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.

Validation

Since coming home from the Strength to Strength retreat I have done some of my own exposure therapy. I read Stronger, the incredible book by Jeff Bauman. You might remember him from the graphic images from the bombing. He lost both of his legs that day and is credited with identifying one of the bombers. My Jeff and I are waiting for the movie based on Jeff’s story to come out on ITunes because truthfully watching the trailer makes me cry so I want to be home when I see it.

We also watched the HBO Documentary Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing and if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. Forget about the Mark Wahlberg movie. If you want to really experience what I saw and felt that day then you have to see this film. It pays tribute to several survivors and those lost in the realest and most honest way I have seen.  It too brought many tears for me but more than anything it validated my story.

I want to talk about validation today because it came up at the retreat with my survivor friends and in the aforementioned book and it has been something that I have struggled with over the last few years. 

I am not one who gives much time to conspiracy theories. Are some of them true? Maybe. But I don’t have the energy to refute them and I don’t care. When it comes to the Boston Marathon bombing, I know what I saw and smelled and witnessed and it really happened.

Not long after the bombing a very dear friend at the time told me she didn’t think the bombing had happened. That if I spent some time on Youtube (since Youtube is the keeper of all truths) I would see how the media planted crisis witnesses, that the Boston PD had tweeted about bomb drills in the area that day, that there is evidence that a green screen was used to simulate the explosions, and worse, that those who were killed or injured were really actors. Can you imagine this coming from a friend’s mouth when you yourself are grappling with the shit you saw that day? I remember being so shocked by what she was saying to me. It hurt then and it still hurts today.

How could someone I loved so much say something like that to me? Even if that is what she believed, why would she voice it to me?

I have no answers for these questions as this relationship has seemed to fade during my recovery and I am okay with that. Even after my hospitalization she never took the time to say she was sorry for those comments and that magnified the importance of our relationship to me. Through my new life lens I can see now how I never should have kept trying to make this relationship work but it’s hard to explain that to your heart, especially when your heart loves that person.

My survivor family relationships have more than filled up that hole she left behind in my heart and they have given me the validation she never did. It wasn't shocking to hear that other survivors had dealt with these same stories and their support has given me the energy to write this and actually share it.

So if I can offer advice to you now as a survivor and fierce advocate it would be to know your audience and think before you speak. Words can’t be taken back but apologies help everyone move forward. Each person’s truth is unique and you are never right to question what is true to someone else. And one more thing – if, God forbid, you should ever have a friend or loved one live through a terrorist attack - love them. Show them support every day. Invite them out even if they seem depressed. Comfort them on the days when their anxiety takes over. Stay by their side and show them that the world is full of wonderful and caring people. Give them a safe space to bear their soul. I can promise you that when they get through their gloomy cloud that you will have the most devoted and grateful friend to share your life with. A friend who will never look at you with judgement. A friend who will never have a bad thing to say about you. A friend who will back you up and validate you no matter what.

 

Growth

One of the huge takeaways I took from the retreat I was on a few weeks ago was a concept I had never heard of before. Posttraumatic Growth.

I have been working to heal from PTSD for over a year with numerous therapists and not one has ever spoken of it. But there Elaine (a fellow survivor) and I were standing in Lucky Strike on our fun night out and trying to scream over the loud music to each other about what has helped us each heal when she mentioned PTG or posttraumatic growth. I instantly felt hopeful, excited to be learning something more about this journey, and encouraged that possibly I might get to this place of PTG myself.

When Jeff and I returned home I immediately began researching PTG and what I found was so interesting. The term was created by two doctors at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, Dr. Lawrence G. Calhoun and Dr. Richard G. Tedeschi in 1995. Through their research and in working with parents who had lost a child, no doubt one of the greatest traumas anyone could face, they discovered that some of these parents went on to become great advocates for whatever illness or accident that had claimed the lives of their children. Dr. Calhoun and Dr. Tedeschi found that through the great loss and trauma these people had faced, they somehow managed to grow and do something meaningful, and they were stronger for it.

I stumbled upon an article and I will leave it right here for you to enjoy – reading it brought me to tears. The Science of Posttraumatic Growth

Why did reading this make me cry?  Because it confirmed for me that though my trauma was terrible, it had helped shape me in a positive way.  I already believed it but here I was reading this article that finally gave a name and face to the place I find myself in more and more every day.

There is a line is this article that really sticks with me, “They don’t just bounce back- that would be resilience- in significant ways, they bounce higher than they ever did before.”

I knew quite early on in my healing journey that just bouncing back wasn’t going to happen and so I just took each day as it came, sometimes each moment, and I focused on ways to feel better.  Little by little I found my stride again and no doubt feel stronger and more grateful then I did before I was sick. Bouncing higher has been my goal with this website and blog, with my journey to be my own advocate and speak up for myself and my healing, and for every other aspect of my life.  Though I have found myself many times just wishing to be the old Elena, I have realized that I could be someone so much better – I can and will bounce higher than I ever could have before. Sure I still have bad days and trying moments like everyone else but I can honestly say that with this new lens that I view my life through that I truly see my blessings, I truly feel grateful and blessed, and I have truly found my calling in helping other people like me. 

