When the planes hit the Towers on 9/11, I was over the Atlantic Ocean, in a plane bound for New York City.

When the planes hit the Towers on 9/11, I was over the Atlantic Ocean, in a plane bound for New York City.

Readers, today I’m sharing a piece about my own 9/11 experience, which seems insignificant in the big picture, yet continues to be hugely significant in my own life, because it happened to me. I wrote this a few years ago; these events continue to matter to me, almost every day. I’m updating this post with current resources, because I know some form of anxiety—or worse, significant loss or trauma—affects many of you every day, as well. My heart goes out to you.

*****

When the planes hit the Towers on 9/11, I was over the Atlantic Ocean, in a plane bound for New York City.

Our flight from Prague that morning had been uneventful, but as we neared the halfway point, the pilot made an announcement—in Czech—that sent concerned murmurs through the Europeans on board. When he repeated it in English, we understood why: U. S. airspace was closed, and we were turning around.

What could close U. S. airspace? There were a few obvious answers, none of them good. But the flight attendants wheeled out the beverage carts, and the cabin was soon abuzz with strangers sharing theories.

I wish I knew exactly what time we hit the ground in Prague. 3:00 p.m. New York time? Maybe 4:00? When we debarked from the plane—knowing nothing—each passenger was handed this printout from CNN.com:

Maybe one day, when I’m a better writer, I’ll tell you what it was like to watch our fellow passengers—especially the New Yorkers—gape at that paper in their hand and crumple to the ground.

The next few days are kind of a blur.

That night, the airline shuttled us to a hotel straight out of the twilight zone. We dumped our bags, washed our faces in the rust-colored water, and waited in a long, long line in the hotel lobby to call home. Many of the New Yorkers couldn’t get their calls to go through: the phone service to much of Manhattan had been taken out with the towers.

The next morning, we booked tickets home for Friday, September 14, contingent on American air space reopening. It opened—but only to domestic flights. We couldn’t get tickets out for ten more days. We wanted to get home, and we couldn’t, for the first time. We were trapped—in a very nice place, yes—but trapped all the same.

We had time to kill, so we decided to head for Germany. It felt like a bonus (and bittersweet) European vacation, except for the anxiety and candlelight vigils and hours of CNN in the evenings.

But then in Nurnberg I got stung by a bee. That’s not usually a big deal, but I’m allergic to bee stings. I’d had a reaction a few years before and carried an epipen for a few years, just in case, but I didn’t have my epipen in Europe. Long story short, I ended up in the Nurnberg ER, trying to tell the staff—in German—that I was having an allergic reaction.

But it wasn’t an allergic reaction. It was a panic attack.

*****     *****     *****

The rest of our trip was uneventful (save the jaw-dropping security for the tense flight home). It was a lot of fun, actually. But when we got back to the States, I started having panic attacks in my sleep. I can’t describe how horrible they were. The first time, I literally thought I was dying.

I went to my doctor after that first one back home. He said my experience was classic: my stress levels were running really high after 9/11, which made me susceptible to a full-blown panic attack with the bee sting. He said we needed to squelch them, and fast, because panic attacks lead to more panic attacks: with each one I was etching grooves in my nervous system that would make it that much easier to have another. So he prescribed anxiety and blood pressure meds and sent me on my way.

(My doctor didn’t suggest counseling, and I didn’t seek it. I never considered it: my circumstances didn’t seem to merit it, compared to the other events of 9/11.)

But my health went downhill, fast. I had always been in great shape, but I was suddenly running a resting heart rate of 96. I looked ashen, and shaky. I didn’t feel safe to drive. I didn’t want to be by myself. I was 23. I was a wreck.

This went on for months. The turning point came when I realized the blood pressure drugs that were supposed to help me were actually making me sick. I cut them out, then I tentatively started driving again, then running. The panic attacks started tapering off, and I started feeling like a normal twenty-something again. Mostly.

