Anxiety Is Information

Anxiety Is Information

My therapist recently challenged me to start thinking of anxiety as information.  I must admit I left her office feeling a bit miffed by the idea especially as I started to contemplate how my anxiety plays out. It’s usually a full body and mind phenomenon. Heart racing, mind running laps around me, sweating, and searching for a way out. Sometimes I’m awoken this way in the middle of the night too and then the insomnia side takes over. If anxiety is information in these moments then what could it be telling me?  I’m dying – That’s usually the only answer I can come up with. Even though my rational self knows that’s not true because I’ve lived through each anxious moment and period in my life thus far it still feels that way.  Then, I spend my remaining energy focused on ways to find relief in those moments instead leaning into them. Apparently, that’s what might be missing.

This concept had swirled through my consciousness for weeks until I finally decided to give it a try knowing I wouldn’t get it right the first time.  Embracing something as uncomfortable as anxiety must take some practice to perfect and I felt up for the challenge.  Afterall, I am known to be a pretty good listener so I should be able to pick up on what my own anxiety is trying to tell me! Fortunately, or unfortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long.

Anxiety has been my bestie today. It’s ok. I’m letting her take the lead for now and I think I know what her message is-- at least this time.

I need to slow down. Take some time for myself. Meditate and journal. Perhaps there has been a trigger and I should look out for it. Not let it consume me, just notice it. Don’t let it derail me. Instead, consider what it can teach me.

I am ready to learn.

I wish I could share that I am on the other side of this already and that I’ve gained so much insight and I’m feeling great. Though that is not the case, I am hopeful it soon will be. As I work towards finding my peace again, I challenge you to search for ways to lean in to what your anxiety is telling you instead of focusing on the methods by which you can numb it, erase it, and tolerate it. Rather, try and find ways to acknowledge it, embrace it, and grow from it.

More Than Gold

A few days ago my daughter and I were quickly unloading the dishwasher together before leaving for soccer practice when sadly, a plate slipped through her little hands and shattered across the floor. It was loud and propelled her into a fit of frightened upset. I comforted her as I swept up the mess and threw away the broken pieces just in time for us to bolt out the door. It wasn’t a big deal. After all the plate, a gift from our wedding registry, was over ten years old. It had served its purpose. Just as swiftly as we made it to practice I soon forgot the whole plate breaking debacle and went on with my afternoon. Later that evening as I caught up on some Instagram scrolling I noticed a picture of a broken bowl with ribbons of gold holding it together. Below it were these words, “Kintsukuroi — to repair with gold. In Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which adds to its beauty. Consider this.”

Consider this? I couldn’t keep my mind off it and it had nothing to do with the broken plate from earlier that day. It had to do with me. Just like that fractured and mended bowl in the photograph I too have those golden seams running through my heart and head. Piecing together what trauma and PTSD have left behind. I’ve spent the last six years of my life tirelessly filling in the fissure in my life’s bowl. A crack so great I never thought I’d be able to live my life again, more importantly, live the beautiful life I had planned for myself when I twirled around in dress-up clothes as a child, walked down the aisle to my groom, and held my newborn babies tight.

My crack signifies a life that was taken from me nearly six years ago when I stood at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and witnessed two bombs explode leaving behind shattered lives. It symbolizes the mental and physical anguish I went through on a daily basis and the nightmares that kept me from sleep each night. Anxiety and depression had chipped away at me until there wasn’t much left and I plead for help. Even in the psychiatric hospital, where I’d hoped to be put back together, my cracks grew deeper. But it was there, at my very bottom, that I found the strength and courage to start mending my life on my own terms. I had never thought of that process as beautiful before but knew it was worth more than gold — because I am worth more than gold.

The gold that has pieced me back together is strong. It’s made me resilient. My gold is made up of everything that has helped me heal. Not just the therapy and tools I have leaned on or the therapists and specialists who have cared for me; it’s made from the belief I never lost in myself, the gentle care I gave myself, and the faith I always had that tomorrow would be better. Those gleaming ribbons are made brighter by the people who held my hand along the way and knew I would pull through when I doubted the process. All of this, the fracture and the glue, have made me whole again. Not whole in the way I was before my trauma, but restored in a different, stronger, and more beautiful way.

Though I am imperfect and flawed, I can now step back and admire the workmanship that I did to rebuild me again. Aside from my children — it’s my best work to date and I am proud to be sharing it with others.

I encourage you to consider your own “kintsukuroi” story as you examine the challenges and trials in your life. How can you embrace those injuries, grow, and make them shine? What will it take for you to make beautiful what is broken in your life? I can’t promise you that when you start this process you won’t feel like the ruined plate I so carelessly discarded. I do know that as you grow and find your cracks filled with precious healing, you too will see beauty in what is left behind.

Finding Ways to Grow

With a new year ahead I find myself focused on finding ways to grow in 2019.  I want to expand my reach, find new ways to share my story, touch people whose shoes I’ve been in, and remain grounded enough to take on these lofty goals. It’s crucial to still take good care of myself because I don’t plan on sliding backwards now.

I’m in a good place. I feel like a good majority of my healing has been done (I’d say 80%). I string together more good days then bad. I feel mentally healthy and strong. I still have set backs but they are fewer and farther apart. I remain in trauma therapy and under the care of my naturopath. And I can feel my brain healing as my cognition and memory seem to be getting better. All good things! So I wonder how I can still manage to grow from here.

I started thinking yesterday about how plants grow and perhaps some of the answers I’m seeking about my own growth are rooted there.

