PTSD. Helping Refugees: Part 3

I go one afternoon a week to where refugees are housed and provide therapy for a woman I will call M. [1]

When I decided to take the plunge and volunteer, I had no idea what that would look like or what I’d be doing. For the last thirty years I’ve worked as a massage therapist. I’ve treated people across the health spectrum: Pregnant. Disabled. Patients during chemo and radiation therapy. Triathletes to couch potatoes. People seeking relaxation, to a man in need of pain relief years after a helicopter crash. My abilities as a therapist deepen with each person I attempt to help.

I’m licensed in both Europe and America. I kept my US credentials current by doing periodic workshops. I did this for decades, until the weekend seminars felt like I was reinventing the wheel.

I briefly considered doing massage with the aged after we put my mother-in-law in a nursing home near us. But my grief as I accompany Mama in the twilight of her life makes it too personal. When I learned a refugee needed massage, it seemed like the perfect way to stretch myself as a therapist and as a human being.

M. and her family fled from an earlier war zone; they’ve been in my village for over a year. M. is severely traumatized. She existed in a catatonic state for many months. Loud or sudden noises trigger panic attacks and migraines and a voice moaning in her head. Her entire body is a field of pain. Most movement is agony.

Within minutes of beginning our initial massage, M. began sobbing. She cries through every single session. It’s ‘just’ nerves.

No one in her family will tell me her story. I have bits and pieces, cobbled together from talking with her doctor and the volunteer organization. She discovered a dead body.  Was it suicide, or murder? Was it a family member? She was raped more than once. Twice, ten times, one hundred? One man or many? Someone known to her? Looters? Soldiers?

Like I say: I have bits and pieces.

I first met the German liaison when she took me to the refugees. She gave me the barest of details, less than five minutes before I met M. I’d be working right away, without any volunteer training or medical protocols in place. For me the single most important question was: Who had requested the massage therapy?

It was M.

NOTES: [1] To respect the privacy of those involved I have changed names and identifying details, and use initials only. Part 4 to follow.

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8 thoughts on “PTSD. Helping Refugees: Part 3

  1. Your writing about your experience with M shows us what we do not see on the news – how the horrible events taking place in this mass migration affect individual people. Thanks to you and all the others who are doing something to help.

  2. It is so hard to imagine what others may endure in life. I wish M all the best and pray for some measure of comfort for her. Your work is a blessing.

    • Thank you for your kindness. What I keep thinking about – around – through – is that M. requested the massage work. She is brave enough to approach her pain. If I’m lucky, I get to help with that process. We have no language in common so all of this takes place on a fundamentally deep, other level.

      • Improved “communication” with her will probably develop gradually, if you continue seeing her for a while. I hope so.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story Jadi. What an eye opening encounter. You have no idea what healing you are bringing.

    • Doug, I really DON’T have any idea of what healing I’m bringing. This is unlike any kind of therapy I’ve ever attempted before now. Thank you for the support! This situation is a huge challenge no matter how I look at it.

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