July 30, 2015

Trauma

New York City, September 11, 2001

Trauma is weird. You can experience something, never deal with it and find yourself 15-20 years later having feelings you don't understand, feelings you think should have expired by now.

I saw my therapist last week, and didn't know why, but felt a lot of agitation and emotion on my way to her office. She asked how things are going - everything is fine, great, nothing is wrong. I told her how I hadn't been able to meditate and when I went to yoga, I was pissed off the whole time. She looked at me and asked me what's going on. Until that moment, I truly didn't know, but when she asked me, I knew. It took me a minute to compose myself, but when I could talk, I told her the sky that week was the same color of blue that it was on September 11.

This is always a hard time for me, the 4-6 weeks leading up to the anniversary of the event. And it always catches me by surprise. I've learned that I have an efficient filing system for feelings, especially pain. Everything I felt on that day was put in a mental trunk, padlocked and pushed to the end of a long, dark hallway in my brain. I've opened it once in 14 years.

Last year, around this time, a man suffering from schizophrenia, took his life in front of me.  Seeing that triggered the part of my brain that's hurt. There is no trauma rating scale in my brain. There's no yellow or orange threat levels; I go straight to red. When I saw him die, I went to red. You know that saying about fear, 'the only way out is through'? To help me when I saw that man die, my therapist had me open the trunk.

I have obviously talked about 9/11 plenty of times. Shit, I've talked about it here. But I've only told my story once, and it was last year in therapy. The thing about mental health is that you kind of have to be one person. You have to take all the different versions of yourself and integrate them. Or maybe it's just me; I've had to do a lot of integrating. I've now got to try to live my life with that trunk open, which is really hard and scary. I've got to take that 25 year old girl who, every day, thought she could die at any moment, and connect her to this 39 year old woman who is okay and safe.

I am supposed to do three things. I am supposed to start talking about 9/11 and asking friends if I can tell them a little bit about what happened to me that day. The next two things are about honoring, or paying my respects, to the events. To honor the man who died, I can write a check to a mental health organization, volunteer at a crisis hot line, or put some friends in my car, drive to where he died and raise a glass in his honor. The next part I haven't been able to say out loud yet and am crying now typing it, so I don't know how I'll pull it off, but I am supposed to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies and deliver them to a *fire station. I can either say nothing, or I can tell them I was in 9/11, I'm having a hard time, and I need them to take these cookies, please.

*A huge portion of my emotion around 9/11 is related to firemen. In the days following 9/11, people lined the streets and cheered as the fire trucks both went to and came out of downtown Manhattan. To this day, I cry almost every time a fire truck with its lights and siren on drives past me.

I'm supposed to do these things now, not in September. I don't feel ready yet, but I can see myself doing them, so I know I will. I need a little more time.

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