As you know from reading my last post, things have been great. I've had minimal anxiety, a beautiful trip to Italy full of peace, and have felt like I have a grasp on my "new normal". There are still moments or hours or days that are difficult but mostly, it's been really good. Then, I had a marathon related event to attend. I found myself shaking (for those who don't know, my anxiety since the bombing has come out with my leg shaking sometimes uncontrollably and barely happens anymore). Not only were we speaking about some triggering topics, but I also found myself hearing others talk about how much they are struggling, even now, 18.5 months later. It hit me that I've been feeling good again, finally out of the very deep hole i'd been in, but others were either still feeling it or just now starting to feel it. It made me feel so sad for my marathon community and for basically anyone else who has suffered trauma of any kind. I could relate to everything anyone said about their feelings and all I wanted to do was help.
I left feeling sort of deflated and hoping I could find a way to help people. A few days later, I was packing for a trip to Disney with my family (where I am now) and I checked Facebook on my phone. I saw that there had been a shooting in the neighborhood I'm from. I had been back living in Charlestown for 15 years and just moved in June. All I could find for information was that two boys had been shot on Main St, a street I used to walk down to get home, passing the exact spot and the same group of kids, many of whom were familiar to or related to me, some who had been there that night. I never felt unsafe walking home, no matter what time of day or night. It was familiar and it felt secure. But, then again, so did Boylston St.
I immediately felt anxious and sad, even before I knew what injuries there were, who was involved, or anything else. The fact that in a little over 18 months, not just one but two places that I felt safe had now been marred by violent acts and that people were hurt, was enough to bring a lot of the feelings I had before rushing back. I barely slept and got more info when I got a ride to the airport from a family member. I was informed of who the kids were, one of which I know better, Ryan; a kind, respectful, smart, and just all around amazing teen. He was the one critically injured. I felt sort of in shock by the news and just went along my way to get on my flight and wait for more information later. I found myself having moments of intense sadness along the way. I thought about Ryan. I thought about Jamie who was also shot but not critically. I thought about all of the poor kids and adults who witnessed this awful situation, as I know all too well how they feel and will feel as time goes on. I thought about my community, the people I love, who are all affected in some way. I thought about my little cousin who is Ryan's nephew and how he will process this.
Part of me felt I should be home, not in Florida. However, I also think the universe meant for me to be away at this time. If I was triggered by it from a distance, being in the midst of it would certainly not be helpful for me or anyone else. My thoughts have been frequently with Ryan and his family and with Jamie but also with the rest of the people there. I hope to offer my assistance when I get back. I watch angry social media posts and it makes me sad. I know it's natural for people to turn to anger, but that doesn't help anything and it can make it harder for those trying to heal. Love helps. Compassion helps. Togetherness helps. I'm hoping as a community, this is what is focused on as the immediate anger eases.
So, i'm here in Disney with some family. The last few days here can give you an indication of long term effects that can and most likely will happen after a violent traumatic event and then i'll go into some advice for those of you close to anyone directly affected.
The first night, we had a dinner reservation. I went along and realized quickly that the restaurant was an irish pub-like place that is very loud, busy, and has live entertainment often. As many people know, noise and crowds are not easy for me anymore, though usually I can adjust. We sat down and irish step dancers were up on the stages. It was so loud and we were in the middle of the restaurant, so basically in the midst of the crowd. I crossed my legs which would generally stop my right leg from shaking these days (that is how my anxiety appears physically). This time, it didn't work. It started shaking so bad, that both shook. I felt my chest tighten and tried taking deep breathes, reminding myself of where I was. Nothing was working, so I had to go outside for air and the walk it off. I came back in and it continued for the rest of dinner and nothing I tried stopped it, including trying to stay distracted with conversation. Once we left, I felt okay, but frustrated that I couldn't even sit through a dinner easily.
