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Crystal delirium: the delirium of believing itself to be very fragile

Crystal delirium: the delirium of believing itself to be very fragile

May 6, 2024

Throughout history there have been a lot of diseases that have caused great harm and harm to humanity and over time have ended up disappearing. This is the case of the black plague or the so-called Spanish flu. But not only has it happened with medical illnesses, but there have also been psychic sufferings typical of a specific historical period or stage. An example of this is the so-called glass delirium or crystal illusion , an alteration of which we are going to talk throughout this article.

  • Related article: "Delusions: what they are, types and differences with hallucinations"

The delirium or illusion of crystal: symptoms

It receives the name delirium or illusion of crystal a typical and highly frequent mental disorder of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance which is characterized by the presence of the delirious belief of being crystal , having the own body the properties of this one and especially its fragility.

In this sense, it was maintained in a fixed, persistent, unmodifiable manner despite the presence of contrary evidence and without social consensus that the body itself was crystal, tremendously fragile and easy to break.

This belief went hand in hand with a high level of panic and dread, practically phobic, to the idea of ​​breaking or breaking at the slightest blow , being frequent the adoption of attitudes like avoiding all physical contact with others, moving away from furniture and corners, standing defecating to avoid breaking or tying pillows and using reinforced attires with them to avoid possible damage when sitting or moving.

The disorder in question may include the feeling that the whole body is crystal or include only specific parts, such as limbs. In some cases it was even considered that the internal organs were crystal, being the psychic suffering and fear of these people very high.

  • Maybe you're interested: "The 12 most curious and striking types of delusions"

A common phenomenon in the middle ages

As we said this disorder appeared in the Middle Ages, a historical stage in which the glass began to be used in elements such as stained glass or the first lenses.

One of the oldest and best-known cases is that of the French monarch Charles VI , nicknamed "the beloved" (since he apparently fought against the corruption introduced by his regents) but also "the madman" because he ended up suffering from various psychiatric problems, among which are psychotic episodes (ending up with the life of one) of his courtiers) and being among them the crystal delirium. The monarch was dressed in a clothing lined to avoid damage to possible falls and remained motionless for long hours.

It was also the upheaval of Princess Alexandra Amelie of Bavaria , and of many other nobles and citizens (usually of the upper classes). Also the composer Chaikovski manifested symptoms that make think about this upheaval, fearing that its head fell to the ground while it directed the orchestra and it was broken and even holding it physically to avoid it.

In fact it was a condition so frequent that even René Descartes made mention of it in one of his works and it is even the affection suffered by one of the characters of Miguel de Cervantes in his "Licentiate Vidriera".

The records indicate a high prevalence of this disorder especially during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, especially between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. However with the passage of time and as the glass was increasingly frequent and less mythologized (initially it was seen as something exclusive and even magical), this disorder would decrease in frequency until practically disappear after 1830 .

There are still cases today

The delirium of glass was a delirium, as we have said, that had its maximum expansion throughout the middle ages and that apparently ceased to exist around 1830.

However, a Dutch psychiatrist named Andy Lameijin found a report of a patient of the thirties who presented the delusional belief that his legs were glass and that the minimum blow could break them, generating any approach or possibility of hitting a great anxiety or even self-injury

After reading this case, whose symptoms clearly resemble the medieval disorder, the psychiatrist proceeded to investigate similar symptomatology and was discovering different isolated cases of people with similar delirium.

However, he also found a living and current case at the center where he worked, at the Endegeest Psychiatric Hospital in Leiden: a man who claimed to feel made of glass or glass after having suffered an accident.

However, in this case there were differentials with respect to others, more centered with the transparency quality of the glass than with the fragility : the patient said to be able to appear and disappear from the sight of others, making him feel, according to the patient's own words, that "I am here, but I am not, like crystal".

It must be borne in mind, however, that the delusion or glass delirium is still considered a historical mental problem and that it can be considered an effect or part of other disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Theories about its causes

Explaining a mental disorder practically non-existent today is extremely complex, but through the symptomatology some experts have been offering hypotheses about it.

In general it could be thought that this disorder could originate as a defense mechanism in people with a high level of pressure and the need to show a certain social image, being a response to the fear of showing fragility.

It also associates its emergence and disappearance of the disorder to the evolution of the consideration on the material, being frequent that the subjects on which verses deliriums and different mental problems are linked to the evolution and own and more novel elements of each epoch.

In the most recent case attended by Lameijin, the psychiatrist considered that a possible explanation of the disorder in that particular case was the need to search for privacy and personal space in the face of excessive care on the part of the patient's environment, being the symptom in the form of a belief of being able to be transparent like glass, a way of trying to separate and maintain individuality.

This conception of the current version of the disorder stems from the anxiety generated by today's society, extremely individualistic and focused on appearance and with a high level of personal isolation despite the existence of large communication systems.

Bibliographic references:

  • Cervantes, M. (2003). The lawyer Vidriera. Editions University of Salamanca.
  • Speak, G. (1990) An odd kind of melancholy: reflections on the glass delusion in Europe (1440-1680) History of Psychiatry; 1: 191-206.
  • Speak, G. (1990) "Licentiate Vidriera" and the Glass Men of Early Modern Europe, The Modern Language Review; 85 (4): 850-865.

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