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!

 

World Mental Health Day!

Today is World Mental Health Day and I want to celebrate it! 

You know from my previous posts that I have been feeling different lately. Not bad. Just different from who I used to be and it's all because of the mental challenges I face as a survivor with PTSD.  I know PTSD isn't me; rather a small piece of me and I know that by choosing to live with it gracefully I am changing the face of mental illness. It isn't always easy and there are days that make me feel like I am drifting backwards but I choose to pick myself up, put my lipstick on, and fight for my health.  That is what this day means to me.

I can't change my diagnosis but it's changed me.  In so many ways PTSD has made me see my life through a new lens. It's helped me truly enjoy my blessings. It has helped me recognize that we all have pain. It has taught me true compassion for others. Though it's added a weight to my shoulders, I am finally able to carry it now only so I can bless others by sharing my journey.

One in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lifetime. 450 billion people are currently suffering from such conditions in the world. So if you have someone in your life who is living with a mental challenge take some extra time to show them you love them today.

Late last week I was contacted by Jason Berry, a reporter with CBS 5 and AZ Family 3TV, with an opportunity to share my story. He thought it would be helpful to those in our community who have been impacted by the massacre in Las Vegas. I am sharing it here in case you missed it.

Boston Marathon bombing survivor reaches out to help Vegas victims

What a blessing it was to share with him and viewers all over my state.  I hope and pray I can reach more survivors in the coming weeks, months, and years.  I know that they will need help someday. As someone who has navigated this PTSD journey on my own I know what they are in store for but they won't be alone. I am here. So many other survivors are here and we want to help.

 

What Do You Do Now?

I’ve had an overwhelming response through my website, from friends, and through social media about the Route 91 Harvest tragedy. I feel like everyone in my community knows someone who was there. A few people have asked me what they should do now and how they should care for themselves as they come to terms with the trauma they have been through. So I wanted to write about what I could have done differently had I known what I know now. I hope this helps.

Right now, those of you who’ve been impacted may be healing from a physical wound, you are in shock, your body is trying to process the adrenaline and rush of other stress hormones, or you are both mentally and physically exhausted. The event may even seem like a bad dream.  You are trying to move on as the mother, father, employee, wife, husband, and friend you were before Sunday. You are trying to figure out how to speak to your children about what you have been through. You are trying to pick up the pieces of your life and figure out what your future looks like now that you have witnessed the unthinkable.

You are not alone. I and many other survivors have been in your shoes.

When my trauma happened I had an infant and three year old at the time and didn’t allow myself to process what I had been through. Fast forward three years and the trauma began coming out of me in many uncomfortable physical ways. I didn’t have strong enough coping skills in place and wound up hospitalized.  This could have been avoided if I had known the serious signs of PTSD to look for and if I had asked for help sooner. 

I encourage you to find a trauma therapist or a psychologist who specializes in trauma soon.  In addition to working through the trauma you have been through they will help you build coping skills that you will need in your daily life. With life demands and busy schedules it can take some time before you see someone who can help you so I want to share some things you can start to do at home to jump start your healing process. 

First, turn off your television and limit your exposure to the images from the event. You already know what happened and exposing yourself to the story over and over again can trigger a whole host of mental challenges that you don’t have the tools to cope with yet.  Instead, focus on you. Talk about your trauma, journal, share your pain with everyone from the bank teller to your faith leader, confide in friends and family, and get your feelings out. Your community wants to help you and all you need to do is explain that you are a Route 91 Harvest survivor and people will want to show you their love!  Avoid overusing alcohol or other substances to cope as well. This isn’t healthy and it can create unhealthy dependencies that can make your recovery so much more difficult. Ground yourself by taking walks, laying in the grass, meditating and praying.  Focus on getting good sleep, eating healthy nourishing foods, and drinking a lot of water. Make yourself your first priority.

Try to focus only on the day before you. As you have witnessed, life can change in an instant. So concentrate on finding gratitude each day for the amazing things in your life that you probably overlooked before. Therapy has taught me that dwelling on the past leads to depression and looking towards the future may cause anxiety. Knowing this and practicing this has taken time and great effort but has brought me so much peace.

Finally, continue to tune in to your mood changes, sleep disturbances, stomach upset or other physical changes (rapid heart rate, chest pain, choking sensation while you eat, rapid breathing, etc.), and your overall mental health. Your psychologist can also help you identify symptoms that are PTSD related and if trauma therapy like EMDR therapy is a necessary step for you.

Educating yourself on trauma and PTSD will empower you to fight for yourself. Only you can fight this fight for yourself but there are many people, like myself, who can help you along the way.

A few resources listed on my PTSD Resources page may be good for you to look over.

Grounding Techniques for Anxiety and Flashbacks

What Is EMDR?

How Hypnotherapy Helps PTSD

PTSD: Using A Naturopathic Approach To Understand And Treat The Disorder

There isn’t a roadmap for healing from trauma and what works for me might not work for you and so I urge you to be open-minded as you search for healing.

You are in my prayers. You are deeply loved. You will bloom from this. I am proof.

 

Strength to Strength

This has been a tragic week in our world and it's only Tuesday. I will make this a quick post about a new resource I have added to the PTSD Resource page and add a longer one later this week that details my feelings about the attack in Vegas. 

Strength to Strength is an organization that is very dear to me because they work to bring together victims of terrorism and their families from all over the world. Founded by Sarri Singer, a terrorist attack survivor herself and one of the strongest people I have ever met, this foundation has given me and countless others a way to connect with other people who understand the affects of terrorism.  I realize that what happened in Las Vegas was a mass shooting but for those of us who've experienced a terrorist attack it can still be a trigger. I was in touch with Sarri yesterday and other survivor friends from Boston who were checking in on me and I can't tell you how loved I felt knowing that these people clear across the country from me care.  Sometimes just knowing that they are there if I need them brings me peace and now that I have found them, I'll never let them go! They are my family! 

Of course trauma is different for everyone and some people will process it right away and for others it may take years. In any case, it's important to remember that trauma may lead to physical and mental challenges that are difficult to communicate, even to our loved ones. The most important thing you can do is to remind them that they aren't alone. Strength to Strength took me years too many painful years to find and having Sarri and the survivors I have connected with through the organization in my life has made a world of difference.

Who Am I?

This has been a question I keep coming back to over the past several months as I realize I am a far different person then I was before the bombing and even more different since my hospitalization.  I feel like there is an enormous canyon between the old Elena and the new one and it scares me, leaves me mourning my former self, and trying to accept what is new. Most importantly, it motivates me to keep pushing forward in this new me I find myself in.

