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.

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.

Since we had time to kill, 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.  

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  1. I shed a few tears when reading of that fateful day again and the pain of it all. It touched everyone somehow in someway. You internalized it which many people also did. It was beyond comprehension and we can’t control how our bodies will react to such stress. I am glad you are better but I think we will all have scars who experienced that tragic day.

  2. Jillian Kay says:

    Oh, Anne. I was 23 too. I was living in Arlington, VA, 3 miles from the Pentagon. My then boyfriend, now husband was working in the US Capitol building. I had called in sick for work because I was mad at my boss. My husband and I, we both had very close calls that day, but really “nothing” happened to us. But I was sick to my stomach for months after, and stress was a constant companion of mine. Just when I started to feel OK again, we had the whole DC sniper thing. It was terrible, and I totally understand not feeling worthy of the pain.

    • Anne says:

      Oh, wow. From where I sit that sounds like a terrifying experience … and then I forgot how quickly the sniper follower 9/11. Thanks for sharing this, Jillian.

  3. Jacey says:

    Anne, thank you for sharing your story. What you wrote about comparing losses rang true for me. I was feeling uneasy this morning about sharing my 9/11 experience for that exact reason- it seems so small compared to what others lost.

    Being diagnosed that day changed how I processed the information. If it had been another day, I would have felt isolated while the world kept spinning as usual but free to grieve my own loss. As it happened, I felt the whole world grieving alongside me. New York’s courage bolstered my own, in a way, but I also felt pressure to take it in stride and to display strength I didn’t really have. Like you, I didn’t ask (or get) the help I probably needed.

  4. Veronica says:

    My panic attacks started in the middle of the night too, when I wasn’t awake to “talk myself out of them”. I had to stop watching the news (or any crime-related shows) for 5 or 6 years. My oldest child had just been born when 9/11 happened…

    • Anne says:

      Veronica, I did that, too: I finally quit watching (and listening to) the news. Every few years I’ll ease back into it, only to remember why I quit in the first place….

      • Darcy Wiley says:

        I had lots of insomnia around that time. I was 24 and living with my parents, sleeping on the sleeper sofa because my bed was broken and my dad would have the TV going late into the night, the gut-squeezing 9/11 stories on constant repeat. I would wake up every so often startled at the thought of someone trapped in the wreckage and waiting for help. I prayed, I sang “The Just Shall Live” by Rich Mullins…but it was still too much for me. Part of me wanted to stop watching and thinking about it but then it’s a harder thing for me to ignore other people’s pain. I feel a responsibility to experience it with them. Yet the weight of all the world’s tragedies is too much for one person to take in. Like AML said in Gift from the Sea chapter 8, “modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry.” (More on this in relation to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in my Gift from the Sea series. http://messageinamasonjar.com/2012/07/29/tracking-the-current/) Anyway, I go through the same cycle every so often of watching the news and getting overwhelmed by it and then swearing it off again. Mostly, I think the way to process “distant” tragedy best is to serve someone affected by it, even if simply listening to and processing with someone who was affected in a “smaller” way like you. As for that, I like what my cousin Anne said (I know a lot of great women named Anne!) when I was depressed about my dental catastrophe at the same time my husband’s grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. How could I be such a mess about my own difficulty when his was so much worse? “They can both be true,” said my cousin.

        • Jennifer says:

          Your comment about feeling like it is your responsibility to experience their pain really resonates with me. I wasn’t in the Navy when 9/11 happened but what followed really woke something up inside me and I enlisted. I’ve deployed but in the relative safety and comfort of US Navy ships which are a million times better being on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. People thank me for my service but I’ve done relatively little compared to our guys and gals that have been killed or permanently scarred for life whether that be physically or mentally. For that reason, anytime a book comes out about any soldier, sailor, airman or marine that lost their life over there or about any major mission I feel compelled, almost obligated, to read it. I feel their story needs to be heard and appreciated and not forgotten. And I also try not to listen to the news especially now with new threats against military members at home and all of that craziness.

  5. Rebecca says:

    It took me a long time to realize that God doesn’t do triage. Your experience was extremely traumatic and extraordinary. Watching the grief first hand of those whose home had just been attacked must have been excruciating. I also can’t imagine being “exiled” and not knowing when I could get home again. Just because it was (perhaps) more traumatic for those living in NYC and DC doesn’t make your experience any less real or horrific. Have you ever considered counseling even though it’s been a long time?

    • Anne says:

      “Just because it was (perhaps) more traumatic for those living in NYC and DC doesn’t make your experience any less real or horrific.”

      Yes, exactly. Interestingly, reading through these comments here, I’m realizing how much more grace I have for other people’s losses, as compared to my own, which I’m inclined to write off as “minor.” Hmmm.

      I went to counseling a few years ago for something unrelated to 9/11, but as we dove into things we ended up spending a lot (A LOT) of time talking about 9/11 and the aftermath. It was really healing, and I still wish I’d done it sooner. It would have helped so much.

      • This is me in a nutshell…I have so much more compassion for other people than for and so I tend to write off my own painful experiences as not a big deal.

        For instance, I had some painful childhood experiences because of an extended family member (who is now dead), and for decades, I thought it was no big deal and that counseling was for people who’d had REAL abuse. But if I heard about someone who had gone through what I’d gone through, I would feel genuine compassion for them.

        It’s kind of messed up.

        Anyway, I’m figuring all of that out now with my therapist! 😉

  6. Jeannie says:

    Thank you for telling us your 9/11 story, Anne. I was so struck by these words: “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.” I think you will benefit a lot of people by pointing out that our individual losses and traumas are valid and need to be dealt with in some way, regardless of how they may look in comparison to others’. I hope the writing and publishing of this is helpful to you, too. Thank you for it.

