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Catalepsy is a symptom of certain nervous disorders or conditions such as Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. It is also a characteristic symptom of cocaine withdrawal. It can be caused by schizophrenia treatment with anti-psychotics, such as haloperidol, and by the anesthetic ketamine. In some cases, isolated cataleptic instances can also be precipitated by extreme emotional shock – one well known example of this was the reaction of 1968 Olympic long jump medalist Bob Beamon on understanding that he had broken the previous world record by over 0.5 meters (2 feet). Protein kinase A has been suggested as a mediator of cataleptic behavior. Other causes of catalepsy include reuptake inhibitors of adrenergic neurotransmitters such as Reserpine.
Symptoms include: rigid body, rigid limbs, limbs staying in same position when moved (waxy flexibility), no response, loss of muscle control, and slowing down of bodily functions, such as breathing.
Anne Carter Lee, the mother of Southern General Robert E. Lee, suffered from cataleptic spells that caused her to fall unconscious and grow rigid with tremors. As the story goes, she was mistaken for dead during one of these spells and buried in the family plot in Virginia. Hearing a noise a while later, one of the servants called attention to it, and she was dug up, alive but traumatized. This supposedly happened in 1806, a year before Robert E. Lee was born. However, there is no official record of the event, nor is it alluded to in Robert E. Lee’s biographies or those of his father, Henry Lee III, who was prominent in his own right. St. Teresa of Avila experienced a prolonged bout of catalepsy that began in 1539. This episode was precipitated by the stress she was suffering at the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation. Her legs became rigid, leaving her an invalid for three years. Teresa endured intermittent attacks of catalepsy from then on.
In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Premature Burial", the narrator develops catalepsy. He fears being mistakenly declared dead and buried alive, and goes to great lengths to prevent this. In another of Poe's short stories, "The Fall of the House of Usher", Madeline Usher has catalepsy, and is buried alive by her unstable brother Roderick. Catalepsy is also depicted in "Berenice", thus becoming one of the recurrent themes in Poe's fiction.
In Poppy Z. Brite's "Exquisite Corpse", the main character, Comptom, a serial killer (recreation of Jeffery Dahmer's life story) facing a lifetime sentence, uses shamanistic techniques to induce catalepsy, and convincingly deceased is able to escape prison.
In Émile Zola's short story La Mort d'Olivier Becaille (The Death of Olivier Becaille), the title character is buried alive and notes that "I must have fallen into one of those cataleptic states that I had read of".
In Charles Williams's novel Many Dimensions, Sir Giles Tumulty says to Lord Arglay, the Chief Justice of England: "You are a louse-brained catalept, Arglay."
In Philip K. Dick's novel Now Wait for Last Year, Kathy Sweetscent becomes immobilized by withdrawal from JJ-180, an alien (and highly addictive) drug. "My God, Kathy thought as she stood gazing down at the record by her feet. I can't free myself; I'm going to remain here, and they'll find me like this and know something's terribly wrong. This is catalepsy!"
In the soap opera La Traición, the main character, Hugo De Medina, has catalepsy. Later in the telenovela it is revealed that his daughter, Aurora, has the same illness.
In Chavo del Ocho, the main character, El Chavo, would have cataleptic-like fits if frightened, where he would curl as if sitting down in a chair and become stiff. However, he could be healed by being splashed with water.
In two Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes, "Statistical Probabilities" and "Chrysalis", the character Sarina Douglas, a genetically-enhanced human woman, exhibits cataleptic symptoms. In "Chrysalis", Dr. Bashir promises to do everything he can to cure her of the disorder, and is ultimately successful.
In The Fisher King (1991) Robin Williams' character Parry is afflicted by this condition after witnessing the brutal murder of his wife.
In Isle of the Dead (1945) Katherine Emery's character suffers from a multitude of illness' that render her almost incapable of caring for herself. Of these many illness' she is subject to catatonic trances which inevitably lead to her demise.