*****     *****     *****

More than ten years later, I still have the occasional panic attack, maybe once or twice a year, tops. I dug deep grooves back in 2001, and they’re easy to follow. I will always be more susceptible to them than I was before September 2001.

For a long time, I was embarrassed that I had this scar, of sorts, from 9/11. Nobody likes to talk about anxiety, to start with. But it also seemed unfair to complain about this comparatively small mark, when so many people lost so much that day.

I wish I’d known then that comparing losses doesn’t help, and often hurts, like it did in my case. I didn’t seek help because my loss seemed “comparatively” small, and because of my reluctance, I walked around with undiagnosed PTSD for a long time.

(Even now, I feel silly typing out those four official-sounding letters.)

I wonder how many people there are, like me, who lost something precious on 9/11, but don’t speak of it, because the loss seems so small—in comparison.

I don’t even know what to ask you about this one. Feel free to share thoughts about 9/11, anxiety, or comparing losses in comments.  

P.S. 3 lesser-known books to help you understanding, manage, and overcome anxiety, the five areas where I can’t afford to be low maintenance, and 4 strategies I originally dismissed as too “out there” that have significantly helped me (and my loved ones) manage anxiety.

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31 comments

  1. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for sharing this again today. I don’t have PTSD related to 9/11, but I am going through something similar regarding Hurricane Harvey. The past year has been traumatic for me: my husband relapsed into alcoholism and we were in survival mode for a long time. He is sober now and doing well, and I thought that I was back to normal, too.

    But then Hurricane Harvey happened, and my entire city (Houston) was shut down and on edge. As it turned out, my home was safe. Yet I have relapsed into a depression and anxiety that I have never known before. Somehow, witnessing the tragedy so close to home has brought back all the repressed feelings in me from the past year. And it’s hard not to feel guilty that I’m struggling so much when others have lost everything.

    I’m doing all I can to help myself, but I know I’m not stronger than serotonin and dopamine. I finally have an appointment with a psychiatrist in a few weeks.

    • Jennifer N. says:

      My husband has had issues with alcoholism, too (almost 3 years sober!) and I think it’s just been within the past year that I’ve really started to realize how the effects of his past with drinking have had resounding affect on our relationship that long out-lasted the alcohol. It took a long time for us to recognize that and finally bring our relationship back into balance. I’m glad to hear your husband is sober again and I’m so sorry about Harvey, but glad to hear that your home is safe. Best of luck with your appointment!

    • Liza says:

      Hello, fellow Harvey sufferer. I’m in Pearland. I definitely have survivor’s guilt. It was the worst the first few days after the storm, when I knew there were people that needed help and threat I could help – should help – but I couldn’t get to them. Pearland was basically an island. I could get out of my neighborhood bout not go any further. I’m doing better, especially since I was able to help a few people later in the week. But it’s still a weird disconnect between knowing that my life is normal and there’s so much need around me. I’ve had a bad bout of anxiety & depression this summer anyway, and Harvey certainly didn’t help.

    • Casey says:

      Sending love to you. I’m a Katrina survivor. I wasn’t a homeowner and didn’t lose any of my people, just a few appliances and a car. I had HUGE survivor’s guilt – to the point that I never saw anyone about the crushing depression, because I thought I’d be taking an appointment away from someone who needed it more than I did. Kudos to you for being proactive. It’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Best of luck to you.

  2. Cheryl Bollish says:

    Anne, thanks for sharing. You help me feel more normal. I think I’ve always had anxiety but it’s been worse on 9/11 and now with family issues. I’m trying to ‘accept things I can’t change’ but thank you for new tools to help me get a little happier.

  3. Laura says:

    I was a college student at the time majoring in aviation. I couldn’t watch any of the live footage because it was too close to home. I didn’t even look at pictures of New York City after the attack until close to a year later. I remember having classes at our local airport and it felt like a ghost town because no planes were taking off or landing.

