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Go read this story about a plane crash survivor who researches memory and trauma

Go read this story about a plane crash survivor who researches memory and trauma


The difference between remembering and reliving

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Wired has done an amazing piece on Margaret McKinnon, a researcher who survived a traumatic plane crash, then went on to become a leader in the field of memory and trauma. The article starts off with a harrowing recounting of the accident, but then goes on to explain her research around it, as she gathered other survivors from the crash to conduct a study on how people remember a disaster — one which she participated in.

And so it was that, in 2004, as a guinea pig in her own research, McKinnon found herself lying face-up inside of a magnetic resonance imaging machine, staring up at a mirror reflecting a projection of B-roll from Dateline NBC: A plane taking off from a runway. A map of the flight route. Clips from Chocolat interspersed between plane animations. McKinnon’s own younger face flashed before her eyes too—her barely-there makeup, blue eyes, and bob haircut.

The article gets into the mechanics of PTSD, many of which were revealed in part thanks to McKinnon’s research. It’s a topic that often gets talked about (though arguably still not enough), but Wired goes in deep to explain the difference between simply remembering and reliving. It also touches on the different ways people react to traumatic situations, and some of the underlying causes of those reactions — part of what inspired McKinnon’s work was the very different reactions she and her husband had during and after the crash, which happened just a few weeks before 9/11.

McKinnon is now turning her attention to the pandemic and its impact on frontline healthcare workers, in hopes that she will be able to help the ones that end up traumatized. The article is not only the story of a woman who, remarkably, turned a terrifying experience into a way to help others, but it helps shed light on an important mental health issue, that unfortunately may become more relevant as the long-term effects of the pandemic start to manifest. It’s definitely worth a read.