Guest blogger Natan was 18 when he went to the Ariana Grande concert in 2017. After experiencing PTSD - and learning to cope - he shares his hopes for what mental health research can achieve.
In 2017, I went to the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Despite being in the middle of my A-Levels, with all my friends revising, as a huge fan I decided to give myself a night off.
The concert was amazing. I knew there would be queues outside after it finished, so stayed in the arena until it emptied out a bit.
Then out of nowhere, directly underneath my seat, I heard a really loud noise.
At first I thought it was a balloon exploding - there had been massive ones as part of the set. I saw people running back in and shouting, but moments later we heard an announcement that there was a technical issue with one of the microphones.
I stayed seated for a few more minutes, as people began to empty back out, and then got up to leave. It was a weird atmosphere – people were panicking but there was no obvious reason. As I exited, I noticed there weren’t any security guards around, which is strange at a big concert, but instinctively I walked out the closest door.
When I turned to my right, I saw the aftermath of the bombing. But at the time, I wasn’t aware of what had happened.
I saw bodies on the floor. I remember seeing a girl who was really distressed and thinking, “maybe she’s ill or emotional from the concert”. I must have been deeply shocked – but I kept telling myself nothing bad had happened.
I automatically turned to the left and walked away to the toilets to wash my face. I was shaking but kept repeating to myself that nothing was wrong.
When I walked out the arena, it hit me that something really bad had happened.
There was a distinctive metallic smell, smoke and people showing pictures of their children, asking if I’d seen them. I saw more injured people and a wave of anti-terrorist police officers with massive equipment. This must have all happened in a matter of seconds, but it felt like slow motion.
I ran for about two or three miles before my mum called – she was supposed to be picking me up. When I met her, I decided not to share what happened as I didn’t want her to panic. I sat in the car, barely speaking, but told her the concert was fine, and that I was just tired and nervous before my exam the next day.
As soon as I got home, I shut myself in my room and turned on the TV. Two hours later, when the news confirmed that it might have been an attack, I knew I needed to tell someone.
I woke up my parents and turned on the TV without saying anything. We all cried. Although I barely slept that night, I went to college the next morning for my exam. On the way, in the middle of rush hour, I had panic attacks every time I heard a loud noise. But I was determined to ignore them and focus.
During my exam, images and memories of the night before started to appear in my mind. It was then that I started to realise what I’d actually seen.
For weeks after, I struggled to speak to people or leave my room. I was operating in two modes – I’d feel tired, emotional and hopeless, then a few hours later I’d be so energetic that I could run for about three hours with no break. I was having arguments over nothing with my family, which was very difficult for them as they also didn’t know how to react. I was very low.
I decided to seek mental health support at college.
The counsellor explained to me what Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is and helped me understand its patterns. As a Psychology student, I also met with my teacher who I had many healing conversations with. He showed me papers about PTSD and told me that the best way of coping with something like this was “spreading the love”. I remember crying as he told me this.
That phrase has stuck in my mind since - it’s the reason I went to the ‘One Love’ concert. At first I was scared of the crowds, but I felt a responsibility to go, for those who weren’t able to, and celebrate that I’m still alive.
Two years later, I still experience the long-term effects of the trauma. Loud, unexpected noises can bring on panic attacks. But although the thoughts, the sound and even the smell will probably always stay with me, I have found ways to cope. Running is a great help, as well as being mindful. The idea of spreading love to my family and friends has also been a massive protective factor for me.
Natan reading at a memorial service in Manchester
I appreciate being alive, knowing that life is something I could have so easily lost. To me, mental health research is another kind of lifeline.
It means living a life with full potential. I remember being in a lecture with Professor Louise Arseneault, a researcher who works with MQ, about the effects of childhood bullying on our mental health. I was bullied when I was younger and felt a real connection to the research – I saw how these findings could have such a positive impact on other young people and help them get the full benefit of what life can be
As a psychology student, I’ve seen how the massive gaps in our knowledge of mental health are impacting the current lack of interventions for mental illness. My aim before the attack was to become a therapist and this experience has reinforced that – to help others who might be going through what I did.
The attack is something I'll never forget – it’s part of me now and, to some extent, defines me. But I deeply believe that sharing my experience, and supporting mental health research, can turn it into something positive.
Last updated: 3 July 2019