Fear, stress of tragedy leave many still recovering

Beth Sewell

It started out as a typical Tuesday morning at Greenwood High School for Jason Reagan. He sat in front of a computer waiting for a connection to cnn.com.

His hands froze at the first picture beginning to form on the screen. It showed an airplane exploding into New York’s World Trade Center.

Reagan looked around the room and into a hallway, searching for someone else’s reaction. He realized he was the only one who knew what had happened.

“I remember watching as new photos were posted on the Web page,”

Reagan said. “During the class change I told everyone what I saw and what was going on, but no one believed me.”

But when teachers began turning on the TVs in their classrooms, the building grew silent as they watched the second hijacked plane hit the other tower.

“We didn’t do anything the rest of the day,” said Reagan, now a Western freshman. “We kept hearing about other flights being hijacked, and it was all just too much.”

Tomorrow, like many students, Reagan will remember that day all over again. He’ll spend time praying and reflecting, but try to treat it like a normal day.

Local and national psychologists say the Sept. 11 anniversary will cause some of the pain of last year’s events to resurface.

Karl Laves, assistant director of the counseling and testing center, said Sept. 11 trauma may have been more overwhelming for college students who were away from their families or central support systems.

Some may even still be recovering.

Psychology professor William Pfohl says the recovery process is typically a five-step process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But the stages take different amounts of times for different people. Not everyone experience these steps in order, and some may only experience two or three steps.

“Some people haven’t gotten to acceptance yet,” Pfohl said. “Some are still in the anger stage. They still think we should do something to those people, which is unfortunate.”

Laves said Sept. 11 was stressful for many college students and Americans because it threatened the country’s sense of safety, and many were left only with confusion.

Dealing with that kind of trauma as a student can be especially rough, he said.

“At a regular job, you can be down for a few days, function at half capacity and get by. But as a student, if you go into a class distracted, you miss it,” Laves said. “As a student you have to be 100 percent. As a university, it’s important for us to kind of slow down while students are going through these things.”

But some students and professors on Western’s campus think changing their daily schedule is the wrong way to go.

Charles Borders, a history professor at Bowling Green Community College, said his classes didn’t slow down after the attacks last year, and he isn’t planning on slowing them down for the anniversary.

“When they wanted to discuss it, we did, but after, we moved right on,” Borders said. “I think the best thing we can do as a country is show that we’re going to move on.”

Jenny Frank, a junior from Sarasota, Fla., also hopes to keep her regular schedule tomorrow. She’s not sure she wants to remember.

Frank had an aunt working at the Pentagon and an aunt and cousin working at the World Trade Center that day.

All were unharmed, but Frank said Sept. 11 was devastating.

A year later, the looming anniversary is rehashing unwanted memories.

She isn’t planning to attend any memorials, events or even watch TV tomorrow.

“I’m thankful that I didn’t lose anyone,” Frank said. “And I do have a lot of sympathy for families who did, but I don’t want to relive that day. I just recently got to the point of acceptance, and watching it all over again would just start the grief cycle all over again.”

Denise Beike, associate psychology professor at the University of Arkansas, studied 100 students from Sept.12 to December of last year, asking them which coping strategies they used after the terrorist attacks and which they found most successful.

Beike found in her study that, like Frank, the majority of students coped with feelings of depression, anger and anxiety by not changing their perception of the world and going about their day as usual.

“I would assume that students who believe the world is no longer a safe place and have all these worries about air travel are going to have the hardest time dealing with the anniversary,” Beike said.

Reagan sat in Garrett Conference Center yesterday watching television and reflecting on the events of Sept. 11. Tomorrow will not be a difficult day for him, he said. He will not spend the day dwelling on the devastating events, but he will take time to remember.

“I think that a lot of people have forgot,” he said. “It’s been commercialized, and the actual meaning of what happened has been forgotten.”

Reach Beth Sewell at [email protected]