Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for September 12th, 2011

Grief and Dread: Thinking About 9/11

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 12, 2011

“Grief and dread,” are the words echoed in the memories of 9/11. The paradigm of trauma, the events of September 11th, exemplify the characteristics which often lead to PTSD. This was a sudden and unexpected tragic event. If there were terrorism on the tenth anniversary, yesterday, this would not have been unexpected, but it could have been a tragedy. The grief is the loss, but the dread, is how out of control our lives can be, despite routines that we do day in and day out. It was World War I that made psychiatrists sensitive to this issue of trauma; this issue of the particular pain of sudden and unexpected harm. It is psychologically easier to have a diagnosis of cancer, giving fair warning, if you will, to the person about their upcoming demise. Trauma, however, feels so unfair. There is no way to prepare; there is no way to slowly change your mindset from contentment to helplessness. It happens way too fast. Time is an important dimension when it comes to receiving bad news. The mind seems to need some preparation, such that without that, there is an uncomfortable jolt to the mental apparatus. Consequently, the unexpected nature of these events like 9/11, make them etched in our collective minds, such that we will always be able to swap stories about what this terrorism meant to us on that day. We are forced to remember that our old paradigms can change in a moment. Once we “learn” that, we never forget. Trauma and memory often go together. The association between the event and the shock, causes a deeper imprinting in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory. This long-lasting memory also causes the dread; the dread of knowing there are a lot more experiences in life that we simply cannot prepare for. This brings us back to the moment; the moment is all we have. We all know this, but sudden, unexpected, tragic events bring us back to this truism. We have to plan for the future, but we certainly cannot count on it.

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