On Friday night I was, like many other Londoners, in a favourite pub with a friend. Around the corner, another friend was at a Suede concert, having the time of his life. A typical start to the weekend in London. When the first reports of the Paris attacks came through, it was hard not to feel that this was just too close to home: that things like that don’t happen on a Friday night, less than 300 miles from where we were sat.
Of course, it also brought to mind London’s past, and my own experiences. On July 7 2005 I narrowly survived the suicide bombing on the Piccadilly line train, one of four bombings in London that day. While I was lucky to escape without any lasting injuries, resolving the psychological pain was a long battle that cost me my job. Following events in Paris, I naturally worry about how the emotional wounds inflicted on that city will heal.
In London, they did heal, albeit slowly. Everybody's route to recovery is different, but cities are durable, passionate, evolving organisms that can bear the weight of such trauma, and right now we can also reflect on how with time, acceptance and the right level of support great ones can always recover.
In the short term my relationship with London was shattered. After my ordeal I immediately left London for Nottingham, where my parents could look after me. It took me two attempts to get back to London. Once I did return, I was too anxious to travel and so suffered a profound disconnect with the city. With post-traumatic stress, every loud noise, police siren and crowded space can invoke a panic attack. I couldn't even look at the London Underground logo without shaking.
Ultimately, though, the city and its inhabitants helped me remake my life. Many survivors find it helpful to connect with others who were involved, to share stories and practical information, and to aid each other through recovery. I found the King’s Cross United online forum invaluable in this, as it provided a safe shared space away from the media spotlight and embodied the democratic and unifying ideals the bombers had sought to undermine.
Nothing annoys me more than the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ approach. Of course, putting on a brave front as a city and a nation is an important political statement – and London drew together post-7/7 as Paris does now – but it can suppress the human instinct to care for the wounded and discourage people to seek help. Survivors need points of contact, psychological support and compensation. They should be kept fully informed and consulted (they carry wisdom that should feed into state responses). Also, people can have delayed responses to a traumatic event and so it is important that these services are available in the long term.
These were some of the lessons of 7/7. But, after events in London I was still humbled by quite how many people offered their skills and services to me, wanting to do whatever they could for the people who’d been directly affected.
It’s no wonder that the Paris attacks should have opened old wounds in London. Over this past weekend, friends in the capital have spoken to me of wanting to stay out of Zone 1 and away from tourist spots – of wondering when rather than if London will be attacked again. Others want to be out and about, finding comfort in groups, refusing to live in fear and give the attackers what they want.
While many people do still struggle with what they went through on 7/7, I know from my own experience that it is possible to find a renewed passion for this amazing city. For now, Paris’s sense of normality and security is shattered, but by pulling together and confronting fully what has happened it is possible for the city and its people to develop a new, different normality.
These sorts of attacks will never undermine the values they seek to quash. Just as London took time to reflect, draw strength from within and evolve, so Paris will too.
Photo of Vicki: Rob Greig