So often I am saddened by the view of many people about this disorder I have experienced firsthand in my life. Everyone is so afraid of being labeled as crazy, or they are so afraid of labeling themselves as crazy, that they often mess up the truth behind conversion disorder. Conversion disorder is not all in your head. It is not faked symptoms. It is real!
Please note that I use the term conversion disorder because that is the one that was used when I was first diagnosed back in 1991. I think it does apply though I rarely get into the semantics of what label to put on a condition because in the end, I think it does very little to advance the understanding of how to treat it. A newer label for this condition is now called functional neurological disorder and I have no problem with this term or with conversion disorder.
They Don’t Fully Understand
Too many in the medical establishment struggle with this disorder because they don’t understand it fully and even if they do, patients are often difficult to help. All too often, patients want someone to solve the issue for them with a pill or procedure, looking to an outside person as having the key to their healing. While this is expected because the condition is difficult to go through, an outside person can only do so much. It is up to the individual to do the heavy work, while an outside person is there in a role of helping someone to travel down the road where they need to go.
In the end, though, labeling conversion disorder or functional neurological disorder in conjunction with crazy is ridiculous. These symptoms are not faked for the most part, unless they turn into a hysteria type situation. For people truly going through this disorder, the symptoms are as real as they can get, although medical tests and knowledge may never be able to quantitatively analyze and evaluate them.
The most important thing someone can do to help them heal from this condition, is take off the blinders in life and set aside their beliefs about how things heal or change in their body and their life. What you have known to this point has most likely not helped you heal, and so it is time to move towards a different approach. If you feel like you hold all the answers and knowledge to your life at this moment, you are missing the path to healing.
Does Not Mean Something Is Wrong With You
Conversion disorder does not mean that something is wrong with you or that you are broken or unfixable. I cringe every time I hear someone saying that a person with conversion disorder is unfixable or broken. This is simply not the case, unless we allow it to be.
All this condition means is that you have experienced something in your life that has had an impact on your physical body. It is somatization to the maximum degree, resulting from experiences in your life that have manifested into real-time physical symptoms. This is not a life sentence and it can be healed and worked through, just as I was able to do in my own life. It may feel like there are no answers or there is no way forward, but there is! I can say that without a doubt, using my own life as an example.
The Electrical Circuit Example
An example that I often use to explain this, is easy and simple to understand. Consider an electrical circuit in your house. Over the years you begin plugging electrical appliances and devices into one outlet. You may add a power strip or adapters to keep adding devices, but slowly you add things on to it one by one. No one device causes any problem until one day, the breaker or fuse on that electrical circuit is tripped. Now, none of the devices work. So, was it the last device that you put on, or was it all the devices leading up to that moment the breaker tripped the circuit? Or was it the initial device you plugged in?
In the same way, our body is like this example. We go through experiences, with some being major and some being minor. Even if the experiences were traumatic, our brains have a way of minimizing what really happened. In order to protect us, our brain tries to downplay what happened so we are able to survive. As we go through life, we may experience more and more of these things, while our brain keeps them out of our consciousness. We may not even realize that they exist, or that we keep plugging them into our electrical circuit of the body (a.k.a the nervous system). So as we keep going, we fail to take any of the old devices or experiences off the electrical circuit and then all of the sudden, our body begins to break down physically or shuts down. Just like in the example above, the switch to the electrical circuit is tripped.
By this time, no one thinks about what devices have been put on to the circuit. In fact, it may be difficult to identify all of them that are plugged into this outlet. Most of the time, we are so concerned with the tripped electrical circuit or the symptoms that are taking us under, that we miss the most obvious place to begin treatment. So, too, in our body, we may not be able to identify all the experiences we have overloaded our nervous system with, and they may seem like tiny little plugs and tiny little electrical devices. Regardless of how big or small the experience may seem, the combination of these things is what has led up to this point.