I think it is true for anyone who experiences a life-changing event, illness, or trauma, like I have, that suddenly we look at ourselves and wonder what the purpose is of all of this. Things that I once saw value in no longer make me happy. Relationships that I once found joy in now have less meaning.  I don’t engage with as many people socially because I can’t lie anymore about how I really feel and I’m not sure who wants to hear it. I also don’t drink so I often hear my inner voice telling me that no one wants to invite the sober girl with PTSD to the party because how much fun is that?  I am also not willing to spin my wheels for things that exhaust me and leave me reeling for days.  And all of these things makes me sad because before PTSD had a grip on me I loved these things, people, events, and places.  The old Elena could do so much and make it look easy and effortless.

The new Elena does things differently. She likes to talk about her pain because it makes her feel better. She likes to pray and meditate. She likes quieter nights with one or two friends. She wants to spend more quality time with her husband and treasures. The new Elena can really hear other’s stories of pain and trauma and wants to. She wants to help. And just as much as she wants to listen; she wants to be heard.  The new Elena has more compassion for others than she ever knew possible. And still the new Elena misses the old Elena and I think it will take time for me to grasp all these new things for me because the people who liked the old Elena might not like the new one and that is what’s hard about a journey like this. Not everyone comes along for the ride. Hopefully, those who really love me will because in many ways I think this new Elena is better. 

I recently stumbled upon a resource for PTSD that has helped me finally identify some of these feelings and I have found it so helpful. Heal My PTSD, a site built by Michele Rosenthal, an award winning author, speaker, and trauma coach; is a must read for anyone struggling with PTSD.  She understands the PTSD struggle because she suffered from PTSD herself.  I know for me, sometimes listening to someone who has been in my shoes and has made it out on the other side, is the only thing that brings me peace from my daily struggles.  And today has been one hell of a struggle!  I listened to this podcast A Question of Identity: Who Are You After Trauma and it really highlighted some ways anyone with PTSD can begin to accept their new self. It helped me recognize how I am still the same today and what traits and values I still have and how each of these things can influence the new me that I am becoming. 

After listening to Michele I remembered that blooming and changing is a good thing and I needed to be reminded of that today.

 

 

My Treasures

As I have been reflecting the past couple of weeks on the anniversary of my hospitalization and preparing my kiddos to go back to school, I have wondered just how I got through all this chaos last year.  I know my husband did the back to school supply and shoe shopping, my dad picked up hair bows from the uniform store, and my sisters and friends filled in other pieces of the puzzle but when I was released and “mom life” smacked me in the face, I’m not sure how I managed. It’s really just a blur.  

But that isn’t what this post is all about. It is about my kids. My “treasures” as I refer to them.  

I have tried writing this post many times but emotionally just couldn’t get through it. So, now, the stronger me will give it a try.

Many friends and family have asked me how my treasures reacted to my hospitalization. Did they know where I was? Do they understand my challenges? How am I managing day to day with them? Do they know about the bombing?  And there are so many answers for each of these questions but really the answer is, yes. Over time my husband and I have shared details with them that we felt they could understand.  As they grow and mature we will continue to share more details until perhaps one day I share this project with them. I hope they will be proud.

I knew that when I came out of the hospital that they were going to have missed me and want to know why I was there. Seeing their little faces waiting for me to be released in the waiting room won’t be a scene I soon forget. My daughter had many questions right away and my little boyfriend couldn’t stop telling me he loved me. It was heartbreaking for me.  And it also motivated my recovery. 

Children have a natural curiosity and I knew this was a moment I needed to be honest with them. They trust me and I can’t lie to them.  I also knew that once I made it through this trying time in my life that hopefully I would have shown them firsthand how important faith, grace, honesty, family, and fighting for yourself is.  It’s everything I want them to value in their own lives and so I knew I had to be an example.  I also, have experience as the daughter of a mother who mostly gave up to her own mental illness and pulling and pushing her along has been an enormous strain on me. I won’t be this for my children. No matter how difficult it gets, how uncomfortable it is, and how challenging life may be — I will never back down shamefully to PTSD. I won’t let it define me or hold me back from living a beautiful life. It might be a small part of my life, but it isn’t ME.

Some ordinary day to day situations have been hard to get through with the kids this year. For starters, driving can be hard. If they are screaming or fighting I have to remind them that I am trying to focus on driving and my brain illness makes it hard to do so when they are being loud. Restaurants and public places have been trying for me for the past few years as well and I do my best now to prepare mentally ahead of time because I don’t want them to see me leave those places fearful again. Lights, tv’s, background music, and crowds are all overstimulating for me and create the perfect storm for my anxiety to bubble up. I mostly use homeopathic remedies, mantras, grounding and coping skills to get through those situations now.  Our busy over -scheduled life got a major overhaul too and I was able to honor myself by saying “no” to so many commitments that were just adding to my stress load. Now, when my PTSD is triggered I do my best to embrace the wave I go on. There isn’t any stopping it once it’s started so I do my best to communicate with my family how I’m feeling when I start to get overwhelmed, emotional, and tired.

One particular instance with my treasures sticks out though and I know its an experience that they will likely remember as adults.  We were buying new ballet shoes for my daughter one day and we were in a store I once bought my own dance gear from. I know the couple who run it well. I was in the middle of a long PTSD wave and they could tell I wasn’t my usual self and asked if I was okay. The tears immediately started and I couldn’t keep them in.  They were so amazing to me and the kids and made me feel safe and comfortable to share my story.  My treasures were upset to see me come undone and they shed a few tears too. At that time the bombing hadn’t come up yet and I told Jeff it was time to explain that piece of my story to them. We sat down that night with Mal, our little lady, and we did our best to share what had made me so sick. One day I am sure we will give the same details to our little guy too but for now he is happy knowing I am getting better and that I love him.

My daughter’s quesons were so focused on whether or not the bad guys were caught and if people died or were hurt, that me being there was not scary to her. That was fine with me.  I am happy that those were her questions because her heart needed to know those things.  She handled this knowledge with such understanding for a six year old. I guess some things seem clearer when you look at them through the eyes of a child. I wish my mind could only make it that simple.  

So we tackle the questions as they come up. That method has seem to work for us around here and we explain it the best we can on their level and we are honest with what we know they can understand.  As they get older the conversations will be different I am sure we won’t back down from them or hide the answers. That I have promised to myself.

