It has sadly been a very, very long time since I last shared my life with you. But as for today, I have decided to give a once in a life time peek into my academic life. I am a student of many things, but if we are going by labels; I am a psychology student hoping to do my graduate work in counseling, possibly with a focus on abnormal female psychology. This semester, I have this wonderfully stereotypical professor who has lovingly kept his seventies swag, and isn’t afraid to wade into the taboo waters of the paranormal, especially that of a dark religious nature. He teaches semester-long courses on the Exorcist and treats even his beginning students as if they were private eyes, studying cases long past, throwing out House-worthy diagnoses & is habitually late to class.
Anyway, in the interest of the ancient art of parapsychology, I was given the task of diagnosing Roland, or as he is most famously known, Robbie Mannheim (a pseudonym long used). For those who are unfamiliar, I will tell you the tale.
Once upon a time, a couple had a single son, they lived in the East during the forties & this single adored son had an adoring aunt. A spiritualist, who enjoyed sharing her hobbies with the young boy. Sadly, as the boy entered his teen years, the beloved aunt died and the rumors say, he used a Ouija board to contact his dear aunt. Shortly thereafter, Roland began to experience terrifying nighttime-specific seizure-like, symptoms. His parents reported flying objects and strange words uttered. Que spooky music.
The Lutheran family took him to the pastor (not a doctor?) and he sent them to the Catholics, who suggested he was possessed but were slightly embarrassed at the Dark Age diagnosis. So they backed out and the family was left with a nocturnal lunatic who was very much at risk of injuring himself. As the story goes, scratches in the form of “Louis” were written on the boy’s chest, which logically prompted his parents to head to St. Louis, to stay with family & seek further help of the Catholic church. Finally, the Church relented and a young St. Louis University bishop was handed the case.
My professor, who I shall refer to as the Coop, listed the symptoms and the events that caused the priest to prescribe exorcism.
I. Seizure-like attacks (only during the night hours)
II. A guttural voice
III. Violence (he scratched people, reportedly broke the priest’s nose and tore up his arm)
IV. The ‘infamous’ scratches on the chest
V. A weakened state during the day
And of course, for anyone who has seen the famous Oscar-award winning film, The Exorcist, the bed that hovered and shook, the flying objects, the aversion to the sacred, and Roland’s sudden acquisition of Latin, oh, and his transformation into a girl.
My professor wrote our options for diagnosis routes on the board in his shaky handwriting:
One: Completely psychological
Two: Completely paranormal (a true possession)
Three: A combination of the two
The class leaned mostly upon option 2, which if I’m honest with myself is very probable. But I hate conforming so, my diagnosis was a trip off the path. I suggested a fourth route, REM Sleep Behavioral Disorder combined with night terrors stemming from PTSD.
RBD (the disorder) was first defined in 1986 (years after the events occurred), often occurring in older men, the cause is still unknown though many patients go on to have diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia. It is a disruption in the sleep cycle, normally a person undergoes a paralysis while asleep, which keeps the body still and calm. RBD breaks this, allowing the individual to ‘act out’ and become a bit of an animal, while still technically asleep.
“RBD is characterized by the acting out of dreams that are vivid, intense, and violent. Dream-enacting behaviors include talking, yelling, punching, kicking, sitting, jumping from bed, arm flailing, and grabbing.” (Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood WebMD) or essentially, the symptoms of the infamous demon-possessed boy.
But PTSD, why that you ask? Well, I have a hunch that boy’s only real confidant was his beloved aunt who also probably terrified him with her talk of the darkly paranormal. In an attempt to breach the abyss of her sudden death, he tried to summon her spirit, probably having a legitimate run-in with the dark side of the universe, scaring him silly. Too embarrassed, he kept it secret, while it continued to traumatize him as time continued on. Throw in puberty, and night terrors arise. Possibly leading to the little-known-undiagnosable, unknown by 1940’s Catholic priests; REM sleep disorder.
For weeks, only at night, the boy was inflicted and then finally, his mysterious illness vanished one night as the boy (not the priest) shouted the release. So any professional will throw the next step at me, “How was he so mysteriously cured? Magic voodoo?”
To this I reply, either he confronted his PTSD and night terrors, silencing them himself. Or, a kindly SLU doctor slipped the bewildered SLU priest some benzodiazepines after weeks of no sleep & he decided to share with Roland, which helped manage his wild episodes, reigning in the crazy of RBD.
Obviously, my diagnosis is fictional, and I wish I could pull up the man’s medical history today (rumor is he is a NASA scientist, retired and living with no memory of the events). But, I enjoy exploring the less than obvious that modern science has provided.
I will attach a fabulous clinical article of RBD below.
Well, there is a glance at my academic life. I’m weird, that’s for sure! Stay tuned,the holidays are coming & I’ll be sure to post some more snippets of my academic life. Because finals allow for leisure, hah. Sarcasm.