Eleven years ago today, I began to experience the worst depressive episode I have ever had.
I did not personally know a single person who was lost on September 11, 2001.
But one would think that I had by how I reacted.
Let’s begin at the beginning. I had to be at work at 1:00 pm that day. I was working for Tom Thumb as a staff pharmacist at a store in Dallas. I was reading the paper and drinking coffee when the phone rang. I had not turned on the television or been on the Internet. (My cell phone didn’t have web access in those days. I didn’t even have a laptop.) I didn’t go to pick it up. I was being selfish with my me-time before work.
But then I heard my mom’s voice on the answering machine. She sounded panicked and frightened in a way that is rare for her.
“Jenna, where are you?” she said. “Call me back right away. All hell is breaking loose.”
Well, that could mean anything in my family. And I really did think it was something personal related to just us. So I was panicked and worried when I called her back and then she tells me that someone flew planes into the World Trade Center. Here is how naive I was (I think we all were back then) – I said, “But how did they get into our airspace?” “NO!!!” she said. “They used OUR planes! Turn on the TV.”
If it had been around then, I would’ve been saying WTF???
It was hard to get ready for work. All I wanted to do, all anyone wanted to do, I think, was sit and watch CNN or ABC or whatever your news channel of preference was. Or flip obsessively among them looking for the latest, newest nugget of information. Trying to make sense of the senseless. Trying to figure out what the hell had just happened.
So, on to work. This was a rather busy store, normally. I thought that due to the events of the day, it would be much quieter than normal. However, the clientele at this store were a bit different. Many were late middle-aged or elderly. Many were upper, upper middle class, if not downright wealthy. So they had high expectations and they demanded a certain level of coddling. And even though our country was under attack and we didn’t really know yet why or who or anything, they still wanted their prescriptions yesterday. They were still as crabby, hard to please, and entitled as ever. I was working with another pharmacist, a good friend, who was my age. We were so raw, so devastated. We could barely function. And these people seemed so callous, so out of touch, whining about why the doctor hadn’t called in their refill and were we sure we really had called? And talked to Betty? Because Betty was the only one who gets anything done in that office, you know.
Yes, I know. I heard you the last fifteen times you’ve told me that this year.
Maybe when you’ve lived through WWII, Vietnam, the Kennedy and MLK assasinations… maybe September 11, 2001 just didn’t faze you. I don’t know. But it was incredibly difficult to work that day with everything that was happening. We felt so lost. Everyone did. Mostly.
I can’t remember if I was off the next day or not. I know I went home that night feeling like I’d been beaten as hard mentally as I’d ever felt after a rough day at work. I know that for the next week, when I wasn’t off, I was watching news coverage non-stop. I know that I started to feel worse and worse every day. And then I was eating less and less. Sleeping less and less. Until one night I was just lying on the futon in our home office staring at the wall. In the dark. This was my rock bottom.
Again, it was a phone call from my mom that got to me. She called and wanted to know what I was doing. I didn’t have the energy to lie, pretend, or cover up anymore. When I told her, she was immediately concerned. My reaction, my feelings were way out of proportion to my connection to the tragedy. I remember telling her that I felt guilty for eating and enjoying a meal, because so many who didn’t know what had happened to their loved ones couldn’t; that I felt guilty for sleeping because so many were going sleepless in their search and their grief. Wisely, she told me it was unnatural for me to be feeling a kind of survivor’s guilt and that I needed to get help. Immediately. I agreed.
Long story short: I made an appointment with my wonderful physician and I got help, from both medication and counseling. I have always known since I was in my early teens that I suffered from bouts of depression off and on. I had even been in counseling in pharmacy school when the stress of a rigorous academic program magnified my personal issues to the point that I could not cope on my own. But this was by far the worst thing I have ever experienced. If I could have called in sick to work every day, I would have. I functioned just enough to keep the basic cogs of my life in motion. I wouldn’t wish those feelings, those thoughts, that utter and complete helplessness on anyone. It makes my stomach drop to the floor just remembering it now as I write this post.
Eleven years ago, this was a very difficult day. Each year, it is still difficult. But I have so much to be thankful for and I focus on that as I reflect on September 11.