My kids have also embraced my newfound love for natural medicine and accompany me often for acupuncture treatments. Of course the first time was funny for them but now they are used to it and know that it helps me feel better.

My family spends a lot of time in Boston. It’s my husband’s hometown and we spend our summers enjoying Cape Cod.  It is a place I can’t avoid and I want them to feel safe there.  I had thought that them knowing about the bombing would scare them or trigger a sense of lack of security in them when we are back there but it doesn’t. They feel safe there and that is very important to Jeff and I.

My new family, the Boston Marathon bombing survivors, have really embraced my family too.  I think that has helped all of us heal.  Jeff finds support from other spouses and my kids get to play with the other kids who are around and somehow in our shared misery of wounds both visible and invisible, we all lift each other up.  It is a group I never thought I’d be a part of but now that they are in our lives I am so grateful.  They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, and friends just like I am and I am learning from them how to get through this. We are learning from them how to get through this.

When I look back on my hospital stay, I remember each person there telling stories about their kids. Some didn’t have custody of their children. One lady had overdosed in front of her kids. Some people were the bi-product of broken and abusive families. And some were young kids themselves trying to navigate their hospital stay the best they could. It was very intense and I learned that as humans we each have in common a need to feel loved, comforted, understood, safe, and validated and this starts when we are children.  It never goes away.  So if I can encourage anyone going through PTSD or any other mental challenge who is a parent right now I would urge them to share their journey with their children.  Maybe even just small pieces of it at a time.  It is one great way we can break the cycle of shame and secrecy surrounding mental illness.

 

 

 

 

A Natural Approach

As many of you know and have read about in previous blog posts I have been working with a Naturopathic Practitioner to treat my PTSD symptoms. I have found tremendous healing and understanding through this therapeutic modality. I feel like I've finally found a doctor who took the time to educate me about what was going on inside my body instead of just pushing pills in my direction. Dr. Kris Wallace, NMD, wrote the post below to educate those of you who may be suffering symptoms from PTSD without understanding why.  Knowledge is powerful and I hope that you discover, as I have, that you can successfully treat yourself naturally.

Science’s progress in its understanding of PTSD is illustrated by the evolution of its name in the relatively short time since it was first recognized. The disorder was first given proper recognition following WWI, when it was known as shell shock. As it became clear that the disorder could result from trauma other than an explosion and that the effect was not necessarily so temporary, it became known as “battle fatigue”. Following Vietnam the term “operational exhaustion” was adopted and there was a re-framing of the issue as less of a problem of cowardice and more of a medical condition. Eventually, PTSD was established in light of the growing understanding of how traumatic events can negatively affect the body to the point of it being in serious “disorder.”. Trauma is not only capable of causing shock that wears off with time. It can physically alter the body, throwing delicate systems out of balance in such a way that requires serious readjustment.

As PTSD has gained respect in the scientific community, more energy has been invested in determining the physical affects of the disorder. This research has found that PTSD has a profound effect on certain bodily systems that contribute to our ability to respond to threats. These systems are all related and in a healthy person work in harmony to manage the functions of the body. When any component of this system is compromised, it will throw the entire thing out of balance, which is why a comprehensive approach to treating PTSD is vital. Primarily, PTSD impacts neurotransmitter levels, thyroid function, and the HPA axis.

Neurotransmitter imbalance is very common amongst those that suffer from PTSD. This causes a host of negative effects and it is very important to address in a way that is sustainable and minimizes side effects. PTSD commonly causes a deficiency of serotonin, which is associated with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Often times this is treated with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) that have serious and unpleasant side effects. A natural alternative to SSRIs is 5HTP. Unlike SSRIs, 5HTP is naturally occurring and does not have serious side effects. 5HTP provides the brain with the raw materials it needs to naturally build up a greater supply of serotonin.

In addition to serotonin deficiency; PTSD causes harmfully high levels of excitatory neurotransmitters such as glutamate, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for exciting the body in times of stress. When there are chronically elevated levels of these neurotransmitters, the body is stuck in a kind of overdrive mode. Blood pressure and heart rate are constantly elevated and it is difficult to sleep or relax. GABA is the neurotransmitter counterpart to glutamate. It is possible to calm the system that is overdosed with glutamate by taking GABA supplements. When GABA levels rise, glutamate levels fall and the system moves into a more balanced and relaxed state.

The HPA (Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis is a complex system that controls reactions to stress and regulates many bodily systems. It involves many hormones and involves glands in the brain as well as the adrenal cortex located in the abdomen. PTSD can cause an overworking of the HPA axis and result in adrenal fatigue, which causes depression, lack of energy, weight gain, and brain fog. The HPA axis can be healed naturally through herbal supplementation, improved diet, and a more relaxed lifestyle. PTSD can overwork the thyroid in a similar way. Studies have found that many PTSD patients suffer from hyperthyroidism, which causes anxiety, insomnia, and irritability.

There is a growing appreciation of the widespread physical effects that PTSD can have on the body. It is no longer understood purely as an illness of the mind, but a disorder of the body. It affects bodily systems that rely on a delicate balance for proper functioning. In order to properly treat PTSD, it is necessary that this is understood and proper testing is in place to identify those imbalances.  Each component of the complex system that is affected must be addressed for true balance and peace to be restored to the body and mind.

The information above was provided by Dr. Kris Wallace, NMD.  Dr. Wallace practices naturopathic medicine at Keystone Family Medicine in Arizona.

 

Reflection

One year ago today I began my healing journey.

One year ago today I sat in the waiting room of a psych hospital with my husband and sisters knowing I needed to be there.

One year ago today I surrendered to the symptoms I could no longer ignore and I asked for help. 

None of these were easy things to do.  It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made for myself and with the knowledge I have now, I am not sure it was the right facility for me, but the decision to go there sent me on a journey that has made me grow and change in ways I never considered possible and for that reason, I am grateful for the experience.  I met people I wouldn’t necessarily run into in my daily life and the lessons they taught me opened my eyes – they helped me see all of the blessings I have and why I needed to keep living to enjoy each of them.

As I took in my surroundings there; the people, the experience of having someone watch me while I ate and slept, having my belongings gone through, the staples being removed from the magazines that my best friend brought me, the terrible side effects from over-medication, the five sets of locked doors I had to get through to see my family for the 30 minutes that was allowed each day, the shared phone that I would wait hours for to hear the tiny voices of my scared treasures on the other end – as I lived through each of these moments for five days I realized I would never be the same once I left there. I was changed for good.