  4. Kari Ann Sweeney says:

    Anne- I also have PTSD related to 9/11. My husband and I had been dating six months and took our first trip together to NYC. His parents lived there at the time. It was out first big trip together. On the morning of Sept. 10, 2001 we were at the World Trade Center. We looked up at the Twin Towers and Nick asked if I wanted to go up. I replied, “Nah- we’ll do that next trip”. We spent the rest of the morning on the Brooklyn Bridge snapping photos. We have an amazing photo of a nearly empty bridge that 24 hours later was full of people trying to flee the city.

    We were scheduled to fly from LaGaurdia to Madison later that night. Our United flight was delayed. We had the choice of flying to Chicago for the night or flying from Newark on 9/11. We chose to fly to Chicago. While we would not have been on the fateful United flight out of Newark, I still get heart palpations thinking about it 16 years later.

    We were in the air flying back to Madison when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I was supposed to fly again later that day. I remember trying desperately to get ahold of my now in-laws who lived near the UN. That feeling of helplessness.

    Experiencing that history changing day with him certainly forged our future together. I still remember all our friends and family checking on us- feeling that love. I remember my now husband and I just holding each other on the steps of my apartment.

    I cope by talking about it. Remembering it. Visiting the Memorial when I’m in NYC. Doing what I can to keep the anxiety at bay.

  5. Libby Segerdahl says:

    As a New Yorker and an American, 9/11 will always be a difficult day. I am a retired teacher. My school day with the children began at 9:00 a.m., but I was at work before 8:00 a.m., having left the house with no knowledge of the events to come. It was the sixth day of school, a class of 22 new third-graders, starting the school year, settling into our morning routine. As I was our building union representative, I was second in charge of the building if our principal had other duties to attend to. The children were busy writing in their journals, and I became aware of our principal, Maureen, heading to my room, high heels clicking loudly and rapidly. She called me out into the hall and told me of the first attack…an accident , perhaps? I returned to my class and we began our day. Not long after, Maureen returned, heels clacking! The second tower attacked. Our day continued…calm, quiet, lessons taught, stories read, HW checked, learning to get to know each other better. All morning, high heels clicking up my hall, a tower falls, whispers in the hall, more high heels, another tower falls. Keep teaching, keep calm. Only after the children went to a special- area teacher was I able to go down the hall to the library and see a TV. At lunch, only one parent came in a panic to take her daughter home, and I convinced her to let her child stay. The children were allowed outdoors for recess, and the day ended with no problems for the children. After dismissal, I went to read the childrens’ journals, and found the child who lived closest to school…a “walker”, had written about the towers in her journal. I had been aware all day that she was watching me closely, and then I knew why. She was the youngest in my group, still 7 years old, and I still marvel at her level of maturity that she held that horrible “secret” all day, with no word to her classmates. Two families in our school lost loved ones…a dad, an uncle, and a few more were lost to our community. I attended many funerals for fire fighters and police officers in those following weeks, as Mayor Guiliani asked citizens to support the families of those who had lost their lives. I believe that grieving for the first-responders kept me on an even keel, as well as spending the rest of the school year with that very special, bright, lovely third-grade group of children, especially Catherine, who knew and never to anyone but her journal!

    • Bonnie says:

      Wow! What a story! My boys were in 8th and 10th grades. My younger one I had dropped off early as they had a field trip to Dallas that morning. My older one and I saw the first plane hit. I may have taken him to school before the second one hit. I never thought of taking my boys out of school. In fact, I went on to work. But I was a wreck for a good while after that. Such sadness. What a brave girl your student Catherine was!

  6. Jana says:

    Anne, thanks for explaining about panic attacks leading to more panic attacks. This is helpful to know and understand. Your openness will help many of your readers, and we appreciate you!