  7. Melanie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. By exposing your scars, you have allowed others to share theirs. Thank you for breaking the silence. There is no shame in trying to make sense of life after such a devastating event.

    Love to you,

  8. Anna says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing. My 9/11 experience wasn’t dramatic. I was just a 19 year old college student. I was scared and it changed my life forever, just like everyone, but I was mostly OK. However, years later I can look back and see that a huge part of who I am and how I view the world all goes back to that one day. Whenever I read articles about the Millenial generation, I get a little upset when 9/11 isn’t mentioned and the focus is put solely on technology or wealth. The mark that day and the following wars left on us young adults who were just coming into our adult responsibilities cannot be measured, but it’s significant.

  9. Wow. I simply can’t imagine trying to process what happened from the other side of the ocean after having been in a plane headed for the place it happened. It was hard enough for me, sitting safe in the middle of the country. I’m glad you shared your story this year; thank you. There’s lots to be said and learned about comparing hurts, isn’t there?

  10. Faigie says:

    What a traumatic time. I remember it like yesterday like everyone else. My husband was on his way to work (he worked a few minutes from the world trade center) and was on the subway when the planes hit. I have a friend whose husband worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and she made him stay home late that morning because her son hadn’t completed a book order. He was on his way up to his office when his floor was hit. He helped a woman from his office (who he did not have a good relationship with) who was burned, down to the bottom and then she insisted on him coming to the hospital with her which basically saved his life as the building fell right where he was.

  11. Tim says:

    Anne, the anxiety you experienced is not only understandable but it’s a normal reaction to a horrific experience. I went through that day at home and in my own office here in California, while you had your plans – your life – disrupted in unexpected ways. Then you had to get on a plane and trust that it also was not going to be flown into a building. I’d say you went through a lot back then.

    Thanks for sharing it with us, so that we can see that pain – no matter what the source – is real. I am so glad that God offers healing, comfort and peace, and that even in the midst of our anxieties (and I’ve had some doozies) he is right there with us through it all.


  12. sarah k says:

    Thanks for sharing that. It sounds truly traumatic.

    Comparing losses–that’s a tough one. Before I went through catastrophic loss (in two years I’ve lost my brother, had two miscarriages, and suffered the stillbirth of a 26-week baby boy) I would have said no, you can’t compare losses. Here is what I would say now: loss is loss. Just because yours is less dramatic than someone else’s doesn’t mean it shouldn’t hurt or that you shouldn’t talk about it. Conversely, just because someone else’s is less dramatic than yours doesn’t mean their suffering is invalid. I believe we should not stint our compassion by trying to rank someone’s suffering on a scale; and neither should we avoid seeking help because we think our suffering doesn’t count.

    However–I think there is one area where some comparison of losses is valid and important. If you are talking to a person who has suffered a catastrophic loss (such as the untimely death of a child or spouse, a terminal illness, etc) and you have not, you should never say, “I understand what you’re going through,” or tell yourself that their suffering is really no different from yours when you were temporarily laid off/broke your ankle/had to put your dog to sleep/were sad because you didn’t get into the college you hoped to. Instead, we should acknowledge that we don’t know what it’s like and we can’t fully understand it–but we will try to imagine it and we will listen to what they want to say about it. I have been deeply hurt by people who uncompassionately told me that I should not be depressed after the death of my son, that if I really trusted God I would be filled with hope and faith. When I pointed out that they didn’t have any authority to say that because they had never experienced the loss of a child, I was serenely and condescendingly told that I should never compare sufferings. This was one of the most damaging comments that has ever been made to me, and it destroyed a friendship and made me feel unwelcome in my church and small group–something I am still struggling with 6 months later.

    Anne, you clearly have not exercised that kind of damaging comparison–your reticence to share shows that. I am glad you did share, and I think you did it very sensitively. I just wanted to mention that thought here as the topic of comparing losses is very close to my heart now.

    • Anne says:

      Oh, Sarah, I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine how devastating that must have been.

      Thanks for so graciously pointing out how hurtful words can be to someone who’s experienced a grave loss.

      (One of the things I’ve learned–because I was taught it, not because I was smart enough to discern it–is that it’s never a good idea to say “I know what you’re going through.” Because no two people are the same and no two losses are the same–even if on the surface they appear to belong to the same “category.”)

  13. sarah k says:

    p.s. in my last paragraph above, what I meant to say was that you haven’t exercised that kind of damaging REFUSAL to compare. Sorry. Should have proof-read before I hit post.

  14. Tracy S. says:

    I had been watching the morning news and I saw everything as it happened. I watched the towers fall on tv that morning. I had a sister living in New York City and a brother working in the Pentagon that day. I went to my kids’ school to assure them that their aunt and uncle were ok. Really, I went to the school because I needed to see them, to know that they were ok.
    Afterwards, I stopped watching the coverage when my kids were around. My youngest, age 4, thought that each news clip was a new plane hitting a building. She doesn’t really remember that time now.

    I have other events in my life in the last few years that rocked my world in the way you are talking about–the illness and death of my mother-in-law and my daughter’s depression (this was all at the same time). Now I am facing the illness of another family member. After each trip to the ER, I feel that panic rising. I don’t want to do this again! I needed Tim’s reminder of God’s healing, comfort and peace.