This week has been full of reflection for me and I want to share with you the most profound lessons I have learned this year.

The first lesson I learned very early on in my healing journey still is the most important. If you want to get better. Better mentally, physically, or if you want a better life – you have to be your own strongest advocate. No one else will do it for you and no one else can do it the way it needs to be done. You have to be willing to work when you are the most exhausted, you have to fight for the answers you are searching for, you have to question the doctors who are caring for you, you need to educate yourself on the medications they are giving you, you have to refuse anything but the very best – for you!  It’s very hard. It’s not for wimps. The best part of learning this lesson though is that you learn what you are made of.

The second thing I’ve learned the past 365 days is that healing is not linear. There is no right way or wrong way.  There isn’t a straight path and sometimes you feel like you are getting better and then a PTSD wave will hit and knock you off track and you have to make adjustments and keep pushing forward. Healing usually doesn’t feel good either. In fact, most of the time it hurt.  It was uncomfortable and trying.  In those hard times, especially at the beginning I had to focus on the moments and seconds before me. Sometimes minutes seemed like hours and I had to remind myself to breathe through them.  This lesson bleeds into the next. I learned that I have to take each day as it comes. As hard as this is, today is really all we have and once I could do this my anxiety significantly lifted.  I’ve heard it said that focusing on the past creates depression and thinking about the future causes anxiety and I really believe this to be true. 

Compassion is my third takeaway from this experience. I think this is really a byproduct of the many people I met in the hospital, many of which didn’t have homes or supportive family and friends to receive them on the outside. I remember telling my husband that I could write a book about the things I heard and witnessed.  I took notes after each group therapy session and described each person so that I could remember them.  Mostly so that I could pray for them. I think that focusing on having compassion for others has given me the chance to really see other people around me, the issues they might be struggling with, and have a better sense of understanding.  It reminds me of something my husband always says when we are breaking up a fight between our kids which is, “seek first to understand.” It’s a different lens to view the world through but I believe if more of us did this, with compassion in our hearts, then the world would be a more peaceful place.

My final takeaway from this year has been to trust. To trust God entirely. Trust that He would carry me through the hard times and grant me peace and grace.  This lesson will never be wasted on me.  I will never forget how much He loves me and how faithful He is to me.  There were weeks I would cry on my Dad’s shoulder throughout mass. I was overwhelmed by all the people, the loud music, the sounds I couldn’t control, and yet I knew that was the very place I needed to be. My advice to anyone going through PTSD – find a place where you can connect to the Creator and allow Him to heal you with His love. 

When I think about the past year I have to remember key people who have stuck by my side. My Dad who laid in bed with me and held me when I thought I was dying.  My sisters who sat with me a year ago in that waiting room and believed I would get better when I didn’t think I could.  My caregivers who continue to show me love through the guidance they give me every day. My friends who answered my calls and listened when all I could do was cry. My treasured children who perhaps have given me the best therapy of all through their love for me. My husband, who was there with me the day the bombs went off, who has held me through panic attacks and worse, and who continues to be right by my side – loving me and believing in me.  Without all this support I wouldn’t have grown this much, I wouldn’t have healed this much – I wouldn’t have bloomed this much.

If you are just starting to read about my journey or have just found me, then welcome! I am just getting started and still have so much to share.  For those of you who have been reading, thank you.  All the love and support I receive from you about this little project of mine is wonderful and helps me stay focused on my mission to help other terrorist attack survivors who are living with PTSD. 

I would be honored to have you subscribe to my blog. I would be so grateful if you feel called to share it via social media or through conversation with your family and friends. 

Finally, if you are suffering from PTSD symptoms or living with anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts or loneliness, please know you are not alone. I was in your shoes.  Ask for help and surrender to your own healing journey – it will take you to beautiful places.  I am proof that only one year can truly make a difference.

 

I'm Back!

I know I haven’t been keeping you updated on here the last month and I have a good reason for it. I was busy enjoying vacation with my family.  Occupied with backyard barbecues, pushing overfilled beach carts down the street with my treasures in tow, enjoying time with family and friends, and savoring peace – all in our happy place, Cape Cod.    This time away was important for us to reconnect as a family but was also a significant step in my healing process because last year when I was on this same trip I was very sick and uncomfortable. I suffered thorough it only to be hospitalized when I came home. 

So now I am home and have so much to share with you!

I worked hard for weeks leading up to the trip as I was focused on setting myself up for success. Now, having made it through the last month so well I firmly believe that success isn’t possible without preparation. Still, I was nervous in the weeks leading up to leaving and my trauma therapist was able to help me identify what was triggering my stress about the trip and make a plan.  For example, one of the things I struggled with last summer was going to restaurants.  I experienced several panic attacks in restaurants last year, some even resulted in my family having to leave mid-meal.  My therapist helped me build a coping checklist that included the following steps if I started to feel anxious; first, look around and notice that everyone else is eating and enjoying their time and no one is worried about their safety so therefore I shouldn’t either. Second, keep it cool by smiling and focusing on my breath because I don’t want to upset my family, especially my kiddos. Third, if I really can’t sit there I can go to the bathroom and run cold water through my hands. Fourth, and most important, I had to go out to eat in the first few days I was there, during a busy time, and test myself. 

My therapist also wanted me to envision how I wanted my trip to go and consciously set my intentions. She wanted me to keep what I wrote down with me as a reminder if I needed it. I wrote the following, “As I step on the plane tonight I am choosing to bring peace with me. I am leaving behind the things that don’t serve me and my trip will be restful and peaceful.  I will have a wonderful time and will be too busy making memories with my family to focus on anything else.”

This exercise helped me to leave behind the feelings I had about going by choosing to step forward in my healing process. By consciously deciding that I would not let anxiety consume me on my trip I was able to focus on only “packing” peace with me. It also helped me to remember all of the tools I do have that help me every day and that really boosted my self-confidence.

Two days after we arrived my family and I attended a BBQ for the Boston Marathon survivors that was organized by Strength to Strength which is a non-profit that focuses on bringing together the families and victims of terrorism around the world.  I was really looking forward to going and being with my new survivor family.  I can’t tell you how healing it is to be in a room with people who get me. Without having to utter a word, these amazing people understand me, my fight, and what my family has endured and this is an experience I can’t get anywhere else. It’s effortless. At one point in the day I found myself in the kitchen with a group of survivors and we were each sharing our experiences with various medications and therapies. I know I am never alone but I have felt loneliness in my fight at times. My supportive family and friends I have around me can’t relate sometimes to what I am feeling and experiencing, but these amazing people do and I treasure each and every one of them.  God truly worked a miracle when He put them in my life.  I want to thank Sarri Singer, who through her own experience and pain as a survivor, built an invaluable resource founded on peace and healing. You, Sarri, are an inspiration!