  7. Meinda says:

    I was 23 on 9/11 also. I was in my last year of college, and flew from my home in Northern Virginia to Southern California on 9/10. My then fiance, now husband, was returning from a 6 month deployment to the middle east. He was in the Marine Corps, and had spent 6 months on a Navy ship. During that, he was part of a group of Marines who were threatened by bin laden while in Jordan. I came very close to changing my flight to the 11th because his return date was pushed back another day or 2 (the military isn’t the best at giving exact dates), but I decided to stick with my original plan and just enjoy an extra day in CA on my own.
    On 9/11, I woke around 6am local time, and was just starting to move around when my cell phone rang. It was my dad calling to tell me that a plane had hit the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Both my parents worked within a mile of the Pentagon…my mom for the federal government in Crystal City, my dad at a car dealership on Columbia Pike in Arlington. The plane that hit the Pentagon flew directly down Columbia Pike, over my dad’s shop. He saw the plane go over, and heard/felt the impact. He immediately called my mom to tell her to get out of Crystal City, then called me.
    When he told me a plane had hit, I laughed, thinking he was joking around. My next question to him was, what channel do you think it’s on? I was in shock of course. The next couple of days were spent trying to call home (it was nearly impossible the next day or 2), finding a public computer so I could email my boyfriend, and finally, sitting at a marina near my hotel where I could see my boyfriend’s fleet off shore working their way to base. There was talk that they would be turned back out to sea. I was alone in CA, didn’t know anyone else, had no idea how I was going to get home. In the end they returned as scheduled.
    I was afraid of flying before this, and after I refused. I tried hard to figure out how to get home. I considered taking a train, but it was super expensive and would have taken a long time. In the end, I flew home. I had my first ever panic attack waiting to get on the plane to go home.
    I’ve struggled with anxiety and panic attacks ever since. Every year, toward the end of August and through the anniversary, I struggle with life in general. I’ve always thought about what would have happened if I had changed my flight to the 11th? Would I have been on one of those planes? Would I have ended up diverted to Canada? I think of the children who were on the flight that hit the Pentagon. A few of them were the age of my oldest now, and that’s just so hard to even think about.
    I never saw a therapist about my anxiety. I deal with it the best that I can, but it’s hard.

  8. Jennifer N. says:

    I didn’t start having panic attack-level anxiety until the past few years and it can be so disabling! I have had to pull my car over on the highway because I would get so worked up I’d be afraid of passing out. When it’s bad, I don’t eat or sleep. I had sensed that panic attacks come easier to me now than they used to, but I didn’t understand that that was an actual thing until I read your comments. I really need to check out the books you’ve recommended – I might have a better time processing them when I’m not feeling like I’m going insane! (All of my worst anxiety seems to be situational, but I do often wonder if my anxiety baseline is just naturally higher than others.)

  9. Kathy Roah says:

    I needed a good cry today after watching too much Irma coverage this weekend. Your post delivered it. I identify with that anaology (even though I’m 72) because I’m low maintenance and blessed so I’m ashamed of my anxiety and pain. My therapy today was to call two people who needed loving concern from someone more than I did. Your orchid analogy is spot on. I wish I could post a photo I just took of a 3-year dormant orchid left on my back porch that suddenly blossomed two weeks ago. Sign of hope to me from the universe. Thx for what you do. BTW W. H. Auden is my favorite poet.

  10. Liza says:

    On 9/11, I was a college student with a 9 month old baby. I didn’t have any classes that day, so I was at home, playing with my son and procrastinating on doing some homework. I got a FedEx delivery at 9ish that morning (10ish NY time) and when I answered the door, the first thing the guy said was, ” We’re going to war!” I had no idea what he was talking about. He asked me why my tv wasn’t on (I rarely watch tv) and then kept repeating that we were going to war. So of course I turned it on and spent the day watching the news. I tried calling my husband at his office, but nobody was answering the phone. I couldn’t get through to anyone I called. So I spent the day alone, hugging my baby, trying to process this. i was so glad when my husband came home that day because I needed someone to share in my sorrow.

  11. April says:

    Thank you for being vulnerable with us, Anne. I’m so sorry you went through that anxiety. I’ve had many panic attacks in my life (and one this past weekend, oddly enough) and they’re terrible. I’m so glad you talked to someone and got some help with them. You’re just as worthy as anyone for getting help! Big hugs to you.

