Pace Lattin and 9/11: 10 years of PTSD
For the last ten years, I have barely talked about 9/11.
For most of the last ten years, I actually believed it had not affected me. All I generally said to anyone who asked was that I once worked at the World Trade Center, that it was a “trying time,” that some of my friends and colleagues were killed, and that “I was lucky.” Often nervous jokes ensued.
In truth, 9/11 affected me so deeply and made such a significant impact on my life that I was eventually diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, which affects people involved in traumatic events that threaten injury or death.
People with PTSD tend to protect themselves by blocking out memories of such events and especially of the pain they experienced at the time.
At the moment of that terrible event, I was late for a meeting with a federal investigator friend in the World Trade Center area. My wife and children, also running late to get to day care, were driving through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. If we had all been on time, it’s possible that I would have been in one of the buildings and my family would have been in the street near the World Trade Center when the planes hit. Instead, we were all spared.
As was the case with countless other people, the attack on my country became my life. I spent the next few days digging and hoping to find survivors, bringing supplies, and doing whatever I could to try to make a difference. Attempting to remember specific events, I get bits and pieces: on my police radio the voices of police officers trapped in a subway station and begging for help; a phone call from a friend at the U.S. Marshals in Washington D. C., telling me that more attacks were probably on the way; the dust all over downtown Manhattan; papers from tower offices blowing in the wind.
I experience these over and over in dreams and nightmares: I am standing near Ground Zero, the entire area white with dust, papers flying around me; I am by myself: no cars, no other people, just me in an empty street. People with PTSD tend not to be sure whether their memories are real or compilations.
Recently at my parents’ house I found the helmet I wore during Ground Zero cleanup. When I picked it up, white dust came out of the inside. I couldn’t stop thinking that the dust might be the remains of someone burnt in the towers.
After 9/11, I was very much involved, going to funerals and award ceremonies and even helping counsel other victims through chaplain and outreach programs. After about two years, however, as things “settled down,” I found myself withdrawing from everyone who had been important to me. I slowly began to push away my family, parents, and friends; I stopped going to the synagogue. I saw in people only the negative, never the good; I thought everyone around me was my enemy. I became obsessed with my work, spending more and more time at my office instead of at home with my family. Eventually, I just walked away from my responsibilities to my family and focused entirely on building companies and making money.Continued on the next page