For the last few days since i've been here, I have been hit with waves of emotion for what is happening back home and it bringing me back to last year, but I've let it come and then managed to push it away and focus on being here. Today, I started my day watching a 5k. We missed the fireworks that started the race, so that was good. As I stood at the barricades, my leg started shaking a bit but not bad. The crowd was small and all in all, it was not bad. After, we went to the theme park just to ride one roller coaster while it was still early and short lines. On the way out, we hit a crowd. Everyone was coming in while we were trying to go out. I had to make my sister walk ahead of me as I felt my chest tighten and we were out fairly quickly. Later, we went to Hollywood Studios theme park. We went on a couple of rides and were having fun. Then, we decided to go see a stunt show. I had been to Disney many many times and this was one of my favorite shows. I didn't even think of what specifically was involved. I remembered stunt driving which I love and was looking forward to it. My sister's boyfriend mentioned "what if there are explosions in this show, will you be okay?" I said I thought it would be find. I think this was wishful thinking. I said I'd put my headphones in once that stuff started and it would be okay.
I sat down and as it started, I took some video of the cars doing their thing. I didn't remember the gun shot sounds or explosions during the beginning parts and thought that stuff would come later. SO, I didn't have my headphones in and as shots went off, I jumped a little and immediately blocked my ears as an explosion went off. My aunt looked at me and said, "well, we didn't think this through." and asked if I was okay. I said I'd be fine because, well, I wanted to be. I wanted to sit there with my family and watch this show I'd always like watching. My leg started shaking pretty badly and I kept trying to push on it with my hand which sometimes makes it stop. It didn't work and the tightness in my chest increased. I tried my headphones, but the explosions were too loud. I eventually had to get up and leave. As I walked out, I was frustrated. I know it's a process and it will take time, but to be on a trip with my family and have two incidents in just 2.5 days that caused such bad anxiety and messed up my being able to really enjoy it just sucks. It reminds me that I've come so far and yet this thing, this awful day is still with me and will always be in some way. As I walked around, I thought about the boys again. The boys who were hurt Wednesday and the others there that night. They're young and they are all going to go through these feelings. I was overcome with some emotion and then decided I would offer to help when I return. Even if it's just speaking to them to let them know I'm here if they need to talk.
When everyone came out, my, let's call her my surrogate aunt, asked how I was and I said okay but told her it sucked because I love that show. As I said it, I felt tears fill my eyes. She reminded me that it's still fresh and that it will take time, but i'll be back there again. Her husband came over and put his arm around me and those simple gestures of support pulled me back to the right frame of mind. This is still and will be a process and it's okay.
As I sit here now, I think about how I was an adult when I witnessed the bombings. I had learned over the years how to cope and had been through a lot of smaller traumas. And yet, I was still so deeply affected by this awful act of violence. So, of course, I thought of all of the young people there Wednesday night. If I had such a hard time, how are they and how will they be? I know the answer. I can feel the answer. We come from a great community full of love and support. I'm hoping that helps and that the negativity, vengeance, and anger does not overshadow it because those kids need the exact opposite of that.
Those who have been reading this blog all along have heard some of this, but for those who haven't, here are some important things to know. You can't "fix it". Parents, friends, family, it doesn't matter who you are to the injured or the witnesses. You will want to fix them, to take away their pain, to make them "better". You can't. They will heal, they will learn to cope, but it is a process, a long process. They will react to things in ways you don't even understand. It may be a loud noise, it may be the sight of blood, it may even be a person that looks like the shooter to them. BE PATIENT. Give them love, let them know you're there. There will be times you almost want to shake it out of them. That is what a friend wanted to do to me. She is one of my biggest supports and an amazing friend, but there were times she just was at a loss of what to do. Take everything you have in those moments to take a breathe, step back and remember what they're going through. I'm always happy to talk to anyone who wants to have an understanding of what this process is, how to help, how to push forward. The most important things to remember are patience, love, compassion, and support.
As I prepare to head off and watch my sister and a few friends finish a half marathon, i'm quite honestly a little nervous. It will be a large crowd, at night, in a race setting. After the last few days, I'm just done with anxiety for now and hoping it doesn't come tonight.
Those of you reading who were not already doing so, please send prayers to Ryan and his family. Send prayers to Jamie and his family and also to the other people there that night as well as the Charlestown community as they try to push forward and heal from this senseless act of violence.
Hug the ones you love a little tighter, not just now but going forward and tell the people you care about that you love them as often as you can.