Public needs to learn how to deal with trauma
The recent spate of explosions in Nairobi and Mombasa has left me traumatised although none of the people injured is close to me.
I now fear when I walk near shops or in crowded places. I do not know how to handle this inner fear. Is there anything I can do to get my confidence back?
The fear you express is real, and can perhaps best be described as vicarious traumatisation. You may need to see an expert in the area of psychological trauma to help you cope.
Following the 1998 bombing at the then American Embassy in Nairobi, a number of studies were carried out by a team I led, as a result of which a number of scientific findings were published.
Because of their relevance to your question, I will give you some facts regarding post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
First, it is a common condition among our people as we easily established in the studies. Kenyans undergo many different traumas daily.
The symptoms you describe, though not fully satisfying the diagnosis, are close enough to the findings.
Any doctors qualified in this area will confirm that what you feel is real and that you could benefit from treatment.
To diagnose PSTD, the individual must have been exposed to, or have witnessed an event, in which he felt his life was in danger.
In your case, the fact of the exposure in your city, footage on TV, and the general state of anxiety in the city could be reasonable ground to accept the trauma as having affected you. The first symptom you describe is as you put it — avoidance.
More than 13 years after the explosion at the American Embassy, there are people who will not go anywhere near the site of the bomb explosion.
Such people go to a long length to avoid the area, sometimes taking long routes to their destination.
In the case of PTSD arising from a road accident, the victim avoids the accident spot by all means.
Similarly, rape victims avoid the place where the crime took place. They also avoid any discussion or mention of the subject.
If, for example, the PTSD is due to rape, the word itself either mentioned, read, or heard said on TV or radio is sufficient to elicit an avoidance reaction as it otherwise causes severe symptoms of anxiety, such as sweating, trembling, and great fear.
Another common symptom you mention is fear, or anxiety. Resulting from such trauma, many people develop a symptom called hyper arousal, which means that the body and mind are in a state of permanent arousal, ready by day and night to do battle with whatever danger could come its way.
Adrenaline levels are permanently high as is to be found in the state of fight or flight.
As a result, one lives in a state of heightened alertness and vigilance. At bedtime, one is unable to switch off and the result is chronic insomnia.
As we found in our studies, some people turned to alcohol and other drugs to try and control the symptoms of fear and anxiety.
Other studies have shown that levels of alcohol and tobacco abuse rise following a serious community trauma such as bombing. To try and calm down their nerves, many people take to these addictive habits to their detriment.
Other threats with similar results could include life threatening floods, a tsunami, or earth quake. It is for this reason that Kenyans should be taught how to cope with community traumatic experiences.
The fear that you feel is thus a common symptoms of PTSD. Other common symptoms you might experience include intrusive thoughts.
This symptom occurs when you become unable to remove the explosion from your thoughts. Whatever you do to try and forget the explosion, you might find that the thoughts keep pushing themselves into your mind.
In this symptom, the vision or smell of the incident keeps coming back to your consciousness by way of very distressing flashbacks, that generate much fear.
The result of all these symptoms is sometimes serious as it can lead to depression and drug and alcohol abuse.
A very sad finding in our studies was the level of trauma experienced by Kenyans before the 1998 bomb.
A large majority of Kenyans interviewed had either been traumatised in a car jacking, been robbed, or beaten up by the police. Others reported being beaten by their spouses.
Children were not spared either. Some were either direct victims of trauma or witnesses.
Your symptoms are those of PTSD, and you might be able to find a doctor qualified in the area who can help you through counselling or medication.