  15. Deborah says:

    Anne, that was great of you to share. And I agree with not comparing tragedies or belittling your own feelings. And yet I will preface my comment with exactly that kind of a disclaimer. I have a friend who’s birthday is September 11th. Needless to say, she has difficulty celebrating her birthday now. She feels weird smiling, being cheerful, asking for birthday celebrations. She never complains about it and she acts like it doesn’t bother her, but in a weird way, it bothers me. I love birthdays. Love them, and love celebrating mine and other’s. so I feel a strange pain that she has difficulty getting her due on this day. That these terrorirists stole her birthday joy for the rest of her life. It makes me mad.

    • Tim says:

      The way I see celebrations on 9/11, Deborah, is that I had a lot of 9/11s before 2001 and I’ll probably have a lot of them afterward. If someone has something to celebrate no that date, I’m going to join in without regard for a single days horrible tragedy. every day is filled with tragedy, frankly, and yet there is much to celebrate every day as well.


    • Ginger says:

      A dear friend of mine was scheduled to be married on September 11th. They hesitated and questioned whether to go ahead with the evening, but they decided that if they let the terrorist rob that joy, they had won another victory.

      It was one of the most joyful and meaningful marriage celebrations I’ve ever attended.

    • Anne says:

      Your poor friend! That’s horrible. My older neighbors were married on September 11 (like, 40 years ago) and they’ve expressed similar thoughts. (By the way, thanks for the reminder to go tell them happy anniversary yesterday.)

  16. Breanne says:

    I’m glad you went ahead and published this post, this year. I wasn’t reading your blog last year and would have missed these good words.
    Comparing losses is never good. Loss is loss is loss. My family’s house burned down just before Christmas when I was 19 and I still (9 years later) wince when I hear sirens.
    What was most helpful was learning about the patterns our nervous systems make and the effect that can have on us for years. Due to the house fire and other stuff, I’m actually seeing a counselor next week which has been needed for awhile.
    So, thank-you for being brave and hitting publish. =)

  17. I did go to the doctor. My son’s father and one of our best friends (they were navy) were stationed in DC. My family was rooted in NYC. My grandmother grew up there and graduated from Columbia.

    I did end up at the pdoc for panic attacks. I lived next door to some folks who had a tiny baby but were from that area…. in my ignorance, I assumed the worst every time I heard them speak in their native tongue in hushed whispers. Many, many panic attacks and sleepless nights later, I went to the doc, got a diagnosis of PTSD, was told to STOP watching the 24 hour news networks (I still don’t watch them….. PTSD is a weird thing and rears it’s ugly head unexpectedly) I had always had panic attacks due to childhood traumas, but the events of 9-11 made it so much worse. In the end, I went into therapy and on meds for about 6 months. That and avoiding news networks helped so much…. It did seem silly… almost inconceivable that *I* could have PTSD when I wasn’t any where NEAR NYC… I lived in NC at the time and had never set FOOT in NY state much less NYC…. but my therapist assured me that because of the constant inundation by cable news of the trauma over and over ad nauseum that MANY MANY people were suffering from symptoms of PTSD without having been directly affected at all. Without considering even that I had actually lost friends in the attack on the Pentagon.

    Our brains can only handle so much trauma, be it ours or someone else’s. We’re not designed for that constant flow of negativity and bad news. My entire family, son, husband, and I all go to therapy every few weeks/months depending on which one of us it is… not for 9/11 anymore… but just to help assimilate the trauma of our modern world. The fighting and violence and negativity and bullying from every direction. The human soul cannot thrive in that amount of emotional violence.

    Thank you for sharing….

  18. wow and wow. thank you for sharing this. very truly thank you. i’m sure there are thousands. some of which might not even still recognize the effect on their lives. this is powerful. virtually hugging you. baby bump (more of a giant bulge now) and all! xo

  19. Brittany says:

    I didn’t lose anything in 9/11, but I have panic attacks and I know they are a terrifying time until you get them under control. We should chat more one day.

    Your story was one of the most touching I’ve read today. Thanks for sharing your unique perspective. I can’t even imagine the terror of being so far away and nothing you could do about it.

  20. lizaleegrace says:

    Someone on twitter shared this, and I feel compelled to comment (I rarely comment on any blog.) Thank you for sharing about the panic attacks. They’re sneaky little buggers that come on when you’re least expecting it. The first one I had was as I was getting ready to go to a church meeting. Then, every week, I had one right before going to that particular meeting. I dropped out of that group, but I still panic sometimes at the thought of going to church. A lifelong church goer, panicking over going. It’s ridiculous, but it’s my reality.

    Here’s my 9/11 story: I was in college at the time. I had no classes that day and was home with my 9 month old son. A FedEx guy delivered a package and was horrified that I didn’t have the TV on. I rarely watch TV, and being home, hadn’t talked to anyone that day. I remember him saying, “They’re going down. We’re heading to war.” I turned on the TV and watched, cradling my baby, until I couldn’t stand anymore. Any thoughts of homework were destroyed. I needed something to numb my mind, so I turned on the playstation. We only had two games – soccer, which I didn’t know how to play, and a game called Worms. In Worms, you have a team of worms and your worms throw weapons at an opposing team of worms, until one team has no life left. Violent, in a very cartoonish way. (Weapons are the typical bombs and guns and then you have silly things like baseball bats and exploding sheep.) Well, I couldn’t get through one game. It was suddenly all too real.

    I still have the game, but can’t play it anymore. Even though it’s cartoonish, it’s too close to the violence we see every day. While I’m not personally affected by any of the 9/11 events, and have not been affected by any other violent episode, someone has. And that’s the burden I carry. I don’t want to glorify violence, because while it’s a cartoon to me, it’s very real to someone just like me.

  21. Leigh Kramer says:

    So proud of you for hitting publish on this one, friend. When we compare our losses, we disenfranchise our grief- we (or someone else tells us) say it could have been worse or we don’t have the right to feel this way and it only compounds how we are in fact feeling. It’s so important to be honest with ourselves and to find safe people with whom we can process.

