Community PTSD

My mom was a social worker who specialized in PTSD especially with Vietnam war vets.  Dad was a combat veteran who fought first in Vietnam and then in a covert war in Laos.  In fact his unit, The Ravens,  had the Air Force’s highest casualty rate in the entire Vietnam conflict so you can imagine the conversations around the dinner table at my house.

I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’ve heard about the huge number of returning Iraq vets who are committing suicide.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that a veteran takes his or her life every 80 minutes!

One reason soldiers have such a hard time when they return is the loss of community.

When you fight in combat with another human you create a bond that is as strong or even stronger than family.  I remember seeing this at the annual Raven reunion.  The guys that survived all got together once a year to,  hmm,  well to get fucked up and do stupid shit really.  My dad called it “group therapy”.

I was first allowed to go when I turned 18.  What I noticed most was the extreme sense of camaraderie.  You could feel it.  These guy were tight.   Brothers.  They might fight among themselves, but if an outsider got involved they would band together into a cohesive unit, instantly.  They shared something that NO ONE outside the group could understand.

When soldiers come back from a community of people who understand them, to this divisive consumer society it messes with their heads.  A lot!  It is a real juxtaposition.   One day you are standing side by side with your brothers fighting for your life and the next you are in Wal-Mart buying some piece of crap and you are expected to be happy.   You are surrounded by people who do not understand you.

Once upon a time we lived in tighter communities.  We had to.  We had to work together to find food and to build shelters.    If we did not work together we would die.  This created a great sense of community.

In the book “Born to Run”  Chris McDougall hypothesizes that the way early humans were able to survive was by working together as a pack.  We weren’t the fastest or the strongest but we were persistent and we worked together.   Watch this awesome video to learn more.  Video

Some people still do live this way.  Think Amish and Quaker and the Tarahumara.  And guess what?  The suicides rate in theses communities is  half of what it is in the population at large.  They work together, have a sense of purpose, and are less likely to kill them selves.  Cool.

So how do we achieve this feeling of community without changing religions?

Maybe by becoming an expat, at least temporarily.

We get lots of questions about how to “get by” as an expat.  “How do I find work?”  “How do I find a place to live?”  “How do I hire employees?”  “What about the language barrier?”   “Will my kids be safe?”

Well one interesting thing I noticed is that expat communities transcend political, socioeconomic, and race boundaries.   As a group we have a shared experience and a need to work together to answer these questions and to navigate our new culture.  This creates tight communities and it feels really good.

If you move to a new culture you will spend lots of time with folks whose views differ greatly from your own.

The first conversation that you will have when you meet a new expat is almost always  “So, how did you end up here?”

The first thing you want to know about someone is how they were able to “get out”.  What brings them to be here?  There are a million different stories and they all bring you together as a community.

When I’m back in the US and missing my life in Panama it is not just the weather I miss.  There is something else.

I’ve been trying to identify it for a while.   There are great people here.  People who I have known for a long time.  So why is there a lack of “community feeling”?

I believe it is no accident.   It is driven by media ads telling you to consume.  Divide and conquer is what advertisers want.  You are a better consumer if you feel alone and insecure.  We can’t have people working together and feeling content!  Who is going to buy stuff then?!

This is a great reason to move abroad.  Especially with your family because children need to learn there are alternatives to this culture.   And not just by being told.  They need to experience community in a new way and so do we.

Have a great day.


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4 Responses to "Community PTSD"

  1. American in Phils says:

    As a expat for quite a few years, I have settled in the Philippines. The American expat community where I live is a group that I want nothing to do with. The stereotype American expat in the Philippines is the dirty old man, married to a 21 year old maid or barely literate bar girl. Unfortunately this is true in many cases. As a young entrepreneur, and Iraq war vet, I have little in common with the Vietnam era retired guy, or the dirty old man living on social security or a pension.

    My friends and family network in the Philippines of Filipinos, on the other hand is stronger than what i would find in the US. My wife is a middle class professional, and has little in common with the typical Filipino bar girl or maid, so this makes the desire to mingle with the typical American expat where we live unlikely.

    • Good points. In my case I was living in Panama with two kids under 5. So the expats I was hanging out with were other families with small children. It was not a huge community but we were, and still are, very tight. There was another expat community of older retired folks, that were living on pensions that I did not associate with much.

      It sounds like you did find a strong community of Filipinos. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the difference between the Filipino community and the communities back in the States.

      • American in Phils says:

        I would say, that inside the gated community, it is much like 1950’s America.  Leave it to Beaver kind of living.  I know my neighbors, we have church services in the club house Wed night and Sunday morning.

         I call Filipinos Asian Mexicans.  Really the only English speaking, Latin Catholic country with a healthy dash of American culture in Asia.  Daily basis, we mostly associate with neighbors, and people we met thru the daughters school. 

        We are fortunate to have the top prep school in the country just outside the gate.  As such, we have gotten even deeper into the Filipino power network. 

        My wife who was already well connected over there has only gotten even more so since moving to our present home several years ago.  The Philippines is very much about relationships, and people to do business.  If you count degrees of separation we are one degree from just about every who’s who in the country including the current and past president.

        One thing I have found in the Philippines as a American is that doors seem to open more easily for me.  I think it is cause of the novelty aspect, however I am very careful not to engage in monkey business so as not to get a bad reputation once that door is open. Still I could have not gotten this far without my wife.  We are a team, she is my sidekick, and has my back as I have hers.

         I am still learning the subtle culture cues of the Philippines.  My younger years spend living on the Mex border and formerly married to a Mexicana (total disaster) have given me a leg up  when it comes to Filipino culture.

        I sometimes visit the expat American forum online, but mostly meet the retired dirty old man type married to a bar girl.  I seldom meet other Americans over here except relatives of the wife or Americans I work with in the Middle East who have also made the plunge to be full time expats in the Philippines.  Ironically enough they are all Latinos.

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