It was a beautiful sunny, September morning and I just happened to have the news on TV. A plane had hit the World Trade Center in an apparent accident. I continued my routine and went for a walk with my young son in the stroller. But soon people were coming out of stores asking if I had heard the news-there was another plane.
We were under attack.
Probably not since Pearl Harbor had our country ever felt so violated, so in shock that our idyllic existence could be interrupted or impacted. We were glued to the TV the rest of the day, cancelled plans and our world has never been quite the same. We not only lost thousands of souls that day, but our naivety too. Its impact and memory still have influence today and will for years to come.
The events of 9/11/2001 have forever changed our lives in more ways than we can imagine. It isn’t just about the loved ones lost and brave souls who rushed in to help, but about the impact on our country and world. It is a seminal moment for all of us who lived through that day, just as Pearl Harbor or JFK’s assassination was for past generations.
Emotions and memories are intricately entwined. The brain processes memory and emotion in close proximity and any emotional memory will be remembered more strongly because of this. Think about your most emotional memories-highlights and low moments. I bet you can recall vivid details about each of them and even their subsequent impact on your life.
So when something as big as 9/11 happens, it stays with us. But so do the everyday emotional events that only we know: the sickness of a loved one, a nagging worry, a persistent health issue, chronic stress from our job etc. It may not be visible or understood by anyone other than us, but it’s there nonetheless. The concerns, worries, emotions and stress bubbling under the surface of our existence interfere with our memory. Our brains create strong memories in some areas but can also cause us to be seemingly forgetful in others. It can even lead to depression or worsening physical issues.
When life’s circumstances jolt our world, we need to realize the impact on our memories. We can’t always control what is happening around us, but we can control how we deal with it. Choosing healthy reactions, enacting stress management strategies and understanding the toll these situations create are the first steps in dealing with them. But even when we do all this, things can still seem overwhelming.
If and when life seems to be too much to bear, professional counseling or management may be needed and should not be looked upon as failure. Everyone needs a helping hand at some point. Recognizing this in ourselves and others can help us all deal with the changes life sometimes throws at us. And in the process, it may even help us retain and create new and better memories.