the bridge is gone and my mind went with it
August 6, 2007 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I live in Minneapolis, a few blocks from where the bridge collapsed. I wasn't there at the time, nor was anyone I know, but I went over that bridge earlier that day, and every day before that. I've been feeling a lot of anxiety since it fell; it could easily have been me or anyone I know, and I'm scared that something will happen suddenly to me or to the people I love. I know that the way I'm feeling isn't rational, especially since I wasn't personally affected by it, but it's very real and it's affecting my life. I also know that we can all go at any time and so we need to live life to the fullest, but how can I get over it and get from here to there?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes the biggest part of getting over something is Choosing to get over it (not always, but sometimes). Have you told yourself its ok to feel like this for a bit, but its time to move on?

Also, have you tried volunteering? When you see the way many less fortunate people live it can help you be more thankful for what you have and thus able to overcome feelings of anxiety about things that "could" happen in your life.
posted by crewshell at 7:23 PM on August 6, 2007

Some of the most valuable advice I ever got about this kind of thing was right here on AskMe, in this post.

In a nutshell, it's OK to feel irrationally freaked out, and you'll stop feeling that way in your own time, not when anyone else thinks you should. In my case, every time the feelings of fear and anxiety cropped up, I'd try to subdue them - and it just delayed the healing process. Talk to sympathetic people, hug your family, do nice things for strangers - that's the prescription I got, and it worked.
posted by Liosliath at 7:35 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dear anonymous,

The way you're feeling is completely rational. It's very scary when things like this hit so close to home - and it is close to home for you.

A completely different scenario, but, when the shootings happened at VA Tech occured, I felt shocked and sad, but it was still kind of distant (I lived in Virginia, went to school in VA, and knew many people who graduate from Tech). Then suddenly, I learned that a very, very close friend had lost a very, very, VERY close friend that was like a sister. I didn't know the victim, she was at best a brief acquaintence. Suddenly my grief over the situation hit me very hard. It's natural, when tragedy strikes close to home (for you, a bridge you knew day in and day out)

Just because your life was spared, and no one you knew was personally affected, doesn't disqualify you from having frightening thougts. It is rational for you.

I don't really know what else to say or words to offer, but hopefully encourage you to accept the feelings you're feeling. Sure, life is a whole lot of random and it's difficult (often impossible) to predict when tragedy strikes, but you've got every right to feel some anxiety.

Look at resources in your area, counseling, community crisis centers, therapy. Seek out resources that will let you acknowledge and talk about your fears, and whatever you need. Talk about it. (and hug/call your loves ones). I'm glad you posted, even anonymously, to get those thoughts out somewhere.
posted by raztaj at 7:42 PM on August 6, 2007

Life is tenuous and uncertain, I really hate to break it to you but it is. We all live hoping that we won't be the unlucky ones today, that we won't find a lump that is cancer, that we won't get hit by a bus, that some freak and unpredictable accident won't end it all.

You've always known that one day you are going to die, all that you now realize is that death is not this distant and abstract notion, it's real, it's there, and one day we are all going to have to face it.

So I think the only thing to do, or at least what I do, is just accept it and don't fight it. You live knowing that it could all end tomorrow, but it probably won't. You will likely be one the lucky ones, the odds are on your side, that will live a long, happy life.

So don't worry about what *might* happen. Besides wearing sunblock and buckling your seatbelt, there really isn't much you can do, you have no idea what might be thrown at you and no way and no time to prepare for it. We are all in this together and your fear is something we all struggle with everyday.
posted by whoaali at 8:07 PM on August 6, 2007

A disaster like that brings a lot of focus to your mortality, but in reality you have probably had closer calls with accidental death and never known it. You crossed over a bridge a few hours before it collapsed, but maybe you cleared an intersection just seconds before an unaware driver ran a red light and would have T-boned your car. You just never know, you have the same deal as the rest of us.

Like the others have said, talk it over. Most of the people in your area are feeling the same way right now. Start doing the things you'd regret never doing if you never got the chance
posted by Yorrick at 8:19 PM on August 6, 2007

I went through something similar this year after a major health scare in my family. It was the first time I've really understood that everyone I know and love is going to die someday, and that I am too. It scared the living daylights out of me, and it definitely affected my life. I felt like I would never be able to stop pleading in my head, "Don't die, please don't die, everyone just STOP DYING." To make matters worse, I beat myself up for not being able to deeply experience the "lesson" that my intellectual side thought I should have learned. I figured I would/should come out of the trauma with a greater appreciation for the people in my life, but mostly I just came out with terror.

Seven months after the initial crisis, I still have moments, or even days, when I sense that panic at life's unpredictable finiteness. But I tell you what - it's happening less and less often, and it doesn't grab me as hard as it used to. I'm starting to transition into that in-the-moment gratitude that I was hoping to find. It turns out that those cliched lines about time healing all wounds are right, and I've found that the best thing I can do is be gentle with myself while those wounds heal at their own pace.

I live and work near the bridge too, and I've been surprised by how much solace I've found in expressing my reactions to the collapse, by writing in my journal, commenting in the related thread on MeFi, and talking to friends. I think everyone around this city is going through shades of what you're feeling, and it can help both to give voice to your feelings and to know that you're not the only one.

Be honest about how you feel. Be patient with how you feel. You'll get through this.
posted by vytae at 8:29 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think most of us here in the Twin Cities have a range of similar reactions. The specifics seem to vary, but we're all pretty shook up. For some it is sadness, or anxiety, or strange feelings of randomness. Despite our self-image as stoics and silent Sams we seem to be doing a pretty good job of talking to each other about it.

