Westgate, 5 Years On

5 years. Time sure flies.

I read something recently that said: PTSD nightmares aren’t always exact replays of the event. Sometimes they replay as emotions you felt during the event such as fear, helplessness and sadness.

In 2014, I escaped and went to Naivasha; in 2015 I powered through in Nairobi; in 2016 I went to Athi River and then to Diani. Last year I stayed in Nairobi again.

I had this desperate urge to want to get out of town, from Thursday to Saturday this week, though. I even weaved in a few friends into my “desperate plan”. Then took a step back and asked myself what on Earth am I doing?

Something I have learnt about myself is that, when I make spontaneous plans and they’re just not working out, I shouldn’t go on the trip, as something or the other always goes wrong. Hence I chose to stay in the city this year instead.

So, it’s 5 years, today, since the Westgate Mall Attack. Re-reading the quote above about PTSD, I can say that my feelings about the attack have changed over the years. Today, I’m sad. I’m not stuck in my thoughts and emotions. I’m just sad. Sad that something so insane happens constantly around the world, that’s a way many have passed on, that’s a memory that leaves a mark on family, friends and Nations, that’s a way mental health becomes a huge concern.

See, if you know me personally, or have read my blogs before, you know how vocal I have been about my depression, which actually surfaced from PTSD. It sunk in in 2015 and I only started to make my way out of it 2017. So I lost myself for about 2 years and just auto-piloted through life.

Yes, that makes me sad as well. That I never understood what was going on with me mentally. And perhaps, had I gotten help earlier, I would’ve coped better with a lot of things.

No one tells you this, unless you do your own research while you’re going through the process of healing and constant therapy, but there are certain characteristics that arise after PTSD. Some are common, some not so. Examples are: panic attacks, hyper vigilance, denial, low self-esteem, learned helplessness, depression, “control me” syndrome, escape to fantasy, tunnel vision, self-loathing, avoidance, blaming, fear of abandonment, catastrophizing, perfectionism, identity disturbance, selective memory and selective amnesia and dependency.

I can literally tick off 16 of 19 of the traits mentioned above. Only 5 years after the attack, am I able to accept and understand how the attack shaped my life. And that’s been one of the hardest parts.

This is what healing from trauma feels like: you are holding a dam together with superglue and behind it is a giant ocean of pain and all you have is this superglue for the cracks in the cement. The trickles of pain through those cracks are enough to terrify you, but everyone around you seems oblivious, thinking, well you look like you’re holding it together, you look like you’re healing… So you must be fine.” – Nikita Gill

Now, because all these characteristics suddenly arise in your personality, they are introduced into your daily life. Be it work, family, relationships etc. And they can get really messy as well.

Triggers are sounds, smells, actions, people, places, things, memories, and/or anniversaries, that bring memories and thoughts about a trauma back to the forefront and cue PTSD symptoms.

These triggers can arise in so many different ways. If it’s something your significant other did that hurt you months ago, and happens again while things are good, it’s a trigger. If you hear a loud bang, it takes you back to the moment you heard the first grenade go off. When someone leaves and doesn’t bother to stay in touch, it reminds you of when one of your parents left and never bothered to stay in touch.

The shittiest part about PTSD is not even the trauma from the attack, but all the characteristics that surfaced, that I didn’t even know were buried for 26 years, and now I have to heal what was damaged forever ago.

Self-awareness, self-care, self-love is so important. Right now, as I look at the calendar and look at this date, 21st September 2018, 5 years since I escaped a terrorist attack, I am grateful. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, and definitely don’t want anyone else feeling sorry for me (if anything that ticks me off). I am healthier. I am braver. I am living my life the way I want to. On my terms. My conditions. I only allow whom I want, into my life. My space is precious and there’s a tiny circle drawn around me, where very few can cross through.

Healing is messy. It’s dirty. It looks ugly. It feels awful. It’s just plain messy.

“And then it happens…

One day you wake up and you’re in this place. You’re in this place where everything feels right. Your heart is calm. Your soul is lit. Your thoughts are positive. Your vision is clear. You’re at peace, at peace with where you’ve been, at peace with what you’ve been through and at peace with where you’re headed”

I would’ve still loved to have gotten out of town and be alone on this day. Not to escape… Just to observe. Just to feel. Just to be. Just to have some peace out of this concrete jungle. But, I’ll be doing that from the comfort of my couch, this year.