A tiny seed gets carried and dropped by a bird or the wind and finds its way under leaves and brush to a patch of dirt.  It nestles itself down below soil’s surface and waits for rain and sun to work their magic so roots can take shape. Then a baby shoot appears and decides where to grow. Some grow straight up, confident of their path while others grow outwards looking for space among friends. And once they start off in their own direction their leaves, fruit, and blooms take shape. Always changing. Storms come, summer sun scorches, winter freezes, and still that plant changes. Birds, bugs, and bees become visitors too taking what they need to live. Still the plant grows and changes with the understanding of its environment. Always ready to embrace the changes.

PTSD was a huge environmental change for me. It shook my branches and rattled the earth below me and still I’ve managed to grow. Now I have all of these baby shoots growing from my trunk and I am so excited to see how they will take shape.

Growing. Blooming. Healing. Changing.

I’m not sure how I’ll accomplish all these goals, or how they will shape me, and change me and that’s the scary part. Until I get there I’ll just embrace my experience and see where I grow.

Surviving the Holidays with PTSD

My husband and I filled out our family calendar for December and we have so many commitments as many of you do too I am sure. We took some time evaluating what we would attend taking into consideration what we can do as a family and what might be too much for us.  I think this sets us up for success during the holiday season.

I promised you some techniques I use to survive the holidays and I hope that by implementing some of these techniques into your own life you will be able to maintain peace and mental stability during this wonderful time of year!

#1. Say No.

You know your limits and what you can mentally and physically take. This season has a way of testing those limits! I want to empower you to say no this time of year. It’s okay to say no to hosting people and attending every party. And I know we have so many traditions this time of year but sometimes that added pressure makes things worse. Don’t let that pressure derail you. Stick to your guns with family and friends and honor yourself by saying no to what doesn’t serve you. Remember, these are your holidays too!

#2. Don’t over-do it with sweets, caffeine, and alcohol.

Over-indulging is what the holidays are all about! I know for me though that when I do this it affects my sleep, my stomach, and takes a mental toll on me. It confirms to me that there really is a gut health and mental health connection. Also caffeine is a stimulant that leaves me jittery and anxious and alcohol is a downer. Adding these to my system affects me quickly especially if I haven’t been drinking enough water. So this time of year I try and maintain my plant based diet, drink all my water, and limit the rest.

#3. Take a time out

I get very overstimulated. Loud parties and a lot of people can leaving me reeling. When I start to feel like this, no matter where I am, I give myself permission to leave the space that is bothering me. I either excuse myself to the restroom and run cold water through my hands (it’s a great coping skill) or I step outside and take a short walk. I can also use my Anxiety Release app or essential oils during these moments. Whatever tools you choose to use I think it is important to give yourself the space you need to breathe, refocus on your safety, and set an intention to get you through the rest of the party. Also, sharing your feelings with a friend or loved one before you take your time out is important as well. Find someone who will have your back and who can help support you through these moments.

#4. Continue taking medications and supplements

This is so important and so easy to stop doing! With all your extra commitments it’s easy to forget your medication or supplements. I’ve done it before too and I always kick myself when I’m feeling sick days or weeks later. I dedicate 20 minutes every Sunday night to divide my supplements into easy-to-go containers that I can grab for each day and throw in my purse. This step makes it easy for me to take everything I need so I can feel my best. My favorite supplement to take these days are my CBD pills. They help me sleep and keep me calm – two things I need in my life during the holidays!

#5. Speak up for yourself.

Honoring yourself through your voice is so important and when there are so many people and opinions to consider this time of year. It can be hard to do.  Sharing your feelings, frustrations, and stress with a trusted friend or loved one can help. I know for me I sometimes need someone to just listen to my feelings and somehow I start to feel better.

One more thing I want to add because it is so important to consider when discussing PTSD and trauma is that many of us are traveling this time of year and some of us may be visiting places where our traumas occurred. If this is the situation you find yourself in I hope you prepare in advance with your therapist and discuss coping skills that you can lean on if you start to struggle. I also recommend you line up all the tools that have worked for you in the past and pack them with you because traveling and trying new things don’t always mix…stick with what you know works and take it along for the ride. And – be gentle with yourself as you navigate the stress of traveling this time of year on top of the mental baggage you are carrying. You can do it!

I hope these tips will help you get through the holiday season and enjoy it your own way!

I’d love to hear what tips and tricks help you too – leave me comments below!

Grateful

Life has been busy lately and I have been working on a few passion projects that I pray will come to fruition in 2019. And as my energy has shifted towards the birth of these projects I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude. I am so grateful to be here, to be doing well, sharing a beautiful life with my family, and for the growth and clarity I have been granted this year. God is so good!

I wanted to reflect on gratitude this week with Thanksgiving upon us for a few reasons.

The first being that we, our country and world, are facing such turmoil lately. Fires, mass shootings, terrorism, political unrest, trauma, and pain. Where many see an endless mess, I try and focus my energy on the countless opportunities we have to turn it around. I think an easy way to start this positive ball rolling in our own lives is to focus on what we are grateful for and reflect that for others. I know for me when I was sickest there were people close to me that encouraged me just by expressing how thankful they were for me, for my friendship, and love and that appreciation saw me through times when I couldn’t see my own value, worth, or purpose. Imagine how we could change the world by expressing our love and gratitude to those around us who are struggling? I see a positive domino effect of difference being made!

My second reason for my reflection on gratitude is that it’s free. With the holidays upon us I feel like many people, myself included, get wrapped up in the sales, gift buying and giving, parties, and extra expenses that aren’t really what this season is about. I know for me all these extra commitments can leave me feeling frazzled. So I am committed to investing some of this energy I have wasted before towards the gratitude I want to express and share with everyone around me. I think it’s the most beautiful gift to give and receive.

