Rags to Riches: Walking With PTSD
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all he created.” James 1:17-18
28th March 2016 will mark three years since I returned to the UK having just spent 6 months living in the Central African Republic (CAR). The time that I lived there was the most challenging six months of my entire life, and the anniversary of my return is very difficult to face.
For anybody who spends time immersed in a different culture, living a life a million miles away from anything you used to do, and being guaranteed to learn new things every single day, it is heart-breaking to leave that behind and return ‘home’. No amount of my mum’s baking, walks in beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, or preparations for going to university could dull the pain I felt. It wasn’t just that I had returned, but it was all the circumstances that led up to it.
While I lived in CAR, tensions within the country mounted until eventually rebels swarmed the capital city (where I was living) and went on a terrifying rampage. They were fighting against the injustice they faced, but they were doing it violently.
“Scared” doesn’t do justice to the feeling I experienced. I have never been so terrified, but I’ve also never felt closer to God. Having spent a week in hiding, with the sounds of guns and shells increasing outside, I was rescued by French soldiers who escorted myself and the family I lived with, to the airport to catch a flight back to England.
I now understand that bereavement is not just something experienced when somebody dies; it’s grief at the loss of something. I would say I solidly grieved for CAR for around 6 months when I got back. To accompany that, I was given a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and adrenal fatigue. It was a very dark time in my life.
Everyday was different. Some days I cried for hours on end; some days I didn’t want to speak; some days I got angry at vending machines (that’s another story!).
Ultimately everyday I came to God, so aware of my brokenness and inability to get through without him.
Whenever I spent time meditating on the truth of what the Bible tells us (verses like James 1:17-18), I became aware of God’s hand over my life.
I can’t lie and say that having PTSD felt like a blessing. It pushed me to breaking point and left a very different person to the one I had been before. There also wasn’t one single breakthrough moment when I suddenly felt healed. There were definite moments of realisation about the incredible plan in store for me, if only I could trust a little more, and there were moments when screaming and crying out to God led me to an experience of His strength through my weakness.
I also remember feeling homesick for CAR and sad for the life I knew I could never return to. A wise woman said to me, “We should always feel homesick. We will never be content on earth because our true home isn’t here – it’s in heaven!”
Sometimes God works in mysterious ways. He speaks through people, songs, the Bible - and that’s how my world got brighter again. I found a renewed purpose: to live for God, to share Jesus with everyone, and to use my experiences for him.
'For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11
I am nowhere near perfect, and I still struggle with acceptance of His everlasting love; but God restores the colour to the situation when we acknowledge His sovereignty.
Following His plan has led me to many strange places, meeting even stranger people, and left me with a sweet sense of joy in everything! PTSD didn’t beat me, because I have a God who is so much bigger and so much stronger, and has a brilliant, personal, perfect, wonderful plan for my life.
Sarah is 22 and is in her second year studying Psychology and Counselling at Northampton. She's originally from Oxfordshire, and loves going home (mostly because of her Mum's insanely good cooking!). Some of her favourite things are cups of tea with her best friends, long walks in the sunshine, and being with her enormous (and ever-expanding) family.