America the traumatized

Having arrived on July 5th, we’ve seen a lot of American flags around. It’s not like it’s unusual to see American flags hung proudly; my mom flew an American flag out front of our house when I grew up. She had one that was flown in front of the Capital Building in DC for a time. And being so near Independence Day you would of course expect flags out en force. And so they were.

But they haven’t come down.

Living in the United Kingdom for so long has sensitized me to American peculiarities such as this. It’s unusual in a global context to see a nation’s flag so proudly displayed not only by institutions but by individuals, and it’s most certainly odd to see individuals flying them off the back of their pickup trucks. It’s not that other nations are ashamed of their citizenship or culture, they just don’t feel the need to display it as brashly as Americans. It’s like Americans are afraid that their civic dreams might die if they don’t keep it in the world’s face, or even their own faces.

Today those flags are at half staff. I’m reminded how much America and the world has changed over the course of 16 years. I’m like most Americans, having a 9/11 story. It was early morning in California and I found myself having the oddest dreams with horrific details of planes hitting tall buildings. I’m not psychic – it was my alarm clock which was set on the radio, waking me up with news of terror infiltrating my dreams. I finally came to and realized that it was real. I rushed in to wake my housemates with the news. We all sat around listening, in tears, dumb-founded. We later went to college and were all sent home.

We lived in the flight path of the John Wayne airport in Orange County and along a busy freeway. That day and the coming days were eerily silent as planes were grounded and traffic was quiet. And life never has returned to normal, broadly speaking, for America. I think the nightly news reveals this without any question.

9/11 Memorial Apex, NC
9/11 Memorial

Today we saw a 9/11 memorial in Apex. Someone has placed a laminated memorial of a firefighter who was killed 16 years ago. Someone they had known, presumably. Someone whose world has felt terrorized on a very personal level.

I commented to Rob this morning that it feels as if America is suffering from some form of national PTSD. We just aren’t coping well with this trauma. The signs of PTSD, as taken from the VA website are:


  • Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms).
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
  • Having more negative beliefs and feelings.
  • Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal).


“If our country were a person, we would view that person as anxious, reactive and reeling from years of trauma: major symptoms of PTSD,” writes Judith G. Edersheim, J.D., M.D. in her HuffPost blog Does America Have PTSD. I think it’s an interesting thought or metaphor.

I wonder, how might thinking of what’s going on now with America in this way lead us to experiment with healing actions to lead us gently out of this dark place of the soul?

America the traumatized

Moving ‘home’: an introduction

Equipped with the passports of our two home nations (one set which was hot off the press), my family returned to the US this past Wednesday. I look back at myself a week ago, sat in a London cafe not unlike the one I’m in now, reading back on journal entries from the past two or so years. How my heart hurt then. I  wrote like a woman abused by a lover, a lover who could totally do without her but she was unsure if she would survive without the lover. I looked back last week at these entries written about my love/hate for London and knew that this decision to return to the unknown and uncertain States was the right move.

I’m glad I did get to grab that sliver of time to reflect because here, in this cafe today, having come to mull over the theme ‘home’ for a storytelling event I’m taking part in next week, I keep fielding that internal question that has come every day: what the hell have we done. I knew the question would come and I don’t doubt moving has been a mistake, but I am struggling in these early days to know where to find my foothold here. Technology, culture, politics – they’ve all moved on so far out of my grasp. I truly feel like a foreigner in this landscape, however I do feel that I am able to connect to these people as my own. I feel a warmth there as I most always have with Americans in their open, honest and friendly approach. And now, again, I face a question I never stopped getting in 13 years of UK residency: “Why did you move HERE!?” Particularly now, people are a little baffled that at this time in history with so little appearing to be holding people together, why would we move HERE.

I look forward to using every opportunity to write about my experiences as an American returning to the states after so long. All your prayers and well wishes are warmly received!



Moving ‘home’: an introduction