Thank you my dear friend Elaine for introducing me to PTG!

Learn more about Posttraumatic Growth

 

Thankful. Grateful. Blessed.

As I sit down to write this I feel at a loss for words to describe all the emotions I have today about the wonderful weekend retreat that Jeff and I just had with other terrorist attack survivors from all over the world. The title of this entry really sums up my feelings perfectly.

The retreat was planned by Strength to Strength, an organization that supports terrorist attack survivors, bereaved family members, and spouses. Strength to Strength, the baby and passion of the most amazing woman and survivor in the world, Sarri Singer, is nothing but the ultimate gift anyone who’s been in my shoes could ever receive. The entire weekend made me feel welcomed, treasured, loved, and all of this was wrapped in the warmth of each person there. As it was said many times by other survivors throughout the weekend; Strength to Strength is a club you never wanted to be a part of but now that you are, you can’t imagine your life without it. That sentiment resonates so deeply with me today as I feel sad to not be sitting in that room on the 10th floor of the Belleclaire Hotel with my new family. 

I also feel joyful and happy to know that this is just the beginning of another beautiful journey before me that is punctuated by the relationships Jeff and I made. Each and every person there touched my heart, filled my soul, and tore off a piece of me and took it with them yesterday as they ventured home.  These people are treasures. They are my inspiration. I can’t wait to hug each of them again and I hope it’s soon.

Our experience was powerful, raw, emotional, moving, full of laughter and tears, and I loved every minute. It was mentally and physically exhausting in the very best way. We each had the opportunity to share our stories and it was the first time in a while that I was completely overcome by emotions while sharing my story. I was uncomfortable initially by how my tears took over but it was so therapeutic and freeing that I knew those tears had to come out. Everyone there could relate – I wasn’t alone.

I was nervous last week before we left and I had tried to write about the emotions I was having and just couldn’t. It was making me so anxious. I am glad I didn’t publish what I wrote and just waited to write till I was home because my nervous feelings were completely unnecessary. From the moment Jeff and I boarded the plane to New York City till the time we came home it was as if God was showering me with His peace. I almost felt like He was saying, “I’ve got your back and so do all these people who are waiting to meet you.” Thank you for all those prayers you sent my way because they were felt by me and my kids are alive and happy and so I think they helped my dad get through the weekend as well.

There are too many takeaways from the weekend to share in just one blog entry and so I plan on writing a lot about what I learned over the next month, but one thing I can share with you now is that I learned that I can still live a beautiful and fulfilling life despite having PTSD. On Saturday night we went to Lucky Strike for some down time and seeing each of my new friends enjoying drinks, the loud music, and the overstimulating environment encouraged me in ways only they can understand.  Each survivor there was living proof that I too will go on and be able to have a social life again. I needed to see that.

Jeff and I both learned that we need to take extra care of our marriage too as we navigate this world with my PTSD.  We both felt our relationship was strengthened by this time we spent with other people who share our struggles.

I left New York with renewed hope and peace in my heart.

The souvenirs I brought home with me are stories that would bring any person to their knees and I will carry them gently with the utmost respect and love for those who shared them – and for those who didn’t make it to tell the stories as well.

I am so thankful, grateful to feel grateful again, and blessed beyond measure.

New Perspective

Lately I have been hearing from readers and friends about their loved ones who are struggling with PTSD. Apparently, some of my readers are here trying to find ways to support their loved ones and I love that! I know someone who can relate - my wonderful husband Jeff. He has really been through so much with me and the way we live with my PTSD isn't perfect but he is able to support me better now because I am able to communicate better with him. I had to do the work but knowing he believed in me helped so much!  It has taken a lot of therapy and a lot of honest conversations between us about my illness and how I feel but I think it's drawn us closer and made us both realize how wonderfully blessed we are. I thought if he wrote a reflection for all of you about how my healing journey has affected him that it might offer a new perspective to this conversation.

It was the middle of a July night.  We were together on the bed at our vacation home on Cape Cod.  I held Elena in my arms in the dark as she lay paralyzed by the after effects of what she witnessed that day over three years earlier waiting for me at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  The gravity of what she was dealing with was hitting me like the flu- slow at first, then all at once.  That night was the first time since the initial minute after I learned about the bombing that I, too, felt scared.  I had a sense of what was wrong, but no idea what to do to help. 

We persisted for the rest of our month-long vacation in this state- Elena being tired, or sad, or whatever other label I could put on it so that I could try and compensate and make our vacation ‘normal’.  But none of the coping skills I’d developed through all sorts of trauma in my life to that point were working. 

Shortly after arriving home to Arizona, things came to a head.  It was a couple of sleepless nights for her since our return when she asked me to call her Aunt Laura, a nurse.  After spending some time together, Laura suggested I take Elena to the emergency room.   I look back now and realize that this may have saved my wife’s life. 

