Quite often the enormity of very bad news, whether personal or impersonal, can take a while to sink in.
That shocking health diagnosis might be met with "I can handle this" bravado until bit by bit you learn a lot more about it and reality settles in.
With time, everything about that situation gets cut back to an essence that doesn't go away. And, looking back, warning signs ignored along the way now seem lit in neon.
The diagnosis on the health of America's democracy has been blinking red for a while.
It has taken a long time for many people to accept that trend, but the assault on the United States Capitol is a jabbing pain at the heart of the country.
Yet the journey to this point has taken decades - well beyond the calamitous rule of US President Donald Trump.
The Trump era has been full of events that have flashed by - a blurred lowlights reel of too much to take in.
What happened at the US Capitol last week is not one of them.
Instead, the attempted coup seems worse with each passing day. It requires a reckoning in the US and an assessment of what got missed along the way.
When peeled back to a basic summary of what happened, the storming of the Capitol looks ominously like the start of a dangerous new period of US civil strife just as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris prepare to be inaugurated next week.
Trump, the outgoing elected leader of the country, who lost a fair election in November and falsely said it was stolen, called supporters to action at a Washington rally, timed to coincide with the official stamping of Biden's win. Trump told them to go to the Capitol and "fight like hell" and "show strength".
The mob violently overran the legislative seat of government as members of Congress were moved to safety. Even so, some officials of Trump's Republican Party still challenged the election results when the politicians returned to finish the job. Trump took no responsibility for the riot and said on Wednesday: "People thought that what I said was totally appropriate." A day later he urged: "NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind" to disrupt the inauguration.
Trump's contention that November's election was rigged was rejected by judges and election officials. But his fervent fans believe it.
Writing in Politico, former National Security Council expert Fiona Hill called it an attempted self-coup by Trump to keep himself in power. "Trump disguised what he was doing by operating in plain sight, talking openly about his intent. He normalised his actions so people would accept them."
Trump's ability to normalise the abnormal, and the way people adapt to that shifting bar, has helped him glide by controversies throughout his term.
The potential threat posed by the Trump rally appears to have been underestimated beforehand, in part because law enforcement has over the past year largely tolerated in plain sight gatherings of pro-Trump guys in combat gear.
The FBI insists that intelligence of online radical chatter was shared ahead of the event but the security forces on the ground were clearly unprepared, in terms of planning, strategy, police numbers and equipment, for the ferocity that hit them.
According to the Washington Post, an FBI office in Virginia warned internally a day before the attack that extremists were preparing to commit violence and "war" in Washington.
Another internal FBI bulletin has warned that, "Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from [Sunday NZT] through at least [Thursday, inauguration day], and at the US Capitol from [Monday] through [Thursday]."
It says there are threats against Biden, Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and to federal buildings.
A very real fear that there was possible inside cooperation with the Capitol mob adds to queasiness over the FBI warnings about the coming days.
Much remains unknown. How deep and wide does all this go? How much planning, financing, and collusion was involved? Why did it take six days for authorities to publicly address such an obvious security and intelligence failure?
A proper dig will be needed to unearth the full story.
Images from the insurrection will long stay in people's memories.
The face looking in at armed officers standing with guns drawn. A man parading a Confederate flag. A rioter lounging in Pelosi's chair. A policeman being beaten with a flag pole as the mob chants "USA!". Another screaming in agony as he gets crunched in a doorway.
Initially, news footage was dominated by a surreal bunch of invasion tourists, maskless before the cameras, documenting their criminal progress with selfies and videos, stealing mementos.
The police response was distinctly softer than when the Black Lives Matter protests occurred last year. This time, police staffing was at normal levels. Officials turned down Pentagon help days before the riot. A police lieutenant issued an order not to use deadly force.
Some rioters had a careless air as though they did not expect to face any fallout. They were allowed to wander away and a few were filmed sitting in comfy chairs at a hotel as though they'd been innocently sightseeing.
As evidence mounted and arrests were made, it became clear how dark it all was. There was a more purposeful bunch who - photos show - appeared to communicate with devices and coordinate. A faster entry and some automatic weapons and it could have been a bloodbath.
Some of the outnumbered Capitol policemen were badly beaten, with Officer Brian Sicknick dying after reportedly being hit with a fire extinguisher. There was a wait for reinforcements. It took hours for authorities to regain control.
Rioters hunted for Vice-President Mike Pence and Pelosi. Policeman Eugene Goodman bravely managed to draw some away from an open door to the Senate just before it was sealed.
When the mob broke into Pelosi's offices, members of her staff were hiding under a table in one of the rooms of her suite, behind a barricaded door.
Trump heads into inauguration week after a bipartisan vote to impeach him for "incitement of insurrection". He's the first US President to be impeached twice.
