I took my mum to the theatre yesterday and this happened: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-25458009
We were physically untouched by the event but did see it unfold right in front of us, as we were sitting in the top back of the venue.
Obviously there are consequences of witnessing extreme events. Many people were crying or shaking as we stood outside the theatre and shock was setting in. Luckily I know of some interesting research run by my old friend Emily which you can read about here.
In this instance, my mum was experiencing a higher brunt of the shock than me; in the last year I’ve had a few high adrenaline altercations where I’ve had to break up attacks in the street, so I know the routine… also I think meditation doesn’t hurt for this. I took her to a cinema cafe and, not having tetris present, got us reading through a colourful brochure, discussing films and looking at film imagery. We didn’t ignore the events entirely, but I tried to make sure we didn’t fixate on the traumatic elements. I can thank my doctorate in memory for ramming home how important rehearsal is for laying down enduring memory traces, even for highly vivid events (including, according to some convincing evidence, ‘flashbulb memories‘). So even on the train home, as our thoughts returned to other factors, we kept a copy of a free newspaper on my lap and leafed through all the big photos. Never have the fruits of the paparazzi been so useful!
I’m feeling pretty ok today, and very, very glad that the number of injured is so low, and the death toll looks to remain at zero. It’s still pretty crazy to have witnessed a ceiling of a building rupture and collapse down four levels of theatre in front of your eyes. I guess this is the closest I’ve come to experiencing a genuine disaster – and for that, I can be grateful.
I am glad that I knew enough to occupy my visual scratch-pad and hope that this might be useful to someone else. When I was getting my mum a coffee in the cafe, I noticed a father and son – clearly also fellow witnesses – intensely discussing the events, and introduced myself and my status as a psychologist before giving them the same advice. I hope it was useful to them, too.