The remainder of my trip was wonderful. I continued my acupuncture treatments with a specialist I found nearby and remained dedicated to my supplements.  I made an effort to walk on the days when the weather was nice and used this time as a way to escape when I was overwhelmed with my kids, our company, or when I just needed a break and time to pray.  Taking this time to recharge helped me stay present, focused on my breathing, it helped calm my mind, and gave me space to concentrate on myself. 

I also want to acknowledge that I have now surpassed my one year mark without alcohol and caffeine in my life.  It’s not something I tried to do. It just happened. I never abused either substance but when I would consume them it would aggravate my PTSD symptoms so I stopped using them.  I do miss the social aspect of drinking and don’t think this arrangement will be forever but in the meantime it’s where I am at.  My goal is to be off my last medication by the end of this year and once I am then maybe I’ll re-evaluate my decision to stop drinking. Either way, my health comes first and I am proud that I have focused on healthy coping mechanisms during my healing crisis.

I hope in the future I can enjoy more spontaneity in my life and by that I mean, being able to go places without requiring so much preparation but for now I am proud of the progress I have made.  I am living a more peace-filled life which is the one thing I have prayed most for this past year. I have several big anniversaries coming up in the next month and I pray that through these milestones God will continue to grant me continued peace and healing.

This Game Called Life

Lately my kids have been obsessed with playing board games which is fun for Jeff and I because we all end up laughing — and it keeps us from overloading on television.  One game they love in particular is the game of Life.  It got me thinking yesterday as I took the responsible college route, began a career in sales with an annual salary of $30,000, scooped up a husband, son, and dilapidated beach house along the way, that there where spaces missing.  Where are the spaces that include the challenges we face in real life? There aren’t even speed bumps.  I never landed on the space that said, “You just witnessed a terrorist attack, skip your next turn and head straight to therapy”.  If only I could be so lucky in my real life.

It’s becoming hard for me to remember how my life was before PTSD and sometimes that makes me sad.  I used to go through life so easily. I could go to restaurants without the music, lights, tv’s, and people overstimulating me. Crowds didn’t scare me.  I didn’t have to live by the schedule of supplements I take and make sure I always have my anxiety arsenal with me. I could handle multiple tasks at once.  I was a sharp lady. I was a happy lady.  Yet, I didn’t realize what a blessed lady I was and I think that is where having PTSD has made a difference in my life. It has given me a different lens to view my life through. I see the blessings I used to take for granted. I see the relationship and trust I have built with God.  I am certain if PTSD wasn’t going to bring me to this place that something down my life’s path certainly would eventually.  But here I am now — blessed by God’s plan for my life, sharing my journey with you, and trusting that I will heal myself gracefully.

Not too long ago I was having a deep conversation with my dad’s best friend.  He is a deeply faithful man and someone who has prayed for me and shown my family so much love during this difficult past year.  He shared with me how when someone breaks a bone it heals stronger in that place than it was before the fracture.  Interesting concept but it is true.  That conversation has stuck with me.

My prayers, hopes, and dreams have been that I heal stronger than I ever was before.  I certainly do all the work and am focused on finding a cure for myself.  It doesn’t mean I don’t get discouraged or frustrated and that is where my faith comes in.  I have faith that I WILL be healed and that one day when I look back on my life that these difficult times will be a small blip on my path.  To me, that would be the perfect way to win at this game called Life.  

As I write this we are preparing for a trip to the Cape and I am excited because our travels kick-off with a Boston Marathon Survivor’s BBQ this coming weekend so I get to see my new family and spend some time healing with them. I also want to ask for your prayers while we are gone because last year’s trip was very hard for me as that is where I was triggered and was ultimately hospitalized when we returned home.  I have better tools and coping skills now but I am still leaving my safety net of therapists and my doctor.  They have all expressed love and faith in me this week that I will do well and be fine — I have faith I will be fine too but it doesn’t hurt to ask for prayers.

 

Gratitude

How do you find gratitude during difficult times? As I write this I am going on my seventh night in a row of very little sleep. My heart has been racing for just as long. I am exhausted, anxious, restless, and hopeful. Hopeful that this is the last day I will spend feeling this way and grateful for God’s promise to grant me peace.  

A few months back when I was going through a similar transition with my medication and supplements I met with my hypnotherapist.  It was a powerful session. One she had to eventually shake me out of.  Not remembering it I asked her to remind me about where my subconscious mind had just taken me.  She said that she led me to a place where I met Jesus and He told me that when I am having a hard time that He will lift me up and carry me in His arms and that when I look back on my life’s path, I will see times where my footsteps are there, and others were His footsteps are only visible.  

I know that when I look back on this past year one day I will mostly see His footsteps. What I will also see are the faces of the amazing people who have given me their love, friendship, care, faith and prayers.  

As I drove home from my therapy session that day I had a moment of revelation. I suddenly felt that God is using these difficult moments on my path to lead me closer to Him and that I should be grateful for the chance to trust in His embrace.  Immediately I was flooded with a feeling of peace and understanding. 

I hope for that peace and understanding today.

On the heels of the terrorist attack in Manchester, I think it is important to remember that God is with us in those moments of terror and trauma. That He is with us while we grieve those who were lost.  He is with us while we search for understanding and closure.  He is with those of us who are re-triggered when we hear of another senseless act.  He is with us even when we can’t see him though the darkness.  He is so faithful to us through it all — and we can jump into His arms anytime we need for Him to carry us for awhile.  

I Have Confidence In Me

My trip back to Boston was filled with tremendous blessings and something I had hoped for most; peace.  Boston is where I experienced my trauma, our Cape house was where I was triggered last summer, and it became the place where I endured the most paralyzing anxiety that led to my hospitalization. I hadn’t been back there since and so this trip wasn’t just about meeting the other survivors, it was about me going back to the place I was most uncomfortable. I wondered if it would still be my “happy” place. Would I feel the peace there that I had always had before?

