GETTING BACK TO LIFE After Captivity
Being held – whether for a few days, months or years – can have an impact on your health. Even if you feel ‘fine’ it is vital you have a thorough medical checkup. Here are some of the things your physician should look out for:
- Malnutrition which requires careful supervision to get you back to full health
- Muscle wastage from prolonged periods of limited movement
- Vitamin deficiencies that can be discovered through a blood test
- Infections or tropical diseases
It is also vital to see a dentist. Many returning hostages and wrongful detainees have problems with their teeth because of the impacts of malnutrition or because they have not been able to brush their teeth regularly during captivity.
DEALING WITH THE IMPACTS OF YOUR EXPERIENCES
A kidnapping is a traumatic event. You may experience a number of different reactions to having been held hostage, all of which are entirely normal. It is important to look out for signs that you might be suffering, but remember that very few former hostages go on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – most are able to recover and go on to live happy and fulfilled lives.
You might experience one or more of the following:
- Cognitive problems such as impaired memory and concentration; confusion and disorientation; intrusive thoughts or ‘flashbacks’ and memories; denial, perhaps that the kidnapping happened; and hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal which is a state of feeling over stimulated, with a profound fear of being kidnapped again.
- Emotional reactions such as shock and numbness; fear and anxiety, although panic is not common; helplessness and hopelessness; dissociation, such as feeling numb and ‘switched off’ emotionally; anger which could be directed at anyone, such as the perpetrators, the authorities or yourself; anhedonia, a loss of pleasure in doing things that you previously enjoyed; depression; and guilt, whether at having survived if others died, or for being taken hostage.
- Social problems such as feeling withdrawn; irritable; or practicing avoidance, such as of anything that reminds you of the event.
Most hostages make a full recovery from their experiences. Even those who go on to suffer from PTSD can overcome these problems with the right care and treatment. Hostage US can help you to get the right support, so you will not have to go about your recovery alone.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS
One of the most difficult things for former hostages and their families to come to terms with is the fact that their relationships are likely to be challenging. Everyone longs to have you home, but you and they have been through a traumatic experience, everyone has pent up emotions they have put on hold, and you are all struggling to cope and get back to ‘normal’.
Expecting things to be as they were before you were kidnapped is unhelpful – take each day as it comes and try to get used to a new normal.
There are some key moments and issues to consider:
First contact with your family: this will likely be a very happy experience, the moment you have all been waiting for. It can be difficult for your family because they might be shocked by changes in your appearance. It might be difficult for you because you feel overwhelmed and quickly exhausted. Take your time and stagger your contact.
Returning home: it can be difficult to deal with changes – perhaps your family has redecorated or bought new furniture; you might struggle to keep the same routine as them because your sleep is disturbed or you find it difficult to relax because something in your environment is triggering you; your family will be exhausted too and won’t always know how best to support you. If you live alone, it can be helpful to identify family or friends locally who can visit and help with any of your practical needs.
Changed family dynamics: everyone is likely to have been changed by this experience and returning to different family dynamics can be unsettling; perhaps your partner has assumed roles you normally perform; maybe there is a new approach to discipline with the kids; decisions may have been made you don’t agree with; distant family members might now be a more regular part of your family unit. Understand that your family had to adjust. Try to talk about how you feel or consult a family counselor to work through some of the challenges you face together.
Teenagers and children: adjustment can sometimes be hardest for teenagers and young children. They may have been shielded from most of the details of your kidnapping in an attempt to protect them. They may not be able to understand why this has happened. They may blame themselves. They might also be angry at you for missing birthdays or holidays. These are natural feelings, which need to be recognized and can be worked through.
Wider family and friends: they might not know much about what you have been through and as a result struggle to understand. Try to be patient, and take your time in integrating people back into your life to avoid being overwhelmed.
RETURNING TO WORK
Many returning hostages and wrongful detainees struggle to know when and how best to return to work. Some may want a long period of rehabilitation, while others might want to go back to work straight away. This is a personal choice and everyone is different. Try to pace yourself and take notice of how you feel mentally and physically.
There are a number of things to consider:
- Are you ready to go back full-time or part-time?
- Do you want to return to the same role?
- Are you able to travel in rush hour traffic? What about staggering your working hours to reduce the stress?
- What might trigger in your work place – loud open plan office, being on the ground floor, whether you face the door or have your back to the wall, bright or dark spaces
- Colleagues: are you ready for their questions, can you help your manager to brief them on what you can cope with immediately
- Establishing a single point of contact: to reduce the stress of dealing with multiple people and try to organize a return to work interview to allow you to speak openly with this person about your needs, salary and benefits and how they can assist you