Each year when 9/11 occurs, I reflect on how much life changed after that day in 2001. While I didn’t personally lose anyone in the attacks, I know I lost a little bit of myself the day the towers fell.
On September 11, 2001, I was twelve. That morning we were sitting at the kitchen table doing school like usual (I was homeschooled). We used a video curriculum, so we were regularly changing out the videos as we finished one subject and moved on to another. It was in the middle of one of these changes that the news appeared on the screen. It was an old tv used solely for school, so it wasn’t equipped with anything but very basic channels. So what we saw that morning was a poorly lit, very fuzzy view of the towers, fire, and people falling through the sky.
We called Mom in, then we all moved to the living room where we witnessed the event in full-color. The phone didn’t stop ringing that day, and the television didn’t stop playing.
I recall that day as a series of feelings and questions.
After school we would always go outside and play with the neighborhood kids. I distinctly remember standing on our staircase that day, staring outside, not too far from DC, wondering when we’d be allowed to go outside again, if ever.
That was the day my anxiety fully bloomed and became a thing that would follow me for the rest of my life.
Over the years, I’d have to flip over the cover page of The Washington Post because I couldn’t handle seeing the news. I’d actively monitor the color-coding national alarm system. I’d move around the mall, slowly, back against the wall, making sure I had an eye on an exit and an eye on any potential threat. I regularly asked my parents what our escape plan was if something happened.
I asked, so often, about impending doom that my mom would just say, “You need to call and talk to Papa.” So, I’d call Papa, a retired Southern Baptist preacher, and he would pray with me and read me Bible verses about anxiety.
I didn’t feel safe anywhere. Not even at my friends’ homes. One time I was upstairs in my friend’s room with her. We heard a loud boom, and I immediately dropped to the floor and started crying in the fetal position. Her mom had run over a ball while backing out of the driveway. They had a good laugh at my response. I didn’t find it very funny.
Even though it’s been 18 years, my anxiety has only increased. I don’t ever feel safe. I’m paranoid. I don’t trust people. I’m obsessively aware of my surroundings. And I always look for an exit.
Sometimes I wonder what I’d be like if the events on 9/11/2001 hadn’t occurred.
Living in constant anxiety and fear for so long does something to you.
A lot of people tell you that you never think about when you’re going to die, but the truth is, that’s exactly what it was like post-9/11. That’s all we thought about. And while that’s lessened to an extent, now I find myself both surprised I’ve made it this long and also just kind of apathetic about the whole dying thing. My husband and I recently joked that 9/11 might have given us this sense of dark humor and existential dread that is so common with our generation. I wouldn’t doubt it.
The truth is that trauma changes us.
But it doesn’t have to end us.
I have slowly come to like the person I am, the person I have become. I believe in God’s sovereignty, and I trust in his will for my life. Even if I struggle with anxiety and depression, I am also full of light and hope, and I will continue to live the story that God has written for me.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month. If you or someone you know needs helps, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.
If you have a story about mental illness — whether personal or concerning a loved one — please consider sharing your experience by writing a guest post, doing an interview with one of us, or joining the team as a regular contributor. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.