Haiti

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!

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8 thoughts on “Haiti

  1. Jessie thank you so much for sharing your experience. It is so interesting to hear a first hand account and really interesting to be able to apply some of what we have learned about shock and stress through PTSD.

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  2. While I was doing research for my PTSD paper I was always interested on dissociation- and Jessie, it seems like you experienced it to a certain extent. It’s such a common reaction to trauma, and when contained to the day/days surrounding trauma, it can be really beneficial both in the moment, and possibly in the long-term (as long as the dissociation itself does not persist). In another study on thought suppression v. conceptual processing (working out details of the trauma, etc.), the control group behaved very similarly to the suppression group, suggesting that suppression is the natural and preferred coping mechanism. Thanks for sharing, Jessie!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this, Jessie. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like to expereince such a horrible event. I can definitely say that I see the parallels in your experience to those outline in much of the ptsd articles i read.

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  4. Wow Jessie, I had no idea you were in Haiti when the earthquake happened. I’ve been through kind of a similar experience as that in Indonesia, but for me I just pretty much blocked it out of my mind. I didn’t experience any emotion because I was in disbelief, and I’ve almost sort of blocked it out of my memory… It’s weird how you feel empty during such an experience when many people think you are flooded with emotion, but at first there just comes shock and disbelief.

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  5. Thanks guys! 😀 I actually feel better about my apparent dissociation. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who deals with this kind of thing in this way.

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  6. Jessie, thanks for writing this entry and sharing what it was like for you to be in Haiti. Like some of the other times we’ve had a chance to read about personal experiences with topics we’ve covered, it really gives us an improved awareness and a better insight into things. To have such an experience described to us first hand like this makes it all the more valuable and powerful.

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  7. Jessie,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I still remember being absolutely terrified when no one knew anything about you two. I must have spent hours looking at CNN/Google’s missing persons list with giant tears in my eyes. I get chills thinking about it.

    Your story reminds me of the documentary “When the Levies Broke” by Spike Lee. So many people developed PTSD after Hurricane Katrina. Some said they couldn’t sleep, eat, etc. Rain must have evoked a flood of emotions. So, I am glad we were able to discuss the biology and behavior on this topic. I learned a lot.

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  8. Jessie,
    I have the chills. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I cannot even imagine what you must have been through. Wow… This experience brings back memories for me of the large scale terrorist attacks that happened nov 2008 in my city, Bombay. I however was not in India when it did happen but my parents were. My mom was meant to be at one of the restaurants that got bombed that night but pulled out of the plan lats minute cause she was too tired. She however lost two of her friends who she was to dine with. The proximity of the attack to my family gave me the chills and I can safely say my parents were impacted far more than me. one of my closest friends at home..his parents were asked to recite versus of the Qur’an by the pakistani terrorists..their failure to do this led to several gun shots through their necks…PTSD is definitely not something people should take lightly- I could not agree with you more on that one. People should not, under any circumstances, undermine it.. cause as we all know it could lead to far more severe repercussions

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