Hysteria: the term (which is no longer used in the best medical circles – it’s regarded as a catch-all and meaningless diagnosis) refers to the belief that the condition was peculiar to women and caused by a dysfunction of the uterus (‘hystera’) which could be precipitated by not getting enough sex. In Hippocrates’ time it was believed that the womb roamed around the body of its own accord (‘like an animal’), attracted to fragrant smells and repelled by bad ones. This meant that it often interfered with the functioning of other organs such as the lungs and heart. It wasn’t until the 19th century that it was understood that men can also display ‘hysterical’ symptoms (though they were sometimes described as ‘hypochondria’). In the 19th century it was treated by hypnosis, and caught the interest of Freud, who coined the term ‘conversion’ to describe the mechanism by which unresolved, unconscious conflict might be transformed into symbolic physical symptoms ranging from nervous breakdown to blindness or paralysis. His fundamental insight — that the body might be playing out the dramas of the mind — has yet to be supplanted.
The two things all patients have in common are, first, that they are not faking the illness and, second, that despite extensive testing, doctors can find nothing medically wrong with them. Beyond those features, ‘hysteria’ has functioned as a dumping ground for the unexplained: shellshock, anorexia, delusions, panic attacks, etc. A number of diseases, including epilepsy and syphilis, were classified as hysterical until they acquired biomedical explanations.
Traditionally, hysteria was associated with ladies ‘of a certain age’ and with enough time on their hands to devote to their disorder; it’s possible that this is relevant to two conditions (Multiple Personality Disorder and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) which appear to be over-represented in middle-aged, middle-class, white women. (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sufferers complain of, for example, headaches if they are exposed to chemical scents like other people’s deodorants or perfumes.)
When you’re thrown across the room by an electric shock, it’s your own latent strength that’s propelling you; you throw yourself across the room.
We’ve all heard stories of people finding superhuman strength in a crisis. The classic example is that of a parent lifting a car which has fallen onto his child, but much of the evidence for this phenomenon is necessarily anecdotal because of the ethical problems associated with dropping a car onto somebody’s child in the laboratory. However, it is a real effect: the adrenalin rush triggered by stress affects the muscles in various ways - they a) contract more than they can normally, b) receive increased blood and oxygen flow and c) receive a sharp increase in glucose (i.e. energy) levels. When combined with the psychological input of boosted motivation, these factors mean that extreme stress can indeed give us access to muscular power which is beyond our normal limits. It has been confirmed experimentally that “disinhibition” of various kinds (adrenalin rush, drugs, alcohol, hypnosis, etc) can boost the maximal pull of the forearm flexors by more than 30% - in other words, you're always capable of great feats; it just takes a crisis for you to actually perform them.
This can be seen when you’re electrocuted; you’re thrown across the room, but not by the shock itself – it’s the effect of the sudden and violent contraction of your muscles, and demonstrates the potential strength of the muscles which isn’t normally used (you couldn’t throw yourself like that deliberately, any more than you could lift a car if you just wanted to change the wheel). Incidentally, getting shot by a pistol or shotgun can’t throw you across a room the way it does in films; each bullet focuses a lot of kinetic energy onto a small area, but lacks the momentum to knock a human backwards because it is so small. For a pistol to impart this kind of power it would follow that it would have to have enough power to throw the shooter backwards across the room (because of the recoil) as well.
In 2006 in Ivujivik, Quebec, a woman named Lydia Angyiou wrestled and beat a polar bear which was threatening her son, grappling with it long enough for the son to run for help and find a neighbour with a gun. Lydia, known locally as ‘Tiny Lydia’, is 5ft tall and weighs 90lbs (6.5 stone).
After being exposed to mustard gas in WWI, Hitler became hysterically convinced he was blinded and speechless.
Anorexia was originally known as hysteric apepsia.
Contary to popular belief, sex-toys were not used by Victorian doctors to treat hysteria.
Madness is a rare thing in individuals, but in groups, parties, peoples and ages it is the rule.
Morgellons was named in 2001 by an American called Mary Leitao after her son complained of sores around his mouth and the sensation of ‘bugs’. She examined him with a toy microscope and found unexplained red, blue, black and white fibres.
Since then, her Morgellons Research Foundation has been contacted by more than 12,000 affected families.
Sufferers include folk singer Joni Mitchell, who has complained of ‘this weird incurable disease that seems like it's from outer space. . . Fibres in a variety of colours protrude out of my skin: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral. Morgellons is a slow, unpredictable killer - a terrorist disease. It will blow up one of your organs, leaving you in bed for a year.’
When people have had their ‘threads’ checked, they have often turned out to be nasal hairs, pet hairs, cotton from clothes or even pieces of a fungus.
They are likely suffering from Delusional parasitosis, a form of psychosis where patients acquire a strong delusional belief that they are infested with parasites, whereas in reality no such parasites are present.
I exist in a state of almost perpetual hysteria.
In 1844, a nun in a very large convent in France, began to meow like a cat; shortly afterwards other nuns joined her. Eventually all the nuns meowed together daily at certain times, often for hours.
The hysteria was eventually stopped by a team of soldiers with iron rods who said they would beat the nuns if they didn’t stop meowing.
The Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962 was an outbreak of mass hysteria in Tanzania; 1000s of people were affected.
The hysterical condition, 'astasia', is an inability to stand.
Salvador Dali had a lifelong, hysterical fear of grasshoppers that threw him into violent fits.
In the 1440s a nun in a German convent began to bite her companions, and the behavior spread through other convents as far as Italy.