The other obsessive thing I do is eat Altoids. I know, weird, right? My sister noticed it last Spring. I had been eating like 3-4 at a time and going through tins of them. It became almost like a nervous habit. Once I realized it more, I would get something different like gum so I wouldn't do that anymore. I realized I've been doing it again. It's even become a joke with a few people in my marathon group- sometimes you just need to laugh about it all, the good, bad, and ugly. "Nicole, do you need some altoids?"
I'm back to having a lot of sensitivity to noise. If there is a loud noise, I cringe or get tighter in my chest it doesn't even have to be that loud. It happens at the coffee shop with a blender or espresso machine, it happens if there is a large group of people that get louder, it happens even if music is too loud. It's not every time with music. That depends on where i'm at in the moment. But, the rest has become pretty consistent now.
I had a good distraction yesterday. After waking at 5, per usual, I was writing but then had started reading articles on survivors and it made me upset. A friend called to go visit another friend in the hospital and I agreed. We grabbed coffee and headed over, chatting along the way. I found I felt okay talking about marathon stuff with her. She was one of the first people I saw when I got back to Charlestown (though I don't really remember if I even spoke to her at that point, just that she was there) and one of the people I talked to that week as I struggled to figure out what was happening. I think there's some comfort in that when talking to her. Our hospital visit was good and we had some laughs. We went back to my uncle's house after. As we got in the car in the MGH garage, there were a bunch of sirens. I know that's normal for a hospital,but I could feel it immediately in my chest. I couldn't see them and that is always hard for me. It is a little better for some reason if I can see them and where they are heading. I got in the car and my leg started shaking. It hadn't been shaking until that point. I also noticed something else this week. When the Globe reporter asked if it was always my right leg, I said that yes, if only one was shaking it was ALWAYS my right. I have no idea why, but I guess it's weird.
We visited with family, went to lunch and then I went home to shower and get ready for my evening. I had a few friends who are survivors running the One Run for Boston and I was determined to go in and watch them finish. I figured it wouldn't be a large scale race so it should be okay. A friend who works on Boylston had sent me a message about how when he noticed the fencing had gone up along the scaffolding, that hit him for some reason. I think as it looks more and more like Marathon Monday, it will be more triggering. It was also reassuring in a way, that someone who works there every day is having just as much trouble being there no matter how much they are there, back in the spot where our lives changed.
I got on the train and sat down. My leg started shaking. I realized four stops in that I wasn't paying attention to where we were and that I should or I may miss my stop. A woman sat next to me, when before, I had open seats on either side. My leg shook harder and the left started a bit, so I stood up, which eased it a bit. As I walked toward Copley, I felt the "surreal" and sort of numb feeling inside of me and felt like I had a golf ball in my throat. I waited for friends and we went to grab a snack. I was feeling a little anxious but also numb at the same time. On our way back down toward the finish line from Copley Square, we heard yelling. My heart rate started to speed up and as we came to Dartmouth St, there was a cop who had a man on the ground yelling at him. I just wanted to get away so I sped up and kept walking. I didn't care what was happening. I needed to get away. That was made worse by cops running toward the commotion and then, sirens.
Sirens. I hear sirens again even when there aren't sirens. When they are really there, I have to look right at them and they make me nervous. It had comet o a point that I got used to them again and it was okay. I still paid attention and I would rather look at them. If there were more, it would cause a little anxiety sometimes, but not bad. That has gradually changed this month. Now, I hate them. It's like the noise go right through my body. I cringe, I feel it inside of me, my chest tightens.
We walked to Marathon Sports and I realized standing there, that it was too much and I needed to get to a more open area. I felt trapped there. We found more friends near Exeter and I felt more anxious as I saw the large screen set up on the street that I used to watch and now, all I remember is walking down Exeter and seeing it last year. I took some deep breathes. I stood waiting for the runners, my leg shaking. Carlos and Melida were there and she gave me a big, long hug, asking if i'm okay and telling me they were all there with me. It helped a bit. Carlos grabbed my hand and asked how I was and looked me right in the eye telling me it would be okay. Another friend rubbed my back a few times, another gave a hug. These people are beautiful. I met yet another person I hadn't met yet who was struggling begin there as well and decided to leave.
I stayed. I had my camera, my leg shook to a point where it hurt, I had a bad headache that had come on pretty sudden. But, I stayed. Inside, I felt more numb than anything. I think that's why I was able to stay. Sirens went by and I blocked my ears every time and it made my leg shake harder until they stopped. When the runners came in, the crowd started cheering and that was the same as sirens, the sound seemed way too loud. I didn't block my ears though because I wanted to take pictures. I just kept snapping. After, everyone followed the runners to walk past the finish line to the rally in the park. I started going, but then felt completely overwhelmed by the large crowd and the feeling that I would not be able to get out easily if I kept going. I took another route and walked back around along the sidewalk. I felt exhausted. Numb and exhausted. I didn't go into the rally because I was just sort of done at that point. I sat on the library steps, leg shaking. I was waiting for my friends to see what we'd do next. I heard the crowd and felt it in my chest, a small flutter and tightness but again, still sort of numb and like it was all happening but I wasn't completely there, that surreal feeling again.
Then, I noticed a truck had pulled up and they were pulling out barricades. As I looked to my left, I realized they were completely barricading off the sidewalk to the library along Boylston St. Then, I looked to the right and they had completely blocked off the right side and all the way along Copley Square. It looked like the only way out was the street between the library and Copley along Boylston and I wondered if that was being blocked to. I had a slight panic and walked really fast to get myself out of there. I had this feeling that I was going to be trapped there. I know I wouldn't be trapped, even if I had to climb over a barricade, but I don't want to climb over a barricade ever again. I met up with my friends after and they hugged me. We decided to go to the after party and walked there, but I just felt drained. Once there, they had way more people than expected and after feeling really bothered by sirens going by, I decided it would be better for me if I just went home. Hugs and talk of seeing everyone later today at a support group and I was off for home, feeling better once I got out of the city.
Music sometimes calms me while other times I want no noise because it's too much with all going on in my head. There are two songs that calm me, both of which helped me last year. They are both actually songs we used for my cousin Matt when videos were done to show his amazing progress. One is the Rascal Flatts, "I won't let go" and the other is "Carry On" by Fun. When I would hear those songs before, it was like words I wanted to say to Matt about begin there for him. I think now, it's like I'm saying the words to myself, telling myself I'll keep going.
It's just one more day to the anniversary. I will be at a tribute, a reception, with survivors, first responders, and city, state and national officials, and then an after party. When I think of it, I find comfort in it. I feel the most comfortable and supported when i'm surrounded by others who "get it". I will also think of my family and friends because I know this day will be hard for them too as well as anyone who felt the weight of that day in any way. I've had messages from people i've met along the way and even just recently, from Adrianne and others who will be there Tuesday just asking if i'll be there and looking forward to being all together. It will make the day better, remembering all together and spending the day helping, hugging, and forming new memories with each other. It is sure to be very emotional and draining, but we'll get through it with each other.
Last thing. I woke up early this morning to an email from a complete stranger (yes, another one).
Here is the beginning of it:
I just read an article about people who suffered trauma as bystanders in the Boston Marathon tragedy. The article included an interview with you (assuming you are the right Nicole O'neil -- if not, please forgive this random email! :-)
Thanks for reading!