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Understanding Conversion Disorder

Understanding Conversion Disorder
I could tell you that it is one or more symptoms affecting voluntary motor or sensory function caused by a neurological or other general medical condition brought on by stress or trauma. I could also tell you that it is now being referred to as Functional Neurological Disorder or Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder. Of course with all that, I’m sure you would walk away wondering what all that means. If you’re confused, don’t feel alone because I too would be at this same point.

Conversion Disorder can show up in many ways, from blindness to paralysis or pseudo-seizures. It could involve a weakness in the legs or arms, numbness, loss of sensation and feeling, slurred speech, vision problems, and the list could go on and on for some time. There really is no end to the ways in which it can appear.


Prevailing Understanding And Belief

I think the prevailing understanding and belief is that in order for Conversion Disorder to appear, there needs to be trauma or stressful events. I know that the minute you make that statement, the defenses usually go up and people often say, “there was no trauma, and the patient has not had any more stress than any other person has.” It’s ok if you want to believe that, but if you do, it will not help in the treatment and healing from Conversion Disorder.

In fact, I don’t think you need to know what that event was at the moment this unfolds. While it would be very helpful in treatment, don’t stress out over the story. You may or may not be conscious of it at that moment. You may have an idea that there is something in the dark recesses of your mind’s closet, but the details remain fuzzy at best. Don’t get caught up in your own defenses in regards to the story in the early phases of diagnosis. It is not the time for it.


My Own Recovery

Most of what I am writing here is because of my own story in recovering and healing from Conversion Disorder. In the early days of diagnosis, I had doctors thinking I had multiple sclerosis and panic attacks. Most of the medical professionals were at a loss to how to explain or diagnose it, so they would send me home to be cared for by family and friends. Test after test showed nothing physically wrong with me, but I was paralyzed and had pseudo-seizures along with weakness, unresponsiveness, and lack of feeling and slurred to slow speech. I was not able to physically care for myself at this time.

In the early days, I could not have told you what I can tell you now about the trauma and stressful events of my life. I was so out of it and so out of touch with reality, that any story of my life was a happy, carefree one with smiles every day. I showed the world that everything was okay in my life, while being completely oblivious to the pain and secrets I was holding deep within my brain and my body.


Conversion Disorder Is Real – Not Made Up!

Conversion Disorder is not something that patients make up. It is not symptoms that are in their head. It is not something they are faking. If you subscribe to these statements in your practice, please disregard them at once. They are not helpful to anyone, including the doctor or the patient.

Conversion Disorder is rooted in something that happened at some point in the patient’s life. More than likely there is some form of trauma, whether it is childhood abuse, a horrible tragedy they witnessed, or some other event that may seem perfectly normal to most, but not to the patient. Remember, what we may judge the event to be, may be different than reality and so our judgment should not be the facts on which we base everything.


My Example Of Conversion Disorder

Just like the example I have used many times, including the Dr. Drew show back in 2012, Conversion Disorder can be compared to an electrical circuit in your house. If you start plugging every appliance into the same electrical circuit, at first it will not be a problem. Most likely the electrical circuit will continue to work as you put one item on and then the next. At some point though, you will overload the circuit and when you do, the breaker will trip. In Conversion Disorder, you keep adding trauma and/or stress on to the body until at some point the body trips, if there is no way to discharge what has taken place. Most of the population in this world does not know how to discharge trauma and stress, nor are there adequate ways to allow this to happen.

In Conversion Disorder, your mind and body become disconnected. You lose the sense of feeling and connectedness to your body. Being able to feel in your body is like trying to get someone to hear you without uttering a word. Your body is on autopilot and the signals between your brain and body do not reach each other.

In order to survive, the Conversion Disorder patient does what they learned to do all of their life: stuff everything down inside of them and go on in life as if nothing happened. They are masters at this and they do it unconsciously without even knowing that they are doing this.

To begin turning the system back on and resetting the tripped breaker of the electrical system, the patient needs to begin sensing and feeling in their body. This needs to be done through activating the mind-body connection, so that as they sense and feel in their body, their brain picks up the signal. It is about connecting physical body sensations with feeling and emotions in the brain. Counseling, relaxation, and meditation can be very helpful, but at the core of the healing is that the body and mind need to learn to once again talk together.


We All Somaticize

We all somaticize to one degree or another, where our stressful events become physical pain and disease, but in Conversion Disorder, patients take that to a whole new level. It becomes a somatoform disorder on steroids. Most of us can come back from stressful moments, but as they build up, especially after some traumatic event, it is next to impossible to find balance among life’s daily events.

Please keep in mind that what someone may witness or experience at an early age may be very traumatic, even if we don’t believe it is or we don’t see it the same way. What is traumatic to one, may not affect another in the same way. What is stressful to one person, may just be another event in the day of someone else. Stress and trauma affect us all differently, so please don’t judge the patient through your own filters.


There Is Healing From Conversion Disorder

There is healing from Conversion Disorder. It does take a lot of strength, determination and courage. You may find very little help out there for you and you will most likely find that most don’t fully understand this. It was thought to be very rare that this would show up, but a daily search on the subject is proving this to be incorrect.

Just because life seems like it is lost and out of your control, don’t give up. It may be hard to believe that you can come out of this, but I am living proof that you can. When I went through it in 1991, I had no online resources (there was no internet) and the medical professionals did not educate me on what had happened. It turned my entire world upside down. I lost everything in life. Once I began to acknowledge that I had experienced some horrible things in my life (even though I could not articulate them at that moment), I began to take my first step again in physical therapy. Some may call that a coincidence, but deep down, I know it was the connection I needed to make.

If you are a medical professional, please don’t feel like I am bashing you for not understanding this. I am attempting to elevate the level of knowledge and awareness on this subject, because we are failing miserably in treating this condition. When I read and hear stories of people being told to go back home because the medical community does not know what to do, my heart weeps. Let’s do better! Let’s pool our knowledge and resources together and throw off the blinders.


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