I must admit that I have been watching the programs on the History Channel pertaining to 9/11. I must admit that I read the 9/11 report. I must admit that there are times when I can be moved to tears by it. And I must admit that I am none to willing to admit to this fact in public.
I worked in emergency medicine in Oklahoma during the time of the Oklahoma City bombing. I think I have repressed a few things but overall, I feel fairly mentally healthy. One of the things that we as a family did was to move away from the state of Oklahoma before the first anniversary of the bombing. We didn’t do this specifically to get away from the media coverage but when we arrived here in Duluth, it was as if a veil had been lifted. I could open up the newspaper and not be faced with the constant headlines about the bombing, the aftermath, the trial, the incredible sadness and trauma. It seems to be a function of our media to publicly mourn for months and years after the fact, whether the public demands it or not. There are times that I feel this can be healthy and there are times that I feel that it is simply screwing with everyone’s emotions.
Now, let it be stated that I have never lost a loved one in either the Oklahoma City bombing nor 9/11. The family and friends of the victims are in a class unto themselves. I am speaking from a mental health point of view for those that experienced it as a witness or from a distance.
My moment of grieving for the Oklahoma City bombing came after we moved to Duluth and I needed to go to the Federal Building here. I must admit I was a little unnerved when I walked inside. I then walked around in the complex and proceeded to get lost. Unfortunately, I ended up near the daycare center.
I don’t remember what happened next. I don’t remember how I got home. I just remember that I found myself parked in my driveway sobbing my eyes out. I know that I had an incredible compulsion to run into the daycare center and demand that they get the children out and that they never have them there again. I don’t think I did that or else I’m sure I would have been carted off to the local mental health care unit. That was the last time that I cried about it although my experiences might have a lot to do with my current reactions when watching some of the shows on television.
I do remember a rash of ambulance calls after the Oklahoma City bombing that were stress related and involved patients that had no connection to anyone in the building. I must admit that these calls drove me crazy. Unfortunately I was less than sympathetic with these people who couldn’t “pull their shit together” and who were so obviously taking up my precious time for psychosomatic reactions to an event that they had no direct connection to. I believe there was one call when I had to step out of the room to collect myself before I grabbed the patient by the scruff of his collar and shook him. I wanted to scream at him that there were so many people out there that were genuinely touched by this incident and how dare he turn the entire event around to make it all about himself. As I look back on it, perhaps I was having a little trouble coping myself.
One of the coping mechanisms I have developed since that time is to realize that this horrible sadness might be a part of me, but it is not ME in my entirety. It really is a visualization exercise to take that sadness in your cupped hands and to hold it for awhile and to acknowledge it and to try to understand why it makes you so sad and then, the most important step after that, it to be able to set it down and walk away for awhile. It can be separated from who you are and you can walk away from it. I’m not saying turn your back on it and never visit it again, I’m just saying that you have to take control of it and visit it at a time when you are feeling strong enough to hold it in your hands and not have it overwhelm you.
Although I do feel that the healthiest thing to do is to learn to walk away from it for awhile, I don’t think I could ever propose this to anyone who lost a loved one in either event. My dad died in an accident when I was twelve, my brother committed suicide when I was fourteen, and my mom died of cancer when I was twenty. Unfortunately, I have a bit of experience in the whole loss of a loved one area but my experiences are different than those that lost their loved ones on April 19th or September 11th.. I only have my loved one’s birthdays to mark the time since they died, I don’t have an entire nation and their ensuing media circus and usurping politicians to throw it all up in the air and use the event to raise their ratings or increase their votes (or decrease their votes depending on your personal level of distaste). I see the anger and sadness of the survivors over our present state affairs and their anger and sadness over the memorial sites and I can only hope that they can someday hold that anger and sadness in their hands and choose the terms and the times when they choose to visit it rather than having society choose it for them.