Freud’s Victorian hysterics have not disappeared. They’re right here–in this amazing story about mass psychogenic illness sweeping through a group of teenage girls in upstate New York. But people are loathe to believe it. They’d prefer the cause to be toxins in the water, poisonous gases in the air, hazardous waste in the soil. They’d rather be physically ill with an autoimmune disease. “To many parents, the diagnosis was woefully inadequate, even insulting.’It’s a very hard pill for me to swallow — what are we, living in the 1600s?’ the guardian of one of the girls said.”
The article’s descriptions of a girl with “her chin…jutting forward uncontrollably and her face…contracting into spasms,” and others with twitches, jerks, and flailing arms, sound a lot like Keira Knightley’s performance as the hysteric Sabina Spielrein in the terrific film about psychoanalysis A Dangerous Method.
But nowhere in the article is psychoanalysis mentioned–the practice that has been known for over a century to help treat and cure hysteria, now called “conversion disorder.”
Whether a century ago or today, the fact remains: We all have an unconscious mind–and we are not in control.