Ten Republicans in the House landed on the right side of history and joined Democrats in approving the motion, 232 to 197. Whether Trump is convicted or not will be decided by the next, Democratic-controlled, Senate in a trial.
What could be crucial is just how Trump leaves and becomes perceived. Will he soon be thought of as a disgraced pariah, spurned by influential members of his party and the one blamed for its loss of the presidency and Congress? Or will he be a dangerous inspiration to his most extreme followers and retain support from officials? That could be key to whether Trumpism remains a virulent strain or fizzes out.
At least the authorities are now awake to the practical dangers and they have huge resources at their disposal.
A firm link between the behaviour of Trump and his allies and twisted anti-state violence by so-called "patriots" has been established. Business donors and social media companies are also having to take a stand.
The US came through a spike in domestic militancy in the 1990s with the Oklahoma bombing and Waco siege. It is about to embark on a new start with a very different type of administration.
And yet, the country feels as though it is sliding down the side of that iconic Capitol dome.
It's hard to imagine a more gloomy and tense setting for an inauguration. Fencing has gone up near the Reflecting Pool. Troops are hunkered down around the Capitol. Washington's Mayor, Muriel Bowser, has asked people to stay away from the inauguration. National guard numbers are expected to reach 20,000 in the city.
Besides everything else, it robs 81 million people who voted for a new president the chance to really enjoy the moment.
Downtown is locked down. This time there won't be the river of people watching from the now closed Mall, or milling around the monument, or any joy for the street sellers of merch. Biden's choice of "America united" as his inaugural theme is a triumph of optimism over doomscrolling reality. There's not a lot of "hope" to go round, and a great need for "change".
It will be very different from the inauguration 12 years ago when he became Barack Obama's vice-president.
This current democratic crisis has a number of tributaries, and some date back to that period.
Obama's win marked a major cultural shift with the election of the country's first Black president, coinciding with the population gradually becoming more diverse.
But there was also the Birtherism conspiracy about whether Obama was born in the US - a false claim Trump promoted. Republican politics witnessed the early populism of Sarah Palin and the rise of the Tea Party.
Those insurgent activists put establishment Republicans under pressure, creating a loop where politicians adapted politically by reflecting grassroots views.
At the same time, social media began to boom, alongside more traditional conservative news outlets in the US, helping to elevate the clout of far-right views.
Trump, being an unorthodox outsider, became more popular than his party and was far more successful at bending this process to suit himself. He encouraged the issues and causes that his ardent fans took up.
Trump became a superspreader for the fringe, helping to take disinformation, extremism, and conspiracy theories mainstream. Social media platforms allowed fakery to flourish.
With Trump's grip on their voters, Republicans have been subservient enablers for the President, letting him barge through scandal after scandal.
Going forward, the Democrats can't always be the adults in the room. For progress to be made, the Republicans need to return to more policy and reality-based politics. The bipartisan impeachment vote could be a start.
Other influences on today go further back, to the ''war on terror" after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Those experiences, equipment, skills and attitudes have journeyed home from overseas battlefields and into police forces, and other security jobs across the US. And, as last year showed, onto streets where armed people in military gear showed up at protests.
Experts have warned about the danger posed by far-right groups for years.
Among rioters arrested were Republican officials, QAnon conspiracy believers, far-right militants, white supremacists, military members, and convicted criminals. The Washington Post reports that dozens of people on a terrorist watch list - mostly suspected white supremacists - were in the city. A Proud Boys supporter was charged with stockpiling military-style combat knives and more than 1000 rifle rounds.
A former Marine, former Navy Seal, and Air Force veterans were there.
And there are sympathisers among law enforcement. Some Capitol police officers are being investigated. Police from other parts of the US were there, including two from Virginia who took a selfie in the Capitol.
On Wednesday the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt moved to issue a memo condemning the riot and confirming Biden's status as the next commander-in-chief.
Experts on extremism and radicalisation have noticed similarities between some of the more extreme Trump supporters and Islamist militants.
Cindy Storer, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, said that such people are focused on a loss of control or status and that someone else is to blame for their downfall.
These background factors, particularly the role of social media in spreading disinformation, are stirring debate about what happens next. Some experts believe militants involved in the Capitol attack would see it as a propaganda victory.
Then there are all those missed opportunities to take action to minimise the problems earlier.
Former Homeland Security official Chris Krebs told CNN: "This is the equivalent of ignoring that pain in your chest for a couple of weeks and then all of a sudden you have a catastrophic heart attack."
He added that the US is "on the verge of ... a pretty significant breakdown in democracy and civil society".
With 9/11, the US had to wrestle with being attacked by outsiders at home in a devastating way.
In the 20th year since 9/11, signs suggest that a new cycle of conflict could be opening up. This time the homeland is under threat from within.