Alice in Wonderland Syndrome 


If you wake up and it looks like your fingers are stretching for a mile, or you peer out a window and the seagulls flying 100 meters away look like they’re about to land on you, then you might be one of the rare sufferers of Alice in Wonderland syndrome, a peculiar depth-perception ailment named after the popular book by Lewis Carroll.

Strangely, there’s nothing wrong with the sufferer’s actual eyes. People suffering from AIWS often experience distorted depth perceptions such as micropsia, where objects appear to shrink and seem farther away, or macropsia, where items appear larger than normal. “Everything shrinks. It’s like I’m looking through a telescope backwards. I don’t feel huge, though. I actually feel very small as well, which is strange since everything around me also feels small. It’s like I’ve been miniaturized along with everything else around me.” So wrote one man in January 2009 in a forum on an AIWS website run by Rik Hemsley, an actual sufferer of the ailment.

Some people experience the opposite reaction: not miniaturization but enlargement. They might be looking at someone whose extremities suddenly appear to balloon. Others claim they can induce the experience at any time and then shake their head, or shake their own weirdly transformed body part, to make the sensation stop. Some have said they feel as if their brain is being stretched like a rubber band.

Hemsley said to the U.K. Guardian in 2008: “When it first happened, I was a 21-year-old undergraduate. I had been up late the night before writing my dissertation and drinking a lot of coffee, but on that particular morning I was stone cold sober and hangover-free. I stood up, reached down to pick up the TV remote control from the floor, and felt my foot sink into the ground. Glancing down, I saw that my leg was plunging into the carpet. It was a disturbing sensation, but it lasted only a few seconds, so I put it down to overtiredness and forgot all about it.”

Since writing for the Guardian in early 2008, Hemsley said no medical researchers have offered to study his affliction. “None, though I have answered questions for an article in a Polish magazine named Medical Tribune,” he said.

Hemsley said he’s still dealing with the affliction. “I am still improving, yes. I had a couple of days over the [2008] Christmas holiday where I noticed it, as a result of typical migraine-inducing behavior. I hadn’t had anything for about three months before that.”

It’s hard to imagine that even if the affliction went away, as it usually does with AIWS, Hemsley could ever forget about a syndrome as puzzling as his. While he is married, has a job, and continues on with his life, many others in the world who suffer from this ailment rarely go outside, fearful of experiencing these surreally distorted perceptions. “The most bizarre thing I can think of, off the top of my head, is that often when I sit with my legs crossed, with my shin on the other leg’s thigh, I would perceive that the upper leg was partially sunk into the lower.

This seemed to be caused by a combination of odd sensation and imagination. Whatever it was, it was quite unpleasant and occurred often. I would expect it is related to the more commonly quoted perception of a ‘spongy’ floor,” said Hemsley.

Some of the possible causes cited are migraines, temporal lobe epilepsy, and Epstein-Barr virus.

Symptoms: The AIWS website describes the main symptom as that of altered body image. Those afflicted are usually confused as to the size and shape of parts of their own body. Heads and hands commonly undergo a metamorphosis, shrinking or growing. Visual perception of the surrounding world gets skewed. People, scenery, buildings, animals appear smaller or larger, while distances appear too close or too far away. Some of those afflicted experience distorted time, touch, and sound perception.


Foreign Accent Syndrome

A man I met once at a pizza parlor, who promoted music shows, was accused of having a fake accent. One woman in Michigan sounded like she was British though she was born in a small American town. Whether these people are faking it or not, most actual sufferers of foreign accent syndrome are accused of falsifying their speech.

The reality is, the 40 or so documented cases of FAS usually stem from a brain injury or stroke that may have caused damage to the speech centers of the brain. While the person’s speech sounds otherwise normal, there is a foreign-sounding accent that overlays syllables and sometimes sentences. Some people are more fluent with their accents than others. Some of those  afflicted are reported to have mysteriously recovered within just a few months time.

The BBC reported that one British woman, after a stroke, started speaking with an idiosyncratic accent that sounded alternately French Canadian, Slovakian, Italian, or Jamaican. “I didn’t realize what I sounded like, but then my speech therapist played a tape of me talking. I was just devastated,” Linda Walker said. She added, “I’ve lost my identity, because I never talked like this before. I’m a very different person and it’s strange and I don’t like it.”

The best-known case of foreign accent syndrome occurred in Oslo, Norway, after a British bombing raid on September 6, 1941. A 28-year-old Norwegian woman was seriously injured in the head by a bomb fragment. She lay unconscious for several days and was not expected to live. Two months later, she was discharged from the hospital—suddenly with a German-sounding accent. During the remainder of the war she was often mistaken for a German and suffered discrimination because of it.

Symptoms: Sudden strange foreign accent.

Twenty-Five Random Remedies

Aphrodisiac: If you’re looking to increase your libido and you don’t want all the nasty potential side effects of Viagra, find some horny goat weed. It has been helping the Chinese since the days of the ancients. In lab experiments it works just as well as the little blue pill.