  12. Leisa Phillips says:

    Dear Anne,
    Thank you for writing this. I was teaching elementary music the day the airplanes crashed. It was one of my hardest teaching days ever. Our school wanted to keep the students (ages 5-10) from the news as long as possible. I understood that, but teaching my lessons as usual while my heart and mind raced was almost unbearable.

    All of my immediate family were out of town for one thing or another. I was terrified for their safety as well as the students and mine. After my family, the next thing I thought about was water…will the terrorists use chemical warfare to poison our water? I’ve got to get to the store and buy bottled water before it’s all snatched up! Then I thought about gasoline….so many things went through my mind.

    I had a third grade class at 10:30 after recess. I could tell they had heard the news the second they entered the classroom. They were stunned, of course, but mostly they were confused. How does an 8 yr old mind (let alone an adult!) absorb such a thing? I asked the students if they wanted to watch the news and they said they did. So we watched the replay of the airplanes hitting the towers and then of the towers falling. I tried to answer their questions as wisely as I could, but I did not feel wise at all. Then one little boy asked the most amazing thing: “Did the bad guys turn the planes on automatic pilot before they hit the buildings?” I was puzzled at first, so I asked some follow up questions which I don’t remember. He was able to clarify his question after a few minutes had passed. I’ll paraphrase here: How could a grown up deliberately do such damage? Surely it was all an accident. Surely the bad guys put the planes on automatic pilot and then left the cockpit to do their bad guy things. My heart broke for innocence lost to despicable terror.

    After about 15 minutes it was obvious that the class was getting fidgety. I gave them a choice of a little more news or a little bit of regularly scheduled lesson. They chose the lesson. What they didn’t know was that I had planned to teach them a new song. I don’t remember what the name of it was, but I do remember it had silly lyrics. My heart was not in it. My desire to sing had crashed along with the planes yet these children were starving for some kind of normalcy. Then an idea straight from heaven occurred to me. I said, “Let’s sing a song that we all know because we sing it every week at our school-wide assembly.”

    I doubt if any rendition of “America” has been sung in the modern era with such love and patriotism as it was that day in my classroom. “My country, ’tis of thee sweet land of liberty. Of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died. Land of the pilgrims pride. From every mountainside let freedom ring.” Hearing their sweet voices mixed with mine lifted the air of panic from the room for a little while. It still does.

  13. Anne McD says:

    My husband and I were living in Arlington at the time, and had brought our first born home from the hospital on September 10th. That night, as I lay in bed, I was thanking God for my life, my PERFECT life, and I remember thinking how nothing could take that away. The next morning, my sense of security evaporated. For the next nine months at least, I expected another terrorist attack every single day. To this day, every loud, strange noise, every plane that flies under the cloud cover, every “breaking news” bulletin, throws me back into that place, sixteen years ago. I hate that my motherhood has been shrouded with fear, but I have to remind myself every time it comes upon me that Perfect Love casts out all fear. God has already won, and He’s with us.

    • Cheriese says:

      Anne, I also expected another terrorist attack every single day and I still catch my breath at a low flying plane or “breaking news” bulletin. After taking my kindergartener and 4th grader to school I went home to finish picking up my house as my mother was flying in for a visit. I turned the tv on just as the second tower was hit and the realization quickly sunk in that we were under attack. My husband was in Chicago on business and I had no idea what building he was in. All I could think of was “where next”? D.C. LA, Chicago, Houston, Dallas? I really lost in when, in fact, the next plane hit in D.C. I prayed my husband wasn’t in the Sears building or any other iconic one. We lived within 5 miles of the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport and it was so incredibly eery with no planes in the sky. It was the loudest quiet I’ve ever heard. I still get very anxious about it all but have never had a panic attack and am so very sorry for those of you that suffer from them.

