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Reflections on the Stress of September 11th

I may be more emotional about 9/11 today than I was a decade ago. After the Indiana State Fair event, I am trying not to see any video replays from September 11, 2001. I have been listening to radio coverage of the memorial services and more on NPR. I was lucky enough to witness the World Trade Center (WTC) beams being escorted by more than 1,200 bikers down Interstate 69 to be a part of the memorial in downtown Indianapolis. I felt choked up, grateful, and impressed by the bravery and commitment of First Responders. As a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) trained therapist, I know how traumatic their job can be on any day, let alone on that infamous day. 
 
A decade ago, I was a college student with a college student's stress management skills. In the months approaching 9/11, a friend with whom I had grown up, finally succumbed to the cancer that had wracked his body since high school. A family friend and strong male figure unexpectedly died in his sleep. A girl I had known in high school died in a car accident. I had experienced the tragic death of a junior high student in the youth group with which I volunteered, during which I had to focus more on supporting the kids than on grieving. Another family friend had a heart attack at a young age. Classes had recently begun, and I had moved in with three new roommates. I was also working as the set designer for a theatrical production for the first time. As a result of all of this, I had been experiencing some psychosomatic stomach pains any time I ate anything other than saltiness, white rice, or applesauce - not the typical university student's diet. I had clearly already reached my threshold for stressors.
 
On September 11, 2001, I heard the news report because I was late to my 8am class, hoping to sneak in at our break. I didn't know what to think about what I had heard as I parked and rushed into Decker Hall. I knew it was a tragedy, but I don't think terrorism was mentioned until I saw the video feed of the plane crash replayed on a television set up in the student commons area during our break. I knew it was big, but I was disengaged. I had already reached my threshold and could not take in another major stressor. At that point, I did not know anyone in NYC or Washington DC. It was not nearly as personal as all the deaths for which I was still aching. I disengaged and did not experience the fear that many of my classmates did. I was not panicked. I was curious, but I felt no need to stay glued to the news. 
 
No matter where you were that day, many were traumatized. The events of that day have left an echoing impact. Although I was disengaged a decade ago, today I am moved by what is the best of America. I have teared up each time I have heard a child talk about the father that he or she lost that day. I am grateful for one day where the focus is on unity, not political partisanship, arguments, and complaints. I hope we all remember and honor the First Responders and many others who rushed in to help despite the danger. How often do we reach out to aid our neighbors? I am reminded to keep stressors below a manageable level, so I am prepared for and able to deal with most surprises. 
 
For more information on dealing with grief, loss, stress, or trauma, please feel free to contact me.  

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