Joni Mitchell was hospitalized this week, but the songwriter has been sick for years. She has described her debilitating illness as “a slow, unpredictable killer–a terrorist disease. It will blow up one of your organs, leaving you in bed for a year.” Yet doctors have described this same illness as an internet meme, a delusion spread online.
Mitchell is talking about Morgellons disease, a condition where people report their skin crawling with parasitic, foreign fibers, often sprouting out of sores and lesions, in addition to fatigue and other health problems associated with itching skin. Morgellons is emphatically not accepted by the medical community. In fact, many doctors and researchers credit the internet with creating the conditions to spread Morgellons self-diagnoses as a kind of digital folie a deux. “It seems to be a socially transmitted disease over the Internet,” mass delusional specialist (yup, that’s a thing) Robert E. Bartholomew told the Los Angeles Times in 2006.
In 2008, a panel of doctors answered questions about Morgellons for the Washington Post. Dr. Jeffrey Meffert explicitly pinpointed the internet and digital communities as the reason why the idea of the disease caught on, saying the disease “has only existed as long as high speed internet.” Skeptics don’t see Morgellons as a virus, but see it as a misbelief gone viral.
In 2012, the U.S. Center for Disease Control investigated Morgellons and concluded that it is psychosomatic. A CDC spokesperson told me the center is no longer tracking reports of Morgellons since it published the study.
Many doctors believe that people who self-diagnose with Morgellons have delusions of parasitosis and infestation, and are inflicting their abrasions on themselves. In other words: It’s all in their heads.
People who identify as Morgellons patients—or “Morgies”—are upset by this assessment. So where do people go when they feel like the medical community rejects them? Online.
Also See: Morgellons (Wikipedia)