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That’s where I need to be on the next anniversary, September 11, 2020.
It’s really borderline unforgiveable that I haven’t made the trip in the past 18 years, especially considering that I’ve been an activist for the 9/11 Truth movement since 2010 and that there isn’t a day that goes by when that tragedy doesn’t still haunt me as I do my part to expose the lie of what we were told happened that day.
But 9/11 Truth is not the topic.
I haven’t gone to Ground Zero because going anywhere outside of my established routine parameter is extremely difficult for me, and the further the destination, the more unfamiliar the journey, the less I feel capable of handling the trip. It’s simplistic to refer to it as agoraphobia because it’s so much more complex than that, but it’s difficult to put into words a fear you’ve had for so long you can’t even imagine a life without it.
For a long time, it was my guarded secret, shared with only a trusted inner circle. And don’t get me wrong – I’m not opening up about this under the pretense of “If I can help just one person”. This is a purely selfish act. A way for me to start getting past this demon that has handicapped me forever – by exposing it.
I can go weeks without giving it much thought when my daily movements remain confined to my regular surroundings. But there are no guarantees, and I’ve had unexpected attacks sneak up on me even then, like on my drive to work when we hit a sudden standstill on the autoroute, with no exit ramp in sight. Longer drives – as in more than an hour – come with more apprehension and require a lot of mental prep, while anything that involves additional vehicles or layovers becomes exponentially challenging. As fate would have it, my mother lives in Austria, so there’s a trip I look forward to regularly. It is usually preceded by psychological nausea and an inability to ingest much of anything for days prior. As far as a diet plan, it has real potential – schedule regular trips with varying degrees of difficulty and I should be at my model-size weight in no time at all.
And it usually ends up fine, as my track record for making it through each situation currently stands at 100%. But to me, that’s irrelevant. I’d like to be able to not even think about it. White-knuckling it, in my view, doesn’t count for much. Having dodged an actual panic attack is nothing to write home about if I spent 3 days worrying about the trip and another 12 hours during it.
And let’s quickly define panic attack. You can imagine it, right? Shaking, becoming agitated, sweating, crying, gasping for air, possibly physically lashing out, right?
Well, it’s nothing like that. At least not on the outside. Or at least not for me. From your vantage point, you probably couldn’t even tell.
Inside, it’s a different world. An implosion more than an explosion. Paralysis. I start physically shutting down my senses and disconnecting from all my surroundings. Even if I’m at the wheel, I have to retreat into a space where I can’t be reached. I have to NOT be in that moment. I feel so vulnerable that I feel aggressed by every scent, every sound, every sensation. I can’t breathe, my heart is beating to my ears, and the odd tear you see is not actual crying, but rather the result of the overwhelming physical pressure exerted by the fear. Fear of being trapped. Of not being able to get out. Of losing control. Of somehow not making it to the destination. It’s not rational. I didn’t say it was. It never is.
And ultimately fear of being judged. The funny thing is I have no other fears, really, in terms of judgment. I have strong opinions and am not afraid to stand up for them. I have critical views and always welcome anyone willing to challenge them. I feel strongly and I love deeply, and I express my love, my affection and my passion with little worry of how it will be received. I have odd interests and unconventional ways of doing things, and I make no apologies for any of them.
I also have many shortcomings which I fully embrace. I feel no particular need to be right, or be liked, or to get some kind of weird stamp of approval. If you’re in my life, I trust it’s for all the good reasons.
But this - it’s just in another realm.
I’ve often wondered why it is even spoken of in terms of “mental” affliction when fear is so intensely emotional. Never quite got that.
On the positive side, I haven’t let this anxiety prevent me from doing those things that truly mattered – visiting family and friends, going to concerts, spending a summer day at the water slides or our Six Flags park (hail the roller coaster as therapy in and of itself). I always bring along my figurative crutches and safety nets. At a concert, I’m close to an exit. In a movie theatre, or on a plane, I’ll always secure the aisle seat. I scan any new place as if I were the Terminator, robotically assessing potential hazards and exit strategies. It gives me the illusion of security.
So I try to not let it rule my life. But I’m sure it has stopped me from doing things I wrote off as unimportant, and in so doing missed out on some unexpected good times, or discoveries, or new connections. And although it has also led me to love being alone – nothing like being a 17-year old at home on a Saturday night, writing songs, or letters, or in her diary (yup! still have 'em!) while all your friends are partying – I know it came at a price.
But I’m tired. I don’t want to put stuff on standby anymore and justify it by insisting it’s not that necessary, or essential, or worth it. Life is short.
Therefore, Ground Zero it is.
I have no idea how I will get there yet as the logistics still need to be determined. In a perfect world I would do this with someone I fully trust to handle a meltdown, should it occur. Someone who has my back, no matter what happens. Someone who makes me feel like it’s ok if we need to make a 180 back home four hours into the drive. That kind of trust.
But I’m also not taking THAT trip, out of all trips, with someone who is not at least as passionate about 9/11 Truth as I am, and the Venn diagram of people who intersect has nobody I know in that center. So I guess I’m going it alone, which is just as well.
2020. This is the year everything changes. And sticking my head out of the anxiety closet, even just partway, is a pretty good start.
Sandra is a blogger, life coach and activist.