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Teenage Mass Hysteria in Upstate New York

mass hysteria, le roy high school

Maybe they've just been listening to The Beatles?

As a young girl who grew up in Central New York obsessed with whatever dramatic plays I could get my hands on, this bit of news – “something straight out of The Crucible,” as Jezebel put it – is fascinating to me. 12 girls in the small village of Le Roy, NY have been diagnosed with conversion disorder, better known as mass hysteria. Teenage Mass Hysteria in Upstate New York! Sounds like a great title for a B-movie, no?

Jezebel notes that the girls’ “mysterious disorder” has been “legitimized by a still somewhat-bewildered medical community.” (See this clip from the TODAY show for more on that.) Tests have been run at Le Roy high school checking for an environmental cause, but none was found. Though mass hysteria usually occurs in response to some kind of stressful or traumatic event (like the hysterical shopping we New Yorkers did, induced by the president after 9/11, for example), no such event has taken place in the sleepy town, at the school or in any of the girls’ home lives. This has led many parents to believe something must be up, that 12 girls can’t simply be twitching and making bizarre noises for no reason.

Look, I’m no doctor (and I don’t even play one on TV), but I relate to the possibility that these girls aren’t physically ill in any way, just simply afflicted by a strange collective condition that they are, reportedly, handling via therapy. Here’s why. When I was in high school, our class president – who was an all-around achiever in academics, sports and music – had a shaking problem. It may not have seemed like a problem to her, but she shook her legs – most often her right leg, if I recall correctly – in a way that might be called “bouncing leg syndrome” by today’s standards. It was a physical tick meant to alleviate anxiety, a maneuver some people use to shake off (har-har) restless leg syndrome. Anyone who has ever taken a math test or been pregnant can probably relate.

I was always enraptured by those bouncing legs as I watched them from across the room. “Why does she do that?,” I’d ask myself. Then one day, being the actress/mimic that I am, I decided I would be brave and try bouncing my own legs! How would it feel? What is it like to be compelled to jiggle while solving fractions? I needed to know. Also, I wanted to be cool, and this girl was cool, therefore leg bouncing must be cool. (See, I was paying attention in math class! That’s logic, right?)

So I tried it. I started bouncing my right leg. Then I bounced both of my legs. I was addicted! I couldn’t stop! I LOVED THE FEELING OF BOUNCING MY LEGS!

I bounced my legs all throughout the rest of my high school career – at least in classes where I felt bored. Then one day, when I was in college or something, someone told me I was being annoying … and just like that, I stopped.

Now, I’m not writing this to say that these girls are making their symptoms up or that they’re not suffering in some way. And I have sympathy for whatever suffering this condition has caused. But I am trying to say their parents might want to rest easy, knowing that since the girls are responding well to treatment and the condition is not in any way life-threatening, it will probably go away on its own and be a weird/cool story one day.

Either that, or they’re witches. You might want to check the woods for a big, black pot of “love me” juice.

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