Stanford psychiatrist Shaili Jain, MD, had known the nuts and bolts of her father's life story since childhood. Yet it wasn't until a two-week road trip with her parents in 2007 -- celebrating her father's 70th birthday -- that she realized the extent of the trauma he had faced in his early life.
There, in the car, the details unfolded and it became clear how the seismic impact of the 1947 partition of British India into two new nations -- the Republican of India and Pakistan -- changed her father's life. His father -- Jain's grandfather -- was murdered in the violence that accompanied partition. His mother died that year as well, as did a younger sister who succumbed to smallpox. He became an orphan, was forced to flee his ancestral homeland and live as a refugee in the newly independent India.
"Putting together that timeline and understanding the enormity of the tragedy and grief... he almost lost everything in the space of eight months... The events of 1947 meant that members of my family had their hopes aborted and dreams destroyed and were in psychological despair when they died," Jain said.
Now, as she sits across from me in a broadcast booth on the Stanford campus taping a 1:2:1 podcast, she clearly draws the link between her father and her new book, The Unspeakable Mind: Stories of Trauma and Healing from the Frontlines of PTSD Science.
With this very personal family history of tragedy, I definitely feel helping people survive in the aftermath of trauma, I'm helping myself as well.
It's estimated that post-traumatic stress disorder affects about 8 million Americans and the initials themselves, P T S and D, are locked into the American lexicon as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the aftereffects of the 9/11 attacks.
Yet for Jain, a trauma scientist, the term is often "sloppily invoked, or misconstrued, or misused." She set out in the book to delineate case studies along with detailing the significant body of science around trauma and PTSD as it continues to grow. The patient stories are especially moving and Jain makes it clear that advances in science and treatment make PTSD a very much a treatable condition.
As we concluded our conversation, I asked Jain how the years of helping patients with PTSD has impacted her? She thought about the question for a moment and then quietly stated:
I've been a doctor for 20 years now. I've been allowed a career that I've been deeply absorbed in, very passionate about. In many ways, it doesn't feel like work, it's a gift.
My colleague Rosanne Spector also spoke with Jain recently. For more on the book, and Jain, check out her story.
Photo by Becky Bach