Tom Burgis on PTSD

Recently I read Tom Burgis“The Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth” It is a sobering, saddening, maddening read that takes one into the heart of how Africa’s enormous resources have been an absolute curse, retarding rather than enhancing development. Hopefully at some point I will have time to write a post which deals more fully with the theme of the book. However, in the Foreword I was struck by a metaphor Burgis borrows from a friend to describe the PTSD he develops following the death and destruction he has witnessed, particularly a massacre and its aftermath in Jos:

The psychiatrist and a therapist who had worked with the army – both of them wise and kind – set about treating what was diagnosed as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A friend of mine, who has seen his share of horrors, devised a metaphor through which to better understand PTSD. He compares the brain to one of those portable golf holes with which golfers practice their putting. Normally the balls drop smoothly into the hole, one experience after another processed and consigned to memory. But then something traumatic happens – a car crash, an assault, an atrocity – and that ball does not drop into the hole. It rattles around the brain, causing damage. Anxiety builds until it is all-consuming. Vivid and visceral, the memory blazes into view, sometimes unbidden, sometimes triggered by an association.

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