Jamie Henry, the narrator of Complicit is given many diagnoses and explanations for the physiological symptoms he fights on a daily basis. At one point he is told that he has Conversion Disorder which seems to explain many of his troubles, including the paralysis of his hands when facing a stressful situation.
Conversion Disorder is a type of Somatoform Disorder — a mental illness where an individual reveals psychological stress in physical ways. (For related information about Somatization, please refer to Beyond the Book for One Doctor). There is a wide range of severity and frequency within this diagnosis. The symptom could be as simple as a stomach ache or as complex and limiting as complete paralysis. There is no clear physiological explanation for the symptoms and they cannot be controlled or stopped on demand. The physiological response is often directly related to the experience. For example, an individual who was unable to warn someone of impending danger may lose his/her voice. Or a bad fall may cause patients to feel pain or paralysis in the leg despite the fact there was no actual injury. There have even been instances of a woman developing all the symptoms of pregnancy following the loss of a child.
Generally symptoms of Conversion Disorder affect either motion or any of the five senses. Symptoms related to motion include weakness of a specific body part, abnormal movement, loss of balance, episodes of non-responsiveness, or seizures. The senses may be impacted by experiencing strange smells, a loss of taste, blindness or hearing loss. Historically, Conversion Disorder was also called Hysteria.
In 2011, several teen girls from LeRoy, New York, exhibited a Tourette-like condition with tics and verbal outbursts. After ruling out possibilities such as reactions to an environmental contamination, vaccine, or a disease, doctors identified the problem as mass Conversion Disorder.
Although Conversion Disorder is almost always caused by a traumatic experience, individuals may be more at risk for developing this type of response if they have other emotional disorders such as depression, mood disorder, or anxiety. A history of child abuse or neglect may significantly impact its development.
This article was originally published in July 2014, and has been updated for the
March 2016 paperback release.
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