10 Superpowers Real People Have (And Why They’re Terrible)
Superpowered mutants aren’t just in comic books. There are real people who have been born with unusual gifts so incredible that they can only be described as superpowers. The difference, though, is that the real superpowered people don’t go around fighting crime. They just go around leading normal lives—and for a pretty good reason.
The superpowers you’ve always dreamed of having don’t always make life incredible. As the real people who have them know all too well, superhuman powers come with some absolutely horrible downsides—and they can make life a living hell.
10 The Little Girl Who Doesn’t Feel Pain
Olivia Farnsworth never feels pain. She was born with a condition called chromosome 6 deletion, which has left her with no sense of pain and no sense of danger whatsoever.
In some ways, it’s an incredible gift. It helped her survive getting hit by a car. The car drove over her chest and dragged her several yards before finally stopping—and yet, while her family freaked out, Olivia just got up, waved at her mother, and said, “What’s going on?” The only reason she survived was that her total lack of fear kept her from tensing up. Because she doesn’t feel pain, she wasn’t even bothered by what, for most of us, would have been a near-death experience.
For the most part, though, Olivia’s condition is pretty much just horrible for everybody all of the time. She never feels tired or hungry, so her mother has to pretty much force-feed her food and sleeping medication just to keep her alive. Plus, our bodies feel pain for a reason: to keep us from getting hurt. With Olivia, that’s never an issue—so she once managed to bite through her own lip without even noticing.
Maybe feeling ouchie every now and then isn’t such a bad deal after all.
9 The Woman With Perfect Memory
Jill Price never forgets anything. She’s been quizzed on everything that’s happened in her life, and she’s able to perfectly recall the date, time, and every tiny detail of everything she’s ever experienced. Her mind’s like an unending video recorder that can replay any moment from her past.
That sounds pretty cool—as long as you don’t have to live through it. Price herself, though, calls it “non-stop,” “uncontrollable,” and “totally exhausting.”
Her memory is so vivid that she has trouble focusing on what’s going on around her. She’s constantly distracted by recollections of the past, making it extremely difficult for her to focus on learning new things. And her memory doesn’t actually work on things that are worth remembering. She also only really remembers things from her own experiences—when she tries to memorize facts at school, her memory is, if anything, weaker than most other people.
It’s all caused her to become incredibly focused on herself. Price has 2,000 videotapes of herself, 50,000 pages of diary entries, and every stuffed animal she’s ever owned. It’s all enough to make one psychologist, Gary Marcus, suggest that her only real superpower is narcissism. Dr. Marcus says: “Price remembers so much about herself because she thinks about herself—and her past—almost constantly.”
But it’s hard to say what came first: the memory or the narcissism. The other possibility is that Price’s obsession with herself is just another tragic symptom of being cursed with a perfect memory, another way it keeps her disconnected from the world around her.
8 The Family With Unbreakable Bones
In 1994, a man known only as “John” got in a terrible car crash. By all rights, it should have killed him—but miraculously, John was completely unharmed. He had no spinal fractures and not a single broken bone. When the doctors looked into it, they realized that nobody in his family had ever broken in a bone in their whole lives.
You may recognize John’s life story as pretty much the plot of the movie Unbreakable. He’s a real-life movie hero—a man born with unbreakable bones that are eight times denser than the average person. And, like the movie, he says his greatest weakness is water: John is simply too heavy to swim.
But other people who share his condition have said that it makes life borderline unlivable in their later years. Their dense bones create what they’ve described as “pounding and nauseating headaches,” along with incredible fatigue and leg pains from dragging around their abnormally heavy skeletons.
When John gets a little older, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll realize that his problems are a lot worse than not being able to jump in a swimming pool.
7 The Woman Who Can See 100 Million Colors
Most people have three types of cones in their eyes, which allow them to see a spectrum of seven million colors. The other millions of colors out there in the universe are imperceptible to all but a few animals—and one woman who is only known by the code name “cDa29.”
CDa29 has four fully functioning color cone types, allowing her to see a massive spectrum of 100 million colors. She’s seen a whole rainbow of colors, including millions upon millions that the rest of us are incapable of even imagining.
This would be awesome—if anybody else could see them. As it stands, though, the practical result is that she just sees a bunch of colors that she can’t communicate to other people. For the most part, the complex shades she can see just make it hard for her to understand the colors other people are seeing. As a result, before it was confirmed that she had tetrachromatic vision, cDa29 was mistakenly labeled as color-blind.
There’s actually a theory that says that two to three percent of all women can see the full spectrum of 100 million colors but just don’t realize that there’s anything special about it. Instead, like cDa29, they usually just get written off as color-blind. And their male offspring actually are. In a strange twist of irony, the gene that lets some women see extra colors leaves men color-blind—meaning that cDa29 will never be able to share her unique vision with any of her sons.
6 The Man With Fantastically Stretchy Skin
Garry Turner is a real-life Mr. Fantastic. He was born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that gives him incredibly loose skin that can be stretched like a rubber band.
Also, he is in constant pain every moment of his life. From the moment he wakes up to the moment he drugs himself to sleep, Garry Turner feels a constant, searing pain below his skin that hurts so badly that he has to wear morphine patches just to get through the day.
His stretchy skin has also effectively left him a hemophiliac. The skin has a very hard time clotting blood, meaning that when he gets cut, blood usually just spills out of him without stopping.
He takes so much pain medication to get by that he often passes out, sometimes staying unconscious for as long as 40 hours before he can snap out of it. The constant bouts of unconsciousness made it impossible for him to finish school, severely affecting his options for the rest of his life.
