In many ways, The Illness was unprecedented. Its scope, its symptoms, and its cause (or apparent lack thereof) were all unlike any previously discovered disease. It stood in such defiance of conventional medicine that doctors couldn’t even name it; it wasn’t a flu, or an infection, or a cold, or a cancer. It became so prevalent so quickly that before an official title was decided, one could simply say “The Illness”, and everyone would know exactly what was meant. And so, the name stuck.
The most prominent symptom of “The Illness” was an ardent, pathological belief that the universe is a computer simulation, and that its data has been corrupted. All other symptoms were side-effects: patients suffered hallucinations of objects clipping through each other, or vanishing into thin air. Many suffered unpredictable memory loss, with no two patients forgetting the same things. The belief that reality isn’t real often led to a belief that nothing matters, which often lead to depression and suicidal tendencies. The list goes on. The Illness was rarely fatal, but always debilitating, and never cured. Therapy, medication, and good fortune never quite convened the right way to convince a patient that what they were experiencing was, in fact, real.
The Illness was contagious. This much was obvious from the fact that those who sought to treat its patients were often the quickest to catch it. This seemed to suggest that it must be spread by some kind of pathogen. Despite this, no amount of blood work, stool samples, or autopsies ever found such a pathogen in any of the patients. If this “invisible virus” existed, then even the immune system could not detect it; patients were never found to have abnormal white blood cell counts. There was also the question of how the pathogen propagated. It didn’t seem to be airborne, or waterborne, or transmitted through blood. If doctors knew how it spread, then perhaps they could contain it, even if they couldn’t see it. But they never did. The spread of The Illness defied all known epidemiological models. However, two unusual trends were detected in its propagation: it appeared to spread more rapidly among developed nations, particularly those with widely available internet, and frequent users of social media appeared to be especially susceptible to it.
Ironically, “The Illness” was not an illness at all. Rather, it was more of a glitch.