“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
I — along with every iPhone owner in Hawaii — awoke to this emergency alert Jan. 13 at 8:07 a.m. I skimmed the words, scoffed, locked my phone and promptly laid back down in bed. As you can tell, I’m not a morning person.
An instant later, however, my eyes shot back open and I refreshed my phone, reading the same words over again. A sense of urgency overwhelmed me, and I crawled out of my bottom bunk at Pineapple Park Hostel in Kona, HI.
The time following the alert was a blur. I went from accepting my impending death to learning the alert was false, all within approximately 38 minutes.
That fateful morning, I felt like I was living in a movie. I had never seen anything so vividly apocalyptic. I was traveling alone and suddenly faced a shocking reminder of my mortality, my vulnerability and the volatile state of modern politics. My first instinct upon receiving the message was that it couldn’t be real, but as the minutes passed, I forced myself to take the alert as seriously as possible. I did my best to stay calm, considering that I could either survive a landmark tragedy or be a part of the death toll.
I called my mom — she didn’t pick up. I left a voicemail, the whole time considering that this could be the last time she heard my voice. After I texted my family and friends, I wrote a note on my phone — I don’t know why I did this, or who it was for. I wrote down the people I loved, the people who had impacted me and the things I had never done but always aspired to do. The note is still on my phone and is a shocking reminder to me every day that life is precious and fleeting.
After the alert was retracted via Twitter — as well as through a second emergency message — Hawaii shakily continued its daily routine, the tension in the air never fully dissipating. For everyone in Hawaii, from Hawaii, or afflicted by the false missile alarm — I am deeply sorry you had to face those difficult moments.
Since this incident, my outlook on life has shifted for both the better and worse. I’ve learned to not take as many things for granted or to wallow in self-pity about things I can’t control. But I’ve also had a constant underlying anxiety about similar situations happening again. In order to navigate the current social climate, we need to tune into these anxieties and address the reasons behind them.
Last weekend, I was at Melrose Trading Post with some friends of mine. We were there for about an hour before my friend mentioned that she would like to leave soon — she felt anxious in the crowded environment due to her paranoia around mass shootings. Growing up in a world where shootings are pervasive also means constantly anticipating these tragedies happening at any given time. Truthfully, none of us are immune to these experiences, and many people I know have had close calls like this. My generation is growing up with many fear-based anxieties and stressors: crowded spaces, high-school classrooms, major cities, etc. These spaces become triggers to the many catastrophic events we hear about frequently in the media — mainly mass shootings, but also now the potential threat of nuclear warfare. With the number of places and people afflicted by these tragedies steadily rising, it’s hard to feel safe or secure anywhere. When my friend expressed her concern to me, we made a plan for when to leave in order to appease to her comfortability while also discussing the reasons behind her anxiety — allowing space for it to exist.
This experience made me realize the importance of tuning into your inner voice and gut feelings when you find yourself in situations that freak you out. Analyze why you feel the way you do and if it’s productive or not. Don’t dismiss that intuition and reaction outright. While I believe in a healthy dose of skepticism, I don’t think it’s useful to disregard these situational anxieties. There are reasons behind all emotions, motives and reactions.
When this sense of security dissipates and my mind races to the worst case scenario, instead of ignoring the panicked voice in my head, I now lean into it. I question the reason behind my anxiety and attempt to both validate its existence and understand its intention. If I feel unsafe, I do what I can to exit the situation before questioning what triggered me and why this happened. Instead of letting fear lie dormant, I have begun to allow myself to more thoroughly understand my reactions to situations, validate my feelings and create space to analyze the dynamics I find myself in. As my generation grows up with these increasing anxieties, I hope we all allow ourselves to do the same.
Stella Ramos is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.