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.