A loud knock on the door, a busy crowd or a child screaming as their balloon pops. These things now have the power to leave me short of breath, my heart thudding in my chest.
A year ago, I was living carefree as a student in Manchester, submitting my dissertation and looking forward to seeing my favourite pop star, Ariana Grande. But on 22 May, everything changed.
There’s no handbook on how to feel when you’re part of an event that shocks the world. For this piece, I’ve tried my best to explain, but the fact is, while what happened haunts me every day, I rarely talk about it.
I tell myself I don’t want it to define me. No one really understands – and what can they say? I avoid talking about it with my friend Carly, who I was with that night, because I feel like bringing it up would taint our friendship. And, honestly, I feel guilty for the amount it still affects me, when others have died, had life- changing injuries, or lost their closest family members.
If I talk about it too much, I’ll break down, so I carry the weight of it on my shoulders mostly in silence. But there’s not a day it doesn’t affect me. I’ve not felt completely safe since it happened and I’m always anxious it could happen again. I’ve tried to keep busy and, last summer, threw myself into organising a charity event for survivors. But in the past I’d break down and cry for no reason. The sleeplessness has eased a bit, but the guilt, confusion, anger and disbelief remain.
Less than three weeks after the attack, I went to Parklife Festival in Manchester, because I felt I had to be defiant. I go each year, so why shouldn’t I? But the reality was tough – seeing the crowds (even the armed police brought in to ensure our safety) brought it all back. I felt claustrophobic and panicked. I can’t see myself booking another concert or festival soon. I’ve not been back to Manchester Arena. When I had to give the police a statement for the inquest into the deaths, a detective recommended a charity who give tours around the arena. But I’m not ready. I don’t think I’ll ever go back there.
After university I worked in London, then came home to Sheffield, but the city of Manchester holds no fear for me. It was a happy place. I hope it can be again. I now have a tattoo of the Manchester bee on my forearm.
Ariana Grande’s One Love Manchester concert at the Emirates Old Trafford cricket ground was a great day. I felt safe and comforted – it was therapeutic to be with others who were there that night. Ariana’s new song is a touching tribute to the attack – I love how the bee at the end of the video signifies the idea of trying to move on with life.
But it’s bittersweet hearing One Last Time (the song Ariana performed just before the attack). It makes me think about how hard it is to try and live my life as fully as I can, when people I walked into a concert with don’t have those lives any more. I read everything I can about the families of those who died. I wonder what they’d be doing, and the birthdays they’ve missed.
I feel it’s important for me to remember them every day. One day, I’ll have to sit down and proactively try to deal with my feelings in a better way. But, for now, I just know 22 May will stay with me forever.