  14. Sarah Christy says:

    Thank you, Anne, for sharing your story. I was raised in a family where low matainence was a high value and “being emotional” was shameful. I have not experienced panic attacks or major anxiety, but I sought counseling when life become very challenging. As I age I find that allowing myself to be an orchid is ok. Also, thank you for the resources, I have a granddaughter who struggles with anxiety and I’ll be reading those books.

  15. Malia says:

    Hi Anne,
    Thank you for sharing this. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be in this limbo in Europe, shocked and unable to get home. Then to feel ashamed at your own PTSD in the face of that others faced. It must have been a really confusing, difficult time, and I am glad you are better these days, even though that experience will probably always stay with you. Even though 16 years have passed, it still seems surreal. I was in 7th grade at the time and I still see the look on my teachers face when he learned the news.

  16. Deann says:

    My mom and I were in the Atlanta airport waiting for my teenage brother to fly home from England. His first flight from Newark was canceled due to weather and he was bumped to a later flight, but they couldn’t tell us what flight. My mom and I waited at the gate for every inbound flight from Newark that night, hoping he would disembark from one of them. There was another women, waiting with us. Her daughter was flying home from England, too. Finally the airline told us the Newark airport was closing due to weather. The incoming flight was the last to leave. But they couldn’t tell us if my brother was on it. We waited at the gate – he got off the plane! The woman who waited with us, her daughter didn’t ,make that flight. It would be sometime the next day. We got my brothers bags and headed home. It was after 3 in the morning before I ,axe it back to my apartment. My mom called to wake me up after the first plane hit. I thought it was a joke. We sat on the phone together and cried and watched the second plane hit. We said a prayer for the woman in the airport and her daughter that she’d made it home before airspace closed. We said a prayer of thanksgiving that my 15 year old brother made it home and wasn’t stuck traveling alone in such unknown circumstances.and we prayed and wept for the people in the towers and planes and the families. But for the grace of God, go I. I didn’t lose anyone that day, but it is no less painful. Thank you for sharing your story. One day later, and your story is my brother’s. Sharing is healing.

  17. Heather says:

    Anne, your story is somewhat similar to mine. I was 22 and we were in Madrid when 9/11 happened. I remember we were at a Burger King and one of my friends was outside smoking with a stranger when he asked her if she was American. When she said that she was he said, “Your country is being bombed right now.” We were in shock and in disbelief, but we immediately left for one of the internet cafes to find out the news. It was weird being in another country where this was happening and all of the news was in Spanish and we could only gather bits and pieces here and there. I know that it would have been much much harder being in the US. Our flight was set to leave on 9/13, but it was canceled. We were able to get a flight home on 9/15 (the earliest that any plane was flying back to the US). I remember the security being extra tight & taking a really long time. I remember once we landed in Chicago everyone on our plane was cheering and clapping and you could tell the relief of so many to be on American soil. I have anxiety and although mine didn’t stem from 9/11 I too have had a full blown panic attack where I thought I was dying (I had my husband call 911). I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t believe that a panic attack could be this severe. I was put on daily meds, but they made me more anxious so I stopped taking them. I now have my emergency pills for when the anxiety is too strong and I can’t control it from heading towards a panic attack, which is about 2-3 times a year (my doctor told me the same thing about how once your body knows how to have a panic attack it gets easier for you to have them, lucky us!). The rest of the time when I’m feeling a little anxious I try and exercise, breath, read, color, drink Tulsi tea, and watch some happy show to help ease the anxiety I’m feeling. Here’s hoping to less anxiety for all of us!

  18. Trisha says:

    Anne, I’m sorry to hear about your struggles. Have you tried EMDR? I did this 6 months after my husband’s car accident when he had returned to ‘normal’ but not me. It was radical and relatively painless, well worth the time! Also…if you can stand to read about the topic of 9/11 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close somehow made me feel better–I didn’t read it for that reason at all. I thought it would be hard to read it–and it was. But it was only after I read it that I realized that 9/11 had affected me so much, even if I only saw it on TV because I was in Southern California at the time. And I felt this relief when I finished the book. Like I went on differently afterwards.