So I hope Anonymous finds ways to sort out his or her feelings with friends and neighbors - you are not alone.

One local factor that might be a little different is that we're not used to sudden catastrophes in Minnesota. Sure, we're on the northern edge of the tornado zone, but tornado warnings become routine for most of us. We don't worry about hurricanes, earthquakes, or massive wildfires, and we have until this crash thought we had a competent grasp on making our basic infrastructure run well and safely.
posted by Rain Man at 8:39 PM on August 6, 2007

I lived next door to the pentagon on 9/11 and also rode the metro under the pentagon that day about an hour before the plane hit. For a very long time I cringed when I saw planes overhead and I had nightmares, too. It's normal to feel this way. What really helped more than anything was time. I wish there were a better answer.
posted by bananafish at 9:18 PM on August 6, 2007

Maybe OT, but Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" is about how life can change in an instant, and how it affected her mind when her husband died and her daughter fell ill.

There's an article in the current Scientific American Mind that discussed brain activity changes in people who were near the towers on 9/11, years after the event.

I also read somewhere recently about Pennebaker's research into journaling to heal bad feelings about events. He has a book about it, but I can't find where I read the magazine article (either Sci Am Mind, or New Scientist). Anyway, the method was to write for 15 minutes daily for a few days about the specific event and how it made you feel. Don't worry about form or grammar or punctuation. Just get the words out. The participants felt worse at first, but long term they felt better and did better than control subjects who just wrote about anything.
posted by DarkForest at 4:23 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

The advice above is great, but one small piece of practical advice I might offer is to stop reading and viewing the news. After 9/11 I lived in NYC and had job sites in the WTC, and went through something similar to what you're describing, and though it doesn't sound much getting away from the media helped me an awful lot.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:00 AM on August 7, 2007

Many therapists are quite good at talking about these kinds of issues, and a few sessions with one might help you to get back on an even keel. What you're describing need not take long to address.
posted by OmieWise at 6:19 AM on August 7, 2007

Anon - you a student? The U has counselors on call. Not a student? Call someone. It helps to talk about it in a neutral, safe environment.

My wife had trouble sleeping after the bridge fell. We hadn't done more than ride our bikes underneath it, never drove it as far as I remember, but it still hit her hard. We went and looked at it afterwards, on Sunday. The crowds of quiet people were more interesting to me than the bridge was. Curious, but respectful, talking and sharing impressions or just looking in awe. It was a reminder for us of how many bad things do NOT happen every day, and how a community can come together when something bad does happen. She slept better afterwards, and doesn't feel the need now to catch up on the bridge news every evening.

I'm not saying you should go look. In fact, if you're near enough to see it from your home, hell - stop looking for a while. Look at the people instead, not the wreckage. I'm just saying that some activities can help you, and you may find out on your own what helps, or you may need to talk to a professional, but either way do it.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:49 AM on August 7, 2007

Anon, some of the above advice about just being patient with yourself sounds better than what I'm about to suggest. My guess is that it's like any immediate emotional reaction where just acknowledging to yourself that you're going through a hard time works as well as anything.

But here's another suggestion. A friend of mine said that what has worked for her with really persistent worries (and then getting mad at herself about persistent worries) was to say "none of this is helping me taking care of myself or others." For example, she was staying up nights worrying, which was actually counterproductive to her health, and so on. She essentially harnessed the same survival instinct that was causing her to worry but used that energy to steer herself away from worrying. Just a thought. Hope you feel better.
posted by salvia at 7:38 AM on August 7, 2007

The way you're feeling is completely rational, and very natural. I understand what you're going through. I have family in the Twin Cities and they (and I) have driven over that bridge many times. For what it's worth, I went through the same thing after 9/11. I had just left the World Trade Center as the first plane hit, and I had to come to terms with why my friends and so many other people died and I, through sheer dumb luck, lived. I felt guilt and anger over the unfairness of it. I was terrified that something else would happen to my wife, and there would be nothing I could do to protect her, and I replayed it in my mind over and over.

It's ok to think about these things, but don't let them own you. When the thoughts about the tragedy come, notice them, and then let them go. I can tell you that the feelings will fade over time, and eventually life will go back to normal.

You've just personally experienced a frightening fact of life: Death comes without warning. You may have known it in an abstract way before, but now you know it in your bones. That may sounds bleak and morbid, but how you use that knowledge can be positive. Don't put things off. Don't wait for next time. Don't hold grudges. Don't waste time or energy on people who don't matter to you. Appreciate your friends and family as they are right now. Focus on what's important in your life.

As for practical steps, personally, the thought of burdening my family with sorting out my affairs after my death made me take action. I took out more life insurance to ensure my wife would be provided for. I organized all my important documents. I prepared emergency provisions, and planned out where to meet and what to do in the event of another disaster. I'm not some survivalist nut, and who knows if any of it would amount to anything in a tight spot, but getting all those things in order made me feel like even though life can be capricious and random, at least I'm a little bit prepared.

It may sound like a cliché, but it's the truth: I consider every day since that day to be a gift. And every time I feel like I'm not getting the respect I deserve at work, or my wife isn't carrying her fair share, or any of the hundred things that grind you down in this city, I remember my friends and neighbors that died, and none of that other stuff matters anymore. I feel lucky.
posted by Gamblor at 8:44 AM on August 7, 2007

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