#72 Untreated PTSD
Using words in obscure languages, being married to someone of another race (possibly someone you went native with), having a tribal tattoo or Chinese character tramp-stamp, and sporting some sweet Chaco tan lines are all okay… Incorporating the word “Nomad” into a twitter profile or blog URL, putting pictures of war junk up on Facebook, dressing like the locals and conspicuously bitching about HQ are similarly laudable.
But today’s Expat Aid Worker who is truly serious about clarifying her or his field cred for the world will have untreated PTSD.
Few things make the point that this EAW has been around enough to have seen some shit go horribly sideways, yet remains sensitive and feels things very deeply, quite like those subtle and overt signs of PTSD. The guy, just in from someplace ending in “stan” or “ia”, who makes the point of saying, “Can we trade seats? I never sit with my back to the door…” immediately conveys the gravity of his past and also that should armed militants burst into Starbucks in search of fresh hostages, he would not be taken easily. The aid chick who dives under the nearest desk every time a door slams shut is letting those around her know that she’s learned the hard way how to look after herself in some pretty badass places.
A common mistake among newbies and poseurs, however, is trying to pass off as PTSD what is, in fact, simply garden variety personal drama. It’s important to keep in mind that while of course personal drama is one of the key stepping stones that leads to PTSD, it is not the same thing as actual PTSD. (See also below)
For true PTSD to be truly effective as a field cred establishing measure it must be embraced, celebrated and nurtured. Never treated.
This is very important to get right because actually taking a break, taking a less dangerous or stressful job, and maybe getting professional help can make the EAW appear less hardcore – which would never do. “Really, what shrink can possibly get what I’ve been through… what I’ve seen?“, underscores the EAWs’ dilemma. Far better to drink more, smoke (to calm one’s nerves whilst on deployment), adopt socially awkward behaviors and hobbies, and insist at strategic moments that one could never survive in so cushy an environment as, say, Cambodia or Malawi. Second and even more importantly, getting proper treatment would disrupt the natural order of things in the EAW experience:
So next time you meet an EAW with a conspicuous eye-twitch, who insists on describing in lurid detail to total strangers traumatic events witnessed and experienced, and who will only consider front-line positions in active war zones, buy him or her another round, offer a light, but above all be sure to envy him or her. You’re talking to someone who has almost achieved EAW nirvana. Like “consumption” in 1800s, untreated EAW PTSD is the mark of intelligentsia, of the elite. You’re in the presence of greatness.