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