This article has been making its way around the Internet. It inspired me to write the following mini-essay:
I suffered PTSD when I returned from West Africa in early '08. My experiences were nowhere near as terrible/debilitating as this poor woman's -- I can't even fucking imagine -- but I *can* relate to how vulnerable and trapped she felt upon her return home. I clearly recall how I would be at work and suddenly feel overwhelmed with the urge to smash my computer to pieces or *literally* tear out my hair -- and how I had to grip my desk and convince myself that neither of these actions made ANY sense, that I was back home and had total control of my finances, my schedule, my life (and, thus, everything was A-OK). This went on every single day for MONTHS ON END. I had no patience for ANYTHING; at the slightest provocation I would lash out at the people I loved. (One egregious example involved me screaming at my best friend on a busy street in the middle of the afternoon, then repeatedly kicking a nearby mailbox and coming *this close* to smashing her car window in order to retrieve my belongings so I could walk home.) Out of sheer frustration I would punch walls so often that my hands were swollen and covered in bruises and scabs for most of that year.
I even got into a relationship. She had her own serious baggage and was nervous about getting wrapped up in a commitment; I (obviously) had serious baggage and was absolutely crazy for her, but I was also a ticking time bomb because I still had NO CLUE that I had (or could even be capable of having) PTSD. Needless to say, it didn't end well. It was both our faults, but ultimately my anger eclipsed everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING.
She refuses to speak to me even to this day.
It doesn't take much to have harrowing experiences when abroad, and the lingering effects of such experiences can be far more devastating than what you endured when you're half a world away. There's no shame in seeking help; hell, a lot of time you don't even *understand* that you need help. This is why it's not only important to accept/admit that you have a problem but also to speak up when you see others you know and love not acting like themselves. For instance, my aunt told me after I returned to the U.S.: "Every time you've come back from somewhere far away, you have so many stories, good and bad, to share. This trip must have been difficult because you've barely said anything about it." That was the first warning sign of many. If I had had the capacity to understand this, I could have avoided A LOT of ugly behavior and more than likely have far fewer regrets.