The news of what went down in Westminster yesterday affected everyone. Phones rang & buzzed all over London, family & friends desperate to know that their loved ones were safe. I’ll never understand the desire to take a life. To cause pain.
My heart goes out to all the victims of this horrific attack. There’s a legion of people behind you, sending their love & support.
From a mental health perspective, terrorism is one of my triggers. The faceless danger, with the power to cause devastation. I remember an incident when I was 9 years old. It was a Saturday morning and I was in M&S Manchester with my parents. My mum wanted a new coat, and although I was bored to tears, I knew that tactically it made sense to keep my mouth shut. I was more likely to get some chocolate at the checkout this way!
Suddenly there was a store announcement, they had received a bomb threat & we all had to evacuate immediately. From the way that staff were behaving we knew this wasn’t a drill. It was around the time of the ‘Manchester bombings’ (1996), so threats were taken very seriously. I squeezed mum’s hand so hard it hurt, as people darted past us. With each step forward I waited for the explosion. I can still visualise the whole scene and what I was thinking “I don’t want to die,” “please God help us, I promise I’ll be good from now on,” (I only believe in God when I’m either in serious trouble, or reeeeeeally want something).
As we reached the door I physically braced myself. If the glass smashed now we’d be dead.
Fortunately the bomb turned out to be a hoax, (some joke). Yet the damage to my psyche had been done. It was a harsh reminder that the world around me wasn’t safe. Afterwards mum tried to reassure me that everything was ok, but I had nightmares about it for weeks. I started worrying that maybe the hoax bomb was actually a test, and that somehow the terrorists had identified me as a threat (God knows why, but I was young). I literally wrote lines in my diary at one point “please don’t hurt my family,” in case they read it. I also refused to venture into Manchester and would probably have struggled to leave the house if it weren’t for school. Ahhh, good old compulsory school.
Eventually I struck up a casual conversation with my dad about terrorism, (like any normal 9 year). Anyway, knowing my personality he must’ve picked up on something, because he said “you can’t be a slave to terrorists. The truth is, they could strike anywhere. There’s no point living your life cooped up at home. You’re more likely to be involved in a car crash anyway.” (I stopped him there because he was giving me ammunition).
It took a while for what he was saying to sink in because I HATED the fact that I didn’t know where they would strike, that’s what made it so scary. But then I didn’t want these thoughts to stop me from leaving the house. So I made sure that I went into Bolton town centre on Saturdays and I kept hanging out with my friends. I suppose it was an earlier form of exposure therapy.
It took a good year before I felt comfortable going to Manchester, but I got there.
When the attack happened yesterday, all those terrifying thoughts started spinning through my head once more. I sent Dan a ridiculous message: “I know this is a pointless thing to say because we can’t control what’s happening, but please could you be extra safe on the tube tonight? Stay late or something maybe.”
However, after some deep breathing I remembered the realities of the situation:
- Anxiety feeds on feelings of not being in control and this is one of those ocassions when you can’t control anything. Nobody can.
- Write down what you’re worrying about, get them out of your head and on to paper. What is the liklihood of these worries happening? (Be honest).
- Distract yourself until Dan gets home. Don’t curl up with it.
In some ways mental illness is a form of terrorism. It aims to frighten, bully and stop you from living a normal life. And just like all the brave Londoners this morning, you cannot give in to it. Don’t ever give a bully terrority.
All my love to everyone in London. x x x x