WAR AND PTSD

In this excerpt from A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War I address the issue of PTSD. While its symptoms can be treated and lives seemingly return to normal, war never leaves you

When my husband left Beirut to attend a medical conference in Boston he insisted the children and I move from our dangerous neighborhood to the relative safely of my sister-in-law’s apartment. When the fighting stopped the children and I returned home. I thought we had handled this latest round of fighting quite well. So when classes resumed I was surprised when Nayla refused to get out of bed.

“I can’t go to school, Mommy,” she said. “Please don’t force me to go.”

“Okay, darling, you can stay home today but…”

“No, Mommy, you don’t understand,” and she began to cry. “I can’t go back there again, ever.”

After she had fallen back to sleep I called my husband in Boston.

“She’s just being capricious, that’s all,” he said.

He was wrong, I thought. I decided to trust my instincts and called a psychiatrist-friend and colleague of my husband’s. He promised to come see our daughter later that afternoon.

After he spoke with her, he came into the living room and sat beside me. When he saw how distraught I was, he must have realized I could not handle any harsh clinical terminology. He chose instead to describe my daughter’s depression as a form of self-preservation.

“She has closed off her mind so she no longer has to exist in the brutal reality around her.”

In a serious moment like that, when you think your whole world has just collapsed, and you are frightened your daughter may never recover and the support of your husband is three thousand miles away, you do not mind being given a simple explanation. The psychiatrist thought it best if she was started on medication.

Sometimes such patients have to change their medications several times before they find the one which produces the best results. When there was no significant improvement in my daughter, she was started on a second. It can take up to two weeks before there is any noticeable change, a painfully long time to wait when you are desperately looking for even the slightest sign of improvement. She went for days without eating. She slept a lot and even when awake she was distracted. I wanted to ask her what she saw in that other world, but I think I was afraid she’d reply, “Nothing,” and that would have frightened me even more. I got paranoid when I saw her looking out at the balcony. In my mind’s eye I could see her suddenly climbing up on the railing and jumping off, and I would find her spread-eagled on the road below.

Each time she had an appointment to see her doctor, I would sit on a brown leather couch in the corner and observe. Sometimes she replied in soft whispers to his gentle questions. Often times she gazed blankly past him, apparently unaware he was even there.

On one particular visit, a profoundly heavy sadness came over me. At first I thought it was rooted in my fear that my daughter might never recover. But it was the recognition of my own depression. I envied my daughter’s ability to escape into a peaceful world where she had no responsibilities. I, on the other hand, had to be everyone’s rock, the ‘woman with the nerves of steel,’ and I could not escape. I began to cry.

Her doctor came and sat beside me. He thought I was crying for Nayla, and he assured me she would recover. I nodded as he spoke, trying to say something, but I could not force myself to be as honest as my daughter and admit that I too was profoundly depressed.

Approximately thirty percent of children my daughter’s age suffered from depression, what we now call PTSD, as a result of Lebanon’s civil war. Returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer even higher rates. Of the eleven states that actually record veteran suicides, twenty-two die every day. Imagine the actual numbers if we were given an accurate and honest account of all veteran suicides. Isn’t it time we demanded an end to our senseless wars?

This book is available for purchase here.

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A LOYAL BEIRUT HEART

In this excerpt from A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War I talk about my love affair with Beirut, a place I refer to as my lover-city

I think about dodging snipers and running into shelters, about aprons with bullet holes, and about rescuing my children from school. In my memory I can still see my fail daughter and her despair.
I think back to the time when we were hit by the rocket, to the bodies in the street and to poor Bachir, our newly elected president. \

I think about the frightened stork we tried to save, of the times when I was so depressed I nearly gave up hope; and I rejoice that I chose instead to enjoy life in all its incredible passion and beauty.

My husband and I now live on twelve acres just outside the city limits of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I must confess that I am still something of a romantic, and I enjoy living among my most prized possessions from Beirut−the Roman artifacts, the Persian carpets, the Phoenician amphorae, our five hundred French comic books−all things which a dear friend was able to ship to use several years ago.

I cannot help that my heart still beats to the rhythms of a city which no longer exists. I have lovely friends in Eau Claire, for whom I still love to cook and entertain. And thanks to my new knees, I can dance again. There are no fancy nightclubs in Eau Claire, but my husband and I roll up a carpet, put on our LPs and pretend we are back at the Retro or the Caves du Roi in Beirut.

I still take a siesta in the middle of the day, and I still speak like a Lebanese, casually drifting from English to French or Arabic, depending on what I want to say or whichever comes first. In Beirut, I found my place to grow. My commitment to stay there through the war was a consequence of a deep love affair. I had married into a family which was for the most part loving and accepting, and it was exciting to wake up every day as a foreigner embraced by a Lebanese family. My heart is loyal: loyal to my wonderful husband and to our children who shared and survived the experience of war, and loyal to a country still in crisis. This is the kind of love which develops a loyal Beirut heart, one which never dissolves. My adopted country, that dysfunctional lover I’ve driven you mad talking about, may, sadly, never recover. A popular swell of nationalism and world opinion has set the occupying forces packing. But bombs are going off again, and politicians are being murdered so here we go again! I cannot go back there to live and rick my hard-won sanity, and I have finally accepted that. While there is sadness in this acceptance, I feel a sense of liberation in being able to acknowledge it at long last. With war finally cleaned out of me, my Beirut heart can enjoy, finally, the peacefulness of Eau Claire.

This book is available for purchase here.

amazon.

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