Sunday, September 11, 2011

On September 11th...

Ten years ago today, I was in Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, CT, after taking an overdose of Valium and almost ending my life. I was supposed to have been released the previous Friday, until the psychiatrists realized I'd was doing what I always did - donning The Mask of Coping. They called me on it and so I was still in the hospital, due to be released that afternoon.

Just before that nine that morning, I went into the phone booth and called my friend Barbara, who gave massages, because after 10 days in that place, I really need a healing touch. There was a glass door on the booth, and as I was speaking to her, I glanced out and saw the TV in the common room.

"Oh my G-d! The World Trade Center is burning!" I said to her. She didn't have a TV, so she couldn't see what was happening. I hung up with her and walked into the common room where a few other people were gathered around the TV. They told me a small plane had flown into the WTC.

I don't know if it's because of my father's background in intelligence, but my first thought, the first thing I said was, "It's terrorists."

People started arguing with me. They said it was a small plane. The guy must have had a heart attack. Or lost his bearings. I argued back. "It's a clear blue sky. No clouds. How could he lose his bearings?"

We were still arguing as we watched - horrified, shocked, disbelieving - the second plane hit the South Tower. And then there everyone knew. It wasn't accident. There was no heart attack. No one lost their bearings. It was a deliberate. It was intentional.

Then we heard plane hit the Pentagon. It wasn't just a terrorist attack, it was a terrorist attack on a grand scale.

One of the women in the hospital with me was there from MA. She wanted, more than anything at that moment, to be with her family, to hold her children close. As she cried, I tried to comfort her, telling her we had to be strong, because if we panicked, if we fell apart, they'd achieved their objective.

Kind of ironic coming from someone who was in a mental hospital for, well, falling apart.

The Powers That Be at Silver Hill were trying to figure out how to deal with something this enormous and help us deal with it. Although they were experts in the field of mental health, this wasn't something that hadn't been taught in med school.

They called us into a meeting where they discussed limiting our access to the TV, because it was distressing some patients, which only upset and stressed out the news junkies amongst us even more. People cope with stress differently. Some want to turn off, wanting some form of escapism. Others need to know more, wanting details, seeking knowledge. Neither one is "right," to each their own. But I'm definitely the latter.

In the end, they decided to take us to the gym so we could work off some stress. In the van on the way down there, we heard on the radio that the South Tower collapsed.
And that's when my Mask of Coping finally slipped, fell, cracked and broke. Because all I could think of was the people still in that tower. I started crying hysterically and repeating over and over, "All those people, all those people." The same woman who I'd comforted earlier took me in her arms and held me. She repeated back to me the same words I'd said to her earlier.

In the gym, I went straight for the heavy bag, pretending it was the faceless enemies who'd flown the planes, punching it over and over until I was sweaty and breathless.
I'd just started on the treadmill when I heard the North Tower fell.

Later, one of the male nurses, or "techs" as they called them, walked those of us who wanted to pray over to the non-denominational chapel. He turned to me and said, with no small amount of anger in his voice, "You tried to kill yourself - but would you change places with anyone in those buildings?"

It's a question that gutted me then and has haunted me ever since.

What drove me to take those pills was the thought on that different awful day in 2001, August 28th, was that my life was a long, dark tunnel with no light of hope at the end, and that most of all, my kids would be better off without me.

I know better now. I'm grateful to G-d, to my family, to my friends and my therapists for the fact that I was given a second chance, one that those in the buildings and on the planes didn't have. I'm blessed that I've lived to see my children grow up to be the wonderful, bright, kind, empathetic, loving, thinking human beings that they are. When I listened to the young people at the 9/11 memorial event this morning talking about the things they missed about their parents it made me weep, but it also made me realize how very ill I was to think my kids would be better off.

It took four hours this morning to read the names of the all the victims. As I heard each name and saw each picture, I thought of the complex web of lives behind them that have spent the last 10 years trying to rebuild their lives from loss, or as one relative put it, living without "the missing puzzle piece in our family."

Edited to add: I'm reminded of lines from Psalm 126 that gave me so much comfort while I was in the hospital: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.” Ten years later, that has certainly been the case for me.

I'll end this with the words of a mother who lost her son at the WTC:

"To the world he was just one person, but to me he was the world."


  1. I, for one, am glad you came out of it OK. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you, Sarah, for adding a bit of light to a dark day. You have such a wondrous gift.