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What the trauma leaves behind
Saturday 30 March 2013
What the trauma leaves behind
Sitting in the salon of her Beirut flat, Sahar appears healthy. But looks can be deceiving.
“I used to get tired faster than others in doing errands,” said Sahar, who is in her 40s. “Then I would regularly go to the emergency room thinking I had a heart attack or that my neck was broken.”
Since 2000, Sahar has been suffering from fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder “characterized by chronic diffuse pain, intense fatigue and sleep disturbances often associated with anxiety or depression, and triggered by physical or psychological trauma,” according to the World Health Organization.
Wadih Naja, head of the Department of Psychiatry at the Lebanese University, is in the process of publishing the first study on fibromyalgia in Lebanon. Diagnosing the condition in patients is a “process of elimination”; when doctors have ruled out all other medical explanations, they diagnose patients with fibromyalgia, he said.
Sahar ruffles through a box overflowing with medicine cartons.
“Let me show you how I start my day when I wake up in bed before I move,” she says.
There’s Concor and Normocalm for rapid heartbeat, Prozac and Pristiq for depression and anxiety, Seroquel to stabilize her mood, and Xanax as a tranquilizer.
Despite the stack of medicine Sahar takes to combat her symptoms, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia.
There are no figures on the percentage of Lebanese suffering from fibromyalgia, but a study done in northern Pakistan in 1998 showed that 3.2 percent of city dwellers and the poor suffered from the condition, while 1.1 percent of the country’s affluent did.
Rates in the United States and Canada are between 2 to 3 percent of the population, of which between 80 and 90 percent are women. However, according to a report from 2005, US soldiers who fought in the 1991 Gulf War were “associated with an increased risk for fibromyalgia.”
Considering the history of conflict in Lebanon and the levels of trauma experienced by inhabitants, thousands could be suffering with the condition.
Graziella is another woman with fibromyalgia. She believes her case was triggered by a number of traumas experienced during Lebanon’s civil war.
Graziella says that when people would lightly touch her she would feel searing pain. Friends and family thought she was overreacting. Sahar has had similar experiences and says that some members of her family still don’t believe fibromyalgia is a real disorder and that she’s made it up.
What her family cannot deny though, are the traumas in her past.
Sahar lights a cigarette and remembers the death of her father.
On a family trip to Iraq to see the burial places of the imams Hussein and Ali, they got in a bad car accident when the driver of their Jeep fell asleep at the wheel. “I was sleeping at the time, but I woke up while the car was rolling and it landed on its back […] My dad was crushed by the car and there was blood all over the highway.”
After pulling her father out of the car, Sahar, her brother and mother alternated carrying him from village to village, looking for a doctor.
“It was Saddam [Hussein]’s [rule] so there was no good medical equipment or doctors,” she said. “He was bleeding all the way to Baghdad.”
Twenty-four hours after arriving at the hospital in Baghdad and falling into a coma, he died.
“I felt a bit guilty because that trip was for my sake,” she said. “The road home was very long, and we were sad we left without him. That was really hard for me.”
But it was her second trauma, a year later, which she says prompted the symptoms of fibromyalgia almost instantly.
“A year after my dad died I went to hajj [pilgrimage] and when I came back I got pregnant.” But six months into her pregnancy she was forced to the hospital for an early delivery. The baby died during childbirth.
She would wake up crying for a year after the incident.
Now Sahar carries around a box of medicine to see her through the day. Yet despite her troubles, she maintains there are some upsides to her condition.
“[Fibromyalgia] has its good sides and blessings,” says Sahar. “You feel things much more than others. This intense feeling is very transformative in life if you look at the positive side.”
The above, with comments, originally appeared here.
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