Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

9 03 2010

Last night I dreamed that I was put into prison for a crime I didn’t commit.  I was filled with sadness not just for the life I was leaving, but the life that I would never get to live.

In the developed world, in addition to our material luxuries, we are blessed with stability and predictability.  Our governments do not change through coups, we generally don’t have rebel groups operating within our borders, and our children usually make it to adulthood.  Much of the world does not live with such a sense of security.

I woke up thinking about Uganda, and everything the people here have been through.  The older people can remember colonial rule, two reigns of Milton Obote, Idi Amin’s terror and the horrific activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army.  On top of that, how many children and grandchildren have they lost to malaria or other illnesses?  And it is not just in the past.  In the last ten years, how many have lost homes, lives or livelihoods to one or another rebel group, political regime or natural disaster like the mudslides in Mbale last week?

What does it do to one’s psyche to live in a perpetual state of insecurity?  To feel like you can’t count on having any future, much less one of your own designing?  The phrase that came into my head this morning was “pre-traumatic stress disorder.”  This term gained some traction last year in relation to Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist who went on a shooting rampage after receiving orders to deploy to Afghanistan.

I have no doubt that I would be a little freaked out, too, if I knew I had 30 days before I would be sent into a death trap like Afghanistan.  Who knows what I might do?  But at least I would have a specific date and event to process.  What about people who have to live day to day with the idea that something might happen?  Or, more accurately, people who have little reason to think that something won’t happen because so many things already have?

I am not saying that the unexpected doesn’t happen everywhere.  Sadly, and ironically, in the middle of writing this entry, I received an e-mail telling me that a friend just died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.  In gang-ridden cities throughout the United States, mothers send their kids off to school and pray to see them again at the end of the day.  It can happen anywhere.  However, most of us living in the developed world can make plans for our futures, and can envision the adulthood our kids will grow into, without worrying that we are putting too much hope into something that might never come to be.  How might we live differently, and how might we be differently, if that wasn’t the case?  How can we live more compassionately towards those who aren’t so lucky?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala




6 responses

10 03 2010
Mike Brady

I wasn’t just being nice when I originally said I thought you made interesting points but then stretch it with hyperbole. It’s the exaggeration I take exception to.

I agree with you with stress is a true thing, and the anxiety/worry/stress about your current and future situation is real. I am not refuting it exists or that it sucks.

My point is in your semantics. Trauma is a very serious thing to me. According to my definition of trauma, rape, murder, domestic abuse, etc. are all types of trauma. Worry/anxiety/concern about the future, no matter how justified or real, is not trauma in my definition. As a matter of fact, I think it devalues and waters down the experience of those with more extreme events in their lives.

It’s the degree of your statement and lumping with PTSD that I take exception to.

Same with the “death trap”. Yes, it would suck to be that person, yes every life is important, etc. That wasn’t my point and I think you’re letting your personal feelings about Afghanistan (and Obama’s escalation I’m sure) to cloud the argument. I would have commented the exact same way if you used a sentence like “someone getting on a death trap like Colorado 36” or “Toyota’s are a death trap”. Yes, lives are lost on 36, but it’s hardly a death trap. Same with Toyotas. Death trap is an emotional term, not a factual one. 80% expected to die at Normandy is a death trap, and even the 20% that actually did is a death trap. Sorry, but I just don’t define the number in Afghanistan as a death trap, even thought each one is sad. You can have your definition and I can have mine.

My exception to your original post was to the extremeness of the view, even if there were parts of the view that I agree with.

Regarding Nidal Hussein, it’s a tangled web when talking about explanations to avoid it sounding like justification or excuse. I misread what you were talking bout.

Since you threw out the military deaths before and after deployment versus other military engagements, I humbly believe your analysis and conclusion are flawed because you’re simplifying the issue and there are more variables involved. A better analysis is how the same age group (18 to 35) has suicides within the military versus the general population (25% less in the military vs general population) and suicides of those being deployed before or after versus those NOT being deployed. Those are more appropriate comparisons than previous engagements.

That’s it. I’m back to answering work emails…….


10 03 2010
Mark Jordahl

What’s wrong with emotion? I wasn’t claiming to be creating a scientific treatise here, I’m just trying to stimulate thought. And given your strong reaction to things I didn’t even say, it is possible that you aren’t coming from a totally objective place either. My feelings about Afghanistan actually weren’t much of a factor in the writing of the post. I thought I was being creative when I woke up with the term pre-traumatic stress disorder in my head, and when I started writing I realized I better do a quick web search to see if it was already out there. That is what brought me to Hasan, and where the reference to Afghanistan came from. My post was about Uganda, and the reference to Hasan was just to show where the term entered the public forum.

It’s interesting that the term “deathtrap” really seems to be the catch here. I almost didn’t use it because I didn’t like the way it flowed with the voice of the rest of the post but decided to leave it in because I thought the use of an extreme term might be provocative and, sure enough, it was. I’m fine going along with the idea that Afghanistan is not a deathtrap although it’s still not high on my vacation-destination list.

