Still stressed by September 11th: Am I overreacting?

Hi Alice,

I watched the WTC disaster from across the river in Brooklyn. My view is of downtown Manhattan from most of my apartment. I also live on a flight path. I watch the planes come in for landing towards my front windows, and can watch them continuing on from my bedroom windows. I lost a close friend in the disaster, someone who was close to members of my family as well as myself.

My question is, could I be experiencing post traumatic stress disorder? I was numb for a while, then seemed to come out of it, which I found surprising. But lately it seems that I can cry at electronics commercials. Maybe it's the upcoming holidays and dealing with loss during this time.

In addition, I mentioned this (much more briefly) to my older sister and she scoffed at me and rolled her eyes. I can't forget her reaction. I felt as if she meant I was overreacting, and I am hurt and angry at her. I also feel guilty now for thinking that I may be experiencing ptsd. PS: I was laid off in September and have been spending more time alone than everyone else I know. HELP!!!!

Dear Reader,

September 11th  was a trying time for the United States, and it sounds like you were barraged by a number of challenging circumstances all at once. On top of that, living along any flight path could be scary for many in the aftermath of 9/11. Further, witnessing the crash and losing a friend are all extremely stressful and unsettling events. In regards to post-traumatic stress disorder, this is a condition that only a mental health professional can diagnose. Either way, this overload could cause a great deal of stress in almost anyone and you may find it helpful to speak with a mental health professional to sort and work through your feelings of guilt, as well as get support for any potential diagnoses. 

Everyone mourns and recovers in their own time. You and your sister had very different responses to the attacks and the death of your family friend, but this doesn't mean that one of them is wrong. With a tragedy the scale of 9/11, there's no over-reaction — it's an event that boggles the mind and the heart to try to comprehend. There are thousands of people in New York, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and worldwide who are still impacted by the events of 9/11. It's key to remember that people react in many different ways to death, disasters, and violence.

The feelings you described are quite normal reactions to the situations you experienced during that time. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition where memories of extreme emotional stress result in psychological and physical symptoms. While some people may experience PTSD symptoms quite soon after an event, some may not experience them until years later. These symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Feeling numb or feeling nothing at all
  • Avoiding people and places that remind you of the event
  • Sweating
  • Crying
  • Flashbacks
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased breathing and heart rates

Some may find that PTSD abates or that it can come and go with time. However, if you feel that you're stuck in these feelings rather than like you're moving through them, it might be worthwhile to seek help from a mental health professional. They may recommend that you join a bereavement groups where you can learn techniques to deal with grief as well as putting you in touch with others navigating loss. If you're a student, you may seek out support on campus, such as support groups for those experiencing grief or loss. You could also ask a mental health professional for additional online resources. 

In terms of the amount of time you are spending alone, studies show that spending time with others — whether talking about how you're feeling or just watching a movie or having dinner — helps people get through trying times with greater ease. It might be helpful to volunteer somewhere, take regular walks in a park, or do anything that will get you active, out of the house, and around other people. It might also be helpful to get out of the city if you can. Hiking upstate or going to the beach could provide a relieving break from your usual landscape and habitual window-gazing. Just as everyone mourns and experiences grief in their own way, the ways in which people process and work through their experience can be different. Finding what helps and the right amount of support for you can hopefully assist you in finding peace of mind.

Take care,

Last updated Sep 11, 2020
Originally published Jan 25, 2002

Submit a new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The answer you entered for the CAPTCHA was not correct.