  22. Gina says:

    Oh, sweetie, I completely get this. I was living in London on September 11 and I had the day off. I put the tv on, looking for Oprah but there were pictures of the towers. The first plane had not long hit and the second hadn’t. I thought it was a movie and switched channels. Then I knew it wasn’t a movie but an accident. Oh, that was terrible and the second plane came and it was clearly not an accident. I have never seen anything so terrible and sad and I watched and listened and prayed for the one person I knew was in New York and the families of the people who were dying. It was awful and I am British. I hadn’t been to NY at that point.
    On July 7th my fiance and I were getting ready to go to Greece to get married. This is not a sad story. We tried to get some stuff locally but he said he would go into London for an underwater camera housing. He didn’t, he located one nearer us but I didn’t know. The bombs on the buses and trains went off and I didn’t know where he was, or his cousin or his sister. I was in my office just outside London, with my colleagues trying to make sense of it all. Every last person in my office didn’t know where at least on person was and it was petrifying. We had the news on. The police told us to stay away from the windows. My friends cousin died with her husband and they had only recently announced their pregnancy. I didn’t lose anyone and my now husband was home with his mum. I discovered two hours after the first bomb hit.
    I completely understand how you feel. I think these events changed us and our pysches. It brought things close and real. I still haven’t been on the underground and I wasn’t even their. I once took a taxi across town because there wasn’t another viable way except the underground and I can’t. I can’t go down there and hope for the best now I have seen the worst. I am glad you posted this as I have always felt a bit silly.

  23. Vanessa says:

    A few days before the attacks I had sat on the stairs and cried. I am not usually very teary but I cried that day b/c I was going to turn 40 on Friday and that meant, (gulp) one step closer to death for me! What a little self-centered creature I was! By Tuesday that week everything changed, so many people died, so many who were still living lost so much. Me, well, I turned 40 on a National Day of Mourning and everyone wore red, white and blue to my birthday party. We ate the cake and laughed.

    I do remember laying awake many nights saying to myself “Osama Bin Laden, what a gentle sounding name. How could he have done that?” Panic attacks are such a part of my life that sometimes I even appreciate them! With the attacks, I was back on Paxil waiting for the anxiety to ease a little so I could go off again. Within the year I was pregnant and my due-date was September 11th. This was so horrifying to me I only ever told one other person besides my husband, a pregnant stranger. Coincidently it was her due-date too but she had adopted a really sensible thought about it and said it was an affirmation of life continuing. My husband was also horrified and was never able to remember the due date if anyone asked. He had absolutely no reference to it at all and I know it was self protective but sometimes I wanted him to be able to say something meaningful about what was coming up. As it turned out, our 2nd son was born 8/29/02, a full sized baby at 8.1 lbs. I didn’t have that little cross to bear after all and I appreciate it.

    • 'Becca says:

      I clipped a large photo of Osama Bin Laden from the newspaper and made myself pray for him every day for a while. His eyes looked so gentle. I thought, “Come on now, you KNOW that was wrong! Repent and apologize!” But he never did. 🙁 My officemate at the time was very into anger and hatred and fantasizing Bin Laden’s horrible death and eternal suffering. I couldn’t really understand that. I wanted him to turn back and go right, because that could have such a huge positive influence on all his followers.

      • Vanessa says:

        The revenge fantasies almost make more sense than the prayers, but it was good of you to offer up a few moments of your time for Osama.

  24. Stacey says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Anne. My mother in law is a therapist and she has always said that really and truly the whole country is living in a sense of PTSD- it is only the brave people who admit. No matter how closely we were affected by the events of 9/11, it is now inside us all, forever.

  25. Brooke says:

    Thank you so much for your honesty and openness. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and panic, it was really encouraging to read your thoughts on counseling and not comparing losses.

  26. ElizaBeth Hedgspeth says:

    Anne, in a world before everyone had a cell phone, I remember part of your story from this side of the Atlantic. We knew you were somewhere in Europe, but had no idea when you were going to come home. It was strangely quiet here. I was almost into my second trimester with Jeremiah and overwhelmed with the thoughts of what was the world going to be like for him. I think most everyone became introspective and retreated into themselves. Yes, those of us who could gave blood, and went to prayer vigils, but in retrospect what we each went through personally is what is etched strongly in our minds. I can’t tell you what many others were doing through that time. I’m sorry my own myopic view missed a friend in need.
    On the one year anniversary of 9/11, the power went off unexpectedly at our house. I was alone with JJ. I hadn’t realized how scared I was on the inside still. It was a beautiful day, and suddenly I feared we were under attack, again. I called Ben and he assured me nothing was happening.
    I pray that each day new roads will be paved around the etched ones so that you can grow stronger.

  27. 'Becca says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing your story. I think your traumatized feelings are entirely appropriate. For a long time I’ve thought about writing about the “suffering contest” that people often get into–first noticed in college, when everyone would complain about how much work they had to do and whatever health issues and personal drama they had, barely listening to one another in their eagerness to have their turn to complain and see if they could “win” at having it worst! Despite being aware of the phenomenon all this time, I still fall into it more often than I’d like.

    I live and work in Pittsburgh. The first news about Flight 93 was that it crashed “in Pittsburgh” so my office manager panicked and sent us all home. All the transit routes toward my home come out of downtown, and most of the skyscrapers downtown had been evacuated, so traffic was jammed and there were no buses for hours. I walked home 3 miles in beautiful, gorgeous, warm, bright blue September weather, and it felt so wrong, like how dare I enjoy it when people were dying and (as far as I knew until I got home) even more tragedies were unfolding? I think of it every year when the weather is like that.

