This is Mental Health Awareness Week and today I want to be brave and share my truth on my survival, my battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and my recovery. Here is my story.
9/11 survivor: In early 2001, I moved to New York with my partner. The City was everything I had ever dreamed off - it was vibrant, full of energy and simply one of the most exciting times of my life. Our apartment was tiny, but spectacular - on the 37th floor, overlooking the Statue of Liberty. My partner worked at the World Financial Centre and walked to work everyday through the World Trade Centre. It was a daily ritual for us to meet at the WTC after his work where we'd grab a drink with friends or get some quick dinner. This was my neighbourhood and I loved it.
September 11th 2001 was a perfect fall morning - the sun was bright and the air crisp. I made breakfast, a club sandwich, I still remember. Coming to think of it, I've never ever made a club sandwich since but in a strange way I feel that this club sandwich saved our lives. It delayed my partner from going to work early that morning and we got to stay together for the trauma that followed. Staying a few minutes away from the World Trade Centre, it was really hard to miss all the sudden noise, commotion and buzz of helicopters we heard on that morning.
We went downstairs to see what was going on and the minute we stepped out of our building the 2nd plane flew over our heads and hit the South tower. The explosion was so loud we were covered with debris and just ran. I still remember looking at that explosion and thinking of a Die Hard Bruce Willis movie. We continued running, still no clue of what was happening to us. A bit later things seemed to calm down temporarily but then we heard people saying that this was a terrorist attack.
The first tower then fell. The noise was horrendous and sickening, we were covered with more soot and just ran along with the rest of the crowd. We took refuge in the basement of the US post office close to Battery Park City. Words simply cannot express the horror, worry and fear that we both felt. Within minutes the second tower fell. In this basement, we saw people having heart attacks, a heavily pregnant lady's water broke, people were shouting asking if anybody knew CPR, if there were doctors amongst us...the horror was simply too much. Hours later we were allowed to leave the basement and what we saw was nothing short of a war zone. I was all of 23 years, petrified and scared.
We later took a barge along with a few other folks and left the city for Hoboken where we stayed with our friends. We had nothing on us - no clothes, no home, nothing. They provided us with a home and I am forever indebted for their kindness and hospitality. A few days later, we were allowed to go back to our apartment for a few minutes to pick up some of our belongings. The US army accompanied us and we climbed 37 floors to get up to our place. The next few days that followed were really hard. We were put up in a hotel by my partner’s company for a month and a half and were allowed to return to our home after that which was also then a part of Ground Zero. We came back, but life was simply too hard to live in this environment as we were constantly reminded of the horrors.
We decided to give up this apartment and moved to Hoboken where we set up our home for the next few years. What I witnessed in those hours - the explosions, the towers falling, people jumping off the buildings and the loud noises and cries for help changed my life.
Death of a parent and then some: A month after 9/11, I had to go through another big trauma – loss of my parent in a sudden and unexpected way. I’ll be honest. For a few personal reasons I won’t go into this trauma as I’m still not ready to write about it in a public forum. I’ve battled with some other traumas too and when the time is ready I’m sure I’ll be able to share it more openly.
For years that followed I told myself that I’m fine and that everything was OK. I bottled up all feelings, emotions from my traumas and just simply got on with my life. Everything was “fine” till it just wasn’t. I suffered from horrific nightmares and flashbacks. I saw violent images when I closed my eyes and even doing simple tasks became mammoth. I couldn’t go into dark, closed spaces. I couldn’t go down the escalator to take a tube. I just couldn’t bear the sound of tubes/trains – brought me back to 9/11 when the towers were falling and loud noises associated with that. It brought me back to my dad’s death as he had fallen off from a train.
The stigma associated around mental health was huge. Who was I going to talk to? I was so embarrassed and guilty and felt weak. Things were getting too much and I finally had the courage to say this is enough and went to seek help. I started seeing a great therapist and some sessions later I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Words cannot explain my relief when I learnt that my condition was real and treatable. This is an extreme anxiety disorder for people who experience trauma. I saw my therapist for a year, I did group counselling and CBT.
My diagnosis and me seeking help and treatment marked a turning point in regaining control over my life. After my recovery, I went on to do bigger and better things in my life. Fear just never stopped me. I dread to even think what would have happened to me had I not gone to get help. Today through my coaching practice, NLP and mentorship programme I help many women battle their fears and take a step forward. I’m not afraid to talk about mental health in any forum.
I’m no longer at the mercy of my PTSD and I wouldn’t be here today had I not had the proper diagnosis and treatment. I’m sharing my story today because, my friends it’s never too late to seek help.
Half the battle with mental health is overcoming the stigma and ignorance of people who don’t understand it. Most people don’t share their issues because of this stigma. This has to stop and we can bring change for our sons and daughters.
This Mental Health Awareness week think about ways you can bring people together and start conversations on mental health – share a story, support a mental health charity, volunteer and get involved. Let’s move forward together. Follow me this week on instagram @nimacoaching for more.