A Public Handshake

  • On September 11, 2001, my brother-a New York City firefighter - rushed into the Twin Towers to save people. For twenty-four hours, the phone lines were jammed and I had no way of knowing whether he was alive. The next morning, from the phone at work, I dialed the hot line for family members of the FDNY. "Marc Bruni is alive," the bearer of bad news replied. "He is alive."

    At the time, my sister-in-law was pregnant with their first child. I wonder now if Marc was spared because he had not yet done the "one thing" he had come into this life to do. Even now as I write this, I cry. It is all too much. So to have written and posted this blog entry on Thursday - the anniversary of 9/11 - would've been too much. That morning, I shut the TV halfway through the reading of the names of the victims.

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    Ever since that event, about two or three times a year, I would dream of low-flying planes. In 2004, on the anniversary of 9/11, I had a mini-meltdown riding the Staten Island Ferry to the City, where I was set to attend the poetry reading. Just one month before, I was the featured reader at the Cornelia Street Café, and I read the breakdown scene from my memoir, and ended with a positive note twenty years later. That public disclosure brought up all sorts of feelings even though the president of the Italian American Writers Association (IAWA) - the host of the poetry readings - praised me going on two months later.

    I'm quite impressed with Robin Cunningham's "Living Heroes" blog entry (though I won't be voting for John McCain) because he admits it's not easy for those of us living with schizophrenia. Too often, even right now at the Connection, I hear stories of how people abandon us after we're diagnosed with this illness. So to get up every day and make our way in the world, we deserve that "secret handshake."

    An event like 9/11 is devastating because we need to feel secure. My brother's best friend, also a firefighter, died. You maybe didn't have a loved one die in the attack, yet it's understandable if you feel the trauma, too. At the end of this blog entry, I link to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and to the complete entry on PTSD from MedLinePlus.

    How could any of us continue our lives in the same fashion after 9/11? Perhaps it's easier for people who don't live in New York City - that I don't know. I only know that every fall, my feelings run high like the tide. I'm lucky I still have my brother, and I'm grateful he is alive.

    The night of the attacks, I called a friend who lived in Harlem and talked to her on the phone. I believed that now things would be different and racism and prejudice would be things of the past, and people would accept each other and live truly as "one world, one people" and come together in unity after this global act of hatred. I was wrong. Nobody seemed to learn that lesson, and it seemed I was the only person to connect those dots. Out on the streets, it was business as usual.

  • The slow change - my mounting anxiety - began shortly after 9/11, and continued until it shut me down in 2007, and so I switched to the Geodon. On an objective level, I can see that my worries weren't based in fact, yet they were all too real to me. Examining the events of the past seven years, I can see where the pieces don't fit, and thus I know this cruel illness was at work, trying to undermine my success.

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    My great hope is that when I publish my memoir, Left of the Dial, people will understand what it's like to have schizophrenia, and think twice before making an automatic assumption about a person they see in a café or on the train. Because how the illness manifests itself in each of us is as unique as our thumbprint, I feel my book is a necessary addition to the literature because it shows one woman's life. It's hard for anyone reading a sz memoir to extrapolate from one person's experience what it's like for everyone else living with this condition.

    Yet one thing is certain: all of us live with this trial every day. We wake up, and it's not easy to do what other people take for granted. My friend Ana suggested that when we take risks, we have a heightened awareness of what's at stake, because everything we do is touched with meaning and rooted in struggle.

    The one thing we have in common with "so-called normals" is that we have feelings. We deserve empathy, not sympathy. Now, after 9/11, it's time to heal the wounds of stigma and alienation. I'm sure when my book is published, most people will respond favorably yet I'll get the cold shoulder from the most unlikely sources.

    The events of September 11, 2001 are still raw to me. I can remember listening to the radio because my TV had no reception, and the news announcer reporting that "All New York City firefighters are being asked to respond to duty." Just writing that sentence, my eyes tear up. It will never be the same.

    So every day that I wake up to live another day, I will dedicate my life to my mission: educating others and helping people recover. It is the right thing to do. It is the only way I know to make things right. I seek to be the change I want to see in the world, to quote Mahatma Gandhi.

    This blog entry I dedicate to the heroes and victims of 9/11. I also dedicate this to you: the people who live every day with schizophrenia, I extend my hand.








    [Click on the link that pops up, and then search under "P" in the alphabetical directory for the topic "post-traumatic stress disorder."]


Published On: September 16, 2008