In order to prepare for the trip I spent the week leading up to leaving seeing my therapist, going for acupuncture, and floating.  All of this extra work really set me up for success. Even as our red-eye approached I found myself calmly packing, moving through security, and getting through the flight. I stepped off the plane in Massachusetts proud of myself.  Once we made it to the house and I opened the door I was met with the cheerful energy that had always filled that space for me. I told Jeff that night how relived I was that I was happy there again.

On Friday morning we drove into Boston for a meeting with Dr. Crawford at the Massachusetts Resiliency Center.  The kids, Jeff and I sat with him for over an hour. This man is one of the many angels I have met on my journey towards healing. He has dedicated his life to helping survivors of terrorist attacks and understood everything I was describing to him.  As I proceeded to go through a box of tissue in his office, he comforted me with his tender words, his belief that I would pull through this, and the reassurance that I was not alone. I left there wishing I would have known about him sooner and the services the center offers. Last summer could have been so different had I found that comfort an hour drive away from me.  I know I can’t look back on my journey now with regrets and so I am grateful to have found him now. 

From there we spent some time in the city with the kids and stayed at our best friend’s apartment that night. Ironically it’s the same place Jeff and I had stayed the night before and after the bombing.  I had a difficult time sleeping that night which my therapist had prepared me for.  The city sounds and thoughts about the next morning left me hanging in between sleep and rest and yet when my alarm went off I hopped right out of bed and into the shower. 

As I walked the three blocks to the finish line, a certain song came out of nowhere and got stuck in my head.  It’s a funny song but it made total sense. I was subconsciously giving myself an internal pep talk.  Any Sound of Music fan will probably start singing it as they read this. “I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence that spring will come again, besides which you see I have confidence in me.”

Retracing the same steps I had made that day 4 years ago, all by myself, was a huge stride for me.   When I got to Marathon Sports, the site of the first bomb, I scanned the crowd to find Manya. Her warm hug is just what I needed and we stood together and watched the father and brother of Krystle Campbell, one of the victims who lost her life that day, hang a beautiful wreath of white roses in her honor – bagpipes played in the background. It was very emotional for me and soon I felt the arms and hands of other survivors around me consoling me. Without even knowing me they were extending their love and it filled me with peace and comfort. Soon we were all making our way down the steps of the Boston Public Library to the survivor’s breakfast and as we walked Manya began introducing me to amazing people who were all so happy that I was there and that I had found them.  Wow! I felt so blessed. Most conversations started with, “Tell me where you were?” and somewhere in the middle I would start crying and they would hug me and offer their support and reassurance.  I cried the whole morning really and they weren’t sad tears -- they were healing tears. Tears that I have needed to cry. Tears that only these wonderful survivors before me could understand. Tears that felt good to release.  I left that breakfast with a whole new family who understands me and who chooses to share in the journey I’ve been on. 

As I made my way back to the apartment I found a skip in my step and a sense of confidence that I’d lost somewhere during the past year. I felt physically lighter as years of loneliness seemed to melt away.  Soon I was met with the cheers of my family from the apartment balcony. I danced across the crosswalk as they yelled, “Go Mommy! Go Mommy!”  It felt good to have them cheering me on, just as they’ve always done, as I made this huge leap forward in my journey to find healing. 

 

Divine Timing

I feel like the past month has been full of beautifully timed blessings.  On Monday, March 27th, my husband sent me a link to an article in the Boston Globe that highlighted the stories of two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings who have struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder like me.  I was elated; not that they had PTSD but that I had found them! They existed and were sharing their story too.  I had spent months searching for them.  I quickly googled Manya Chylinski, one of the women featured in the article, and there was her website right before my eyes. I watched her video. Tears streamed down my face. She was in the bleachers that day too. I could have been standing next to her. Our stories were the same. I quickly sent her an email and mentioned I would be in Boston in the coming weeks and asked if we could meet.  To my surprise she wrote me right back and shared a number of tools for survivors that I had no clue of including the Massachusetts Resiliency Center, a support hub for survivors of the Boston Marathon attacks.  I hadn’t realized it when I emailed her the dates that I would be in Massachusetts during the anniversary of the bombing but Manya did and invited me to join her at the breakfast for survivors. I was blown away. How could I miss it? 

The next day I contacted the Resiliency Center and spoke with one of the doctors who helps run the facility. She so sweetly encouraged me to visit them when I was in town. Done! I made plans to meet with them the day before the breakfast. 

All of this excitement was taking over the beginning of our week. I felt blessed. I was genuinely excited to have made these connections and felt that a huge milestone in my healing journey was just before me.

Two days later a very important email came my way. As the result of my pro-activity reaching out to a number of websites and blogs that I read for inspiration, the one I never dreamed of hearing from was reaching back out to me! Maria Shriver’s editor Lindsay had emailed me in hopes of featuring my story on their website. I was floored! Before I could even read her email in its entirety I picked up my phone and called my husband. He started laughing in disbelief.  I could hear the pride in his voice and it touched me in a way that I can't quite describe.  

YES, was my answer!! 1000 words - no problem. I got to work straight away which is partly why you all haven’t heard from me in a while – I was busy writing for Maria.

Within one week, in a matter of days, God had blessed me with amazing opportunities to heal and share my story. The two things I have wanted the most from this horrible experience I’ve endured.  I feel like these experiences have inspired me to keep writing, to keep working towards healing, to keep championing my efforts to be a positive voice for those with mental illness, and most importantly, to keep trusting God and His plan for me.  After all, He has pretty good timing.

Maria Shriver - Powered By Inspiration - My Marathon Towards Healing  

Fighting

Have you ever fought for something? Truly and with all your might fought so hard for something, for someone, for yourself?  You would know if you have or not because the fighting takes on a life of it’s own.  You can’t hide it from your loved ones. You can’t hide it from strangers because it’s written all over your face and body language.  The worst part is you can’t hide from the reason you are fighting to begin with.

I have learned something very valuable from this fight I have taken on recently – that fighting teaches you not only what you are made of but what those around you are made of too. It highlights the people who are on your team. The one's who will climb in bed with you and tell you it is going to be okay, even if they themselves don't know if it will.

I never considered myself a fighter before my life was threatened by ptsd.  The funny thing is I was taught at a very formative age not to fight.  My freshman year of high school a very charismatic and lovable nun proclaimed during our first week of physical education class that, “Xavier girls don’t fight, they run.” We all laughed then but it was a mantra that was en-grained in us for the remainder of our high school days.  I wouldn’t say it was a bad thing either because there is plenty of drama to be had when you are in an all-girls school. Perhaps that mantra served me well many years later when I ran in the aftermath of the two bombs, or maybe it was just the sheer terror I witnessed.  Either way this funny little lesson that Sister taught me so many years ago inspires me again today – as I fight.

