Living with post traumatic stress disorder

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has often being termed as the ‘invisible injury’. It causes untold suffering to its victims and sadly because many cannot ‘see’ that the person is ailing, they continue to suffer.

Counselling Psychologist Joseph Nginya says PTSD is an anxiety disorder whose symptoms develop following a psychological trauma.

Caroline Wanjiru Njuguna in this photo taken at their home in Nairobi on 26/05/2014. (PHOTO: JAMES WANZALA/STANDARD)

“Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include war, natural disasters, car or plane crashes, terrorist attacks, sudden death of a loved one, rape, kidnapping, assault, sexual or physical abuse, childhood neglect,” he says.

Nginya says immediately following the traumatic event, a person suffers from acute stress disorder (ASD), a mental disorder, whose symptoms last at least two days and no more than four weeks.

“A diagnosis of PTSD is made when the symptoms of ASD go beyond a month and the individual suffers from persistent re-experiencing of the event, unpleasant flashbacks, freezing response, intense distress, alteration in self-perception, avoidance, diminished interest in usual activities, restricted range of feelings and increased sense of limited future,” he says.

The counsellor says without professional intervention, PTSD can bring a person’s life to a grinding halt. This is something Caroline Wanjiru, 23, can attest to after an encounter with a terrorist changed her life for good.

Wanjiru used to sell clothes at a stall located in Assanands House on Moi Avenue, Nairobi, before a bomb put her on crutches living with not just physical wounds but mental and emotional ones.

“When I woke up that day, I contemplated calling my boss to ask for an off but I decided to report to work despite my misgivings,” she says.

It was a normal day for Wanjiru until she noticed a man who was behaving strangely.

“I noticed a middle-aged man rushing up and down the corridor and his actions made me uncomfortable. I remember a friend asking if he was an Al Shabaab sympathiser who wanted to bomb us but we dismissed the idea,” she says.

The man eventually came to her stall and told her he wanted to buy a t-shirt. They bargained until they settled at Sh1,000 but he told her he only had Sh700 cash. He said he’d get the rest from M-Pesa and left to withdraw the alleged amount having requested to leave his bag behind.

“He was barely out the building when I felt a slight tremor and then an explosion that threw me to the ground. Deep pain overwhelmed my entire body,” Wanjiru recalls.

She heard a friend exclaim that the bag left behind by the ‘customer’ had exploded. There was smoke everywhere and unable to walk, Wanjiru managed to crawl out of the crumbling building.

She was still unaware of the extent of her injuries and it was the reaction of Good Samaritans that made her realise she was severely burned and that her left leg was broken with bones protruding from it.

Wanjiru watched in disbelief and shock as more wounded people emerged from the building and later learnt that her friend, the one who’d wondered if the bag owner was an Al Shabaab sympathiser, had died from the explosion.

Today, Wanjiru is a pale shadow of her former self - confined to their home where she continues to nurse injuries to her left tibia and fibula.

She needs to travel to India for major reconstructive surgery and her struggling family is hard-pressed to raise the required Sh4 million.

“In less than a second, an event happened that shattered my life and I am desperately trying to piece it back together,” she says, still fraught with grief.

The event may have happened in 2012 but it continues to haunt Wanjiru to date as she struggles with nightmares and flash backs, clear indications of a person now living with PTSD.

A person who not only needs surgery to heal her physical wounds but intensive psychotherapy to heal her deep-seated emotional and psychological wounds.