Physical reaction to stress – conversion disorder

A couple of weeks ago I had stroke like symptoms, my left arm and hand was numb with a lack of power, this was more than my usual dissociative symptoms that I often experience, my vision went strange with loss of peripheries and a sink hole / tunnel vision type experience. I couldn’t express myself articulately and I felt sick. An ambulance took me to A&E due to the stroke like nature of this attack – I had tests and everything came back clear. The conclusion – conversion disorder, also known as functional neurological disorder.

Conversion disorder is where the body experiences somatic / neurological symptoms but without a physical medical cause. It is caused by trauma and distress, anxiety and stress. A physical reaction to the brain processing stress, and sometimes even body re-experiencing, physical flash backs. Symptoms are real, frightening and alarming. Knowing the difference between it being a medical cause or a functional cause is difficult. I didn’t know until the CT & MRI scan results came back normal that this is really what had happened.

I have had stroke like symptoms before, less than a year ago when I was in York, all tests again normal. It was scary and frightening and I didn’t know if I would get the use of my arm back, but I am pleased it resolved itself that time and this time again now.

I use to be an A&E nurse myself and have witnessed these presentations, including pseudo-seizures, pseudo-unresponsiveness, which I also have had in the past myself. Being on the other side and receiving treatment for this was an awful experience, I was treated by a particular nurse like I was faking it. I get that there is nothing medical treatment can do, but I also know there is no way I could or would fake it, and why would I do that? I have many nurse friends and ex-colleagues and I know they would have just comforted and reassured, it is a shame I came across this hostile approach. I hope other people that experience a psycho-somatic / functional episode do not meet this in hospital, that they get treated with dignity and respect, that the medical team will not treat them as fakes or attention seekers, that they will know some serious distress has gone on for these symptoms to present and they will offer support, refer to psychiatrist and not just leave them with the news that everything is normal! Yes medically it may be, but clearly help is needed.

I’m pleased I can say I have recovered from what happened a couple of weeks ago and I pray nothing like it happens again. I hope by sharing this it will raise awareness of conversion disorder and help medical staff know how to meet this if they see it in their A&E departments.

I will find out tomorrow from my mental health team what path we are going to take in terms of moving forward with treatment and therapy. In the meantime, I will keep focused on cycling and running which has been a huge benefit to my mood and mental state. I couldn’t ride my bike for a few days after being in hospital as it took some time for my hand to come back, but I managed a 23 mile ride yesterday and loved it! My mum and sister have a horse each so I have also been enjoying some equine therapy, being outdoors helps so much, I am not a horsey person, I am usually weary of them, but am enjoying my time getting to know ‘Socks’ and ‘Storm’. I am trying to stay positive and focused and hope there is a good way forward from here. I am determined to get my life back, I am determined to be happy and healthy again.


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