I know that trauma is important to you and that your experiences in Rwanda must make it a particularly sensitive topic. I don’t mean to offend you on that. At the same time, I still hold to my view that living in perpetual stress must take a psychological toll. Sure the fear of being raped is “better” than actually being raped, but I’m not trying to create a scorecard. I’m just continually trying to understand this Ugandan reality I find myself in and the Ugandan people I share my life with.

Get back to work 😉

Mark D. Jordahl Conservation Concepts 256 775 295 126 Blog: Website:

11 03 2010
Mike Brady

Yes, you’re totally right that I don’t come from an objective place. As a matter of fact, I was reading “hoodwinked: story of an economic hitman” and found myself mad, angry, and pissed off at the author on pretty much every page. After a while I had to say “hmm, I wonder what my problem is that I think is his problem?” I haven’t figured that one out either.

One problem with email is inflection doesn’t come across. I found your statements thought provoking as you intended and emotions are good. I know you’re just downloading your thoughts and don’t expect a scientific treatise. Of course, when you do a public blog you also allow others (like me) to be picky on one term or word or another. Please know that in the future I’ll comment back when I feel an opinion has been asserted as fact. That’s a particular hot point for me. Not sure you did it here, I’m just saying that’s when you’ll get the biggest reaction from me.

No offense on trauma. Almost impossible to offend me. No scorecard wanting to be kept, but I just am offering a different view on the severity of events.

Can’t wait for your next blog.


14 03 2010
Mark Jordahl

Hey – you can comment whenever you want! I love it!

And the economic hitman book totally pissed me off, too. It seemed like every other page he kept saying “this is horrible, I better stop, but maybe I’ll actually stop next year after I make another couple million dollars.” Like he was trying to make himself seem “above it” by writing the book, but the book came across as just another way to make money.

Mark D. Jordahl Conservation Concepts 256 775 295 126 Blog: Website:

9 03 2010
Mike Brady


You make interesting points in the first 1/2 of the post, but I think you stretch it with hyperbole in the 2nd half.

Yes, I think there is a post traumatic aspect to many parts of society worldwide. Here in the US, crime ridden urban centers are one, as are the prisons we have so many of our fellow citizens in. I am on the board of and volunteer at Prison Dharma Network, which aims to provide contemplative tools to prisoners so we can work with their trauma of life and then prison and hopefully reduce recidivism.

Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Stress based on my fear of something that might happen in the future, of which it also might not happen? Using that to justify the cold blooded killing by a non-combat soldier because he was afraid of going to Afghanistan? Using this line of thinking, I’m justified in robbing a bank because I have a lot of money stress based on the fact I’m afraid of possibly losing my home. When I steal some money I’ll be sure to use that as a defense and justification.

Death trap that is Afghanistan? I guess you and I have different definitions of death trap. There are current 250,000 odd soldiers right now in Afghanistan, but we all know there are been multiple tours of duty. There have been about 1,700 deaths of this coalition in 9 years of which only about 1,000 have been combat related. (P. S. you can see statistics like this at the Congressional Research Survey So let’s say there are 4 tours of duty (just to keep it simple) that’s 1,000,000 people rotating through with 700 non-combat personnel deaths. That’s 7/100th of 1 percent probability of dying. Every death is a tragedy and I would work to decrease it even further, but this is not my definition of a death trap.

Your concluding sentence is the ultimate question “how can we live more compassionately towards those who aren’t so lucky?”. That is something we should bring awareness to and strive towards.


9 03 2010
Mark Jordahl

Ahh Mike. I was hoping you meant it when you said I had to watch out because you WOULD respond! I love the way you think.

I have two issues with your issues:

1. I never said pre-traumatic stress disorder justifies anything. I even came close to putting a disclaimer on that into the post. But, just because it doesn’t justify antisocial behavior, does that mean it doesn’t exist? There have been more military suicides during these current conflicts than during any other US military engagement. An equal percentage of those have happened before AND after deployment. I think about the infant mortality in Africa and sometimes catch myself thinking “it must be different for them because they are used to it or expect it.” I feel a stress response almost daily with unbidden thoughts about what I would do if anything ever happened to my son, and I don’t even have any reason to expect that something might happen. Isn’t it possible that an African mother lives with that stress when the rains don’t come or when she hears about the rebels becoming active in her area? 2. You are right that the actual numbers of deaths in Afghanistan is low. However, can you or I put ourselves in the place of someone who is about to go get shot at and tell them that it “actually isn’t that bad?” I’ve never had to confront it, so I can’t say whether reassuring statistics would help me, on a deep level, to know that I wasn’t going to be one of the unlucky ones. I think you can read accounts of thousands of military personnel who DIDN’T get killed in Iraq or Afghanistan who still lived in fear on a daily basis. It may be that the actual statistical chance of getting killed in Afghanistan is lower than getting killed on a highway in the US, but I would still be more afraid to go to war than to go to the mall.

Keep challenging me!


Mark D. Jordahl Conservation Concepts 256 775 295 126 Blog: Website:

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