I’m teary this weekend. It’s hard to watch the news because my mind pivots to the many clients who spoke of their losses the days, months, and years post-9/11. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, those of us who remember can clearly recall the exact circumstances when we witnessed or heard of the attacks. I am one of the fortunate who worked downtown, but I had taken the day off to attend a seminar. I never worked in the World Trade Center, but our social service center had a direct view. There were so many other stories like that of those who for unforetold circumstances were not in the towers when they fell.
I was out of social work school for three years when the planes crashed. Having had training in trauma, but not much experience, I was asked to work with employees in companies who were downtown. It was a quick, intensive training on mental health first response. I had the privilege of listening to individual stories in a new chapter in tragically disrupted lives. Each person I heard had so much courage. They came from all walks of life surviving while countless loved ones, coworkers, colleagues, and others did not make it.
I recall the kindness and caring that New Yorkers shared. There was a common grace for others. Sadly, I also remember the fear from Muslim friends and those from the Middle East who were harshly judged, misunderstood, or seen as the enemy. Their love of our shared country unacknowledged. On the one hand there were so many acts of kindness. On the other hand, there was so much blame going around.
So much sadness, so much anxiety. Both defined the days and months that followed.
Post-trauma can alter our nervous systems. Twenty years later we’re all familiar with that. The last eighteen months have played havoc on our nervous systems. Sometimes we are upset or act out which then affects others who are in a vulnerable state, and on it goes.
It’s a challenge to give someone else the benefit of the doubt when there is so little room to accept our own confused emotions. With practice we have a bit more patience, a bit more benevolence to get through these days without rushing to judgement of ourselves and others. I cried today. I could have gone on the defensive. Well, I did for a bit, then I cried some more, understanding that vulnerability was the strength I needed to harness rather than residing in a distrustful stance. So many moments leading to big changes.
- When you react with anger, impatience or in an accusatory manner, take a moment to ask yourself what might be going on. Then, if you’re able, see if there’s something you can do to care for yourself. Perhaps a few minutes to regroup.
- Stretch. It’s easy. And it can help to move to the next moment with ease.
- Read a child’s book or poem aloud. Read it in a voice other than your own. Being silly and indulging in play is a mood changer.