I have decided I am not running anymore. I won’t sit back and let the actions of other’s have power over me. I won’t let fear in my house as a welcomed guest. I will not say yes to things that don’t serve the best interest of my family, myself or our health. These are non-negotiables.

I choose to wear my ptsd proudly on my sleeve like a badge because it has given me strength I never knew I had.  

I will say yes to those who loyally stood by my side and fought for me when I couldn’t. I will say yes gratefully to God’s faithfulness and love. I will take on this fight and be a voice for others like me who survived something terrible and are trying to grow despite the pain.  This is my new reality and it feels good and comfy like a worn in pair of black yoga pants… a closet staple for any 30-ish mom like myself.

This Xavier girl is a fighter.

 

Hard Work

I am sorry I have been absent for a couple of weeks. I have been working hard on healing and learning.

A few weeks ago there was a festival in our town. I have been going to it since I was a kid and I have always had fun, hopped on a ride or two, bumped into friends, and indulged in the fair food. This year was different. Out of nowhere, while watching my kids ride the caterpillar roller-coaster; I felt my arms start to go numb, felt faint and the sudden race of my pulse, and soon realized I was beginning to have a panic attack.  My vision tunneled and every loud noise, bright color, and crowd around me became amplified in a horrifying way. The worst part was I had left the house without my anxiety arsenal (huge fail) and we had just arrived there.  My kids were having fun, my husband was enjoying himself too, and there I was dying inside and searching for a way out.

I was able to get through the next two hours using coping tools from EMDR. Identifying sounds, picking a color and finding as many things as I could that color, holding ice cubes in my hands until they melted, and praying – not for me, but for each person that was passed me.

This panic attack, though not as serious as my others, took several days to recover from. My anxiety was crippling the rest of that day, I was up multiple times through the night, and I had to chaperon ballet rehearsals and didn’t want to break breakfast plans with my best friend who was in town for a few hours – so life had to go on. I had to navigate through it. All of that junk under the surface that no one around me can see. A silent illness that makes me feel nuts on the inside as I put on my lipstick and try and move forward.

My husband was traveling this week so I was on my own to manage the kids and their activities and my therapy schedule. I floated, had EMDR, went to hypnotherapy, worked, packed lunches, shuttled kids between baseball and ballet; all while fighting through my PTSD wave.  It takes an incredible amount of energy and faith for me to get through days when I feel this way.

Finally, I felt a break-through during a moment when I found myself alone in my car.  It was sent straight from heaven.  I found myself wondering if all of this; the bombing, last year’s hospitalization, my on-going battle with PTSD, is all God’s way of bringing me closer to Him. I felt myself thanking God for giving this all to me because I now truly know that He is by my side every moment, guiding me with His love.

It might seem crazy to the average person that I be thankful for all of these struggles but I think if it leads me closer to God or inspires me to help others, then my life will be full of purpose and grace.  As I continue my hard work to recover and heal, I know that God is right beside me and carrying me when I need Him to.

 

Trying Something New

After a couple of weeks of unending insomnia and anxiety I’ve decided to try some new things.  I recognized after a week had passed that this wasn’t just one of my PTSD waves.  After a visit with my Naturopath it seems that my liver and spleen have been taxed with my stress hormones and were not processing them properly which was making me feel awful. So now I am sporting some lovely acupressure ear buds, detoxing when I can, and I’m back in therapy.

I have a new therapist. I like her. I have nothing against her at all. I am just frustrated with the process of having to get to know someone again, trust someone new with my feelings, and resume my EMDR process.  I had been making great progress and feeling like I was “good to go” when my previous therapist informed me she was leaving the practice and wouldn’t be seeing client’s anymore in her new role.  I tested the waters of life on my own for a bit but it seems my brain isn’t there yet.  All of this work, everything I do to stay balanced and well, is wearing on me.  I told my husband a few weeks ago that I am so ready to be able to go out again and not have to consider 101 things before I walk into my destination.  Will it be too loud? Do I have enough of my anxiety arsenal items to get me through it? Will I be home in time to take my medication? If I am not home in time, what will my next few days feel like? Will I sleep okay? You get the idea…it’s a rabbit hole I go down each time a social event gets placed on our calendar.  I am missing some of the “old” me.

I say “some” because I don’t miss all of her and that’s for sure.  I was a mess! Constant debilitating anxiety, depression, insomnia, trying to cope with unhealthy tools, my skin was wrecked, my issues affected relationships I might never get back and miss, I was tired all the time, I had forgotten my faith, and most importantly, I was too sick to use my real gifts. Having realized all of that now, I still want to be able to enjoy an adult beverage again with a girlfriend or spend time in social settings with people I love and feel safe.  And of course, I miss my Skinnygirl margaritas!!

So, as I add some new modalities to my line-up; like acupuncture, dry-brushing, new supplements, and the aforementioned new therapist, I am asking you for prayers.  Prayers for peace and guidance from God.  I believe in His plan now more than ever and trust that He will be faithful to me as I navigate this hiccup in my healing process. 

 

“I love the person I’ve become, because I fought to become her.”

-Kaci Diane

Smiling Through The Pain

Since this space went live for the world to see I have had many people reach out to me with incredible stories about the traumas they have suffered and how it has affected them.  Without giving energy to all the bad symptoms that accompany PTSD; the common thread I found between my experience and theirs is the strength we each found in those moments to save our own lives.

I want to tell you a true story about an incredible man I met in the hospital.  His name is Manny. He was the kind of man who would hand out everyone’s meal trays, refill our drinks, push a fellow patient’s wheelchair; he was a man focused on serving others. Even in this awful place he had found a way to look out for everyone around him. He had been in the hospital for over a month and everyone kind of looked to this man as the leader of our psych ward pack and we were an interesting crew let me tell you.  My second morning there I sat down to eat breakfast and as I began crying into my oatmeal he came over and sat across from me. He asked me why I was there in that sort of way you see play out in the movies about prison. Anyway, I shared my trauma and that I had been recently re-triggered.  He listened and comforted me the best he could.  Me, being the curious empathetic person I am, I turned the question back on him. Why was he here?

He began to tell me the most unbearable story. I am going to share it with you here. Unselfishly and so that those of you reading might take a moment to remember this man and his family in your prayers tonight. 

