My story begins at a finish line.
On a bright Patriot’s Day in 2013, I stood at the finish line of the Boston Marathon waiting for my husband. I was so excited to see him take those final steps towards this huge accomplishment. The demands of our life had stretched us both thin and we looked forward to finally completing this challenge. Unfortunately, he never stepped through that finish line. Instead of sharing a celebratory kiss, bombs exploded before my eyes; tragically claiming lives, injuring hundreds, and scarring more with post-traumatic stress disorder.
I am one of those people with PTSD.
When I reflect on the past four years since that tragic day, I am reminded of immeasurable blessings mixed with unbearable pain. My husband survived the incident, and for that, I am forever grateful. But the experience of watching that horror has stuck with me in a way I could have never anticipated.
Through therapy, I’ve learned that oftentimes our brain blocks out pieces of witnessing or experiencing trauma as a protection mechanism. This is known as disassociation and may be comparable to daydreaming. This did not happen to me. I was present, in my body and mind, for the entire 12 seconds it took for both bombs to detonate.
I vividly remember watching bomb concussions hit me like waves of air. My hair flew up and blew all around me. The deafening explosions hit the sides of the buildings and rang in my ears. The smoke pierced my nostrils. What my eyes processed was horrific. The people across the street from me were swirling in hysterics. I remember their faces – the terror in their eyes met mine. Within moments, I witnessed the very worst of humanity cripple the very best. It is an experience time-stamped on my brain and in my heart ̶ utterly unforgettable.
Approaching the one-year anniversary of the attack, my PTSD was triggered by the resurgence in media coverage. It wasn’t just a recap to me because I had lived that moment in history. Though I thankfully didn’t lose a limb or my life, I began losing my ability to be in public places and feel safe. I found myself leaving the grocery store, cart completely full and kids in tow, in complete panic. I was having nightmares. My mind raced with memories of that day.
For a few years, I managed my symptoms naturally, working with a hypnotherapist who helped resolve a lot of pain. For a time, my symptoms seemed to diminish. I was going through life seemingly fine when a panic attack in the Target toy section changed everything.
Initially, I thought something was physically wrong with me. I suspected I might be having heart problems, my skin was a mess, and I considered my hormones were unbalanced. It never occurred to me that my PTSD was making me ill. But that is exactly what it was. Looking back now I can see the signs I missed, anxiety bubbling up under the surface, until I couldn’t control it any longer. It was rolling to a boil and was terrifying, uncomfortable, and painful.
On July 14th, 2016, I caught a clip of the evening news while preparing dinner. That day a young man made a calculated decision to drive a van through a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France, and he killed many innocent people. As I heard a witness recounting the attack and the survivors’ guilt he felt, I sensed my face go flush and my heart began racing. That night, a panic attack pierced my sleep. I remember my husband cradling me like a baby. All my fears had returned, only now basic daily functions became intolerable. Soon eating and sleeping became impossible. The anxiety and insomnia were consuming me until I felt unsafe in my own skin. On August 3rd, 2016, I voluntarily checked myself into a psychiatric hospital.
The week I spent in the hospital was distressing. A novice to medication, I suffered from the side effects of being highly over-medicated. I shook uncontrollably, couldn’t eat, and didn’t sleep. Wasn’t I there to get relief from these very symptoms? I emerged from this experience physically worse than when I entered it.
Yet, something miraculous did happen there. God found me and gave me the strength to discover my path to true healing. I needed to become my strongest advocate and build the right team of holistic professionals to care for me. Healing wasn’t going to come from medication and therapy alone; I needed to lean on my faith, family and friends, and fight for my life. My husband and our two treasures were counting on me to get through this and just like the runners slogging up Heartbreak Hill, known as the most challenging part of the Boston Marathon; now wasn’t the time to give up.
Initially, I sought out other terrorist attack survivors online with the hope of finding how they had healed from their experience but found nothing. Being discouraged by my search results influenced my determination to help others just like me. I felt I was being called to inspire other survivors and built Still Blooming Me – a web resource for terrorist attack survivors, like me, who are living with PTSD. It is a space where I share therapeutic modalities that have helped me cultivate peace in my life. My goal is to offer hope and resources for others who may also be looking for help.
This year, on the fourth anniversary of the attack, I joined hundreds of other survivors who shared my experience at the Boston Marathon survivors’ breakfast. This opportunity was the direct result of going public with my journey. This gathering encouraged me to continue my mission through Still Blooming Me and helped me see a glimpse of the finish line of my healing marathon. And to those that struggle silently like I once did, please don’t make the choice to suffer alone. The race toward healing, like a marathon, has many beside you willing to band together in the toughest of times.