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One year ago, the unthinkable happened. You hear about these kinds of events on the news, but until you’re there, living it, experiencing, it you never expect it to happen to you and your friends.
I was in the middle of studying for my A-Levels on Monday 22nd May 2017. It was a regular Monday in sixth form, revision sessions, lessons, lunch with my circle of friends. I have a few pictures on my phone of one of my friends and I messing round with Snapchat filters during that lunchtime, and I look at them sometimes and try to remember how I felt only hours before. Just weeks before I had firmed Lancaster to study English Literature & History. I liked Ariana Grande, I had all her albums but originally I wasn’t supposed to be going to her show, it was a last-minute decision when my friend had a spare ticket. We drove down to Manchester from Liverpool and carried out the normal pre-gig routine, something to eat, a few drinks inside the arena itself. The videos I recorded show how energetic the crowd was when Ariana was on, and I remember so clearly how happy I was when she performed my favourite song of hers. There are no words to describe the sheer panic when it happened and I don’t want to go into detail. But when you believe that you’re seconds away from death, hiding, lying on the floor, running for your life, absolutely everything changes.
Myself and my friend were not physically harmed during the attack. Everyone else that I knew were there, mercifully, were also okay. The relief that I experienced when we were guided under police tape after what felt like days to be reunited with my friend’s parents, and then my own was only temporary. Waking up to the names on the news, to faces, made everything so sickeningly real. I didn’t want to leave my room, leave my house, to be separated from my mum and dad when I believed that the outside was only going to cause more pain. Being back at sixth form was harder than I could have imagined. The pitying looks, bursting into tears with no warning, not being able to concentrate on work for more than two minutes. My sixth form leavers assembly was on the Friday of that same week, and our head of year, as our school was Catholic, said a prayer and referenced the bravery of those affected, when ‘brave’ was the last word I would have used to describe myself. Was it normal to have the noise from that night in your mind every minute? Feeling sheer panic hearing a siren? Constantly wondering why and how I was alive when others weren’t? Screaming at the slightest loud sound, a crash, the slamming of a window, someone dropping a book? Choosing not to attend Ariana’s benefit concert, One Love Manchester, because I was too scared? Sometimes the whole night feels like a blur, and other times I can relive every single second, every detail.
I lived like this for a few months until I admitted to myself and to my family that I needed help if I was ever to move on with my life. Luckily, I was quickly given a therapist and I had an appointment within weeks. I was soon diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which I was originally so ashamed of and wanted to hide from everyone around me. I began EMDR treatment, (eye movement desensitisation) and continued with this until a few months ago.
Starting here at Lancaster had been daunting. Before I started my treatment, I was on the verge of not going at all, I would take a gap year, or I would take my insurance offer from Liverpool and stay at home while studying, close to my mum and dad. Deciding against this was the best decision I ever could have made. I love my course, I love Lancaster and I have met some of my closest friends here, who have been nothing but supportive. I couldn’t imagine my life now without them and their love. For me, staying at home would have meant that the hate would’ve won. And that couldn’t be further from the truth today.
An avid concert goer and music lover, I used to live at gigs. I was terrified of going back to live music. Originally, I couldn’t have imagined going anywhere near that sort of atmosphere ever again, hence why I chose not to attend One Love Manchester. My first concert since was Ed Sheeran in Orlando, as a part of my family holiday. I was terrified, but I got through it and have since been to see Lorde, Dan and Shay, and Khalid, and I’m even flying to Toronto to see Taylor Swift in a stadium in August. I couldn’t be more excited and I try to remind myself every day of how proud I am of myself for getting this far. I have not, however, attended a concert back at the Manchester Arena, yet. I went back to the inside lobby area of the arena on a Wednesday afternoon with my therapist as a part of my recovery, which was an incredibly huge step for me and undoubtedly will make going back properly seem that little bit easier.
As it approaches the year anniversary, I like to look back on this year and appreciate every part of it, and how incredibly lucky I am to be here, safe and well. On May 22nd I went back to Manchester to pay my respects to those who we lost. Though I do not have treatment anymore, I am still not 100% okay with large crowds, loud noises or any slight mention of the word terror. Even hearing Ariana Grande’s songs can be difficult. It will be something that will affect me, and thousands of other people for the rest of our lives. Being from the North-West, everybody seemed to know at least one person affected. If the attack taught me one thing, it would be to make the most of every minute that you have, and to cherish those around you. Check up on them, make sure they’re okay. Having witnessed first-hand how devastatingly cruel the world can be, it makes you appreciate how wonderful it can be too. As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, I’m living my life as best as I can, working hard for my university course, going out with my friends as much as possible, treasuring time with my family. Manchester will always have a place in my heart, and one year later that place has only grown bigger.