Conversion Disorder: Can You See It?


Barrelling down a seemingly empty Pennsylvania highway, Ayanna anxiously starts biting her thumbnail, and begins whispering under her breath, “I’m gonna be late to my last stop! Why am I always late?!” It’s almost dawn and she is straining to see the road and signs ahead. Ayanna rubs her eyes wondering why everything seems so blurry. She had only been driving for an hour, so her eyes should not be this tired. Yet, even the speedometer on the dashboard seemed fuzzy. Brushing this concern aside, she continues to stress over her deadline. “What will my supervisor say if I miss a shipment again? I can’t handle all this stress, but I can not afford to lose another job due to my anxiety.” As Ayanna is approaching her last station for pick up, her eyesight gets progressively worse. It becomes so bad that right after her shift finishes, she calls a taxi that rushes her to the nearest hospital. As she is brought to the Emergency Room, a nurse comforts her and asks how she can help. Unable to hide the panic in her voice Ayanna replies to the nurse in a distressed whisper, “I can’t see!”

The anxiety that results from Ayanna’s worrying thoughts is an example of conversion disorder. This is a type of functional neurological disorder. Though there is no evidence of a physical cause, this condition has symptoms that can affect a person’s perceptions, sensation, or movement(s) and can be a product of high-stress levels. “Typically these disorders affect your movement or your senses, such as the ability to walk, swallow, see or hear” (Mayo Clinic, 2019). As in Ayanna’s case, she could not see the road completely because her traumatizing thoughts left her with a loss of sensation in her eyes, resulting in a prolonged period of blindness. This condition is known to co-occur or be a product of depression and anxiety disorders. Therefore, conversion disorder can be experienced with, or can be a result of, somatic symptoms disorder and illness anxiety disorder, due to similarities in each disorder’s anxiety levels. The commonality of this disorder in no way undermines the difficulty in experiencing it. In addition, the fact that treatment is both achievable and successful can bring a sense of hope to many. successful (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Treatment for conversion disorder is much like somatic symptoms disorder because there are overlapping symptoms experienced, such as excessive pain and changes in perception. This disorder is dissimilar to illness anxiety disorder in that there is usually little to no symptoms exhibited at all (Cleveland Clinic, 2015). Conversion disorder differs from the two in that “symptoms tend to come on suddenly and may last for a while or may go away quickly” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Conversion disorder also finds its individuality in its treatment process. The disorder needs to be addressed with different medical perspectives, besides having primary care check-ups and trusted therapist appointments. Treatment for this type of neurological disorder normally requires a team of multiple professionals from different specialties. This health professional team includes a neurologist, a psychiatrist or other mental health professionals, and speech, physical and occupational therapists. Regardless of the specialty, all have the same goal for one’s success in individualized treatment (Mayo Clinic, 2019).

It is important to remember that though this experience is extremely difficult and overwhelming, it is more than reasonable to hope for change because “many, even most, conversion symptoms fade quickly and spontaneously” (Harvard Health Publishing, 2014). Therefore anyone who finds themselves in a situation such as Ayanna’s, can achieve a better quality of life with the help of specialized professionals and a few trusted individuals.

References:

American Psychiatric Association. Illness Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved October 20, 2019, from,

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/somatic-symptom-disorder/what-is-somatic-symptom-disorder

Cleveland Clinic. Illness Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved October 20, 2019, from,

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9886-illness-anxiety-disorder-beyond-hypochondriasis

Harvard Health Publishing. Conversion Disorder. Retrieved October 27, 2019, from, https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Conversion_disorder

Mayo Clinic. Conversion Disorder. Retrieved October 20, 2019, from, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/conversion-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355197

(n.d.). Retrieved from, https://pixabay.com/photos/blindfolded-blind-hair-girl-woman-1732539/

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