Constipation: Laughter has a massaging effect on the intestines.

Nosebleed: Run something cold down the back of your neck. Sudden chills can cause blood vessels to contract.

Mouth Ulcers: Try a pinch of baking soda or dissolve some in a glass of warm water and use as a mouthwash for neutralizing acids in mouth ulcers.

Green Hair: For blondes in chlorine pools whose hair has turned green, just add ketchup and cover with cling wrap for 30 minutes.

Headache: Draw blood to your feet by soaking them in hot water. Add some mustard powder for exceptional thumpers.

Decongestant: The University of Nebraska found that traditional homemade chicken soup (not from a packet) contains the amino acid cysteine, which is a

PMS Bloating: The yeast extract Marmite can help fight PMS bloating. Fish eggs and brazil nuts can help too.

Bruises: Vinegar heals bruises. Soak cotton and apply.

Coughing: Try a nice bar of chocolate. Theobromine in cocoa suppresses sensory nerves.

PMS: Boil a cup of water and pour over a teaspoon of dried rosemary. Cover and let brew for 15 minutes, then drink a warm cup twice daily.

Insect Bites: Dab on toothpaste to fight itching
and swelling.

Obesity: Turmeric, which is found in curry, has many medicinal uses and helps prevent obesity in lab rats. So eat hearty.

Cancer: In 2008, it was announced that medical experts in the U.S. are now studying the ancient Chinese remedy of potentially deadly toad venom for cancer patients. Often cancer patients try a blend of Western and Chinese remedies to fight tumors.

Toxic Blood: Actress Demi Moore once had 45 leeches gorge on her blood— a creepy Austrian treatment for toxic blood. Apparently the little critters release a helpful enzyme as they chomp down.

Stroke: Consider acupuncture to help you in your recovery. Millions of patients each year do so in China. Could they all be wrong? Get in harmony with yourself.

Skin Disorders: A urine-mixture ointment can help clear up blotchy skin. Singer Amy Winehouse tried it. In another curious case of urine therapy, actress Sarah Miles drank her own urine for 30 years, claiming that it immunized her against allergies.

Cellulite: Mix a little olive oil with warm coffee grounds. Spread on thighs twice a week. Cover with cling wrap for several minutes. The caffeine helps circulation.

Icky Breath: Chomp on a raw coffee bean.

Sore Throat: Manuka honey from New Zealand can kill over 250 bacteria strains. It can help heal burns too. Add some lemon.

Beauty Treatment: Actress Gwyneth Paltrow once used a type of acutherapy for beauty called “cupping.” Heated glass cups applied to different areas of the body can supposedly relieve stress.

Stinky Toes: Soak your feet in two cups of hot tea diluted with extra water.

Dandruff: Three aspirin dissolved in shampoo can help with flaking scalp.

Sniffles: Warm feet in hot water. Soak pair of thin socks in cold water. Wring out and wear. Add thick, dry socks and put feet up (go to bed). Boosts circulation, which can help with the sniffles.

Stained Teeth: Rubbing strawberries on your teeth can rid you of superficial stains. woman said she had regained much of the control of her hand.



One night I was a guest on the Red Eye Radio show with host John Wessling. It was midnight. I was sitting in a bathroom near Disneyland. I had called in and started telling Wessling how I was on a mission to find out if some of the dolls on the “It’s a Small World” ride were really little people from around the globe who were cryogenically frozen.

“I’m ready to unravel the mystery,” I said.

My family was flip-flopping in the other room on uncomfortable beds, disturbed by my muffled bathroom cries to save the frozen children of Disney.

I was going off the cuff like a mofo (By the way, Wessling is a comedian).

People are drawn to tales of ghosts, Native American myths, UFOs, creepy underground tunnels, corrupt secret government societies, backwoods monsters, bizarre news and legendary crimes. In fact, many bizarre stories have taken on mythical status as urban legends.

Yet, everyone knows urban legends exist all over America. The creepy legends left unproven in the media work their way through bars, coffeehouses, Internet conversations and late-night get-togethers in living rooms.

Even today’s mainstream news often reads like a contest between which agency can report the weirdest story. Just try getting at the truth behind legendary pop star Michael Jackson and his untimely death. In the end, urban legends may well rule his legacy.

TheDenverChannel.com—the leading news site in Colorado—was guilty of reporting UFO-related details in 2008 about a white-faced alien-head peeking in a window. It looked more like a mask than Jeff Peckman’s “irrefutable evidence” of aliens among us. Yet Web traffic likely skyrocketed as a result of posting the story.

It’s almost as if society is just waiting for the smoking gun alien story to happen.

In Bakersfield, California, just mention The Grapes of Wrath and you might hear: “That book was burned in a barrel.” It was. But that was just propaganda for the book being banned in Kern County. It was a political mess. Either way, the legend of a more massive book burning with huge bonfires rests in the imaginations of many.