    I just felt stunned most of that day. That night I dreamed that I saw something in the footage of the burning towers just before the collapse, a clue everyone else had missed. I had to tell the authorities!! But once awake, I couldn’t articulate what I had seen or feel sure that I’d really seen it. I was up the whole rest of the night watching my tape over and over again. (As soon as I got home, I’d started taping news coverage, because I was making a 2000-2001 time capsule. I’m glad I did that–it was quite the era to document!) Eventually I was sure it was just a dream, but it really shook me.

    Here’s my reflection on adjusting to the attacks, written last year:

  28. Hi Ann,
    My friend called me as I was getting out of the shower to tell me about the planes. I spent the day nursing my 10 mo. old and watching the TV. That friend was getting married on Sept. 22 and her husband was (supposed to be) flying in from S. Africa. He did make it. Then in S. Africa sometime in November they were mugged in a park. So when she was back in December I went with her to a counselor in Western CT who affirmed her PTSD and prayed with us, to a very good effect.
    A few years later, living in Boston and on a history walk, I met a well dressed jobless man who told me about his PTSD: he had been air traffic controller. I empathized, affirmed his pain and subsequent living to help others, but wish I’d offered to pray with him, too.
    Thank you for writing your story. Thank you for listening to mine, of trying to help others.

  29. Panic attacks – I’d never heard them described as creating “grooves” but it’s such an accurate metaphor. My first panic attack was in the car on my way to work. I was listening to a children’s novel on tape (The View from Saturday. read it.) and it was a particularly stressful time in the book and I got sick. I was pregnant at the time and I thought something was really wrong with me. I thought I was having a heart attack even though I knew better.

    Then, I started having panic attacks at the same place on the road every morning. I had to start taking a different route to avoid that “groove.”

    Panic attacks are a nasty business.

  30. Joy says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have to agree with so many commenters here that we all experienced loss that day, and I think it is *so* important to talk about what happened. I do have to agree with the one commenter who mentioned the Millennial generation. I know within my own life and my own group of friends we were all profoundly affected by 9/11 (some were actually at Ground Zero in the aftermath as volunteers, and a friend of ours lost his dad in the Towers). It changed us all. We would all go on to graduate in the aftermath, while the economy tanked in 08- our entire twenties were defined not only by 9/11 but all the choices that came after it, especially the wars (we lost two friends in Afghanistan). But we *never* talk about it. The effects of 9/11 almost seem like an elephant in the room- at least within my own life and relationships. Why does no one talk about how defined we Millennials are by the event? Now that a few of us have gone through counseling (often for unrelated issues that suddenly and clearly become *related* as some of you others have mentioned), we’re starting to talk about it within our group. But I do understand the feeling of shame- how could what we’ve gone through possibly relate to the friend who lost his dad, for instance? And yet…it was real. It happened. It was terrifying. It affected us all in different ways. I think it’s important to tell the stories, and thank you for being so brave!

  31. Cathy Armour says:

    Wow, Anne – I missed this original post. You told the story beautifully …how difficult for a 23 year old to experience. On 9/10/2001 our first-born’s private school administrator told us our spirited, energetic, HSP boy was “not thriving” in kindergarten and perhaps it was best to remove him from the school (oh, he said some even more terrible things about my son’s future – but those I can’t even write). On 9/11/2001 I was sitting in my office and the pediatrician called to confirm what we all believed, he had ADHD when the TODAY show was just beginning to report the events unfolding. The TV was on and the peditrician was talking and I remember realizing I was being so selfish worrying about my own little world which was crumbling. It was like a sucker punch to think that your only child (at that time) would be living in a world filled with this much grief, with administrators who didn’t believe in him, and with this new diagnosis. I cried most of the day. I picked him up at the end of the school day and tried to hold it together. As we were driving home, we stopped at a gas station and saw a semi-truck collide with a car in an intersection – and ultimately end in a deep ditch. The driver died. I couldn’t hold it together any longer – I cried the entire drive home with my babe in the backseat wondering why his Mommy was falling apart. A cruel world. Unbelievable grief. An administrator who threw away a kindergartner. A life-changing diagnosis on our only (at that time) child. And, a random disaster to take a life right in front of us. I cried and struggled for months. 13 years later that sweet kindergartner started college as a freshmen and is striving for the deans list, despite his ADHD HSP-self. And, while the world is still scary and random tragic events happen, the best part of the “after 9/11” years is seeing more vividly the human spirit heal, thrive and encourage others because of what we’ve been through. Compassion grows out of terrible experiences. As I sent my 12 year old to school today, I actually felt a bit sad for him that he didn’t experience the kindnesses all around during that healing period in the lives of Americans and mine – and realized how odd that was because so many didn’t want to add to their family after 9/11. Many couldn’t imagine a world filled with such terror. How could there be good anymore? Tragedy really does bring us all together, brings out the good in all of us.

  32. liz n. says:

    Thank you for this post.

    One of my oldest and dearest friends worked at the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. On the day McVeigh bombed that building, she hadn’t made it to work yet because her son was sick, and she was driving him to her mother-in-law’s instead of taking him to his usual daycare at work. I finally heard her voice on the phone, after two days of jammed phone lines, and fell to the floor, sobbing almost hysterically with relief and joy and who knows what else.

    My best friend since childhood worked at the Pentagon. I hoped for, and almost expected, another miraculous turn of events. On 9/14, her husband called. She did not survive 9/11. This time, when I fell to the floor sobbing, I WAS hysterical.

    (Obviously, you cannot see this, but I typed that last sentence 15 minutes ago and had to step away….I just finished sobbing like a baby, but this happens every year on 9/11, and it will happen again in a few days, on the anniversary of her funeral.)


