On the mind of Ali M. Halawi: With just over a month after the explosion, we have all reached a conclusion that this year couldn’t get any worse for Lebanon as it seems to have reached its peak of destruction and devastation. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. As we imagined positivity and optimism could heal most of us at this stage, little did we know that this physical battle would in turn, become a mental battle that would end up putting our lives on hold.
It’s the physical wounds and scars that can be treated and worked on, but mental ones are what keep us awake throughout the night, often confused and wondering why this is happening to us in such a way. To make matters worse, it’s not only an explosion that has caused us to go into a complete shock but rather the addition of the seemingly endless Covid virus which truly keeps everyone in a state of worry and despair. Gone were the days where we could meet up with our friends and loved ones and share a drink or two with everyone whilst laughing and keeping our minds focused on having a good time. Though unfortunate to imagine, the only way up is down, with us paying what little money we are earning to psychiatrists and psychologists and mental care professionals in order to give us a slight bit of hope to direct us back to when we were care free and happier.
As of recent, the main problem most of us seem to be facing is PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder), can you blame us? We experienced something that hasn’t been spoken of since just over 70 years when the last mushroom shaped explosion dropped on Hiroshima, drawing comparison to the one that occurred at the port. Multiple friends and media influencers are talking about their daily struggles with coping and trying to go out or at least leave their houses without the slightest fear that something else could overtake their joy or attempt to be happy again. Upsetting to think that most of the people affected throughout all this were once the source of partying and pleasure and a face for the future yet after what we have been experiencing, there is a literal fear of leaving their house with the idea that they don’t know when they will see their loved ones again if another disaster is to occur, leaving them in a frozen state of what if? Maybe? The term PTSD loosely originates from the idea that the people with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch. In addition to this, the most recent fire that occurred at the port on Thursday the 10th of September, put most people in such a shock that the moment they saw smoke and heard it was coming from the port, at that exact time they assumed there was a part two to that devastating explosion and that was enough to cause panic everywhere with viral videos of citizens screaming and running for their lives, or even the latest concept of telling everyone to close their windows as the smoke would have been toxic enough and in the long run, could lead to cancer, which is another addition to the already worried and helpless people. As unfortunate as it may seem, PTSD has been a changing factor in the lives of the Lebanese people since the mid 70’s, being the time at which a long and devastating civil war erupted and went on for the next 15 years. Besides damage to buildings and the countless lives lost due to it, the mental impact can still be discussed up till today with memories of gun fire and explosions still relived within the victim’s minds.
According to the studies done by IDRAAC, 1 out of 6 Lebanese (16.7% of the Lebanese population) will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, this statistic was taken before the explosion which is proof that the Lebanese community already suffers from ongoing and somehow untreated anxiety. Fast forward to after the explosion, there’s always that thought that possibly something else is bound to happen which is keeping everyone on their feet no matter where they go, they feel extremely anxious and lost to a stage where it’s almost impossible to have a good time or at least make an effort to enjoy themselves when they go out. Explosion aside, with the case of the Corona virus, not many of us had the opportunity to enjoy our so called “vacation” this past summer as the cases keep rising and the government keeps on implementing a new rule on a daily basis to try and cause a drop in the numbers, yet to our dismay, this isn’t helping at all. Instead of a stronger approach, most of the Lebanese are too fearful of catching something and prefer to stay at home thinking this virus will die out on its own, which internally keeps the anxiety levels increasing and the panic levels spiking up as anything can trigger a reaction, be it a sneeze, cough or even a simple and common flu. All in all, there is no effort made on our parts to try and conquer this newly found fear as most of us will act normal yet avoid interaction completely and prefer to sit on the sidelines and monitor social media stories and posts, rather than going out and attempting to break the stigma. The main worry would most probably be the fact that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring and nor do we know if this disease is capable of coming to an end anytime soon, this in turn will cause us to isolate ourselves for as long a period of time as we can till we get a more positive answer on how to get back into our daily lives and enjoy the good old days with social interaction as well as bonding with one another and trying to make up for lost time. Personally , if I were facing such a dilemma as those with high anxiety levels does on their daily basis, id start off by recording all the things that increase my worries and try to get into contact with a mental health professional who has a better understanding of how I can control such fears and phobias and sort of keep my mind at ease for the time being, yet in Lebanon, the thought of seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist is sadly regarded as a weakness, a lack of mental strength as well as a lack of will power.