Third, did you know that expressing gratitude is scientifically proven to improve your health, well-being and relationships? In this article, published by Harvard Medical School, the process of expressing gratitude results in people connecting to something larger then themselves and ultimately leads to greater happiness, positive emotions, improves health and builds stronger relationships.

The article details some easy ways you can cultivate gratitude in your own life and here they are;

Write a thank you note — I love writing thank you notes and receiving them too!

Thank someone mentally — this takes no time and little effort but can make a difference.

Keep a gratitude journal — I personally do this and believe it to be a great practice!

Count your blessings every day — Amen!

Pray and Meditate — two of my favorite things to do!

My gratitude journal starts with these people and moments we’ve shared together recently!

I'm Iron Woman

I haven’t written in a while.

We got home from the Cape and life took off. School started and all the busyness that comes with this time of year has taken over our house. Everyone is off to a good start but me – I'm on the struggle bus.

Before we left I was dealing with some unidentified health issues but I managed the month of July pretty well and thought the worst was behind me. Until the day after we came home.  Severe abdominal pain, turned to nausea and dizziness, and soon terrible heart palpitations where keeping me from sleep.  I spent August jumping from doctor to specialist after specialist. I saw a urologist, had a CT scan and a cystoscopy, and even took a field trip to the emergency room after some issues with my heart became difficult to ignore. That prompted a visit to a cardiologist. In the middle of waiting for answers I went to my naturopath’s office for a full blood work-up and anxiously waited two weeks to get the results. Last week I got them – Hemochromatosis. I have too much iron in my blood and though I am not happy about this new challenge I face I have to say I am relived it’s something. I was beginning to worry that my bestie, PTSD, had conjured all these ailments up in my mind and I’d be left with no explanation for the pain I’ve been through.

Now before you open a new search window and type in “Hemochromatosis” and read through all the scary things that Dr. Google has to say, I want you to know that no matter what my diagnosis was going to be I was going to fight through it with grace and faith. Though I’m not sure how God is using this in my life I am sure that He’s already paved the way for me to grow through this – I just have to let Him lead me.

In the meantime I am working on getting my iron levels back to a healthy place. How does one do that you ask? Bloodletting. I know it sounds medieval and visions of leeches are dancing through your heads but it’s the only way to remove iron from my body.

My sisters and I have been brainstorming better ways to refer to my treatment because bloodletting sounds gross to us and after many contenders we’ve found a winner – Vamping! I also have a new nickname that seems fitting. Iron Woman. Move over Robert Downey Jr. I am stronger than you because I literally have too much iron inside my body and I really know how to fight!

MexiCAN

There has been a long running sentiment in my family and I’ve been reminded of it lately as I face changes, challenges, and fear that I can’t make it through either.

My dad is a proud Mexican-American. He grew up with deep pride in his roots and passed that along to each of his children. Whenever one of us faced something hard and we would utter the words, “I can’t”, my dad would chime in with his usual uplifting speech that ended with the question, “Are you a MexiCAN or a MexiCAN’T?”

I laugh about those moments now when I’d roll my eyes at him and walk away. All those times when what I had before me was easier than what I face today. Those were the days let me tell you.

I have been thinking lately about how I wish I could go through life more easily. Without less pain and void of mental challenges and physical ailments. I remember what it was like when all my days kind of blended into one because they were so easy to get through. Damn that was a good time!

Now life is a bit harder. Some days are really challenging. In fact there are days that I wish would end because they suck so badly and then I don’t sleep so there’s no relief. It’s like playing an endless game of tag and there’s no base. Which will tag me next – my PTSD or my new found friend Hemochromatosis? And just when I think I can’t get through it I hear my dad asking me that aforementioned question and I smile.

I am a MexiCAN. I will do this and be stronger for it.

CBD Success

I spent great time with my friend Lynn this summer and she taught me so much about a supplement I have had in my anxiety arsenal for some time but have been too nervous to use. It’s called cannabidoil and you might know it as CBD.  My hesitation was coming from my experience will medical marijuana which is different because it contains tetrahydrocannabidoil (THC), the mind altering component of marijuana. Though I was using it conservatively its effects had a role in my hospitalization in 2016 as my PTSD spun out of control. So you can understand my hesitation in using CBD even though I knew it was different. Anyway, Lynn’s knowledge about CBD and her testimony inspired me to give CBD a chance and I am so glad I did. It has helped me with pain, sleep, anxiety, and most importantly has given me peace when I’ve needed it.  The health benefits of CBD are endless and I want to share some information that Lynn has passed along to me in hopes that you might find some relief from CBD too.

There are different ways you can use CBD. I use a tincture and tablets and we even credit some of Jeff’s Boston Marathon training success to CBD lotion. I’m so happy Lynn agreed to share some of her knowledge about using CBD tinctures with you.  In reading this I discovered I was using my tincture wrong and once I implemented her tools I found success.

6 Tips to Taking CBD Tinctures

By Lynn Julian

CBD tinctures are one of the simplest forms of cannabidiol products, which also make them one of the most popular. The definition of a tincture is “an herbal liquid extract that is meant to be consumed orally.” CBD is a natural cannabinoid found in all cannabis plants, including hemp and marijuana.

What is the Best Way to Take a CBD Tincture?

When taking a CBD tincture orally, in the mouth, place the liquid CBD oil under the tongue. CBD liquid is best absorbed by the tongue, not the stomach. One can also enable a little lung absorption of CBD by taking deep breaths in through the mouth, holding, and blowing out through the nose. This is similar to vaping CBD oil.

