Last Friday night, I had one of those brilliant Baltimore moments where I ran into a friend I’ve been trying and failing to connect with since we returned. I was out with my husband and some of our friends when she arrived with a crowd of classmates from a school event, out to celebrate an awards ceremony of sorts. It was fortuitous and delightful, and we were charmed at the coincidence.
Because I had not seen this friend – we’ll call her “Cristine” – since we returned to Baltimore last month, she was full of questions. But she bypassed the Usual Three and launched straight into the meat of the shit and asked about Brussels. And I launched straight into the meat of the shit and started talking about it, much to the surprise of the mutual friend I happened to be out with.
For the sake of this post, I’ll call our mutual friend “Sara.” I was glad Cristine asked in that moment and I was more than eager to talk about what my husband and I had been through. Sara admitted, a little further into the conversation, that she was also glad Cristine had just come right out with it because truthfully she’d wanted to ask me about it since we moved back but didn’t quite know how or if it was ok.
These interactions with both Sara and Cristine seem to be the norm. Some friends (or family members or even acquaintances) feel completely comfortable saying outright, “What the hell happened in Brussels and how are you feeling about it now?” Others don’t. And I totally get it.
There are times when I want nothing more than to talk about what happened, the awful fear we felt, the life-changing instance of witnessing a terror attack and running, not sure if it’s for your life or into another trap. There are some days when all I can think about is bombs and explosions and blood and smoke, and I have no idea how things are just expected to go along as normal with social gatherings, errands, and spilled coffee. I’m also blessed with an anxiety disorder that makes me super sensitive (something I’m trying to see as a gift these days) and, on the flip side, completely beside myself at times. This has not helped the matter.
And then there are other days when it’s so far away that I can almost forget that it even happened and would prefer to if at all possible. There are days when I don’t want to be defined as “the one in the terrorist attack,” and when I can’t even look at CNN or a newspaper or even, sometimes, Facebook because I don’t want to be reminded. I don’t want to be the person who has to educate everyone on what it’s like to be a headline. I need it all to be far away, and I need to just be me – or whoever “me” was on March 22 before 8:00AM.
This is all part of what happens following a traumatic event and part of the hard work that you have to do to start to Deal With It. I am grateful in that I am in professional counseling to start to unknot all of this stuff. Because it’s really, really fucking complicated.
So here’s the gist of all this – ask me about it. I give you permission, in fact I implore you to do so. Just do so knowing that I have every right to say “thank you so much for checking in, I don’t want to talk about it today.” Be prepared for me to tell you that today’s not the day to discuss it, but know that I’m appreciative that you opened the line of communication. You might also be met with “Ohmygod, thank you for asking, please can I tell you that I’m just feeling really jittery today?”
I want you, friends and family, to feel like the things that scare you and bother you are just as important and worthy of discussion as the things that bother me, and to that end I’ll go extremes and swallow any mention of what happened. This isn’t healthy either. Good relationships are based on open communication, not one-way. I’m not great at the open communication right now because, let’s face it, how does one bring up terrorism when we’re having a couple of glasses of wine and bitching about the election or exes or what we’re going to do with the rest of our lives? I do want to talk about that stuff with you. It’s important! I just also want to feel like it’s ok to break from reality for a moment and tell you how, the other day, a cannon went off the Inner Harbor and I was so scared I had to sit on a bench to calm down while a kind police officer came over because he saw me freak out.
There are times when I can’t talk about it. And there are times when I need to. There’s no easy way to suss out which one of those days that is – even for me. This is all part of the messy, tricky aftermath of a traumatic event.
Both Cristine and Sara are amazing friends who are supportive and open. All of our amazing friends and family are supportive and open, and we always assume good intentions. We’re all trying to navigate this uncomfortable, pernicious thing. And we’ll all just keep learning together. In the meantime, go ahead and ask. It’s ok.