I feel like PTSD is one of those disorders that many people don’t understand, similar to depression and anxiety. Many people would think it was all in the victim’s head or that they should “just get over it.” For those who have experienced or know the details, PTSD and depression are not easily resolved.
I wouldn’t say that I developed PTSD from the earthquake in Haiti. I believe many Haitians and visitors probably have ended up with PTSD because of the earthquake. I feel that when it was actually going on and the days after, I was so shocked and stunned that I was devoid of emotion. I had to separate my feelings from the experience because at that point I could not afford to panic. Being in a strange country where you cannot understand the majority of what people are saying around you is frightening to begin with. I was able to understand a few words because I have taken French, but not enough to follow conversations. Yanica, who was there with me, told me it was better that I didn’t know what was being said because everyone was panicking and saying the worst.
The first night was the hardest. There were aftershocks every 15 or 20 minutes. I timed them because it was the only thing I could do to make myself feel better, it was the only thing I could control. There were hundreds of people surrounding us, sleeping on the ground. The majority I did not know but Yanica’s family was with me and that made me feel better. At that point we had been with them for nine days and they knew me. It was impossible to sleep on the ground, it was uncomfortable and every time there was an aftershock you could feel the ground shifting beneath you. People were praying and singing to God, hoping for it all to end, thanking God for their lives. There was no power and no privacy. Cell phones were dead and many people were dead or missing. I really did not think about anything that first night, because I didn’t know what the future would hold. I couldn’t think about Colby, or my family, or home, or the people there, because I had no idea what to expect. It was a night of emptiness.
Unfortunately it did not end. There were still small aftershocks two days after the initial earthquake. No one was allowed back in their houses because of the structural damage. Yanica, her father, and I walked around the city of Port-au-Prince surveying the damage. It was all unbelievable. No words can describe the devastation that the city and country experienced.
After returning to the United States it was difficult to re-enter normal life. There was an immense relief but also reverse culture shock. In the airports on the way home my heart would race and I would sweat whenever a plane took off. The whole building would shake and the floor would rumble. I had to keep reassuring myself we were safe. Sometimes I still feel like the world is shaking beneath me, and I panic for a second. But I know that, especially in Maine, I have nothing to be afraid of and earthquakes are extremely unlikely. Haiti still is in my thoughts everyday, but not in an intrusive way. I just have to remember how lucky we were and how much help Haiti still needs.
All in all I’d like to say that this class has been a great experience and I’m so glad I took it. It was a great way to end my Colby career and I learned a lot. Thank you everyone for the great discussions. I’ll miss you all!