Sunday, 11 September 2011

On Ten Years Ago

There’s a lot of stuff going on today, remembering the events of September 11th 2001. For obvious reasons, nearly everyone over the age of about 16 can remember what they were doing that Tuesday and where they were when they heard about the terrorist attacks in America.

For me, that day ten years ago was the last day I tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. It was the day my “proper” career ended, the day before I had the breakdown which I now refer to as “The Big One”, about which I wrote a short blog post a couple of years ago.

That day I’d gone through my usual morning routine: get up, orange juice, half an hour’s crying in the bath, then eventually drag myself out to the car to go to school – I was head of music in a large comprehensive school in Haringey, North London.

It was a fairly normal school day. I taught a full day, worked a little on the slightly tricky relationship with my second in department (he’d been acting head of department before I joined the school, and I’d got the job he badly wanted), and managed, only just, to hold myself together for another day. I’d had a bit of a wobble when I played a chord wrong on the piano in front of a year 7 class and the tears started rolling down my cheeks, but I’d made it to the end of the day and headed off to the “departmental literacy coordinators’ meeting” after school.

At the end of the meeting, the school’s literacy person said she’d tried to make the meeting fairly short because we’d probably want to get home to see the news. I asked the person sitting next to me what had happened, and was told that there had been a plane crash in America. I was mildly interested, but not much more than that. I’d never been to America (I still haven’t) and I didn’t know anyone likely to be involved in an American plane crash, so I just drove home as usual, ready to collapse in a heap, as I did every evening at that time.

Once home, I put the television on to whatever the rolling news channel was in those days – ironically, I had digital tv back then (by subscription to ON digital) and had more channels than I’ve ever had since – now I’m much less well-off financially than I was and I live in a place where tv reception is very patchy.

Through my teary eyes (I cried almost all the time back then as I was so close to complete meltdown) I watched the coverage of planes crashing, fires burning, buildings collapsing and so on. To be honest, it didn’t really mean much to me – my senses were so skewed by my illness at that stage. I just about grasped that it was some sort of historic event and that I should try to take notice, but I soon lost focus on it all, as I drank more and more, and eventually slipped into unconsciousness until the following morning.

That was the last day I went into school. The next day, as I wrote in my earlier blog post, I couldn’t get out of the car to get to my classroom. I do remember sitting in the waiting room in the doctor’s surgery, listening to two old ladies chatting, hearing phrases such as “it was just like a film” and so on.

So, as the aftermath of the disaster occupied the rest of the world, I started seriously to battle the illness that has now been diagnosed as bipolar disorder. At that stage it was diagnosed as “depression”, and I’d previously been signed off for a few weeks with “anxiety”, but the day after those four planes were hijacked I took my first antidepressant pill, and began the long process of learning about my illness, changing my expectations of life, realizing that my career would not be defined by my brainpower, but by my health, and starting to adapt to my very changed circumstances.

As I hinted at in my previous blog post, things didn’t start to get better straight away, but continued to get worse for a while. The medication I’d been given didn’t work instantly, and, it later transpired, wasn’t really suitable for me anyway. I attempted suicide in the weeks that followed (by drinking a very large amount of alcohol and taking a random assortment of pills – only the fact that I fell asleep thanks to the alcohol prevented me from taking enough pills to do myself lasting harm). I don’t remember the date as my memories from that time are so poor.

But, every year, as the world commemorates the events of “9/11”, I remember that day as the last one of an old life for me. It was the last day I pretended to be “normal” and the last day I managed to earn sufficient money to support myself. As the remains of the twin towers smouldered in a foreign city, the world was thrown into turmoil, and people mourned the dead, I quite simply WANTED to be dead - as I believed I’d come to the end of what I could cope with.

However, ten years later, as I look back on the way the world has altered since the terrorist attacks that day, I’m glad I didn’t succeed in extinguishing my life. I suspect I have something in common with some of those who might have died that day but didn’t (perhaps they were late for work and were not in their offices when the planes hit, or maybe they’d missed their flights and what started as an annoyance turned out to be a blessing – I’ve heard so many such stories); I still count each day of the last ten years as a bonus, as time I might very easily not have had.

It always feels rather strange to me that the two events are so close in time. And also rather odd that even if there had been no terrorist attacks that day, if the twin towers were still standing now, and if the world had never known increased security on aircraft or war in Afghanistan, I would STILL remember exactly where I was that day and what I was doing.

And what is perhaps strangest of all, is that every year, at this time, while people mourn those who died that day and focus on what ended ten years ago, I feel more like celebrating the fact that I’m still here and still rebuilding my life.

So as people talk today of how much the world has changed in the last ten years, I marvel at the fact that I’m still alive and that the last ten years have, despite considerable difficulties, been well worth living.

I’ve heard people say today that they can hardly believe that ten years have passed since the events of September 2001.

Neither can I.

4 comments:

  1. I am so very glad you made it through your own 9/11. My personal world would be a very empty place without you.

    Ten years ago and my emotions are just as raw and just as strong as they were on the day. I remember feeling so smalland so scared. I was far away from home and desperately wanted to be home. Thankfully my Pop was here visiting (having landed in Manch around the time of the first crash) so I had something to focus on.

    Your strength and courage to keep going when you felt all was lost is amazing. You pass that strength and courage on to others now, I for one remind my self that if you could do it, I can as well.

    Xx

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