"Isolation Sickness" is an umbrella term referring to a host of Stenza-specific chemical imbalances and mental disorders resulting from a long separation between an adult and any pup contact. This presents on top of the adult patient's predisposition toward given chemical concentrations in the brain and affects the type of sickness the patient presents with.
The cause of isolation sickness in all its forms is, through some means, long-term (at least one half-year) separation of adult and pups. Although this is difficult to achieve (and, as in humans, it is considered unethical for scientists and doctors to try to give patients this condition), it can be done. Most commonly this happens to soldiers missing in action or taken prisoner by non-Stenza enemies, but there have been known cases involving faulty recall circuits, subspace drives, etc., and at least one case where the sickness presented drove its sufferer to perpetuate the condition, similar to rabies.
Symptoms vary wildly patient to patient, from a state resembling severe depression to increased agitation to listlessness and confusion with one's life and purpose. It is known that these are related to the patient's prior life experiences and genetic makeup, although exact connections are unclear (and study under laboratory conditions is ill-advised). There is one case where isolation sickness caused the sufferer to reject pup contact, generating a self-perpetuating madness. However, most patients report a feeling of emptiness, with which they struggle to cope, each in their own way.
Far and away the most common and successful treatment of isolation sickness is the resumption of pup contact. Over time this restores balance to the chemicals in the patient's brain, and many report feeling "much better" or "back to normal" within ten or twenty days. (Considering most patients are recovered from fields of battle or enemy prison camps, pup contact is reinstated immediately and often before doctors have fully assessed the situation.) Many patients display increased permissiveness toward pups during the initial recovery period, some welcoming piles in their quarters with open arms.
In all cases but one, patients make a full recovery regardless of the length of the separation (that one was the individual who rejected pup contact).
Most commonly the condition happens to adults, as pups can usually find other adults if someone were to disappear from their "usual rotation", as it were. However, very rarely, pups have also disappeared from the rest of Stenza society and showed signs of isolation sickness. Because they upload almost everything, even more so due to stress, missing pups were recovered very quickly, but commonly in a highly agitated state which prompts them to cling to rescuers and refuse to be separated. Like adults, pups stabilize within two weeks, but unlike adults, the experience seems to leave its mark on the pup psyche that, in varying degrees, remains with the individual into adulthood. (It is unknown if early isolation experiences make one more prone to severe isolation sicknesses as an adult, although tracking studies of isolated pups have suggested this to be the case.)
Due to pups' habits of getting anywhere they are told not to be and seeking out the new and exciting, many often accompany adults on whatever "cool and awesome" thing it is that the adults are up to. Because of this, one very much has to try, in a lot of cases, to be separated from all pups for the requisite period to develop an isolation sickness. But for outside influence, isolation sicknesses are highly uncommon and very easily prevented.
The first known case of isolation sickness involved a woman who had been thought dead after wandering into the Frozen Wastes and not returning for almost a year. Initially violently hostile to anyone who approached her, she fell into an almost comatose calm when she encountered pups again (who were drawn there by the scene). After some discussion, the clan doctors allowed her to maintain contact and discovered that within days she was coherent enough to describe her experiences, including a "desperate loneliness" that clawed at her until she reached the village. It is from this that the term "isolation sickness" was coined. Ever since then, the condition has been studied and treated wherever it has been found. For much of its history it occurred in individuals who had gone into the wastes for coming of age and citizenship ordeals, and the "prisoner of war" variant of cause was much rarer. "Missing in action" cases only gained any statistical significance when inter-planetary warfare became commonplace, as lightyears are often enough to do the trick. In the present day, some researchers believe study of isolation sicknesses may also provide insight into the workings of the Collective.
Remove these ads. Join the Worldbuilders Guild