April 18, 2013

Boston: How To Cope

With what happened in Boston this week, I want to re-visit my own past experience in the hope that it's helpful for anyone currently struggling with this.  I've realized not all of my friends A) know that I used to live in NYC, or B) know that I lived there in 2001 & witnessed 9/11.  More on my experience that day here.  Another thing you probably don't know is that I've been loosely diagnosed with PTSD.  Long story, but because I never dealt with the trauma of that event, even though it's been almost 12 years, in my brain, it just happened.  I know, I know.  Therapy is on my life to do list.  I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Here is what I want you to know:  if you are struggling, please get help.  If you don't know where to go, I can point you in the right direction.  When 9/11 happened, I didn't get help.  I was in my early twenties & didn't understand the gravity of what I had witnessed or the damage it had done to my psyche.  I was having a hard time re-adjusting to life.  I didn't understand if I was supposed to go back to work, or not go to work & continue to watch CNN 24/7?  Was I a bad person if I did something normal, like go to a bar?  I felt bad if I realized 30 minutes had gone by without me thinking about 9/11.

I went about daily life & pushed everything aside.  It took about 6 months for the panic attacks to start.  And I'm talking intense panic attacks.  I would actually wake up in the middle of night, unable to breath, smelling smoke that wasn't there.  In hindsight, I can't believe I didn't go see a doctor.  Ahh, youth.

I've since learned that I had (have?) survivor's guilt.  I didn't allow myself to grieve because I didn't think I was allowed to.  Yes, I actually saw, with my own eyes, the first Tower fall, but I wasn't hurt, nor was anyone I knew directly.  I was in a city surrounded by people who had lost loved ones in the attack, & I didn't.  What right did I have to cry?  So I didn't cry, or feel.  And 12 years later, here I am, with untreated PTSD.

If you were in Boston on Monday, & I know some of you were, please feel free to reach out to me.  I can hug, I can listen & I can get you help.  If you've never met me & it seems weird to contact me, I understand.  Here is my advice to you - allow yourself to grieve; give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling; TALK TO A PROFESSIONAL.  If you had the flu, you'd go see a doctor.  This is the same thing.  You're just not sick in a way that's as visible.  Don't do what I did.  Don't wait on it to pass.  It won't pass.  It will haunt you every time you're stressed/sad/tired & it will make it so much worse.  You are allowed to feel what you feel.  There is no glory in toughing it out.

I'm here.

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