Conversion Disorder: A Personal Experience

By Sally Collins, LPN
For: Bangari Medical Content

A conversion disorder is a mental conversion of stress, anxiety and depression into a physical manifestation of a condition or illness.  There are many types of conversion disorders.  One common type of conversion is muscle pain that comes and goes with stress.  Many health professionals believe that Fibromyalgia is a type of conversion, because most people who suffer from fibro also suffer from depression.  Exercise is the treatment of choice for people suffering from fibromyalgia, but their constant cycle of pain causes inactivity.  Most people suffering from the aches and pains associated with depression don’t feel like exercising because it hurts too much to move, and they don’t have the motivation to get up and start moving because they are, literally, sorely depressed. Depression hurts!

Are conversion disorders psychosomatic illnesses?

Conversion may sound like a new type of illness, but it’s not.  It’s just got a new name.  Have you ever heard the word, hysteria?  Hysteria has always been associated with women, but men can suffer from psycho induced illnesses too, so the proper and more current name for these types of illnesses is conversion.

What is the difference between a conversion reaction and a conversion disorder?

Many people, who suffer from conversion disorders, may also occasionally suffer from conversion reactions.  Fainting upon hearing shocking bad news, is a good example. Conversion reactions are short lived conversions which last as long as a stressful situation occurs and goes away when the situation or crisis is resolved.   However, with a conversion disorder the conversion may last for days, weeks or even months and years.  People who suffer from conversion disorders often build up stress; we bank it up in our bodies and it has to go somewhere.  The brain converts it to a physical ailment.

How do doctors know when you have a conversion disorder?

A conversion disorder will usually mimic a serious condition, such as blindness, paralysis of a limb, aphasia (the inability to speak), apraxia (the inability to move muscles associated with speech), stuttering, stammering, and so on.  When you go to your doctor with a conversion disorder, your doctor will not automatically think your illness is all in your head.  Your symptoms will look like and manifest as a real illness or condition, but when tests are run, the tests will all be normal.

For instance, if you wake up one morning and you are blind, you will most likely seek medical treatment immediately.  The doctor will perform tests, and while you cannot see, your optic nerves and other structures associated with sight will come back normal.  The doctor will likely order a CT of the head and an MRI of the head to see if anything is causing your blindness.

I have a few different types of conversion; I have stammering, aphasia and apraxia.  The aphasia manifests as forgetting how to speak.  I don’t have the words in my head to listen to in order to talk.  When the apraxia occurs, I know what I want to say but the muscles in my face, lips and tongue won’t work properly to form words.  With the stammering, I get stuck on certain sounds and can’t get past them.  I have learned how to listen to my voice inside my head to reduce the stammering, so it’s not quite as frustrating if I slow down and listen and try to repeat what I hear in my head one word at a time.

Follow this discussion, and participate:

Do you want to know more about conversion disorders?  I have a series of articles that I will be posting, and will include some video of my own conversion disorder. As a nurse, and a Christian, I am taking a very personal (obviously, because it took me a while to talk myself into sharing those videos!) and Biblical approach to this psychological phenomenon called “conversion” formerly know as hysteria. Can you offer any personal experience on this topic? I hope you will share. Together, we can help each other, and help others. Drop a comment, and follow new comments.


6 responses to “Conversion Disorder: A Personal Experience

  1. Thanks for sharing Sally! There is something going on with this in New York. It’s actually just been diagnosed as “mass conversion” and “mass hysteria” -In a sense, conversion disorders are being called ‘contagious’…This is a really interesting topic, I’m sure lot’s of people are going to get involved in the discussion online.

  2. Thanks for posting this Kevin. I saw on the news where there were mass conversions. I will be writing more as I am able to. Sometimes I still can’t talk, but it is when I get fatigued or frustrated.

  3. Pingback: Am I having a stroke, or conversion reaction? | Bangari Content Gallery

  4. Just to clarify, I have conversion disorder, and people with this dis-order do not necessarily have to have trauma in their life or in their past. I have seizures, and it is because the subconscious of my brain takes over the conscious. I do not have seizures because of anything I think of consciously. Research for this disorder is what started Physiological Studies, but not too many people are currently researching this topic. Conversion disorder is not do to a person being crazy, and it is not something a person can control. I have a 3.9 majors GPA in college and I have this disorder but often at hospitals I am accused of begin crazy or making it up. People who are intelligent do not need to make up or “fake seizures” because they know it does not benefit their life. More research needs to be done!

  5. I agree Rachel! Are there any cases where the disorder just goes away?

    • Sally Collins

      I have complex partial seizures. For years I was diagnosed with conversion and told I needed a psychiatrist. I went to a neuo and he found I was having seizures. I’m on 3 meds for them. They have slowed down but I still have at least 2 a week that I’m aware of.

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