Stress triggers long-forgotten feelings

Doctors have told me most of my life to keep my stress level low.

I have sincerely tried. I've taken classes, I know all the tricks to calm myself.

Sometimes my best efforts are not enough.

Anyone who chooses to be a news reporter of any kind must realize early that when disasters happen, regular assignments go out the window, or in some cases,  gone with the wind.

I was fortunate for years. I wrote about movies, music, movie stars. The funerals I covered and obituaries I wrote were for celebrities. I traveled a lot and wrote about the fun things I did.

Those times were forcibly removed at 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed in a terrorist bombing. The blast from that truck of explosives left a huge disaster area and people lost their lives in other buildings besides the federal one. Still, everyone's heart stopped when we realized the day care center in the federal building was hit and children were among the dead and wounded.

You may recall the photograph of a fireman carrying the body of a little girl. I saw that photo the day it was taken.

I made it all the way home before I broke down in tears, repeating "She had on yellow socks."

Because I write fast and describe scenes well, I talked to victims and first responders. I wrote about the secondary disasters — the cancellation of major events, the implosion of companies who lost their revenue streams.

Everyone worked 12 to 18 hours a day. We ate catered food at our desks, we wrote feature stories about each casualty, putting a face on each person who died. We all cried as we wrote story after story.

My friends had a 10 month old grandson in the day care center. He was identified by DNA with two other babies. I wrote his feature story and it is still the hardest story I ever wrote.

The bombing was the birth of "The Oklahoma Standard." When one of us is hurt, all of us hurt and we will help anyone who needs it until they don't any more.

I saw a therapist after the bombing. All the reporters did. She taught me so much and helped me cope with stress of all kinds.

We will skip the 1999 tornado for now because I was so sick by then I don't remember much about covering it.

I am well enough now that when the tornadoes that ripped through the Oklahoma City metro area Sunday and Monday I was asked to work for the paper, and thinking I could handle it, I said yes.

I didn't take the first hint I was going to have problems. When I heard children had died, I started crying.

I was covering volunteer efforts from several angles. So many people came to the disaster areas with supplies and to volunteer they had to be turned away. Supply depots were created and there are lists for people to sign to volunteer in the next few weeks and months. I interviewed a man who has volunteered for one charity for 30 years and works with assembly lines to build and fill boxes.

I wrote two stories Friday and turned them in. I thought I was doing great until I went to dinner with a friend Saturday night.

I could not remember a single story I had written that week. I drew a complete blank. It was like I had never done them. I started stressing out, my energy level tanked and I rushed home to look them up on my computer. One story had run, one ran Sunday and two more were waiting to go.

I spent the next day in my pajamas, in bed, watching anything but news. I secretly hope the paper won't call with more projects for a few days, but if they do, I'll say "Yes," because the Oklahoma Standard lives in me too.

I would like to thank every single person who works at CreakyJoints for letting me write about this now, and all of you who clicked "Like" when you found out I was safe. You cannot imagine what that did for me. I owe all of you a hug.

 

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