    I’m sorry; I was going to post something poignant in response to your honest and touching post, but I cannot. This is the best I can do, right now. Bless you, and bless everyone who supported and sent love to this nation. Thank you for this post.

  33. Lisa T says:

    My husband was in New York state (Tarrytown) on 9/11. It was the first time he’d traveled for work since starting his job in 9/99. Our son was 2 1/2 years old and it was his first day of preschool. As the next couple of days passed, we wondered how he would ever get home. We decided that he’d take Amtrak; then the next morning there was a major derailment, which at first was thought to be terrorism. He finally got to use his plane ticket as planned–flying out of White Plains on 9/14. It was one of the first flights out of New York state. It left quite late and by the time he got to his layover in Chicago he had to stay overnight. It took him two days to get home.

    For the next five years I cancelled as many flights as we went on. I was not so much afraid of terrorism on my flight. When the three of us traveled, we were all together and I thought it would be okay to die as long as we were together. The thing that made me feel panicked was the possibility of something terrible happening elsewhere in the country, the airspace being closed, and having no way to get home. If something bad were to happen again I knew I just wanted to be HOME.

    I don’t think the dh had to travel for work again for a long time. And I’ve gradually gotten used to him leaving once a quarter to visit his team on the East Coast (we’re near Seattle). I’ve even flown to CA and back by myself a couple of times. And my biggest achievement was flying home from Amsterdam with our son, while the dh stayed behind for an extra week. It’s still hard; I still hate it. I have a kind and understanding physician who prescribes a little valium to get through my flights.

  34. Katherine says:

    Anne, thank you so much for hitting publish last year. This post helped me in deciding to seek treatment for my anxiety and panic attacks. For a long time I felt that I didn’t deserve to seek treatment because I hadn’t experienced a major trauma. I thought I should be able to “get over it” on my own. Anxiety doesn’t really take into account our opinions about how we ought to feel, or what level of trauma is sufficient to feel that way. Thank you for having the courage to write this, it is so helpful for those in the thick of anxiety to hear others talking about there experiences with it; it helps overcome the stigma surrounding anxiety and other mental illnesses. God bless!

  35. Heather says:

    This is my first time reading this post. I was in my early 2Os and in Madrid at the time of the attacks. My two friends and I were scheduled to go home in three days, but that got postponed because of no flights into the US. The people in Madrid were so kind to us. I remember being on the plane home and I can’t tell you how loud the applause was once we landed into Chicago. I think that everyone had the attacks on their mind and was a little on edge flying. It was definitely a different experience being in a foreign country when all of this happened. I felt very removed from what the people in my country were experiencing. This isn’t related to 9/11, but I too have had one bad panic attack. I had no idea what was happening to me, but it was one of the worst things that I have ever experienced :(.

    • liz n. says:

      We lived in Madrid when I was a girl, and that’s where we were when Nixon resigned. We read it in the papers…it was very surreal.

  36. Allison says:

    Just wanted to say “thanks” for posting your experiences from Sept. 11. EVERYONE has scars from that day. Some are very large and deep, others, not so much. Nevertheless, I have found very few people who made it through that day unscathed. Even this morning, one of the cable news networks, in remembrance, was going to (yet again!) run its original news feed from that morning in 2001, start to finish. I immediately changed the channel, as I KNOW I just cannot watch it all over again.

    I remember when the movie “Pearl Harbor” came out with Ben Affleck, and I suggested to my in-laws that they go and see it. My mother-in-law, who lived through not only the Depression but also WWII, emphatically said “NO!” I didn’t understand her refusal at the time, but now I do. I can’t watch a movie or any show about 9/11. As she said “I lived through it once; I don’t need to do it again.”

    The one thing I DO try and do is to be very grateful for even the most mundane things in my life–folding laundry, grocery shopping etc. There are many people whose families and lives were shattered on 9/11. How many of them would give ANYTHING to just fold their loved one’s socks again? To shop for a meal to serve the husband or wife who is never coming home again? I try to remember these things and not complain about how good I have it!

  37. Dana Kumerow says:

    Hi Anne,

    I had just started the school year teaching first grade at a new school in 2001. I heard the news during my planning period while my students were in Art class. We were told not to tell the children anything about it, so we didn’t. I can remember watching them on the playground that afternoon thinking that this was their last day of innocence. About a week later someone knocked on my classroom and told me we needed to evacuate the building immediately and to not turn on walkies or cell phones and to make the children leave all of their belongings behind. We were told to hurry but no other information was given. We took the children to the playground field as far from the building as possible. No one would tell us anything and I was sure another terrorist attack had occurred. It has been mentioned in the news that my city with 2 nuclear power plants nearby and it being a major banking center was a potential future target. I was totally panicked and frantic and all I could think about was my family and what had happened to them. I knew I couldn’t show it, though for the sake of the kids. You could see it on the faces of the other teachers as well. No one told us anything for a good while. We just stood in the field waiting with the children, trying to put on brave faces. As it turned out the construction crew working on an addition to the building had stuck a gas line, but no one told us that until much later. I was able to hold on to my composure until I got home that day and then I had a panic attack. When i saw my husband and mom I just went to pieces. My last year teaching was the year of the elementary school massacre. I began having panic attacks driving to work convinced i would not come home at the end of the day and i obsessed about planning ways to keep my students safe in the event of something like that. It was one of the reasons I retired at the end of that school year.

