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.


NICK BELARDES is illustrator of NYT Best-Selling Novel by Jonathan Evison West of Here (2011), author of Random Obsessions (2009), Lords (2005), and the first literary Twitter novel: Small Places (2010). An author, poet, and screenwriter for Hectic Films, Belardes turned TV/online journalist overnight after blogging his way to success. His articles and essays have appeared on the homepage of CNN.com and other news sites across America. You can find Nick on Facebook and Twitter.

One response to “Random Obsessions: An Excerpt”

  1. John says:

    Mr. Belardes,
    For Christmas, gave your book to my dad, who is of the old type “manly-man” who worked in factories and disdained reading anything other than the sports section of the local paper. He loves the book. The short-snippet nature I think appeals to him. And it is quite funny to see him (a big Hell’s Angels looking biker guy) start sentences with “did you know…?” and then look around like a kid who just accomplished something great, like tying his own shoes for the first time. So thanks for that. My mom says it is the first book he has read in twenty some-odd years.

    I hope your holidays were wonderful, etc.

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