Here are easy tips for medicating with CBD tinctures:

1.    Do put the dose of tincture UNDER your tongue.

2.    Don’t touch the vial dropper to your tongue unless you wash it.

3.    If it’s a thick, CBD oil in a syringe, place the dose of CBD oil on your finger, rub it under your tongue and suck the remainder off your finger.

4.    If it’s a large dose of CBD oil, with a lot of fluid, use the tongue to rub the tincture around the inner cheeks. Or, separate the dose into 2 doses.

5.    Inhale very slowly and deeply, 10 times (in through the mouth / out through the nose. Then swallow the unabsorbed remainder of the tincture.

6.    Don’t drink or eat anything for ½ hour after you place the tincture.
This will give it time to fully absorb and not get washed into the stomach.

CBD oil is a hot topic in the media right now and I am a firm believer in its benefits. My dear friend and fellow Boston Marathon survivor, Lynn Julian, shared with me some of her tips for using CBD and I wanted to share them with you! I've learned so much from Lynn and hearing her encouraging words about CBD this summer inspired me to give it a chance and I am so happy I did! https://www.stillbloomingme.com/new-blog/cbdsuccess
#ptsd #CBD #cbdoil #mentalhealthawareness #naturalmedicine

Two Years Ago Today

Two years ago today I asked for help.

It was the most difficult thing I have ever done.

That night I found myself in the fetal position in my closet seeing my death before my eyes. I was terrified but I had had enough.

My life had gotten so out of control in the months leading up to August 3rd 2016. I had stopped eating and sleeping. Anxiety had consumed every second of my days and nights. I was so uncomfortable that being in my own skin was nearly unbearable.

Luckily, I knew all the blessings in my life were worth fighting for. I knew who I could lean on to get me safely to the hospital and I didn’t waste any time getting there.

Most importantly I had faith. Not much, but just enough to trust that God would be right there with me and He was.

Asking for help took great strength and surrender. It took courage and submission. It took every fiber of my being, whatever was left of it anyway, to walk through those hospital doors.

I wanted to write that down to remind myself of that day and how far I’ve come but also to paint a picture for you of just how hard asking for help can be. 

I want you to remember this when you hear about someone taking their life. I want you to remember this when you hear about someone not being able to get out of bed in the morning. I want you to remember this so that if one day you find yourself in the fetal position and in need of help that you will know that it is okay to speak up.

Asking for help the first time might be hard but I promise you it gets easier.

In honor of the two year anniversary of my hospitalization I want to recognize those who helped me when I needed it most.

My husband. My Aunt Laura. My sisters Val and Marisa and brother Sam. My dad. My best friends Mary and Adriana.  My therapists and psychiatric nurse. My naturopath, Dr. Kris Wallace. My extended family, friends, and those in my community who prayed for me.  You all believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself and that encouragement is more valuable to me than you could ever know.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255

 

Summer Reflection

Searching for sea glass has become our favorite way to spend time at the beach this summer. Yesterday my daughter and I were on a long walk down our neighborhood beach looking for more treasured pieces to add to our growing collection when we uncovered several shards of glass that were litter. Too sharp to keep and dangerous to others walking on the beach.  We decided the glass should be buried deep below the sands surface with the hope that we will find them ready for our collection next year. After all, they must tumble around in the sand and surf more. They need more experience before their surface is smooth and polished.

It made me think how our lives are much like sea glass. We start off whole and perfect when we come into the world. Unblemished. And then cracks form as we grow and experience life, failed relationships, love, pain, success and failure, ups and downs. Just like bottles and other glass litter breaks as it crashes against rocks and whatever else it encounters on its journey to becoming sea glass, we too are shaped by the bumps we encounter. 

I made the choice in that moment there on the beach to be more like sea glass. To let my experiences shape me for the better, accept changes that aren’t easy, embrace my reflection and imperfections. I know that conscious choice everyday won't be easy because they are choices I have been pushing to accept for almost two years as I grow, change, and bloom.  The cracks are still a part of me but I know I am a better person because of them. 

We have had an amazing vacation. It has been a good time for us to recharge our batteries and live freely. We spent time with dear friends and with our survivor family. We ate all of our favorites. We are each going home tan from our daily trips to the beach (best weather ever this year). And we are sad to leave.

Our endless summer days may be coming to an end but the memories we made with be with us forever.

Survivors Sharing Part 1

In November of last year Jeff and I traveled to NYC to join other terrorist attack survivors for a Strength to Strength retreat. I wrote about it here Thankful.Grateful.Blessed.

We had the opportunity to meet and bond with so many wonderful people. It was emotional, life-changing, and powerful hearing everyone's stories. I remember getting back to my room after hearing Elaine's story and I knew that her words had changed me - I could feel her pain. She and I became fast friends. We bonded over therapy experiences, post-traumatic growth, and our strides to find healing. She is a treasure in my life.

Elaine survived the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya on September 21, 2013. Ironically, September 21st is the International Day of Peace. That day 67 precious lives were lost and I know Elaine carries their memory with her.  You can hear her story in an interview the gave to Anderson Cooper here. I have no doubt that what she shares in this article will touch you too.

Elaine and I have been talking for some time about how we could share our experiences with other survivors and those suffering from PTSD. We taped our last conversation and each shared how we live now as survivors with PTSD. This is the first part and I wanted to share it with you as June is National PTSD Awareness month.

Changing

I am not done changing

Out on the run, changing

I may be old and I may be young

 But I am not done changing

                                –John Mayer

When people say they choose change I wonder if they really mean it. Are they really prepared to make the difficult decisions needed to amend whatever is challenging them? Are they willing to leave behind those who don’t value their change? Are they willing to break away from the habits that keep them from change? Most importantly, will they be able look in the mirror after said change and embrace the person they see looking back at them?

