The Foreign Service Journal, December 2006

52 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / D E C E M B E R 2 0 0 6 left Baghdad on April 15, 2004. As the plane soared out of rocket range, I breathed a sigh of relief — I had lived through Iraq. Little did I know that my journey of living with Iraq was just beginning. When I returned I was exhausted and emo- tionally numb, but I told everyone that I was OK. I was sure the daze I was in would pass with time, and I just wanted to get on with my life. I was also afraid that if I told anyone I was not OK, particularly the Office of Medical Services, I would not be allowed to go to my onward assignment in Dakar. I could not relax due to thinking about Iraq, and believed that getting back to work would force me to think about something else. Classic Symptoms Unfortunately, things did not return to normal. For the first time in my life I had trouble sleeping, waking at 3:00 or 4:00 each night. I constant- ly worried about the safety of friends and colleagues still in Iraq, and obsessively followed the latest news. I also had a surprising amount of anger that I struggled to keep below the surface. Even worse, though, was my loss of interest in something I had always loved — living overseas. Life seemed dull, and I was no longer excited about meeting new people and learning about new cultures. Still, it was easy to hide my symptoms from my friends and colleagues, and even from myself. I blamed my lack of interest in being overseas on my new post, telling myself that perhaps it was just a boring assignment. I reasoned that the change in sleeping habits and lack of energy were just because I was getting older. But I could not explain away the anger or reason away the fact that, one year after I left Iraq, I was still exhausted and emotionally fragile. Using the Internet to research my troubling symptoms, I discovered that as a result of having experienced an event that threatened death or serious injury in Iraq I was at high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. My symptoms were classic PTSD: diffi- culty staying asleep, irritability and outbursts of anger, diffi- culty concentrating, hyper-vigilance, diminished interest or participation in significant activities, a feeling of detachment from others, and a sense of a foreshortened future. It appeared that I had chronic PTSD as my symptoms had last- ed for more than three months. PTSD is treatable by a variety of forms of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and drug treatment. I did not want to take any L IVING W ITH I RAQ M ANY F OREIGN S ERVICE PERSONNEL AND FAMILY MEMBERS HAVE ALREADY EXPERIENCED EVENTS THAT PLACE THEM AT HIGH RISK FOR PTSD. I T ’ S TIME TO TALK ABOUT THE PROBLEM . I B Y B ETH P AYNE Beth A. Payne is the consul general in Dakar. Her previous assignments include Iraq, Rwanda, Israel and Kuwait. She received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award and an Award for Heroism for her actions after the Oct. 23, 2003, terrorist attack on the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad. I could not explain away the anger or reason away the fact that one year after I left Iraq, I was still exhausted and emotionally fragile.