9/11 Ten Years Later: The Timeless Effects of Trauma
On September 11th 2001 I was on my way to a meeting in Yonkers. As I entered the building people were talking and crying, pointing to a smoking building in the distance. Some thought we were under attack, others were unsure or confused. At the time I didn’t realize how much had changed.
Over the coming days, months and years I had the honor of treating many people affected by 9/11; police officers, EMS workers, firefighters, military and the National Guard, workers from the Towers or nearby, children in preschools and schools nearby and others who watched the events from home or were otherwise affected. Shock, confusion, anxiety and other, sometimes seemingly conflicting, feelings were commonplace. Fear of being attacked, sadness and anger also were often present. A sense of safety and security once taken for granted disappeared on that previously clear and sunny day.
People who were watching at home did not realize that the repeated images and dialogue presented by the media in their quest for ratings was traumatizing them. Many were feeling depression, anxiety that at times approached panic yet felt that they had to watch to remain informed.
The police, military, firefighters, EMS and others worked ceaselessly protecting, rescuing, searching and otherwise helping the many people affected. Some sent in their officers or firefighters only to see many less emerge. Others had friends or loved ones never come out. Some searched for signs of life at the site, every so often stopping as someone believed they may have heard someone alive. The absolute silence, and disappointment at not finding survivors took a toll. Others saw the suffering of relatives and friends looking for loved ones. Some of those that survived were plagued with guilt or loss over those that didn’t come out,. One person, who made it out after being on an elevator, felt guilt that nobody else was able to enter.
Many people are affected by trauma long afterwards. Trauma is timeless; sights, sounds, tastes and other memories can feel as strong today as if they occurred yesterday. Triggers in today (for example a black cloud or car backfiring, can make someone re-experience the trauma leading to depression and anxiety. Nightmares can occur. Hypervigilence, being overly on guard is another symptom of what we call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. Survivor guilt, avoidance, and self-medicating behavior such as substance abuse, eating disorders or OCD type symptoms I have also seen in treatment.
These are the less visible, hidden damage that was done that day. Often people, especially those in emergency service, see it as a sign of weakness. I, and others, see it as an understandable reaction to horrific events. It is understandable, treatable and in no way a sign of weakness, but of humanity. There is a way through and out. For those affected, learn about it. I, and others knowledgeable about PTSD, can be thought of as guides. We are familiar with the territory and can help others find their way out. We, if going through our own trauma, need to get guidance from others. If I am stuck I need someone on the outside to see if from another perspective and help me through; it is not about skill or talent but about being human.
For anyone affected; know you are not alone. Limit your exposure and turn off the TV if you become anxious or depressed. If you are stuck, don’t view it as a weakness but as a sign of humanity. Don’t let the evil bastards win. For any questions please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Take care.