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.