pregnancy. The disease reemerged again in the famous case of "Anne O," who developed a fake pregnancy after imagining being impregnated by her doctor Josef Breuer. Breuer later talked about the strange case to the famous psychologist Sigmund "you want to bone your mother" Freud, who was so fascinated by it that it became the basis of his work in the field of psychotherapy.
"A ghost baby told me you secretly want to kill your father."
But we've saved the weirdest part for last. Pseudocyesis doesn't just affect women.
Yep, false pregnancy has turned up in men who duplicate the symptoms of their partners' pregnancy. They go through the same morning sickness, muscle cramps and, in one case, the same abdominal swelling as their pregnant wives. Again we say, what the hell?
Now all we need is for a woman to grow balls and we will finally see which is worse!
Here's a fun experiment: Wait until a pregnant friend or girlfriend is in labor, and then ask her if she's sure the whole pregnancy isn't all in her head. See if she stabs you!
#4. Hysterical Blindness and Paralysis
Dr G.C. Harlan had a patient with a strange case of blindness. The guy had been without sight in one eye for over 10 years, but there appeared to be nothing physically wrong with it. The eye was causing him some pain, however, and since this was back in the late 1800s, previous doctors had suggested having the eye plucked out. Because, you know, it didn't work anyway. Really just taking up space in his skull. Fuck that eye!
"Liver? Ehhh, not too sure what that does. We'll take that too."
But Harlan noticed the eye didn't respond like a blind eye -- the blink reflex worked and the pupil dilated normally. And while testing the eye, Harlan figured out he could "trick" the patient into seeing out of it. Without telling him what he was doing, he did a successful vision test while the machine was actually blocking the supposed good eye.
The blindness, it turned out, was all in the patient's mind.
We know what you're thinking. The dude was just faking, probably so he could take his dog into restaurants. But keep in mind that the guy was there to make an appointment to have the eye removed. If he was faking blindness, he was prepared to take it far enough to become really blind.
Just like the time you swore you could do the ring of fire. You will eventually have to prove it.
The disorder was called hysterical blindness (there's that word again) but now they refer to it as a "conversion disorder." As in, the patient is "converting" emotional or psychological stress to a physical problem (like blindness) via a mechanism that science in no way understands.
And to be clear, while that case was from the 1800s, this isn't some 19th century superstition at work -- there have been countless other cases over the years. There was a soldier back in the 1980s who lost vision in one eye due to the stress of boot camp. Again, we're going to assume that by now they have figured out a test to weed out fakers (which presumably just involves the doctor walking into the office with his dick out, daring the person not to say anything while he calmly asks about their symptoms). And if he was faking, he still allowed himself to be cured days later. They did it with a placebo -- they made the soldier wear an eyepatch over the unaffected eye (telling him it was to "train" the "blind" eye) and told him it was normal for patients to regain their sight after a few days. And he did.
Putting a bag over your face will not help you regain your looks, however.
The condition is usually caused by emotional or psychological shock or trauma, like the trauma of combat or if, while visiting your grandparents, you wake up in the middle of the night and walk in on them having geriatric bondage sex.
Sometimes it's a choice between going blind or making a profit, that's all we're saying.
On one hand, you could say that this kind of makes sense. After all, we know there is such a thing as hallucinations where people think they're seeing something they're not. In this case, they're just hallucinating blindness (in fact it's called a negative hallucination). But it's not just the eyes that get affected by conversion disorders -- they can also cause everything from to seizures to paralysis.
Yes, paralysis -- as in, some of your limbs stop functioning. Back in Victorian times, women used to report "glove" paralysis, where one hand would stop working (which is impossible by physical causes -- due to the structure of the muscles and nerves in the arm, either the whole arm goes, or nothing goes) or it would go numb. In Freud's time, this bizarre condition was as common as bulimia is in our modern society and supposedly was brought on by the intense guilt caused by masturbation.
Right, as if the sensation of masturbating with someone else's hand would make you do it less.
#3. HIV Phobia
There is a previously unknown, highly-contagious, AIDS-like disease spreading across China ... and no conventional HIV tests are able to detect it.
Yet, all of the symptoms are there. One man named Lin Jun, after contact with what he believes was infected blood, reported swollen lymph nodes, joint pain and rapid weight loss -- nearly 70 pounds in a few months. And he's not alone -- he says contact with his wife and child left them with the same symptoms (and even, he claims, lesions like you see with AIDS patients). When he took his story to the press, people all over China emerged from the woodwork to report the same. They accuse the government of a cover-up, and are demanding answers.
Which is patently ridiculous, as these happy folk cycling through Tienanmen Square will tell you.
It appears at this point that the reason HIV tests don't turn up anything is because these people don't have HIV. Or anything else. The guy mentioned above has been tested seven times, sure that the doctors were just missing something. But the more the patients are studied, the more it appears their disease simply does not exist outside of their own mind.
Experts are starting to believe it is a psychological disorder caused by extreme anxiety over HIV, and/or even guilt over having sex with prostitutes. But why would such a strange phenomenon be isolated to China? Sure, there are scattered cases in other countries where people think they have AIDS and don't, but nothing like this bizarre shadow epidemic. Well, it has to do with Chinese culture, and the fact that their government is a dick.
We've just indirectly called 78 million people dicks. That's a new record for Cracked.
For decades, the Chinese government has railed on about the evils of prostitution, in an already conservative Chinese culture that views sex as taboo. Which makes sense, but it has heightened people's paranoia about the disease, which is not helped by a number of government scandals involving HIV-tainted blood entering the blood supply, infecting thousands of people. Then you have people catching any number of respiratory or skin diseases, thanks to the toxic state of the environment in many parts of the country.
So, a guy has sex with a prostitute on the down-low. He has regrets and fears infection, and makes himself nauseous over it. Then, he happens to get a rash or blisters on his skin due to what he doesn't realize is an unrelated toxic reaction. Now he's shitting his pants.
We guess it's a really bad STD.
And nothing government health officials say can reassure him, because the goddamned government is the same one that tried to pretend SARS wasn't a thing for months before foreign journalists accidentally learned about it. SARS turned out to be no big deal since it randomly mutated into a harmless form -- but the Chinese government didn't know that. They hid what could have been a brewing pandemic. So, yeah -- if there was some mysterious new form of AIDS out there, there's a good chance they'd hide that shit just for the hell of it.
Half of China are actually zombies.
Now add in the Internet. Our hypothetical man goes online and finds tons of chat rooms and support groups full of other victims of this new mystery disease. The victims feed off each others' fears, actually "infecting" more people online with this strain of hypochondria that Freud would have called "hysterical HIV." So at this point, it might as well be real. The government has been forced to start studying the "disease" (they're doing tests on 60 such patients to see if they can find anything at all wrong with them -- nothing so far) because resources are getting used up by these patients who now turn up at medical centers and insist on being tested ... over and over again.
Though let us stop here and point out that we'll all feel like assholes if this does in fact turn out to be a real disease.