War Is Hell : Bemusements
Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD
239 North Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY

War Is Hell

by Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 09/11/14

The 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001 is almost over.  I am sitting here with a glass of wine toasting one of my best friends who was killed in Tower 1.  I am reflecting on how 13 years could pass in the blink of an eye, and thinking about the trauma of that day: my cousin worked for the US Customs Dept.  Her office was in the World Trade Center and she ran for her life; she was safe, but we didn't know that until about lunch time when she was able to get in touch with someone.  My other cousin was pregnant and her husband was a NYC Police Officer.  He was called in to help, and when she watched the towers fall from her office window she had no idea if he was in the buildings and if her son would have a father (he was safe, and they have since moved out of state where he works as a cop in their county).  I worked in a school in Rockland at the time and we were put on lock-down, told not to leave our rooms and wait for instructions.  Driving home that afternoon I spent about 45-60 min on the Tappan Zee Bridge feeling like a sitting duck, thinking if they really wanted to screw with us they would have planted explosives under all the bridges to kill thousands more of us.  It was during that ride home that I found out my friend was missing, last heard from when he was on the stairs trying to escape the tower.  His body was found Christmas week only feet from the exit.  He and a coworker were last seen helping a woman (he was always a Boy Scout) and they never got out.  Had he been a little selfish he probably would have been down the street and out of harm's way when the towers started falling.

I have a couple of patients in my practice at the moment who are 9/11 survivors.  One happened to have an appointment tonight and we talked about the day, how vivid the memories still were, and how she had nightmares for years after the event.  Much like in times of war--and those attacks clearly were acts of war--many people have struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the attacks.  My cousin, for one, went back to work for the government until her retirement ten years later, but never had a good night's sleep during those ten years.  I was unable to go downtown for several years, not wanting to see the empty hole where the towers were, even though the area was familiar to me, between visiting my cousin at work when I was younger and then going to graduate school at Pace, barely a stone's throw from Ground Zero.  When I finally went to see an exhibit that required me to get off the train in that area, I realized how disoriented I was without the towers.  For most of my life the towers had stood there and been something of a North Star, a focal point that could orient me if I was downtown and needed to walk in one direction or another.  I had to ask a street peddler if I was walking in the right direction; if the towers were still there it would have been second nature. 

Signs and symptoms of PTSD include anxiety and panic, nightmares, reliving the traumatic event, fears, and depression.  It doesn't take a terrorist attack to lead to these types of symptoms.  A run of the mill car accident can cause symptoms of PTSD if it is traumatic enough and the person thinks he may die.  I experienced my own anxiety behind the wheel after an accident about five years ago that included four points of impact and my certainty that I was going to die with the next impact as I careened out of control (miraculously neither I nor my passenger were hurt).   Abuse, being the victim of a crime, or a natural disaster can also cause trauma. 

There are many therapists out there who can help with symptoms of PTSD.  If you have been through a trauma and feel that you are not getting past it, seek help.  You can feel better. 

A toast to all those lost on 9/11/01....may they all rest in peace. 

Comments (1)

1. Bobbie Gallagher said on 9/12/14 - 08:09AM
You have articulated in writing what I have heard you say over the years. I hope, at least one person, will read this and contact a mental health professional to seek help for their PTSD. I think there are six degrees of separation that bind us, particularly New Yorkers, to that tragedy 13 years ago, which has also united us in so many ways.

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