There are certain moments in time that become etched in your memory, and you remember exactly where you were when an event happened, and what you were doing. Sometimes that’s because of the significance of the event itself. For my parents’ generation, that might have been the assassination of John F Kennedy or the moon landing. I remember that on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in university but for some reason didn’t have classes that morning. When I got up my roommates had the tv on, and we watched in stunned, horrified silence as the 2nd tower collapsed.
When illness dampens reactions
Then there are the moments we remember not so much because of the event itself but because of our own circumstances at the time. For me, the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting was one of those moments in time. Don’t get me wrong, it was a terrible event, but sadly these types of events occur with disturbing regularity. I remember Sandy Hook, though, because it is burned in my mind what was going on for me at the time.
I was in the small psychiatric emergency ward in a suburban hospital near the city where I lived. It was a single large room with curtained off beds and a small seating area with a tv. There was nothing else to do, so I watched tv and picked at the rat’s nest that my hair had become during the delirious days prior to my admission. The tv was tuned to CBC Newsworld, the 24-hour news channel of Canada’s public broadcaster.
As I watched the story unfold, I felt a curious sense of indifference. The only thing that really struck me was that I wished Adam Lanza could have shot me rather than those innocent kids. Why did they get to escape this world while I was stuck rotting on the psych ward? Aside from that thought, I just kept mindlessly picking away at my hair.
I don’t like the heartlessness that depression brings about in me. I previously blogged about my own non-reaction to the Las Vegas mass shooting; I was disturbed more by my lack of reaction than by the event itself. Indifference was not a “normal” way to look at such a horrific tragedy.
Landmarking by illness events
I find it interesting that my life’s chronology has come to be defined very little by external significant events and much more by illness events. Hospitalizations and relapses form the major milestones as I look back at my life over the past 10 years. Everything else is situated in relation to those milestones; either that, or it just blurs into a fog of meaninglessness. I regularly watch the news and so am aware of major world events, but unless things somehow relate to my depression journey my brain relegates them to the discard bin.
Mental illness changes how we interact with the world around us, and that can be distressing and even frightening. It can be hard to separate how much of our reactions are truly our own and how much are the illness. Why are both 9/11 and Sandy Hook burned in my mind when so many other events have gone into the dusty filing cabinet of my brain? Why did 9/11 trigger stunned horror while Sandy Hook triggered nothing?
It’s not something I try to beat myself up over, but I do find it curious. As in so many other situations, I’m not really sure where I end and the illness begins. On this journey of self-discovery, I don’t think I’ll ever find concrete answers, and maybe there will always just be more questions. Still, it’s important to keep asking those questions – and maybe that’s what I really need to take away from all of this.
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