I didn’t sleep last night. Well I woke, at 1am from nightmares of being in wide open streets with the threat of terror at all angles and couldn’t find the comfort of sleep again.
I should start by saying, I suffered for anxiety for so long. It kept me from living a life outside of a 30 mile radius for so many years. Then one day I fought it, I fought it so hard I flipped it on it’s head and changed my life. Years of being petrified of death at all angles, of plane crashes, of terror attacks, of car crashes, of freak illnesses, was wiped away. I forced myself into every thing that scared me, it took years but I fought and fought, until here and now. 2017 – I am travelling, often solo, to a new country every month. Visiting London every fortnight for work, giving advice to people who feel the debilitating panic I used to feel.
Yet last night, I found myself sobbing, panicking again at those very same fears.
I have now been caught up in a few terror attacks, the very things that I dreaded for years, is now becoming something I seem to be near quite often. Many people are finding themselves in this same position I’m sure, the world is becoming a scary place.
When the attack came to Westminster, I was in my London office. We were locked inside, unable to see anything but blue flashing lights and the constant updates on the news channels being filmed so close to our office. Eventually, we were released and I made my way to my hotel. A gun man was roaming the streets apparently, the police desperately trying to find him. But I had theatre tickets and wasn’t going to be shut inside. I took to the streets with hundreds of other people, making their way around like usual. I felt unity with these people, laughing and joking like every other day. I was scared, but wasn’t going to be stopped. But my lasting memory was the feeling that if something happened, I wouldn’t have been happy with my life, I was searching too hard for validation from others, for a partner, a promotion. The decision was made to live differently again. I had come so far but not far enough.
Fast forward to the last few days, my friends and I had decided to visit Barcelona for a few days in the sun. On Thursday we had spent the day on the beach and were planning on going to Festa Gracia in the evening, so needed to grab a good meal. We decided to go into the centre to a restaurant I had been to a year before. We left the restaurant happily, wandering towards our apartment. Excitedly chattering, absentmindedly crossing the road, before noticing a surge of people running towards us. One woman kicked her flip flops off to run. That was odd we thought. More and more people surged past us, so as we were all now trained, we turned around and went in the same direction as them. Looking to each other in confusion, we started to half run, half walk, before another surge of people came running towards us in the opposite direction. Panic all over there face, shouting run and gun, in Spanish and Catalan. One man made the sign with his hands. Everyone started flooding into the street, rushing away. I just became calm, there was a man about to come round the corner with a gun and I was going to die. It was just a fact and I accepted it, before running after my friends and down a street away from the fear.
Instantly I went into work mode, trying to gather evidence, whilst another of my friends started to panic. It was exactly the same reaction I used to have to even the thought of it, but it seemed we were now in the throws of something happening. We walked away quickly before realising we were going in the wrong direction and couldn’t get back. I took us west and back up, not realising we were once again adjacent to La Rambla. As we walked, we noticed shop owners stood in their shops, holding the shutters, assessing the situation. People were stood still, in shock, crying as we walked past. I checked my phone and saw a missed call from my sister. Oddly, this was the only thing that made me think it was something serious.
Suddenly, again, the crowd surged towards us, this time screaming, crying. I grabbed my friends and we ran into a shop nearby, as owners started slamming their shutters down. Locked in, my friend started to have a full panic attack. Of course, anyone would. I simply had three words going round my head. Run, Hide, Tell. I could see a large window display that didn’t have any shutters and under the belief that this was still a shooter, was looking for a place for us to be able to hide further. Assessing the fridge in the back, I decided that’s where we could hide. The story goes on, but with the help of a friend based in Barcelona who was trapped in his office, we managed to get a taxi home after two hours of wandering the streets, when we were forced out of the shop.
Once again, I had been faced with my ultimate fear, this time far more closely than before. I didn’t react the way I would have done years ago, in fact each one of us reacted differently. I compartmentalised, going straight into logic. One friend panicked, she needed desperately to get back to our room and couldn’t feel safety until we were there, the other simply needed to rationalise that everything was ok, because xx was happening.
I don’t know where the positive is in this story, I’m sat here writing it for catharsis. As I’ve arrived home, the compartmentalisation has gone and it’s hit me completely. I believed I was about to die, but I’m not, we are all still here, unscathed. That night, we drank to everyone that had lost their lives, we drank to life, to each other, to our families and friends, and I told them how when I’d been caught up previously I’d felt unhappy with my life, but not anymore, I was calm now, I loved my life.
At this point, I don’t want to go on my next trip, but I will. It won’t stop me, and I know it won’t stop my friends. We will keep going in honour of the people who aren’t able to, the people who tragically lost their lives. We won’t be scared, we will simply be reminded that life is incredibly short. It isn’t a cliché, it’s the truth, and so, we will live our lives even harder.