If someone with a conversion disorder spends 1000% of their time trying to identify every square millimeter of the electrical plug or the color of it or the design, it may yield very little in terms of finding a way to unplug it from the nervous system. While it may be necessary in the beginning to look at some of these things, don’t get lost in the identification of the symptoms and causes, because it will only take you part way down the road to healing. Acknowledge them, but look deeper into your life.
Conversion Disorder Can Be Healed
Conversion disorder or functional neurological disorder can only be healed by going into the body and learning how to feel and sense. The felt sense or the connection between what you feel and what you consciously connect to in the mind has been shut off from all the experiences you have been through. The experiences need not be gigantic, either, because the little experiences can add up just as much. Once you go in and learn to feel and sense, you will begin the process of becoming aware of your body and consciously connecting with the part within you that has been shut off . From our example, the more you are able to unplug the various devices from the electrical circuit, or the more you can heal yourself from your life’s experiences, the more the nervous system will work for you, not against you.
It is a process that requires us to go within, moving and pushing past our fears and beliefs. The more we hold on to the pain and misery we are in or we have suffered, the more difficult and slow our healing process will be. I fully realize that this may sound too simple to be true, but I know firsthand that this is what truly healed me. It was when I made the decision to become aware and heal that I began the process. The moment I made the connection between my physical condition of a conversion disorder and things I had been through, that’s the moment things began to change and I began to walk again. Of course, I could not describe what all those events were in my life at that moment, but I knew deep down that they were there and I could no longer pretend that they did not exist.
Unrelated Events Send Us Over The Edge
Often in conversion disorder, there is some unrelated event that sends us over the edge. It may not have much to do with the original event that happened. In my case, a fire in a barn of pigs that I was caring for was the trigger to an event in the past. The smells that I endured that day and the screams I heard, put me right back in a situation from many years earlier. I did not realize it at the time. Of course, it wasn’t immediate, but over the course of days and weeks after this barn fire, the physical pain started in and all of the sudden one day, my legs shut down without any warning. The event of the fire was not even the connection to the most difficult traumatic experience I endured. It was just one of many, but it took a great deal of time and therapy to help uncover and heal from the other traumatic experiences.
Today I have fully healed from this condition. No one that knows me or sees me would even begin to recognize I was once paralyzed, unable to feel and talk or take care of myself. Yes, it took some difficult moments of striving to heal and trying to figure out this process for myself, but I was always determined that at age 26, I was not going to live like this for the rest of my life.
In 1991 when I went through the conversion disorder, there was no internet to search to learn about this condition. In fact, I didn’t even know that this was the condition I had. Most medical professionals realize that sometimes it is best to not share this diagnosis because it can really send a patient over the edge. I understand this treatment philosophy, but at the same time, I think it is helpful to know what you are dealing with in life.
I Had To Find My Own Path
Most likely it helped that I did not know much about this because I had to find my own path through it. I had to struggle and find the courage to face down my fears, anxiety, and physical limitations. I had to allow myself to go into areas that I didn’t want to face, and I didn’t even fully understand or realize what they were. I had to allow myself to stretch beyond my belief system to find true healing.
My path took me through psychiatric counseling and group therapy, so I could be strong enough to function in society. It took me through the struggle of trying to integrate myself back into my job where everything was difficult, from aspects of my memory, to dealing with anxiety attacks and just being able to function energetically in a day. The journey of this part of my healing took place over several years and at the time, I had no idea if I would ever get beyond it.
Then in 2003, I went to massage school and learned what healthy touch was about for my own body . This began my waking up process where I could begin to feel in my body. It ultimately led me to the work of Unified Therapy, created by Dr. Paul Canali. He helped me connect the last piece of my healing together, learning how to become consciously connected to my body and to interact with my biology in a way that helped me to release, heal, and take back the essence of who I was.
Today, no one could tell by being around me that I had once been paralyzed and came close to my brain shutting down completely. There is no evidence today that my speech was once extremely slow, and that movement of any kind was difficult. I look perfectly normal today and I function as any other person would in the course of a day. I hold an active schedule and am discovering more and more about my mind and body every day that I am alive. No longer do I take walking for granted because I am so happy to be alive and living a life full of vitality and energy.