  19. Mary W says:

    I wasn’t on a plane, nor in another country, nor had a loved one in NYC. I was in my college apartment in the mountain west, and had just gotten engaged a few days before.
    I watched it on tv. I remember I watched the first plane hit on replay several times as the newscasters waited to find out if it was a plane malfuction or an accident. Then I saw the replay from a different angle that they hadn’t shown yet…but the height was wrong, and the background buildings were wrong…if I didn’t know better I’d have thought that wasn’t the same crash…then the newscaster spoke but I barely understood what she was saying. She was clearly freaking out and hiding it, but she said “I want to be clear, this is a second plane, hitting the second tower.”

    In that second, I knew it was a terrorist attack. I hadn’t been watching long enough to know that it was already suspected as such, so this was the first time it entered my consciousness. I had only even been vaguely aware before of current terrorism in world news. Then the towers fell. I was so late to my classes. I think I watched until the announcers said they were going to start again from the beginning.
    Of course, at my next class they announced that all classes were canceled for the day. TVs were on everywhere. I didn’t know you could even drag a tv into so many random places!
    Despite the fact that nothing “happened” to me, the events of that day took precedence over my other brain functions.
    I still have zero clue what day I was engaged. I barely remember it happening. I failed every question on my tests that semester that were taught the week before and after the attacks, as though I’d never heard the information. I had mostly healed from prior ptsd from a car accident with a semi several years before, but somehow 9/11 wiggled onto my improving symptoms. No panic attacks, but lots of blanking out and seeing the replay in front of my face at unrelated times.
    I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me at the time. I hadnt really figured out yet that I’m an empath. I had always been knocked around by other people’s emotions; it was normal to me.
    I can’t make it clear enough that Nothing Happened to me or any of my loved ones, yet I’m still not over this 16 years later.
    What really bothered me, even more than fear of attack on our own soil…even more than losing thousands of Americans…was the realization that in many countries, this is Normal. Places where every person is traumatized, for lifetimes. Hundreds and hundreds of terrorist events; thousands and thousands of deaths; places where no one single person has escaped personal damage. 9/11 sank it home to me that this is the world we live in, just a few hundred million people in a world of billions. We are so blessed. We all have problems, but living here is like winning the lottery. The 9/11 terrorist attacks are not a blessing, but I feel so much compassion for the rest of the world now, because of that.

    Thanks for all of your stories. I need to hear them.

  20. Jen T says:

    Like you, Anne, I’ve suffered from panic attacks and anxiety for years, mostly brought on from a sexual assault when I was in university in the early ’90’s. It wasn’t until three years ago that I finally went to see my doctor and basically begged him to help me feel like a ‘normal’ person again. I knew I was barely functioning but was unable to do anything but put on a brave front every time I left my house. I was finally diagnosed with chronic PTSD, and a combination of medication, EMDR, CBT, meditation, prayer, yoga, spin class, family, friends and a very cuddly dog have helped make my life more manageable, if not always perfect. Funny thing about PTSD is that it had been on my radar for years, just not related to me. I’m married to a police officer so I’ve kept a vigilant eye on him to make sure he’s getting the support he needs to cope with the horrific things he’s seen. Every time I read an article about the possible symptoms, they seemed very familiar to what I was experiencing, but I kept telling myself that it couldn’t be what I had because ‘nothing traumatic’ had ever happened to me. Funny how our brains can work so hard to try to protect us from our own memories! I am now deeply passionate about de-stigmatizing mental health struggles, being open and honest with my experiences and helping to spread the truth about how valuable a simple “me too” can be to someone who thinks they are alone in their suffering. Thank you for adding your brave voice to the chorus of people sharing their experience, and bringing light to the darkness.

