Mom of 3 Biologically Unable to Feel Fear -- Even After Being Mugged & Abused

woman standing on cliffWhether we're talking about it in the context of going after our dreams, battling the traffic at school drop-off or pick-up, or trying CrossFit, being called "fearless" is generally seen as a compliment, right? But for one literally fearless 44-year-old mother of three, having a condition known as Urbach-Wiethe disease, which makes her "biologically unable to feel fear," may be less of a blessing and more of a curse.

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Referred to only as SM, the American woman has reportedly been put in life-threatening situations aplenty -- from being held at gunpoint and knifepoint by a mugger to having been nearly beaten to death by her first husband. But at every turn, she was unfazed, unafraid, and didn't even call the police. Apparently, she once even got so close to poisonous snakes that she had to be restrained.

Neuroscientists from the University of Iowa have been studying SM for more than a decade, and are understandably protective of her, so they only just recently released an interview they conducted with her to NPR. In the sit-down with Daniel Tranel, PhD, she details some of her experiences, like being threatened by a man on a park bench who held a knife to her throat.

She recalls:

He grabbed me by the shirt, and he held a knife to my throat and told me he was going to cut me. I told him -- I said: 'Go ahead and cut me.' And I said, 'I'll be coming back, and I'll hunt your ass.'

When the man let her go, she didn't proceed to call the police, because she claims she didn't see the danger in the situation. Eeek.

It may initially seem appealing to be thoroughly fearless, because fear is stressful, and who wouldn't want to be less stressed? But clearly, lacking that emotion can be problematic. Especially as a mom, who needs to be able to identify certain dangers to protect her kids and herself!

NPR explaines that Urbach-Wiethe disease is rare (doctors have diagnosed only 400 people in the world!), genetic, and marked by three main symptoms: Small bumps around the eyes, a hoarse voice, and parts of sufferers' brain calcify, harden, and waste away, leading to epilepsy and other abnormalities.

In this particular case, this mom's amygdalae have been affected, and that part of the brain is central to the human fear response. A downstream effect: Because SM can't feel fear, she also doesn't end up having traumatic memories. For that reason, researchers wonder if they might be able to develop treatments for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) by studying SM.

Interesting. And leading a seemingly charmed life devoid of emotional baggage definitely seems like it would have its appeal!

But when it comes down to it, whether they're downright scary or immensely pleasurable, don't we all want to have a realistic perception of our experiences? And don't we want to be able to sense danger? Sadly, this mom will never have that -- and that's just one of many reasons being truly fearless probably isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Would you prefer to be fearless like this mom? Why or why not?


Image via iStock.com/digitalhallway

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