I see adorable memes all the time on my Instagram feed displaying quotes about change and I think they leave most people feeling like it’s an easy thing to do.

“Be the change you with to see in the world.”

“Life is like underwear, change is good.”

And my personal favorite, “It only takes one person to change your life. You.”

All of these sentiments are accurate but far from easy.

What I know is true about change from my own experience is that “all great changes are preceded by chaos.” And I wish I would have figured out that “change before you have to” could have helped keep me out of the hospital. Regardless, I have lived, oftentimes painfully, through great changes and I am here to tell you that I am better for all of them.

Being hospitalized and diagnosed with PTSD at the ripe age of 35 wasn’t easy and part of what made it so difficult was knowing that I couldn’t be the same Elena I was before I went there if I wanted to live and live my life beautifully. The changes I had to make involved me being different, living differently, and thinking differently about myself and about the world around me.  What I’ve learned more recently too is that making the changes I did wasn’t the best part of my journey. Embracing the changes and celebrating them is where I grew the most and I’m 100% thrilled with the person, the new Elena, that I am today.

If you find yourself grappling with change I can offer some advice –

Practice your change every day and in every way.

Share it with those who support and love you.

Be gentle with yourself if you slip up along the way.

And most importantly – let go of perfection and instead embrace the journey you are on. It will uncover your strengths, your true passions, and the amazing person you truly are.

 

 

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is such a busy month for us. I swear it's worse than December!

It is also Mental Health Awareness month and each day I am sharing a resource or tool I use to help ease my own mental challenges and PTSD symptoms. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram to get those updates! I have been getting great questions and feedback from my followers and it has been a fun way to connect with other people who are living with PTSD too.

The piece I wrote for Maria Shriver's website went live last week - it is a reflection about my family's trip back to the Boston Marathon this year. My husband, Jeff, was able to run and finish this year! Here is a link to the article Together Moving Forward .

I was also recently recognized by Chandler Lifestyle magazine as one of their 2018 Real Women of Chandler.  What an honor!! First, to be recognized for the work I do in my own own community. Second, to stand among such wonderfully talented and caring ladies. Here is the link to the article The 2018 Real Women of Chandler .

Last May I let the crazy business take me over and I forgot to take care of me. I was also beginning to wean off klonopin and suffered horrible withdrawals.  I am happy I remember these things now as I prepare myself for another busy May. I have made a commitment to take care of myself and have started using some new tools that I'll be sharing on my social media.

 

 

Recovered

We are home from Boston and finally recovered from jet lag! 

I want to thank all of you; my family and friends, and followers for the prayers and love you sent my way during our trip. I felt it all in the form of the most beautiful peace during our trip and I believe they also helped Jeff push through the most difficult marathon in over 40 years.  The weather was terrible!

In the month leading up to the anniversary of the bombings I found myself overcome with symptoms of my ptsd. I shared this with my trauma therapist as she worked to help me prepare for the moment when I would confront the finish line with my kids in tow. My head was full of self-doubt; how could I keep myself together in those crowds, with all those triggers, and take care of my kids too? I realized I was trying to fit all of my plans for that day into a box.  A place I felt I could control. As I went through the motions of the EMDR session I was reminded of a time when I was a girl. My family and I were in line for a roller coaster at an amusement park and I was dreadfully nervous.  The roar of the cars of the track, the screams coming from the riders before me, and the uncertainty of what I would face on the ride were too much for me to take. However, those memories became muffled with the feeling I had once I stepped off that thrilling ride. I felt light and free, I was happy, and I felt confident because I had not let my nerves keep me from conquering my fear. This ah-ha moment became my motivation for the finish line. I decided I was going to embrace the experience for what it was and let is shape me instead of trying to fit it all into a space in my mind that I could control. 

I wanted to share that with you because I think much of life is a roller coaster ride. Full of ups and downs. Twists and turns. Moments you dread and those which take your breath away.

I sure hope that my life is full of more ups. More exciting moments that take my breath away.  Less of those that leave me lying in my bed trying to escape the world.  Either way I know my life will be lived fully and beautifully. I owe that to those who lost their lives on April 15, 2013 at the finish line, I owe it to Officer Sean Collier who was murdered by the bombers, and I owe it to all the survivors – those physically and invisibly injured. I owe it to my family and all of you.

I wrote a reflection for Maria Shriver’s website and it will be live soon. I will share it as soon as it’s published. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy some pictures of my family from our time at the marathon.

 

I Think I Have This...

I’ve been struggling lately.  I know why too. With the marathon coming up and my family getting ready to travel to Boston coupled with the five year anniversary of the bombing, I have been feeling a lot of stuff.  Sadness, anxiety, stress, grief, and fear – all just hanging out under the surface of my skin having an unwelcome kumbaya moment.  It was getting uncomfortable to say the least and came to a head last week during the Easter holiday. I could barely get out of bed that day and I found myself clinging to some of the words my dear friend and fellow survivor, Sarri, had shared with me recently.

Sarri has years of “anniversary” experience and her expertise on such a topic far outweighs the advice any therapist could ever give, unless they too have walked in our shoes.  I think my biggest take away from our long conversation was that April 15th is a big day for me (and many others) and it always will be and I have to accept and embrace it.  I also realized that I want others around me, those I love and lean on, to embrace its importance to me as well.  I don’t want my loved ones to tip toe around the subject or avoid me that day. I want to hear from them, I want to know what they were doing on that day five years ago, and how it all made them feel too. We all shared this experience together. Even though I was the one there that day – they are the reason I am still here today.  