Manny had paid coyotes $15,000 to bring his wife, teenage son, 2 year old daughter, and father-in-law over from Mexico. It was all the money he had and he had worked for months to save it. When he went down to the Rio Grande (this happened along the Texas/Mexico border) to collect his loved ones the coyotes began demanding more money from him. Unable to pay them he stood along the banks of the river and watched as those men shot and killed his precious family and threw their bodies into the water. Naturally, as any of us would, Manny ended up needing extreme psych help and that’s why he was sitting before me.

As Manny told me his story I couldn’t believe he had made it.  He was still alive and sharing his pain with me. I don’t know if I could be so brave.  He was smiling remembering them. He had lost his life before his eyes and he was consoling me! 

This incredible story reminds me all the time that the pain could be worse. That I could be Manny. 

The day he left the hospital; he left with nothing but the clothes on his back. He was moving into a half-way house till he could get back on his feet and he left happy for his new chance at life. 

We all have a story. We all have pain. We all have a choice to keep living with these demons hanging over us or we can choose to be like Manny and keep our chin up, walk with our head held high, and smile. 

Thank you Manny for changing my outlook that day, for helping me count my blessings, and for inspiring me to keep living for my family.

My Personal Anxiety Arsenal

I was so focused on getting out of town last week that I missed sharing my personal anxiety remedies with you. Here is my follow-up on last week’s post and tools I use on a daily basis to combat my anxiety and ultimately to help me move through my life better.

First, I start every day with meditation and prayer.

Insight Timer is the best meditation app.  I have tried them all and I keep going back to this one so I said goodbye to several others.  There are meditations from practitioners from all over the world, meditations for every ailment under the sun (including one’s for kids that I use daily with my treasures), and meditations for even the busiest of people. If you only have five minutes to give yourself then Insight Timer can help you. If you have an hour or anything in between, Insight Timer can help you.  I have had people tell me that they don’t feel meditation is their “thing” before and I can’t imagine how getting comfy, popping some ear buds in, and focusing on your breath wouldn’t be your thing.  These are guided meditations that help you redirect your focus and train of thought. It’s very simple!  You can meditate with me and look through the sessions I use most by searching for Still Blooming Me. Don’t be shy and send me a friend request! This is a snapshot of my profile.

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You Version Bible is a new app for me that a dear friend recommended.  What I love most about this app are the guided devotional plans you can use.  I just finished a seven day plan about overcoming anxiety and each devotional was spot on with what I needed to hear that day and gave me scripture to apply to my journey too.  If you have been following me then you know that I read Jesus Calling each day as well. It’s funny because last week I noticed that in both resources the same words were being spoken to me and that was to call on Jesus when I need his help and just say “Help me Jesus” out loud.  I believe that whatever faith you come from, God is not far away and hears your call. Invite Him on this journey with you. You will be relieved by the peace you will find in His presence.

As I move through my day I use other remedies. Some require you see a Naturopath and Psychiatrist so I won’t mention those tools by name. What I will say is that anxiety is created and perpetuated by an imbalance in your neurotransmitters. My personal naturopath is working on a piece that will explain this further in a blog that is coming up.  In the meantime, I can suggest a supplement I lean on quite a bit. L-Theanine tablets help get me through sleepless nights and anxious moments.  I have taken many different forms of it but I like these the best.

 

Part of my anxiety is really fueled by my sleep patterns and so I have noticed that I really need to quiet myself down at night and this includes some rituals I have developed over the past six months as I have learned what helps me and what doesn’t.  So here is my sleep prep routine; I eat an earlier dinner because I notice when I eat too late that my digestion keeps me up longer, I take my supplements and medication by 7pm, I drink Bedtime tea, I read a book instead of looking at my phone because the blue light our phones and televisions emit disrupt our circadian rhythms, and remember that Insight Timer app I mentioned up above?  I love to snooze away to the Yoga Nidra for Sleep meditation.

I hope some of these tools help you get to feeling better soon! I’d love to hear what you have in your own anxiety arsenal! Comment below or contact me.

 

Be Gentle With Yourself

This week I want to focus on some coping mechanisms I use that have brought me tremendous healing since August and tools I use on a day-to day basis depending on how I am feeling.  The reason why I felt compelled to write about this is because last week I was approached by two dear friends who are struggling with anxiety in their daily lives. Each described their fears, whether it is driving on a busy highway, sitting in a movie theater, enjoying a kid’s soccer game, or just social anxiety in general.  The common thread for me between the conversations was compelling.  These are two healthy women who have wonderful lives, people who love them and support them, and who have nothing to be afraid of; yet they are living in fear. 

What I have learned in my healing process is that anxiety is created when there is an imbalance with our neurotransmitters, which is something we can correct over time with the proper guidance and doctor.  It can be perpetuated by the things we consume, whether dietary or environmental. And furthermore, anxiety exists in our lives because we give it energy and permission to do so through our actions and inaction.  Now that I know this it’s easier for me to get through my anxious times but if you don’t have these tools, anxiety can cripple you to the point where you can’t find hope in anything.

I think the greatest piece of advice that I have received from each of my therapists and doctors has been to be gentle with myself.  Whether I was trying to find the cure to my sleepless nights, appetite loss, anxiety, or depression – I was to be gentle with myself.  This isn’t an easy thing to do and I had to make some difficult decisions in order to claim some peace.

Over the past 6 months, my focus shifted to the things I could control in my world and less about what was happening outside of that and slowly my mindset changed. For example, the world news was responsible for my trigger in July. So I don’t watch the news anymore and haven’t since, I don’t scroll the Facebook news feed, and I don’t watch violent shows or movies that could re-trigger me. Wow did this bring me peace! During a time in our history when the world has been so chaotic, I have been focused 100% on what happens within the walls of my own home.

Being gentle with myself has included eliminating alcohol, caffeine, most social media, and toxic relationships; and on the flip-side it has included doing more of the things I love like sewing with my aunts, taking baths, really playing with my treasures, focusing on the health of the relationships that matter to me, praying and meditating, and building this positive resource for others.  Staying grounded has become my priority, not my social calendar.

I am not advising you make all of these changes overnight but I am encouraging you to examine what changes you can make that will create a small impact on your life right now. How can you honor yourself better? How can you show yourself true love? How can you be gentler with yourself?

Below is a link to a guide my therapist shared with me that includes some great tools for coping with anxiety.  I hope you find it useful and share it with your loved ones who need it today.

Self Help Tips for Coping with Anxiety