By Robert Lavine
The boom of the plane hitting the towers, the gray pieces floating in the air, and the people jumping out were parts of the scene replayed in physician Margaret Dessau’s mind for years after the 9/11 disaster. She remembers looking out her apartment window to see a “guy with this white towel, and he’s waving it.” After he jumps, she hears children scream from a nearby school.
Nearly 10 years later, she described these memories as part of her post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, to writer Anemona Hartacollis for the New York Times. Many PTSD sufferers replay disastrous events as memories that intrude on everyday life — intrusive memories — or in nightmares. They complain of not sleeping or concentrating. They may overreact to loud noises, become excessively alert and hypervigilant, and avoid reminders of the disaster. Dessau, who witnessed the attacks from her window, avoids looking at the skyline.
Intrusive memories are only part of a larger picture that often includes a sense of isolation, hopelessness, anger, and emotional numbness.