One of the most common yet barely discussed mental problems that are being faced on a daily basis is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (commonly known as “OCD”). This specific disorder can cause a person more damage than what you typically read on magazines and online or what you see in a movie, that said, OCD is a severe disorder that puts people’s lives on hold and stop them from functioning on a day to day basis as it completely shuts down their ability to interact with everyone else once a fear or idea is built in their minds, it can’t be forgotten or erased like any other thought. The question being, how does OCD affect the Lebanese community during this disastrous year that we are all going through? To answer that, we dive deeper into the minds of the victims suffering from these disorders. Though we don’t have the exact statistics, there are multiple disorders out there that are yet to be uncovered or unfortunately, that people aren’t willing to ask for help and consider such as nothing to serious to focus on. To specify, according to psychiatrists and psychologists, OCD affects the lives of multiple Lebanese on a daily basis to a stage where there is a heavy use of medications as well as countless amounts of money being spent on therapy during these hard times. Picture the idea that nowadays you hold a tissue to open a door or we use our elbows and we constantly use sanitizers and alcohol induced sprays to clean off germs and bacteria, but, for some victims of OCD, this is just a usual thing for them to a stage where what we see as tiresome and routine ends up being something that OCD sufferers have been struggling with long before the Covid virus even existed. This doesn’t make it any easier for them because they already suffer to maintain sanity and have normal lives but now add along a never ending and infectious flu, their minds stop coping so easily and now it’s twice the effort required to last until the end of the day.
One of the most difficult and undeniable hardest disorders that the Lebanese community is facing nowadays is commonly known as depression. Why is this so commonly found? Picture a capital city that was once referred to as the Paris of the Middle East due to its exclusive and illuminating night life scene, now however, with all that’s been going on, this once lively and never-ending phase of joy and laughter has come to an end. With the country facing a serious financial and political failure, rioting and looting around the affected areas, there is no stopping until justice prevails. Graffiti and posters on every wall of areas like Downtown, Gemmayze, and Achrafieh and so on, the situation has gotten so out of hand that there is no concept of peace from any side until this ongoing problem will halt and come to an end. Unfortunately, there is no definite solution to any of these problems and even after the resignation of government members and the hiring of a new PM, the country’s debt seems to be rising along with the dollar rate to the Lebanese lira, and ongoing cases of Covid on a daily bases seem to be on the rise with little or no attention paid as the protestors have in a way given up on the system and their reason to survive in such a nation. Why the depression? Well , with the country on lockdown, most night life activities have either been closed down temporarily or cancelled altogether leaving everyone stuck at home every night with the question in mind, what will happen next to this already badly affected and torn up country, the only issue being there is no future thought to how all this could change and the nation would become glorious once again, party goers , tourists, life in general is all on hold now as nobody is willing to take a risk and go out during the lockdown timing but with that in mind, the numbers keep rising due to ignorance as not everyone is able to handle the idea of cancelling out their social life and way of living over what they assume is just a common day “flu” which isn’t going to impact them so long as they keep a distance. To their surprise this “flu” isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and neither are the clubs or pubs going to remain open. To add on to this miserable situation, the closure of banks and workplaces is hitting everyone hard, especially employees of such places who truly don’t know when their last day at work will be or if they are going to get laid off from their jobs anytime soon like the rest of their colleagues and peers. That pressure alone is enough to get the mind to pause and get stuck instead of building opportunities for their future; they don’t know how to continue to live in this upsetting scenario that has become their lives, that alone is enough to put people into guilt and ultimately, the ending results leading to suicides.