The only way he’s been able to get by is to take up a job as a circus performer. He works as part of a modern freak show, showing off his condition that tortures him for the entertainment of others.
5 The Woman With Mutant Super Beauty
Elizabeth Taylor is a mutant—technically speaking. Her dazzling, blue-violet eyes and doubly thick set of eyelashes are the results of a mutation of the FOXC2 gene that affects some women, causing them to grow extra eyelashes and to have a particularly stunning iris hue.
The advantages to superhuman beauty are pretty obvious. In Elizabeth Taylor’s case, they helped propel her to superstardom. But it doesn’t always work out as well as it did for her. The FOXC2 mutation can cause hair to grow in some uncomfortable places. Often, those extra eyelashes will rub against the woman’s eyeball, which can be so irritating that it’ll make them tear up. And if left untreated, it can even break down the surface cells on the eye until it starts to hurt her vision—or even makes her go blind.
The mutation is also linked to a high risk of heart problems. Women with the FOXC2 mutation are at a significantly higher risk of heart disease.
Incidentally, that was what ultimately killed Elizabeth Taylor. And if Taylor’s eight marriages prove anything, it’s that set of beautiful eyes can put a woman through a life of heartbreak before it finally makes the heart give out altogether.
4 The Man Who Was Immune To AIDS
Steve Crohn had an inexplicable genetic mutation. For some reason, he was immune to AIDS.
As he was a gay man living through the HIV epidemic, Crohn seemed, from the outside, to be as lucky as any man could be. While the sexually transmitted disease was killing everyone around him, Crohn stayed in perfect health, which sounds amazing—as long as you don’t think about it.
Crohn was forced to go on living while watching everyone he cared about die. Here’s how he described his experience:
What’s hard is living with the continuous grief. You kept losing people every year—six people, seven people. [ . . . ] It’s not easy, when you’re losing friends and you’re that young, and it goes on for such a long period of time.
Crohn ended up going to doctor after doctor, begging them to study him, because he simply couldn’t understand why he was still alive. They ended up finding out that he had a genetic mutation that made him resistant to AIDS—but they couldn’t actually do anything with it. They weren’t able to use Crohn’s condition to save the life of anybody else.
In the end, watching his friends die became too much for Crohn to handle. When he was 66 years old, he resolved to join them. Steve Crohn committed suicide.
3 The Woman With Super Hearing
Justine Mitchell was 39 years old when she got superhuman hearing. She developed a condition called superior canal dehiscence that caused everything she heard to be amplified to incredible degrees. She was like Superman, basically, except that it was bit more socially acceptable for her to walk around in blue tights.
As it turns out, though, having super hearing makes life—in Mitchell’s words—“a misery.” Mitchell’s hearing was so strong that she could hear her own eyeballs moving. She said that moving her eyes to the side “sounded like sandpaper on wood in my head.”
When your eyeballs are deafening, every other sound is absolute torture. Mitchell could hear own heartbeat as loud as a drum. The hiss of a coffee machine was so loud that it made it hard for her to stay upright, and her own voice would make her nauseous.
Eventually, Mitchell managed to get rid of her super hearing through a lifesaving operation. It wasn’t easy—the doctors gave her the choice between having her skull cracked open so they could operate on her brain or plugging her ear canal with extra bits of muscle from around the ear—but Mitchell said it was more than worth it to be able to walk down a hall without passing out.
2 The Man With Super Intelligence
Daniel Tammet has a superhuman brain. He’s capable of reciting pi by memory to 22,514 decimal places, and he can master languages faster than most people can master asking where the washroom is. For example, after only spending one week of studying the language, he conducted a full interview in near-flawless Icelandic.
All of that would be great, if all life required from people was to recite the digits of pi. But for Tammet, who has Asperger’s, and his extremely logical brain, a lot of the illogical things the rest of us do are almost impossible to understand.
“My brain breaks everything down into concretes and tangibles,” Tammet has explained. “I find intangibles hard to understand.”
Things like putting on a DVD, calling a taxi, or doing algebra equations—which use letters to represent unknowns—are very confusing for Tammet. And he gets so easily distracted that he isn’t allowed to drive a car. But the hardest challenge for him is understanding when other people’s actions don’t make perfect, scientific sense. Emotions, in particular, are very confusing for him.
Tammet says that, when he used his abilities to pull off a real-life Rain Man victory at Vegas, he had to put a fake show of happiness. He didn’t really feel much of anything, but he did for everyone watching him. He knew it was what they expected.
1 The Man Who Fears Nothing
Jordy Cernik isn’t afraid of anything. He doesn’t even have to option to be afraid—over the course of two surgeries, undertaken to treat his Cushing’s syndrome, he had the glands that produce adrenaline removed. And now he’s physically incapable of being scared.
There are some definite upsides to living without fear. Cernik can jump out of a plane without feeling even the slightest bit of nervousness. And he does, often. He’s started using his special power to do stunts to raise money for charity.
But jumping out of a plane doesn’t really give Cernik the same thrill it gives the rest of us. In fact, pretty much everything is boring for him. He’s said that when he goes on roller-coaster rides with his family, he’s about as excited as we would be sitting still at the kitchen table.
That doesn’t mean he feels nothing, though. Cernik does feel one thing: constant, unending pain. He still suffers from Cushing’s syndrome, which has left him with brittle, arthritic bones. Now that he doesn’t have adrenaline, though, he no longer has one of the body’s most potent natural painkillers—meaning that every ache he feels is far, far worse.