Battle within continues
hearing voices in their heads and trying to silence the terrifying screams of the tortured and dying from their minds, this is what many ex-combatants have to deal with on a daily basis 23 years after independence.
The war may be over and the physical wounds of the past healed, but they are now faced with an emotional war that causes deep emotional scars.
The experiences of witnessing fellow combatants tortured and die has taken them on a painful emotional journey that can only be treated with medical intervention.
Aina Iimbili, Namibia’s only qualified neurotherapist has come across many such cases in her seven-year career.
Iimbili studied neurotherapy in the United Kingdom (UK) and was certified as a qualified neurotherpaist in the Czech Republic.
Her broad knowledge in neurotherapy, a study of human behaviour, using non-invasive approach of examining the brain, enables her to recognise the root causes of different behavioural traits in her patients.
She reveals that many of her ex-combatant patients report hallucinations including continuous replays of traumatic events, and seeing distorted visions and auditory.
They suffer in silence but their outward behaviour is a shadow of the real battle within that triggers the onset of a medical condition known as ‘post war trauma disorder’.
“Post-war trauma disorder or Post Vietnam Syndrome/post combat syndrome, now commonly referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is a debilitating anxiety disorder.
“Anyone can suffer from PTSD after a traumatic event, however, not all who experience trauma suffer from PTSD as this depends on many other factors, but most people do suffer from PTSD post traumatic events. The severity differs, some suffer mildly, moderately and some severely,” Iimbili explains.
Early cases of post-war traumatic disorders were reported after the First and Second World Wars in soldiers who found that they were still reliving their horrific experiences in their minds years after the guns had stopped blazing.
Sometimes certain unrelated traumatic events in their lives can trigger their memory, taking them back to the battle-field and disrupting their daily lives.
Iimbili believes that because many former Namibian ex-combatants have witnessed horrifying events at some point during the liberation struggle, they may need rehabilitation to completely recover from their traumatic experiences.
“Seeing that about 60% of the Namibian population lives in the north, and seeing that this is also the region mostly affected; and from where most ex-Plan fighters live or came from, I am tempted to assume that most of them are from the northern part of the country,” she says.
Iimbili says because many of them have not received treatment for their conditions after Independence, their quality of life is affected and the result is self-destructive and abusive behaviour, not only to themselves but also to those closest to them.
“When one suffers from this condition, it affects the families emotionally and psychologically as they may become verbally or physically abusive or suffer from behavioural problems. This may lead to poor sleeping, eating, learning and work performance.
“Anger problems and deteriorating health also set in so it becomes a vicious circle; depression is very common in these families so are chronic headaches and many others,” she says.
She adds that as an attempt to numb and silence the voices in their heads, many of them take to alcohol abuse.
“I recall a case where someone used to sleep with whisky under their bed so that each time they get these replays; they take more to silence the unquiet mind.
“As a result, in the morning they are still drunk and cannot wake up to prepare for work. They were suspended and where on the verge of being expelled,” Iimbili relates.
Despite the fact that many ex-combatants suffer from this disorder, Iimbili says that the road to recovery begins once the condition has been diagnosed and treated.
She says that before a diagnosis of PTSD can be done, the patient’s symptoms must significantly disrupt normal activities and persist for more than one month.
“Approximately 80% of patients with PTSD have at least one co-morbid psychiatric disorder. The most common co-morbid disorder includes depression, alcohol and drug abuse and other anxiety disorders.
“Treatment relies on a multidimensional approach, including supporting patient, psycho education, psychotherapy, neuropsychotherapy, neurotherapy and psychopharmacology. So every case is evaluated individually and treated as such,” she explains. “There are many cases that have been successfully rehabilitated. It is much easier if they are not yet addicted to alcohol as then you only intervene to deal with the PTSD. But if they are alcoholics then you have to do both, and alcohol rehabilitation needs a proper support base and will,” she explains.
She goes on to add that many of her former patients have fully recovered and are helping others who go through the same emotional trauma.
About the field of neurotherapy, Iimbili says the field is very broad but involves studying brain behaviour. “The human brain is the most sophisticated organ on earth. Functions of this anatomical substrate determine the complexity of the human behaviour. During the last 80 years, basic science discovered several methods to study the functions of the human brain,” she says.
She says these methods include non-invasive and invasive approaches. “The invasive approach requires implantation of electrodes in the human brain. The non-invasive approach uses electrodes on top of the scalp to map the brain. Both invasive and non-invasive methods provide us with several overlapping but still different windows that enable us to look at what is happening in the living brain from different points of view. EEG is one of the many methods used,” she says.
Iimbili says neurotherapy is a non-invasive approach. “Neurotherapy is a set of neurophysiologically based methods for modifying brain function. The methods include neurofeedback, transcranial direct current stimulation and transmagnetic stimulation,” she explains.
As the first neurotherapist in the country, Iimbili says being a woman of colour and introducing something new in the country did not come easy. “ You face a lot of resistance, but I must say UK universities and life itself prepared me and I came well prepared and equipped as I knew First World will always be new to Third World, and new is most of the time met with resistance (fear of the unknown). I feel really humbled that I have a duty to contribute to the neurorehabilitation development of our country,” she says.