This was a difficult blog to not only write, but to write well, so bare with me.
PTSD - or post-traumatic stress disorder is typically something associated with soldiers after having experienced life-threatening, or traumatic experiences. It can also be attributed to "civilians" who have experienced a traumatic experience such as an attack on their person, or other traumatic event. I read an article by Ron and Bonnie Koteskey, on Missionary Care
, and they described it as, "People who respond with intense fear, helplessness or horror when they are confronted with something that involves the threat of death or serious injury to themselves or others experience trauma. This may be something people actually experienced themselves or something they witnessed."
Having lived in Honduras (the murder capitol of the world for the 7 of 8 years we lived there), and in the incredibly dystopic society we lived in in Africa, we experienced both types of trauma on a daily basis. Both personal harm to ourselves, and living with and around people who experience trauma every day. I spent time in both Sri Lanka after the tsunami, and in Haiti after The Earthquake. Both my parents died while I was on the field, I performed CPR on a man in the middle of the jungle who died, kept a man alive as we frantically drove through the devastation that was left of Haiti, to having to tell people they are not going to survive this crippling disease in a 3rd world country where I felt helpless to do anything for them. I've lived through a "coupe", house confinement for a week, the inability to escape the country if I needed to. Seeing the devastation of malnutrition, malaria, typhoid, HIV/AIDS. Having been involved in no less than 3 different exorcisms, my house broken into, I was driven around town in an African secret-service car not sure if we were going to be "disappeared" or released. Having experienced the sting of friends who left us in the dust, who have knocked us down, and left us there...the examples could go on, and on, and on, and I may not even touch the surface of the trauma that we have experienced being on the mission field.
I can safely say that I don't suffer the severe debilitating long-term effects of PTSD, but the memories are there none the less. They come out at the most unexpected times. Just today Mike was talking to a man who was interested in why we've lived where we have lived. He talked about the man I took through Haiti in a car, at 2:00 in the morning, avoiding both the living and the dead on the streets, and the images came back - they came back sharp and intact. I didn't break down, I didn't even sweat it, but the fact that the images were as crystal clear in my memory as if they happened yesterday does make me aware that they are there...on the periphery....
But these are memories, for me, that I hold near and dear to my heart. I've told my daughter over and over and over - we are a sum of our parts. I would not be the person I am today if I had not experienced what I have experienced. If I were to write the script of my life, I may have chosen quite a different path -but that's not what God had/has for me. He continues to mold me, break me, re-make me, build me up, tear me down, all to make me into the person He wants me to be. So I hold that to my heart when those memories return to me - of the family who was surrounding me as I desperately tried to bring him back to life, knowing there was no "back-up" -that just me - was the "Emergency Medical Response" - that no ambulance would arrive - and that when I "called the code" - that was it - I hold that to my heart, and know that God loves me. That He is the only thing I need. I lean on Him. I feel grateful that I have not suffered the long-term consequences of PTSD - I certainly suffered the immediate, and short-lived experiences of PTSD - as my sweet friend Alice said - you have to feel it to heal it. So I do - I cry out to God to let me go through these trials and come out the other end - a better person, a re-molded pot, and more equipped/prepared to take me to the next trial - because I certainly know that there will be one.
So remember this - you short-term or long-term missionary. If you come back from a short-term trip and seem to not be able to "shake" what you felt/experienced on the field - know that this is quite normal, and hopefully something you will keep with you (in a good way) to always remember those who live differently than you - who suffer things on a daily basis - and encourage you to pray for them - to go on a trip again - to seek those who are lost or hurting when you return back home. But do understand that you may experience some temporary PTSD - and seek help if you need it.
I think why missionaries may have more of a challenge with this type of thing is because our "normal" support system is not there. Many BFF's are left in the States, our families are back there too, and our home church, that knows us, loves us and prays for us is not there for us either. I'm grateful for Skype, text, FB chat, and other means of communication, but you have to work a lot harder when you are in a 3rd world country, with horrible internet, and 9 time zones away to potentially get to those people who can help you work through things.
So thank you?! Yes...thank you God - for bringing me through the trials - and out the other side - thank you for making me who I am, because I like who I am, and I know my husband thinks I'm pretty cool too.