When you study Shakespearean theater, you learn that tragedy usually occurs following a storm. On the night of Sept. 10, in an attempt to attend a lecture at the 92 Street Y, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I were caught in a storm of epic proportions. As we took shelter in a nearby pizza place, I joked “This storm is almost Shakespearean.” He just rolled his eyes and when it let up, we continued on our way.
That storm was a prelude to our lives changing is so many ways.
The next morning, a crystal clear, near perfect day gave way to a new reality. As he was working and I was in the subway, the two towers of the World Trade Center were struck. He fled his office and ran as the buildings collapsed covering him in white dust. I had to escaped the NYC subway through the tunnels as my train was half-way between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. It would be nearly eight hours before I even knew he was alive. No phone. No money. No working ATM service. With no way to communicate with anyone, I roamed the streets of Brooklyn until a cab driver was able to bring me to my mother’ place of work.
Days later and still unable to return to work due to lack of transportation in the city, my mother left for a trip to Europe. As I sat at table eating a bowl of cereal, I realized I was unable to breathe. I thought I had eaten too much or was having a sugar rush. I became dizzy, had tunnel-vision and severe chest pains. I didn’t know what was wrong and as the minutes past, it became progressively worse. My sister drove me to the hospital and I was diagnosed with pleuritic chest pains. I was prescribed painkillers and sent home. Several days later, it happened again. The dizziness was unbearable and I was gasping for air. I had to leave the subway and return to the hospital.
It took nearly two years before a doctor suggested that what I had experienced were panic attacks. She handed me a baggie of sample medication with no instructions. I never took them. I was weary of something that was handed to me with no explanation, no follow-up and two years with of misdiagnosis. After a trip to the book store, I read everything I could on how to get through a panic attacks and thankfully it worked. What I didn’t realize was that while my panic attacks were gone, so much other stuff was still there. I had stopped flying. I didn’t drive. I didn’t take the subway. I had a fear of everything around me. I avoided the unknown including everything I wasn’t 100 percent in control over. After being emotionally paralyzed for so long, we decided to leave NYC for a simpler life in Florida.
Throughout the years, my uncontrollable anxiety gave way to obsessive compulsive disorder and eventually depression. It took nearly 15 years to have all of it under control.
This year, my husband and I attended the funeral of a close friend in NYC. I flew back. I took the subway around New York. Then, I suggested we do the unthinkable. We went to lower Manhattan, got in an elevator to the 102nd floor of One World Trade Center. We looked out at NYC together. In a place that led to years of fear, anxiety and depression, I smiled down on the world finally free.