  38. Mary says:

    Tears are streaming down my cheeks as I read your article. This day has left all of us different than we were on 9/10/01. On a beautiful, clear morning the thought still runs through my mind just like on 9/11. I pick up yogurt or milk or whatever at the grocery store and the sell by date is 9/11 and I feel sick. I live in Virginia, not far from Washington DC and on a clear night I sit outside and look at the sky and remember the fighter jets that flew over our house for so many days/nights after 9/11.

    Don’t ever feel silly for admitting that you are/were deeply effected by the horrific events of 9/11. We were all effected in one way or another. I believe the scars still run deep for most of us.

    Take care.

  39. Kristen says:

    I can totally relate to how you feel about comparing losses. I had a traumatic near-death experience with the birth of my first child and with my two subsequent pregnancies I’ve experienced PTSD flashbacks and anxiety. All three of my children are perfectly healthy (and I am, too), so when my midwife suggested that I had PTSD I felt so ashamed and undeserving of that diagnosis, considering that I know so many people who have lost a child or family member in a traumatic experience. But you are right, comparing losses doesn’t accomplish anything other than guilt. Thank you for sharing your story and helping some of us realize that truth for ourselves, too.

  40. MelissaJoy says:

    I was 24 and a New York based AA flight attendant preparing for a transcontinental trip that morning. That day was horrific and sad and changed everything about what my work was and would become. It’s overwhelming to think a person can completely relate to another person but I want to believe we can continue to heal from such traumas by keeping the conversation open.

  41. Laura says:

    A couple of years ago when my husband was diagnosed with PTSD, he had a similar response — how could his suffering compare to others’ who have that diagnosis. When he told his stepmother, a psychiatric nurse, about the diagnosis and his planned treatment, admitting a bit of embarrassment, she replied, “honey, life is traumatic. I’m just glad you’re getting help.” Those have been healing words for him, and I am so thankful for where his anxiety is now after 2 years of treatment. Thanks for sharing.

  42. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I think I was too young to be too scared by 9/11 but I was also old enough to never forget it. It was three days before my 12th birthday and I had two siblings living on the east coast. One in Maryland right outside of D.C. and one in D.C. and was an intern at the Pentagon. The night before the brother working at the Pentagon came down with food poisoning as well as many of the other interns he worked with. They were not at work when the pentagon was hit. I remember waking up to my brother (the one who lived in D.C.) calling to tell us to turn on the TV. I could go on and on about how different that day was and the experiences I had. I’m just grateful for the miracles that occurred that day for me and for many other people. I also am grateful you shared how it affected you!

  43. Amy says:

    I was in the car. My toddler was sleeping at home with my second husband as I drove to pick up my oldest son from visiting his Dad. I was halfway between each child as the news unfolded live on NPR. My heart races to remember. Do I race to one child or the other? A humbling experience. Thank you for sharing your story and honoring we all have one to tell.

  44. A.D.L says:

    I was in high school when it happened…all of the kids in AP English classes were taking our summer reading exams in the cafeteria. The teaches started whispering and scurrying around about halfway through the tests and when we finished, my friend passed me in a rush in the hallway. “Oh my God, it’s awful!” she said. “What is?” I asked. “A plane crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon is on fire!”
    I thought she was joking. In our next classroom, we were watching the news when the second plane hit. It was a terrible day all around. I am a very sensitive person and didn’t sleep for days afterward. Finally, my dad told me to grab my sleeping bag and a pillow. He set up cots for us in our horse pasture and we just laid there staring up at the clear sky….no blinking plane lights in sight….hearing the sound of the horses grazing all around us. I slept so soundly that night and it was a big turning point in my mental processing of the events.

  45. Kirsten D. says:

    My Husband and I were stationed in Germany at that time. We had just come back from yet another Doctor’s appointment for our son, it was a perfect fall september day. We watched live at 1pm, as we watched we knew that the base security would go up, however when they hit the pentagon it whent to full lock down. My husband had to go into work that night and what would have taken him 5 minutes took him a half hour. He worked all that night, in addition to his other duties I did’t know when or if I would see him again. Families couldn’t leave base for 48hrs, and you couldn’t get on base unless you were active duty. I prepared our important papers if we needed to evacuate back to the states. Security to the bases would never be the same. I remember taking our dog out, and it was a quiet like I have never heard before.

  46. Kayris says:

    I had panic attacks in my sleep a few years ago, related to stress from the death of a friend. Long story short, my childhood best friend was murdered when we were in 9th grade by a serial killer. Two years ago, a crime show on the discovery channel did a show on the killer and the DNA that led to discovering his identity 10 years later (he was already in jail for a another murder) and the show interviewed me. The panic attacks at night were terrifying, I thought I was having a heart attack or a stroke or something. I didn’t want to go to bed at night because they were so scary, but being over tired made me more likely to have them.

  47. Crystal says:

    I still remember where I was when I heard about the attacks. I was preparing for a choir concert, so we were on the risers singing our songs, when the news first started to spread. I didn’t hear about it until I walked into my next class. The TV was on with footage and I just stopped in my tracks and watched, until someone came up behind me. My parents and I were dog-sitting while my sister and her husband were in California. I always took Wolf out when we had him, but on 9/11 and in the days after I made my dad go with me, even though I knew there wouldn’t be any planes flying overhead. And while we were out with him I kept watching the sky.

    I really identified with your parenthetical that it feels strange to write PTSD. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder when I was 20. For a long time I had disordered eating. I’d go through long periods of refusing to eat. I went through a few years of exercising obsessively. When I asked for help it was because I was binging and purging and I didn’t like that. It was hard for me to… not accept, because I knew that my relationship with food, eating and exercise wasn’t healthy… but to verbalize that I had an eating disorder, because it wasn’t as bad as it can be. I also felt like since I didn’t “look” the part, people wouldn’t believe me. And I still feel that. I don’t talk about it much, not because I feel ashamed of it, but because I always think “they’re not going to believe me.” But it’s still something that I have to deal with; there are times when I’ll think that I shouldn’t eat and I’ve learned how to work through it. Just because my eating disorder wasn’t as bad as it can be, doesn’t mean that it isn’t something that I deal with.

