My story begins here.
Somewhere in the lower left hand corner of this picture is me.
Just moments before this image was captured, I had witnessed the very best in people. The excited runners with their families and friends lifting them up in celebration, I saw their hard work paying off, and the dedication it took for them to finish this huge accomplishment. I remember even thinking to myself that I could do it too! I was saving my phone battery to capture our celebratory smiles when my husband, who qualified by raising thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society to honor his late friend from college and his parents, finally crossed that finish line. That never happened. In mere seconds, my life, just as countless others, was changed forever.
Part of witnessing or experiencing trauma for most people, I have learned, is that oftentimes our brains shut down in a way to protect us. Maybe we don't process the events as they truly happened. We don't remember the smells or sounds and sometimes we even forget what happened but are left with knowing we were there. None of these things happened to me. I was present, in my body, for the entire 12 seconds it took for both bombs to detonate. I remember so vividly the bomb concussion hitting me like waves of air. I could see them with my eyes. My hair flew up in the air and blew around me. The deafening sounds of the explosions hitting the sides of the buildings. The smoke, the smell. The way those people directly across the street from me were swirling in hysterics. I remember their faces. It is an experience that was time stamped on my brain and in my heart.
In an orderly panicked fashion my brother-in-law and I climbed down the bleachers we were in and turned the corner right below the sign for the Lenox Hotel and were faced with swat and bomb squads racing toward us. Holding hands we hysterically made our way back to our best friend's apartment where we were staying. Immediately my phone was ringing off the hook with calls from family and friends who knew where I was by my misspelled frantic Facebook post before our cell service was cut. Soon, press from our home state of Arizona was contacting me to give my "front line" account of what I had just witnessed. It was a surreal moment to recall what I had just been through as I looked out the window down Clarendon Street at a row of ambulances and emergency vehicles as far as the eye could see.
Within days I was home again, chasing a three year old, nursing a seven month old, working, being a wife and trying to move on with my life. I had filed the bombing away in that place in my mind of things to forget. I had even decided that I was not going to speak about my experience again. Only that wasn't what God had in His plan for me.
Though I didn't lose a limb or my life, I lost my ability to be in public places and feel safe.
I found myself leaving the grocery store, cart completely full and with my kids in tow, in complete panic. I was having nightmares. My mind just couldn't erase that day.
As the one year anniversary of the attack neared my post-traumatic stress disorder was triggered as my husband was watching countless media specials about that day. Thus began my journey to find healing and I think as of now I have tried almost everything that any expert has recommended. As I have told my many therapists, I would run naked through a chicken coop if they told me it would make me feel better!
I found myself in a healing crisis once again in the summer of 2016. On July 14th 2016, I happened to catch a clip of the evening news while I was making dinner. It was the day a young man drove a van carelessly through a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France killing many innocent people. What I heard was a survivor recounting his moments during the attack and the survivors guilt he then felt. Immediately I felt my face go flush and my heart pounding. That night I woke up in a complete panic attack, my husband cradling me like a baby. Soon all my fears were back only now basic daily functions became difficult. First driving and going to restaurants with my family and soon eating and sleeping became impossible. The constant anxiety and insomnia was crippling me. I began to feel unsafe in my own skin. On August 3rd 2016 I voluntarily checked myself into a psychiatric hospital.
If you haven't spent time in a psychiatric hospital before I don't highly recommend it. My hospitalization was a reset button for my life and from that moment on my faith has never been stronger, I have never felt as blessed, and I have never wanted to really live as much as I do now. That week inspired the work I do every day to heal. It gave me the strength to share my story with you here. It propelled me to become my greatest advocate.
Though my hospitalization was difficult and managing the over-medicated state the doctors put me through was nearly unbearable I feel this is the place in my story where my miracle took place. Healing wasn't going to come from medication and therapy alone, I learned that I was going to need to lean on my faith, my family and friends, and fight for my life.
After my hospitalization I began seeking out other terrorist attack survivors online and what I found is a new family of amazing people who have changed my life. My fellow survivors have more than just helped me heal - they have brought an end to the loneliness I once endured, they have inspired me to keep going, and they have lifted me up through my journey with PTSD.
Living with PTSD isn't easy but I have never met someone who could tell me their life was without struggle. So I have taken these experiences of mine and decided that my pain will have had meaning if I have been able to help just one other person like me. That is what I hope to accomplish with Still Blooming Me - help other survivors, like me, to see that through their pain they can still bloom and live a beautiful life.