Two years ago, Arizonian Michelle Myers went to bed with a severe headache. The next morning, she woke up speaking with a British accent—and it hasn’t gone away since.
The situation may seem almost laughable, but as ABC affiliate KNXV reports, Myers suffers from a rare medical condition called Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) in which patients develop a foreign accent without needing to ever spend time overseas.
Only about 100 cases of the disorder have ever been documented. As The Washington Post’s Alex Horton writes, FAS typically occurs after strokes or traumatic brain injuries that affect the part of the brain that recognizes language. This alters the way the person speaks (the rhythm and tone, for example), causing their speech to sound like a foreign accent. FAS can also be caused by psychological reasons, reports ABC News, like anxiety or depression.
This wasn’t the first time Myers, 45, woke up with an accent. She had two earlier bouts with the disorder, once speaking with an Australian accent and the other an Irish accent. Each time the effects only lasted around two weeks before disappearing, but her British accent has now stuck around for two years, The Post reports.
“Everybody only sees or hears Mary Poppins,” Myers told KNXV. Myers has never left the country.
Myers also suffers from Ehlers-Danlos, a condition marked by elastic skin, extreme flexibility in the joints and possible rupturing of blood vessels. Though it’s unclear exactly why she developed the speech disorder, her doctors think it’s a side effect of a hemiplegic migraine, which produces symptoms that are similar to a stroke, The Post reports.
“It’s such a rare condition that neurologists don’t believe that this is a real condition,” Toby Yaltho, a neurologist at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Neurology Associates, told ABC in 2016 after treating another case of FAS. “The big thing is to know that she’s not faking it,” he said of his patient at the time.
The condition was first documented in 1907, when a French neurologist saw a patient who suffered a stroke and suddenly began speaking with an Alsatian accent, a different region than where the man lived, Horton writes. It wasn’t until 1982, that the term “foreign-accent syndrome” was coined by neurolinguist Harry Whitaker, Julie Beck wrote for The Atlantic in 2016. And though rare, cases of the speech disorder have since been documented around the world, according to the Center for Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas.
In some cases of the psychologically-induced FAS, Beck reports, there’s no identifiable brain damage but patients tend to have a psychiatric disorder, like bipolar disorder, in addition to the accent.
Myers continues to suffer pain from her Ehers-Danlo disorder. She’s currently trying to find treatment for the condition.
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