    • Anne says:

      “Just because my eating disorder wasn’t as bad as it can be, doesn’t mean that it isn’t something that I deal with.”

      I appreciated this perspective—thanks for sharing. Well said.

  48. Libby H says:

    I think I have undiagnosed PTSD from my pregnancies (esp the first, even though, technically, it was pretty textbook). It took me a long to realize where the line between “normal” and PPD laid, and that my emotional responses to being a mom were not textbook. I also feel silly even thinking I have PTSD, isn’t that for former military? But it’s that line of thinking that is exactly as hurtful as you said. Thank you.

    • Anne says:

      “It took me a long to realize where the line between “normal” and PPD laid, and that my emotional responses to being a mom were not textbook.”

      I relate to this all too well. Thanks for sharing.

  49. Erin says:

    I felt the same after Hurricane Katrina, I live in S. Louisiana…and since our experience wasn’t as bad as nearly everyone we knew (we still had a roof over our heads, and our family was alive…even though it took days to locate them all) I felt guilty about the stress of it, when so many people were so much worse off than we were. But you’re right, it didn’t do anyone any good to compare grief…only best to deal with it as it came. I found that volunteering my time made me feel better about the situation.

  50. Laura W says:

    I found this post via the link at the bottom of yesterday’s post. Thank you for writing it and thank you for continuing to link to it. As a fellow hsp and infp, I struggle with stress, anxiety, and ptsd related to the recurring terror attacks in our lifetime, beginning with Okc (I lived in OK at the time), then 9/11 (I was packing to move to college for the first time) and I was studying abroad in Spain when the Madrid bombing happened. I was never directly affected, but deeply internalized the suffering and uncertainty. Reading this reminds me that my sense of trauma IS valid and that maybe I should pursue some counseling/directed prayer work. I have found the EMDR trauma therapy helpful in other areas (birth trauma after an emergency c-section), so maybe that is something I could pursue again. We live in troubled times. Lord, have mercy upon us.

  51. Angela says:

    I have some PTSD from the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. We lived in Northern Japan, just a few hours’ drive from the epicenter, and the HUGE main earthquake, plus hundreds of aftershocks didn’t really affect me emotionally at the time, but I almost broke down in a museum last year that had an exhibit on the quake and aftermath. There was a room you could stand in that had a moving floor to help you feel what the quake was like, and I couldn’t go within 10 feet of it. I sat on a bench, crying, while my husband and daughters looked at the exhibit, and we ended up leaving before my daughter was ready because I couldn’t handle it.

    I loved living in Japan, and miss it there, but I’m not sure how I will handle it if we ever move back, or if we move to a part of the US that has earthquakes.

  52. Melissa W says:

    I was 21 at the time and I felt like my entire world had collapsed in front of my eyes. I remember that day like it was yesterday. And while reading this, remember I live near Vancouver, Canada. I woke up at about 6:30 am with no aid in waking up. I lingered in bed until about 6:40/6:45, when my radio came onto the local sports station saying that Michael Jordan had postponed his press conference. Thinking that somebody in his family had passed away (his dad had been killed a few years back), I went downstairs to the kitchen. When I entered the kitchen/family room area, I was shocked to see the towers engulfed in smoke. I asked my dad what had happened and he told me. I watched for the next 30 minutes as I ate my breakfast and then headed up to get dressed, as I had a morning class at 8:30 and had to catch my bus to the local university for my 9:00 am history class. I left the house just as the North Tower was coming down and was in panic mode for the next hour, as I had no connection to what was going on. I entered one of the buildings just as the NYC mayor was giving a press conference saying that there could be up to 20k dead. I went up to my class and it seemed to fly by before we had a break. Not wanting to watch coverage, I headed to the library and signed out Tess of the D’Ubervilles. As I was walking out of the building that houses the library, I saw an image of the second plane hitting the South Tower. And to this day, I can’t watch any image of the South Tower being hit. Rest of my class went by quickly and class was dismissed. Since I knew I couldn’t handle watching or listening, I basically had to go to the furthest reaches where there was complete quiet. I got through the rest of the day and later my aunt from Toronto called and we talked a bit. That year was a bust for me, as I acted out in a way that was like a child and got suspended from taking classes on campus for the winter semester. My anxiety went way up after 9/11 and basically lived that way until I was 33, I went on meds

  53. Karen says:

    My husband & I had been on a trip to Paris (our 25th anniversary) when his mother passed away (9/3/01) and he had to return to the States. I stayed on outside of London to finish up some work on an event I had run a resource area for. (Books, of course.) I flew home, by myself, arriving September 10th. Don was still in California.
    I got up that morning and thought I’d catch up on the news, so I turned on the Today show with my coffee in hand. And watched as the 2nd plane flew into the 2nd tower.
    Emails started coming from friends in England. One had grown up outside of Pittsburgh and still had family there. I would watch some news. Write a quick email. And watch some more. They stayed late into the night at their end so I could keep updating them. (Back in 2001, it was faster than the Internet.)
    Then, my husband was stuck in California. And his aunt needed to get home to Florida. They rented a car and drove to our house. The next morning I picked up a friend and we drove Aunt Mary to another sister’s outside of Albuquerque. Uncle Harold was driving from Florida to pick her up there.
    It had been an interesting week to happen right on top of the loss of Don’s Mom.

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