I have been in a lot of therapy lately too. I am not sure if the EMDR therapy will ultimately cure me and that is a whole other subject for me to write about, but I am relying on it now to hopefully get me through the next week.  I recently went into a session and asked my therapist if I needed any other tools to get me though the finish line experience. Her response was that no tool will get me through it. I am either going to be okay or not. The whole conversation wasn't very reassuring for the planner in me especially since my kids will be with me.  I have been stewing over this. I want to be there. I really want to see Jeff’s big finish but I can’t prepare for it.  My biggest fear is that my bestie, PTSD, will grab hold of me while I am trying to be a mom and navigate the crowds and excitement that comes with standing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. 

In the meantime, I am relying on the tools I have that do work for me.

Focusing on the day before me and nothing else.

Being gentle with myself.

Acupuncture, writing, meditation, and other self-care.

Living with gratitude whenever I can.

Prayer.

I think I have this...

 

Propelled Forward

Last week my dad and I had the opportunity to meet Maria Shriver at a book signing for her new book, I’ve Been Thinking…Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life.  Ever since I wrote for her last year I had hoped I would get the chance to thank her in person for giving me the opportunity to share my story with her readers and when I found out should would be in Phoenix I jumped at the chance to meet her.  My dad, also a fan, was excited too! So as we waited I began to wonder if she would remember me and my story. I know she has many people writing for her and I also knew she wouldn’t have much time to speak with us so my thoughts started to churn about what I would say.  I had told my dad that I had worked closely with her communications director and he overheard her name somehow in the crowd and called her over to us. She remembered me and greeted me so warmly.  As we approached Maria and I introduced myself, Elena - the Boston Marathon survivor who had written for her, I was completely touched and surprised that she too remembered me!  I told her about Jeff’s goal to finally finish the marathon this year and that the kids and I were going to be there to cheer him on and she insisted I write for her again! We hugged, she took a photo with us, she personalized my book, and took the time to make me feel special. Maria is a true genuine treasure and her newest book is filled with insight and life lessons that have filled my soul. I hope to be contributing to her website soon after the marathon...I'll keep you all posted on that project!

Two nights ago I had the chance to meet up with one of my survivor sisters who was in town visiting friends.  We had met last November at the Strength to Strength retreat in NYC but didn’t get to have much one-on-one time because there were so many people there.  I had been looking forward to spending time with her because we share something unique in our stories – we both were hospitalized for our PTSD symptoms.   

We had so much to talk about and though I must admit I was exhausted from being out way past my bedtime – my heart and soul are so happy from the few hours we spent together.  She is about five years ahead of me in her healing journey and the experiences, therapy ideas, and support she offered me gave me a renewed sense of hope that only she could give.  She would start sharing a detail of her growth or a painful part of her journey and I felt as if I was speaking to myself in the mirror.  I had many tears of course – the healing kind that feel good to release. 

As I work hard these last few weeks leading up to the marathon, I am so grateful that I’ve had these two experiences to fill my soul and inspire me to keep moving, fighting, and blooming. Sometimes we all need a push and these two ladies, unknowingly, have propelled me forward.

Sprinting Towards A Marathon

We have been very busy at our house the past few months and I wanted to include you all in on why we have been “running” around like crazy – no pun intended.  My wonderful husband Jeff was given the opportunity to run the upcoming Boston Marathon and the way it all happened was nothing short of fate I think.

Some of you might remember that Jeff and I went on a Strength to Strength retreat in November for terrorist attack survivors, bereaved family members, and spouses. I wrote about it here. We made wonderful friendships and had the chance to bond with other survivors, including Lynn and Doug. They are fellow Boston Marathon bombing survivors and Lynn’s traumatic brain injury from years past was only made worse by the events of that day. As we got to know these two wonderful people Jeff shared his desire to finish the marathon someday – neither of us thought it would be so soon.  As One Fund recipients, Doug and Lynn receive two fundraising bibs each year and they graciously offered one up to Jeff to accomplish his goal.

This all came together so quickly towards the end of last year and Jeff started training.  Training for a marathon takes an incredible amount of dedication and for someone who runs his own business, has two young kids, a wife who lives with PTSD, and other volunteer opportunities that he prioritizes it is near impossible. Jeff has been training hard and I am so proud of the effort he has put into this – his final marathon, or so he says.

This was something we talked a lot about and carefully mulled over because we just don’t have extra time in our lives but Jeff really wanted to do it and so I 100% supported his decision.  It’s not just the time it takes away from our family and all the added pressure it places on me, I also had to consider the fact that I will be standing with my treasures waiting for him where the bombs went off.  It’s unnerving when I think about it. I have been back to that place since and I am still in trauma therapy and working hard every day to heal but still, there are so many factors at play here. There will be thousands of people there, my kids will be with me so I have to keep my cool, if I don’t have passes for the bleachers then we will be on that side of the street, and I know my bestie, PTSD, will be right there with me.  How will I handle all these things at once? With grace and with God by my side are my only two answers to this question. 

Over the holidays my cousin mentioned to me that when she asked him about the marathon he had said that he wasn’t going to run it until I was ready to be at the finish line waiting for him again.  Just her recalling this conversation made me cry because he never voiced this to me.   

So I will be there on April 16th 2018. Five years after the bombs went off. Waiting for my husband to finish this race.  It will be such an accomplishment for the two of us and one I hope our kids will never forget witnessing.  It makes me feel as if this story of mine is coming full circle – in full bloom.

If you feel called to help Jeff with his fundraising goal and support a fellow Boston Marathon bombing survivor with her continued therapies, please click here. We are also accepting any prayers and good vibes you want to send our way!

To read my reflection on the marathon from Maria Shriver’s website last year click here.