It was in the emergency room that night when I first heard my wife tell a doctor that she didn’t feel safe in her own body.  Thoughts of suicide were starting to sound like a better outlet than further coping with her growing issues of anxiety and insomnia.  I thought we were on the path to real help when the E.R. staff merely gave her some pills to help her sleep and sent us home with some phone numbers for mental health facilities to call in the morning to see about getting evaluated.  The good news was I now fully grasped the depth of her condition.  The bad news was that it was REALLY bad.

That next morning, we walked into a mental health facility.  My wife was a shell of the woman that I had met almost 13 years earlier.  The youthful, playful, confident 23-year old I once knew was filled to the brim with symptoms that were overwhelming her.  Never in my life will I forget the leaving the facility that day after her admission- having left my wife inside, just her shoelaces in my hand as I walked out the door. 

Those next 5 nights Elena spent hospitalized were a blur.  I was trying to work, move two kids around under a veil of normalcy, and be available to support my wife.  All of this without having a clue what the future looked like when she came home.  I didn’t even know what her diagnosis was at this point. 

Finally, some hope came into the picture.  On our brief phone call over the weekend, Elena informed me that she could likely come home on Monday if she did all of the things her doctor told her.  This was great because she was sleeping and eating even less at the hospital than she was at home.  And, we had a diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I’ve watched over the past year as my wife has transformed herself into a new person.  She’s not the innocent young woman I met 13 years ago.  She’s also not the woman who checked herself into that facility 14 months ago.  She’s a new version of herself.  This version is akin to a mental health warrior.  She’s got the skills, the discipline and the tools to fight- all carefully crafted since she left the hospital that day.   I’ve watched as she literally told herself in the mirror that she wouldn’t give up....wouldn’t give in...would fight all that this disorder could throw at her.  And I’ve done it in quiet awe. 

I’ve been trying to distill what I’ve learned from this whole experience (which is unlikely to ever be entirely over) since I was asked to write this post.  I think the most important thing from my vantage point is that it’s ok to not have all the answers.  Men tend to think in a linear fashion- something is wrong, so I must do something.  I was like that at the beginning, and when I didn’t have the right answer to ‘fix’ this I just kind of went on as if nothing major was wrong (which was wrong in itself).  It wasn’t until I got scared that night holding my wife in the dark that I knew it was better that I succumbed to not knowing the answer.  Being helpful meant not getting in the way.  It also meant that success for Elena in overcoming the overwhelming effects of her PTSD had to happen without my direct intervention.  This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have my unequivocal support because she does today and will continue to have it for as long as the fight with PTSD is still there.  But giving her the space, support and freedom to explore her healing is where I think I’ve been most helpful. 

‘In sickness and in health’...that was the deal. ‘Til death do us part’...thankfully, not yet.

 

Leaping Forward

I’m happy to be writing again today!  We have been so busy with the kids lately and with my husband being gone all last week I have been neglecting my blog. I have, however, been doing plenty of work on myself and taking extra care of my health for good reason.

Last week I started another phase of weaning off my last medication. It’s a tough one. Klonopin. 

I want to preface this by saying I am under the care of a trauma therapist and naturopath and we are all working on this together. After my hospitalization last August I was prescribed .5 mg nightly for sleep and in May I started cutting these in half and experienced some minor withdrawal symptoms.  I relied on my tools; acupuncture and other natural supplements and seemed to power through the side effects pretty quickly.  If any of you have taken this drug, or have chosen to live without it after using it, you know that this isn’t an easy drug to go without. I am doing this slowly and carefully and hope to be done with it by the end of the year. 

So last Friday night I lined up my pills before bed and took one last look at the .25 mg dose of Klonopin and I said “sayonara” and cut it in half.  It crumbled into pieces in my hand and I washed it down with some water and a smile. I knew this decision would make me sick.  I accept that it is the next step on my healing journey. Another leap closer to being able to enjoy a girl’s night out - complete with a glass of wine. A huge spring forward towards my finish line still with just a few more hurdles in front of me. 

I understand that this medication helped me through a very difficult time in my life and for that I am grateful, but I also know what it has done to me. I understand how it has changed the chemistry in my brain. I know I am addicted to it and that’s why it is hard both physically and mentally to come off it. I also know that like part of any healing journey this will hurt for a little while and then I’ll resume my business as usual. Most importantly I know that I have better coping skills now and a greater understanding of my PTSD diagnosis then I ever have before. I will be able to live with this challenge because as I was reminded by my naturopath, Dr. Wallace, I am my greatest tool. I know what it takes to persevere and fight and I will.

In the meantime, I’m relying on my many skills and praying these side effects work their way through my system quickly.

I am working on a couple of projects over the next few weeks that I am excited to share with all of you soon and Jeff and I are headed to a Strength to Strength retreat on November 17th in New York City. Strength to Strength is an organization that supports terrorist attack survivors, bereaved family members and spouses of survivors. We are so excited to be going to this retreat together and ask for your prayers for greater healing while we are gone…also, since you are praying already maybe say an extra one for my dad who has agreed to watch our treasures while we are gone!