In 2010, Joni Mitchell said she was suffering from a debilitating illness that had confined to her home, and wrecked her life. She’s said it’s “weird, incurable disease that seems it’s from outer space.” Her illness led to a recent hospitalization, which raised some questions about exactly what kind of monster the songstress is dealing with.

Morgellons turns out to be a fairly new condition that is very controversial in the medical community. For one, it wasn’t named or discovered by a physician or scientist, but instead by a worried mom. In essence, the disease itself seems to be caught through the internet, giving a whole new spin to online virality.

Since Mary Leitao first blogged about her son’s mysterious skin problem in 2004, linking it to a 1600s condition called Morgellons, reports of it have grown. Her website, now shuttered, attracted other people suffering from similar problems, and they raised pressure for studies to be done to investigate Morgellons. Patients would often bring in bags of fibers they said they pulled from their wounds to dermatologists, who usually diagnosed them with delusional parasitosis, an erroneous belief that bugs are crawling on the skin.

The 17th century account of Morgellons describes it as a condition that afflicted a number of French children who developed fevers and would break out in stiff hairs on their backs. Sufferers of Morgellons often feel as if they are infected with parasitic fibers, other times crawling bugs or insects. They feel any number of itches, pricks, pains, and other weird sensations, and can suffer from other symptoms like fatigue, short-term memory loss, mental fog, and joint pain. One woman with the syndrome says a pink worm came out of her eye, and she coughed up a fly. Often they discover physical evidence of fibers coming out of sores on their bodies, but when these fibers have been tested, they turn out to be cotton fibers, probably just stuck to them from their clothes.

The nature of the disease has been determined to be psychosomatic by the CDC, but that doesn’t mean that what sufferers experience isn’t very real and very debilitating. In this case, as in many others, our own minds can be our worst enemies.


Joni described her experience with Morgellons with terrifying, evocative language. “Fibres in a variety of colours protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm:” she said. “they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral. Morgellons is a slow, unpredictable killer, a terrorist disease: it will blow up one of your organs, leaving you in bed for a year.”

In 2013, she again addressed her condition, saying that she had found non-Western doctors who were willing to treat her. “I haven’t been doing much lately because I’ve just come through about seven years of a flattening kind of illness. I’m not cured but I’ve found a helpful physician way outside the box. Western medicine says this doesn’t even exist, it’s a psychotic disease. It’s not.”