 

Handing Out Hearts

A couple weeks ago while we were preparing for Valentine’s Day at our house I came across a stack of pink and red doily hearts. As I began writing little love notes on them to my treasures and hanging them on their doors to surprise them when they woke up I was reminded of a session I had with my hypnotherapist not long after my hospitalization.

I think it’s funny sometimes how our memories are attached to events and experiences we have in the present. I love that I have the ability to recognize it when it happens because not only is it a gift but it’s tremendously healing for me.

Even though it will be two years this coming August, I hold the lessons I took from that session dear to my heart still today and I want to share them with you.

I was still very sick on this particular day. I had just been released from a psychiatric hospital the week before and I was living with some terrible issues. Insomnia, side effects from medications, unending anxiety, complete appetite loss (I had lost 15 pounds within two weeks), and my mind wouldn’t stop racing. The only peace I had was when Natalie, my hypnotherapist, had me under hypnosis. This day she offered subconscious intervention, a technique used during hypnosis, as a way to go back to the day of the bombing again (we’d worked on this before) and clear out any remaining attachments and feelings I had towards that day.

As hypnosis took over my mind it was as if my body was transplanted back to the finish line. I could see it all moving around me. I could hear the bombs going off, the smoke and air being pushed towards me, and I could see the faces of everyone around me too – those lost, injured, and those forever changed. We were all frozen together in time in my mind.  I was then very aware of the feelings I had carried home with me; survivor’s guilt and fear.  I could see that everyone around me took those same feelings or worse with them too and so I did what I thought I could do to help – I began handing out hearts to everyone.  They were simple red paper hearts with no writing on them, but to me they symbolized the help that I couldn’t offer to those around me on that day. I had struggled for so long with feeling like I could have done more to help and this was finally my way. And I just kept handing them out – to the first responders, to the victims who left their lives behind there, to the injured laying in the street, to the stunned runners, to my brother-in-law standing next to me – I handed hundreds out and soon everyone had a heart and I looked down and there was one left in my hand.

That heart was for me.

I held it with the knowledge that I didn’t have to carry the guilt that surviving that day had given me anymore. I embraced it with the understanding that I needed to go on and grow from what I had witnessed. I carried it with the grace of accepting that I couldn’t have changed what happened that day or how I reacted. I grasped it with peace and hope for the families whose lives would forever be changed by the loss of their loved ones. I held it with hope – hope that I would go on and live a beautiful life that wasn’t filled with fear.

I am sharing this today as terror has struck in our country again at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with yet another violent school shooting.

I found a resource for these young people and anyone else who has forever been changed by what they experienced and saw at school that day. The Rebels Project was founded by Columbine High School shooting survivors. Their mission is to embrace, support, and connect survivors of mass tragedy and trauma by creating a safe environment to share unique resources, experiences, and provide education surrounding the varying effects of mass trauma. 

As I process the events in Florida and Las Vegas and too many other tragedies to name, I feel called to reach out because I know what is in store for some of these victims. I am afraid for them. I am concerned they won’t get the help they will need. My heart breaks for them.

Tonight when I pray and meditate I will start by handing out more hearts to the families whose loved ones were lost, to those who were injured physically, and to those who will find themselves months and years from now struggling with PTSD.

I hope one day I won’t have to hand out these hearts anymore.

Sleep'n

My husband has been traveling for work this week so I have been very busy trying to get everyone to school on time, making every meal, transporting my treasures to all their after school activities, and trying to be productive myself at work. My house is a mess but everyone is seemingly happy and alive so that is good.  My only struggle this week has been my sleep.  The first night Jeff was gone one of our dogs kept me up all night as she was on and off the bed several times (yes…our dogs sleep with us…it’s not my choice) looking for him.  The second night both kids snuggled in to bed with me at different times trying to escape nightmares and so I shared my bed with two dogs and two kids and didn’t sleep well again. Last night, I collapsed into bed early and found myself awake a few times on my own. I don’t recall having nightmares but each time I was awoken suddenly with unsettled feelings that kept me from dozing back to sleep easily.

Sleep is important. It is a natural phenomenon that takes over our bodies and minds at night. It’s a mysterious part of our life, especially for how much we do it. I like to think of it almost as a journey we embark on every night and magically we have no memory of where we go, what we think, or what we’ve seen once we wake up. It’s also something most of us never see ourselves doing either. After all, you can’t exactly take a selfie while you sleep.

When I used to hear about people being tortured by using sleep deprivation methods I never considered the affect that could have on someone until I myself was tortured by my inability to sleep. At one point my nightmares were so awful and consistent that I even found myself afraid of sleeping…fast forward not very far and I was hospitalized. Sleep is so important and for someone like me, living with PTSD, it can be very illusive.

So let’s talk about sleep hygiene today and in particular my sleep hygiene routine.  Over the last two years I have tried so many different sleep supplements and tools and I think I have a great method down. So for all of you insomniacs out there – this one is for you!

First off, knowing I haven’t slept well the last few nights would usually create a lot of anxiety for me today but I am at a point in my healing journey that I am able to recognize that just because I haven’t slept well lately doesn’t mean my day will be bad today or that I won’t sleep tonight either. It is past. I can now reassure myself that I am okay and tonight I will sleep great. This is a mental hoop to jump through but I found that once I got through it my anxiety over sleep loss went away.

I am linking all the products I use here for you and I am not sponsored (yet) by any of these companies so I am not being paid to preach the effectiveness of their goods, in fact I pay good money for all of these tools because I believe in them!