Such stories, whether harboring full-on freaky lies or hints of truth, tug on the fabric of society’s need for the unexplained to be reasoned.

On Aug. 7, 2009, I got a message on MySpace. A teenage girl said she hated to read but was researching Bakersfield, California area ghost stories. She came across something I had written about area ghosts and wanted to know more. She was ready to read an entire novel (Hallelujah for literacy!).

It’s not that I know much about actual ghosts. I’ve just told a few ghost stories. And I know that people are fascinated by urban legends.

One man used to tell me about his supposed Yokut wolf spirit sightings in California’s Central Valley: a sprawling 300-mile stretch of farmland and gang-infested towns and cities between Bakersfield and Sacramento. He was convinced the wolf spirit I mentioned in the fictional account of the Lords of Bakersfield was one and the same with his own personal haunts.

I wove more than one urban legend into “Lords: Part One.” There’s the Native American wolf spirit that haunted the apocalyptic Bakersfield dust storm of 1977, and the Lords of Bakersfield themselves: creepy prominent men leading dualistic hidden gay lifestyles. They are rumored to have preyed on young men and the apocalyptic fears of a God-fearing community. The Lords have even been tied to recent events in a drowning of a gay real estate agent in 2009, and in 2002, when the assistant DA was murdered by an ex-cop, in part, for accusations of the man’s frolicking with the ex-cop’s druggie son.

While promoting the book I would go on the radio and say, “Hey, this is just a fictional account.” But then I would get the inevitable response asking what percentage of the book was true.

People just want to believe, don’t they? How can you put a percentage on dastardly deeds?

A semi-related book by John Shannon titled “The Devils of Bakersfield” also dabbles in a corrupt secret society of government officials and Satanists. You never know. It could all be true.

The recent film “Witch Hunt” narrated by Sean Penn dabbles in accusations of Satanism and child molestation in Bakersfield. Oddly, while many of the cases were overturned, the DA is accused of being a Lord of Bakersfield himself.

Now add the mystery of the possible existence of Chinese tunnels hidden in downtown Bakersfield and you have yourself a real weird place, where Buck Owens country music and KoRn nu-metal rock often comes second to tales of mystery.

While exploring subjects for my bizarre book, Random Obsessions, a trivia book of strange factoids in history, disease, inventions, science, geography, film, and art, I tackled some of America’s most intriguing urban legends.

In West Virginia, the Mothman legend still stokes the fires of those who remember stories of a red-eyed birdman spawning from the government-run TNT factory area of Point Pleasant. Strangely enough, with the help of a comic book historian I was able to track down a photographer who hunts for the mysterious creature. But even his supposed sightings of shimmering birdman creatures in the woods were too bizarre for the book.

In the section, “Mothman, the Curse of Point Pleasant and Baby Mothman” you can read how the legend got started and how locals weren’t sure if they saw a spirit, mutant bird from a toxic swamp or some kind of reincarnated Indian chief who once cursed the land (Strangely, most of his bones have been lost).

Pick up a copy and maybe the shimmering red-eyed form of the birdman will soon be standing outside your window.

I spent two long summers in Helltown, Ohio—an area of small towns with a collective name that just reeks “urban legend.” I lived just down the street from a cemetery perched atop an Indian mound, which some locals believe has mystical qualities. In the summer there, when the sun dips between the thin trunks of the Cuyahoga woods, you can hear rustling along the remains of the Ohio and Erie Canal. On the cemetery itself a mist sometimes forms. It’s enough to make any city slicker run for the nearest bar and watch the Cleveland Indians get massacred.

I never could muster up the nerve to sneak into the cemetery at midnight and peer at hundreds-of-years-old headstones, marking those who died from pestilence, murder, and in the rare case, old age. I opted for daylight wanderings.

Legends of the Peninsula Python, a giant snake that escaped a circus train in the 1940s mesh right along with the mystical mound and even the thought that toxic mutants once lived nearby. I interviewed one local extensively who used to ride by horseback into a nearby swampy area. She said she saw government workers stacking barrels of toxic goo at a condemned house in the old swamp. It gets creepy when you include the idea that some nearby families have unexplained illnesses. I dated that girl for years. I finally dumped her after she turned into the Swamp Thing. Just kidding.

Yet there’s another urban legend in Random Obsessions worth mentioning.

 In Dan Brown fashion, I couldn’t help but write about the architectural mysteries of Washington, D.C. Just what is the deal about D.C. area reflecting pools and star alignments, or all the countless Dante statues, Athena artwork, the White House glyph and Sirius dome stars?

In a way we’re all hooked on such stories whether we’re sitting in a bathroom cooking them up for a midnight radio show, or just stumbling upon something real and freaky. They’re out there, that’s for sure, and you usually don’t have to look very far.
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You can read a lot more weird stories from Nick Belardes in Random Obsessions. Pick up a copy from Viva Editions. Intro by Brad Listi, founder of TheNervousBreakdown.com