Several years ago I was in a psychiatric hospital for an eating disorder. In the first 3 months whenever I got brought to the dining room I’d lose control of my arm so I couldn’t move it to pick up a fork to eat my food. I had to have the staff move it for me. What’s odd is I wasn’t resisting or I’d stop the staff members moving my arm for me. And I’d try to give it commands but it wouldn’t move. Obviously this is psychological and I did have control but it wasn’t until 3 months later that I could move my arm to eat food. I really have no idea what this was, or why I did it, no ones ever explained this to me. I never knew you could discommunicate part of your body. I’ve looked online for answers but there was nothing and as far as I’m aware I was the only one who ever did this. Is there a name for this behavior or is it just me who has done this?

A. You might be describing a psychosomatic symptom or somatization. Essentially, this means severe psychological distress is being expressed as physical symptoms. These types of ailments may be broadly categorized as psychosomatic disorders.

More specifically, conversion disorders (also known as functional neurological symptom disorder) is a type of somatic symptom. Its symptoms involve voluntary motor or sensory functions that suggest a neurologic or general medical condition. Thorough evaluations and neurological tests finds that there are no neurological problems and thus no physical problems to explain the symptoms. People with conversion symptoms have experienced paralysis, blindness, seizures, and other medical conditions that cannot be explained by physical problems. Once neurological and organic medical causes have been ruled out, a psychological cause is considered. It’s possible that the stress of your eating disorder or the psychological problems that caused your eating disorder, had led to your arm paralysis.

An alternative explanation may be that you were having a physical problem with your arm. However, the fact that you regained control after three months, would suggest that the cause was psychological and not physical. Ideally, you should have undergone neurological testing to determine the cause. You were in the hospital at the time indicating that you likely were evaluated. I wonder if they too thought the cause was psychological and not physical.

Hopefully, you have gained control over your eating disorder or it is a thing of the past. If not, I would encourage you to continue to seek help. Eating disorders are serious conditions that significantly interfere with the quality of one’s life but the good news is they are treatable and can be overcome.

Psychotherapy is an evidence-based treatment for eating disorders and conversion disorders. You might explore the use of hypnosis. Be certain to choose an experienced hypnotist who comes highly recommended. Thank you for your question. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle