Posttraumatic Growth

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Life is really good. I am so grateful. I feel so blessed. I am so happy to be here and be healthy.

Three years ago today I started my healing journey by asking for help. I was at the bottom of the deepest darkest pit and I could barely see a sliver a light shining down on me and I took that as my sign to walk through the doors of a hospital and express the turmoil I was in. It wasn’t easy. It was ugly, uncomfortable, scary, traumatizing, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life but I am here to tell you it was the best thing I ever did for myself. I learned more about myself from that week in the hospital than I had learned in my 34 years at the time.

It was a crash course in all things mental illness for me. I learned about medication, side effects, advocating for myself, and balance. I learned that trauma is the root cause of most mental challenges. I learned that no doctor has all the answers. That medicine isn’t a perfect cure-all. That every body is different and requires different individualized care. I was reminded of my faith. I learned to fight for myself.

It was clear that I lacked the tools I needed to cope and so I began working hard to sort it all out the best I could and I wished that I had made the effort sooner. That sentiment might resonate with some of you because you are here and reading this. You may be searching for answers and hoping to find help. I am happy to be part of your journey to find healing and I hope you have found my space here to be safe,  helpful, and honest.

On that note…I have a new resource to share with you. It’s an article and PTSD self-test by Safe Harbor House. You can take the screening which is based on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s the standard reference used by healthcare providers to diagnose mental health and behavioral conditions. The article also offers information about signs, symptoms, risk factors, treatment, and self-care. It’s a very thorough resource and I was glad to have found it. Please share it with anyone who you feel might be suffering from PTSD!

Three years ago, I could have used this resource myself. Now I am just blessed to be able to share it with all of you.

 

6 Whole Years

6 whole years since the bombing. It feels like a lifetime ago and yet it’s not very hard to find myself back at the finish line in my mind. The sounds and what my eyes took in are still so clear like no time has passed at all. The confusion and shock linger too. I sometimes wonder how something I know to be true can still feel so unbelievable.

2,190 days have gone by. Some felt ordinary while others have dragged on, filled with mental challenges. And I was one of the lucky ones so I can’t imagine what some of my fellow survivors might be feeling today as we all work to move forward the best we can.

April 15, 2013 was the day my life, and the lives of so many others changed. Some gone forever. Others physically changed. The rest of us, mentally altered just enough that our lives too would never be the same. In many ways that day feels like a line in the sand. I know for me I think about my life now in two parts – before the bombing and after. The Elena I was before feels so far away from the Elena I am today. She feels like a distant memory. Once in a while I find a picture of myself before the bombing and I feel like I am looking at a stranger and that’s hard for me but then I realize that my hopeful, positive, and patient demeanor hasn’t changed and I think those characteristics have given me the strength to live and grow through this season in my life. I thank God for giving me those gifts so long ago. I believe it was in His plan to make me that way knowing what I would one day endure. He is so good.  As I look toward my future, I feel confident in my plan to continue sharing my story and healing journey with others. I know it has helped others.

This week I received an email from the mother of another Boston Marathon bombing survivor who is now deep in his struggle with PTSD. He needs resources, support, and to know he is not alone. I called on my survivor friends and together they recommended many specialists in his area that he can now call on as he hopefully chooses to heal. This is a gift! This is why I write here and it’s why I speak out and share my story. This is my calling and I won’t stop. Survivors of mass shootings and acts of terrorism from years ago are taking their lives every day and they don’t have to. I will work in their memory each day to share my message of hope for healing. Their pain and mine should have meaning and I believe it can inspire other victims to move forward with their lives if they choose to embrace the journey.

So today, 6 years later, I choose to move forward and carry the many lessons this experience has taught me. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to see my life through PTSD’s lens and to use that vision to help where I can.

 

Be the hand of a hopeful stranger

A little scared but your strong enough

Be the light in the dark of this danger

‘Til the sun comes up

A Safe Place To Land – Sara Bareillles

Anxiety Is Information

Anxiety Is Information

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

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

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

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

I am ready to learn.

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

More Than Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Ways to Grow

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

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

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

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

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

Growing. Blooming. Healing. Changing.

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

Surviving the Holidays with PTSD

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

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

#1. Say No.

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

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

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

#3. Take a time out

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

#4. Continue taking medications and supplements

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

#5. Speak up for yourself.

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

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

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

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

Grateful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Count your blessings every day — Amen!

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

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

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

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