I usually start winding down at 7:00 with a cup of caffeine-free hot tea. I have two favorite herbal teas that I reach for; Yogi Kava Stress Relief Tea and Yogi Bedtime Tea

As I sip my spicy and soothing tea I reach for my Jigsaw Magnesium tablets. I am a huge supporter of taking magnesium but be careful with other supplements on the market. This particular supplement was created with a slow release technology that your body can absorb without creating stomach upset. Don’t run to the grocery store right now and buy a cheaper magnesium supplement because you will pay for it dearly tomorrow!

If I have had a stressful day I hop in an Epsom salt bath and I apply some essential oils down my spine, on the bottoms of my feet, and my ears. I usually have a conversation with myself about how I am feeling and then I am able to decide on which oils to grab. I use Doterra oils. For sleep I love the Serenity Blend and Vetiver mixed together. I diffuse them in my room too. I often use frankincense for sleep as well. There are many different oils you can use for sleep and these aren’t the ones I started with but over time I’ve tried so many and have found these work best for me.

Sometimes I use CBD oil before bed as well and it was especially helpful when I was suffering withdrawals from Klonopin. I obtain my CBD oil from my naturopath and recommend you see a naturopath before buying something like this online. CBD oil is derived from the cannabis plant which has amazing healing properties. Unlike THC (the mind-altering ingredient in cannabis), CBD doesn’t affect your state of mind and offers many health benefits. Medical News Today - Everything You Need to Know About CBD Oil

This is getting long I know but I promise it doesn’t take too much time to do.

Once I am in bed and if it’s been a long day I love to snuggle in to my Recovr Blanket. My husband harassed me for weeks leading up to Christmas about what I wanted and I had been eyeballing similar blankets online but none of them looked as soft and pretty as these!  There is scientific evidence that weighted blankets help those with sensory issues, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Let me tell you how wonderful this 20 pound blanket feels when you curl up underneath it – it is like a warm hug and it sends me right off to restful sleep. I can’t sing enough praises about this blanket I am just sad it’s too heavy to drag around all day like I did with my baby blanket!

About this time I dive into my sleep drawer right next to my bed and grab my Insomnitol and chew down two tablets. This supplement contains 5-HTP (which I used to take on its own), melatonin, L-theanine, and other calming herbs. Obviously I am not a doctor so I would recommend you speaking to your trusted physician before taking this but considering the side effects I had with sleeping pills and other medications that I was taking for sleep and that I have had none with Insomnitol I think proves that this will be my go to sleep supplement for life.

In my sleep drawer I also have head phones.  I do try and limit my phone time at night because of the blue light and how it can affect my circadian rhythm (Scary Ways Technology Affects Your Sleep) but sometimes I need to meditate so I grab my phone. There are many meditation apps out there and I have tried several but none is better than the Insight Timer app and it’s free. I also use these in the middle of the night when I’m struggling to get back to sleep and my kids love them too! Here are a few meditations that send me right off to dream land.

Yoga Nidra for Sleep

Peaceful Sleep Meditation

Deep Sleep Guided Mediation

 Now that I have talked your ear off about sleep I bet you are ready to nod off yourself! Anyway, if you are struggling with sleep try some of these tips and let me know what you think and if you want to share a new tool with me I would love to hear from you!

This next link is a guide for those of you with PTSD who are suffering from sleep issues. You are not alone. 

A Guide to PTSD and Sleep

On that note – I am off to catch some z’s myself! Good Night!!

365 Days

365 days we’ve each had in 2017 but how many of us really lived them all?

365 chances to make each day before us great. 365 opportunities to improve ourselves. 365 days that added up to one more trip around the sun – one more year to count our blessings, learn from our mistakes, to grow, and bloom.

It wasn’t my resolution for 2017 to live each day as it came and it was far from easy but it’s what I’ve done and I attribute most of the progress I’ve made to living this way. In doing this stopped dwelling on the past and never considered the future. I planted my feet firmly in the present and grew from there.

When I started out on my healing journey last year I quickly learned that if my focus wasn’t on the day, mere moments, and sometimes each breath before me, that healing was going to be very hard. My sleep was so bad. I would spend days and sometimes up to a week living with severe anxiety and insomnia – praying that peace would somehow find me. When those days seemed never ending and would bleed into the next I was often left wondering if I would ever be better. If I would ever live a beautiful life again. I was scared I would be left to carry this heavy burden forever. The only comfort I found during the most trying times was knowing that soon the sun would go down on that day and what was done was done and I was one step closer to the peace I craved.

Living for each day is easier said than done. It takes practice. It takes faith. It takes great mental will power. And if I can sit here today and tell you that is how I honestly live then I know for certain anyone can do it. 

When I look back on all I accomplished this year I am amazed at myself. Just a year ago I was consumed by this project. I was working so hard to create this space so I could finally tell my story. I didn’t know if anyone would read it or care but I kept working on it anyway because it set my heart on fire. I felt that if I helped just one other person who was suffering like me then my pain would have purpose. That purpose motivates me each day as I write, search for new holistic treatments for PTSD, as I listen to other people who are living with PTSD too, and as I face each new opportunity that comes to me as a result of this resource I have built. This is just the beginning of this journey. I still have so much to share and I thank you for joining me here.

I have heard from so many people who I’ve touched through Still Blooming Me. You’ve reached out to me, to my husband and friends. I am so happy my words have helped you. That is why I do this.

Of all the opportunities I have had this year through Still Blooming Me the very best has been the connections I’ve made with other survivors. I hoped I would find them. In God’s timing I did and what an immense blessing it has been for my family and I to be embraced by them. They are not just my friends. They are my family.

When I consider 2018 and all the exciting things coming my way I know one thing is for certain – I will continue to bloom each day planted in the present.

Happy New Year! I hope you really live each day of 2018 realizing your blessings and gifts.