Ex-nurse Karen Olah felt like a prisoner in her own body when she was struck down with a
rare condition called conversion disorder.
The normally bubbly, confident woman was unable to walk or do simple tasks.
But after treatment, which she has called “miraculous” Karen, 57, has thrown away her wheelchair and is putting on her dancing shoes.
Conversion disorder is a mental condition that can cause paralysis and other neurological symptoms.
It hit Karen out of the blue 18 months ago. She said: “I’d worked as a clinical sister for many years. I’d suffered some bouts of depression but I was an active person. I met my husband Andrew and we had two girls.
“Then one day I began to feel unwell. I felt anxious to the extent that I was eventually unable to do anything.
“I couldn’t clean the house or cook or go shopping or dance with my husband, all the normal things.”
It became so bad that Karen had to go into a hospital day unit for three months for treatment.
Her condition stemmed from depression. She had a traumatic past with an abusive childhood and her memories began to come up and cause her extreme anxiety.
As the condition got worse she suffered paralysis. Her husband had to push her around in a wheelchair. She said: “I felt like a prisoner in my own body. I lost friends and my world suddenly became very small.
“I was so down and I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Karen had a brain scan and various medications but nothing worked. It wasn’t until she received her discharge papers from the hospital that they told her what was wrong with her.
Karen, from Hemel Hempstead, Herts, was desperate and contacted St Alban’s-based psychoanalyst Steve McKeown. Then she began to get her life back.
She recalled: “I was wheeled into his consulting room by my husband Andrew and by the time the session was over I got out of the chair and walked. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe it.
“Steve told me I could walk but I just needed to change the way I thought about things. It was as if I had to remap my mind to believe I could walk.
“He told me that I could walk out of the room – and I did. I had my freedom back. I was able to cook.
“My husband and I had a little dance around the living room. I’m so grateful to my husband for his support and for Steve for helping me. I’ve had a new lease of life.
“I’ve been taught that once a negative thought comes into my mind I have to interrupt it then think of something positive to stop the negative thought from taking over.
“I want other people with this disorder to know you can get help. It is not a life sentence. I’m living the life I deserve.”
Therapist Steve McKeown said: “Conversion disorder is caused by stress and emotional trauma and it is when the mental side causes physical symptoms like not being able to walk.
“Karen had been led to believe the disorder could be permanent. I gave her hope and advised her that this may not be indefinite and that she first needed to believe she had the ability to change her condition and to take responsibility and then to undergo coherence therapy to deal with the underline trauma.
“It was my job to both encourage and empower Karen to change her outcome.
“We dealt with many traumatic memories at the beginning and then my focus was to help change her mindset by managing her thoughts more efficiently.”
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