  21. Thanks for sharing, Anne. Have you heard of a new documentary about anxiety called Angst? Zen Parenting Radio hosted a screening on Monday in my Chicago suburb. The documentary focuses on anxiety in children and teens, but as someone who has struggled with anxiety as an adult, I could relate as well.

  22. Angela says:

    My PTSD is from the earthquake in Japan in 2011. We lived in a small town in Northern Japan, about 4 hours north of Sendai. Our home and our town were safe, but people on the coast (we were about 5 minutes away) lost everything. We were blessed,in that our distance from the epicenter meant a smaller tsunami and the natural shape of the coastline meant that the tsunami hit at a different angle. We could have easily been washed away if not for those things, all of the announcements were in Japanese and I didn’t understand any of them. My husband was on base (we are a military family) and his building had electric locks, so he was stuck inside until the generator kicked in. I didn’t even know there had been a tsunami, or how large it had been, until the following day. We couldn’t get in contact with each other, and the only way I had of contacting our families was to use Facebook on my Kindle, that had 3G. I tried to use it sparingly, to conserve the battery, and didn’t read any of the news stories. My mom and I both cried when I was finally able to call her from base the next day.

    There were over a thousand aftershocks in the following month, and I truly don’t know how I would handle an earthquake now. I do know that when we went to a museum in London, I couldn’t look at the exhibit they had on the quake/tsunami. I had to sit in the middle of the room and stare at the floor, and eventually I made my husband and daughters leave the exhibit. We moved away from Japan 5 years ago, and I still cry about it all at random times. 9/11/01 was a defining day in my life, but so was 3/11/11. Experiencing something so scary up close and personally, especially with a small child, affected me in ways that I never imagined.

  23. Beth says:

    I was moved by your story. I live in PA and my father knew some of the folks on the plane that crashed in Somerset, PA. An event like 9/11 unifies our country. As do other, happier events like the Olympics. My youngest was in kindergarten that day and I remember thinking that his world would never feel quite as safe as it had.

  24. Melissa Turney says:

    Anne, I read this when you first posted it. I read it when you posted it again last month. And I read it tonight. One week after the Las Vegas shooting tragedy. I am a Las Vegas resident (over 11 years now). The desert is my home, and a week ago…well let’s just say I’m not in a mind frame to delve into the thoughts and feelings I’ve been having all week. I wasn’t at the concert, but I was tragedy adjacent. I live just 8 miles from Mandalay Bay. I’ve been to dozens upon dozens of concerts on the strip, my kids go to Mandalay Bay on field trips, and we’ve been there countless times. People here kept saying “It’s too close to home!” but it’s not. It is home. I didn’t have any friends get injured, but I know lots of people who were either there, or who have friends that were there and were injured. One that was killed. Anyway. I’m rambling on, but I wanted to say thank you for sharing this because I’ve felt like an insane person. I’ve had multiple, full-blown panic attacks this week, the worst was on Thursday after there was a school shooting threat in our school district (my husband is a teacher and two of my four children attend school with him).

    I feel guilty because of my fear. I wasn’t there. I feel guilty because I’m mired in grief, but I didn’t lose anyone personally, though my friends lost people. I feel unjustified in my anxiety and depression. Logically, I know I’m safe, as are those I love, but emotionally I feel unsafe. I feel isolated because, through social media, I see people moving on, or not even thinking about the atrocity that occurred. I feel perplexed because the world hasn’t stopped, even though it feels like it has. I feel angry at so many things. The shooter, for one, and for the callousness that I’ve seen both online and in my personal life. I feel scattered mentally, I can’t focus on anything for more than a couple of minutes, making life really difficult right now. I feel shattered emotionally. I feel so many more things that I can’t even name or pinpoint.

    Anyway. I just wanted to thank you for opening up and sharing. My sister asked me if I’d read this post, and I told her I had–twice, and I’d been thinking of it. It’s strange to be so viscerally affected by something that didn’t happen directly to me. Now I’m just rambling. But know that this post reached my heart three times. The first two times long before I could relate to it in any capacity.

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