As many people know, April was difficult from beginning to end last year. Weeks before those bombs went off, I sat almost every day in MGH with my cousin. This last Saturday was one year since she was taken back to MGH from Spaulding. Tomorrow will be a year since she was put into another coma. I am thankful every day that she finally made it out of that hospital last Spring, and though she isn't the same person who went in, it is certainly a lot better than it was a year ago. With the exception of two evenings last April (a concert with friends and my cousin Matt's fundraiser that we had at Fenway), I can't remember much real happiness, a little frustrating because I know I must have had many happy moments. Even with visiting the hospital daily, I know I was still me. It was hard, but it didn't bring me down. I kept my thoughts hopeful and positive, though I know I did lose that faith a few times here and there. I still enjoyed time with friends and family. I was dating someone and having fun. But, I can't really remember any of it. I just realized recently as I tried to reflect on all of last April, that there are missing parts not just from April 15 forward, but from the beginning of April.
I was writing to try and piece it all together but have taken a break from that since it caused frustration and the events of last week wiped me out. After the rough couple of days described in my last post, I managed to get myself ready and out to an event I felt I needed to attend, if only because I was fortunate to get an invite. I'm glad I did. The Semper Fi Fund had a dinner for marathon survivors. They came to Boston just to give this beautiful evening of fun and support. As always, I believe everything happens for a reason. By the end of Thursday night, I do feel I was supposed to be at the event. I still have not worked out the "reasons" behind all that happened in my life last April from family illness to personal things that happened, to the bombings, but I have to continuing having faith that they will become clear over time.
I saw a woman I haven't seen in about 9 months. Her daughter and son in-law both were severely injured April 15. She had been living in the Marriot in Charlestown for months, away from her home in CA. We had met for dinner one night and just talked for hours about everything. The struggle, the hopes that over time, it would be easier, everything. She was a beautiful person and it would be until this last April before I met her daughter, another beautiful woman inside and out. Her mother gave me a big hug, told me she had just thought of me that day as she was driving through Charlestown. It was nice and comforting.
I also connected with another mother and sister. I have been around this family in particular (I don't like to give names because I like to keep people's privacy) many times. However, at an event in the Fall, I had a negative experience. I was sort of "snubbed" by someone severely injured and it happened to be when I was at the beginning of an anxiety attack. It made me uncomfortable and has sat with me since, sort of a symbol of divide between myself and those physically injured (that "divide" has happily been dissipating over the months as I've met some amazing people). Well, it turns out that there was a misunderstanding. This person had actually thought I was someone else and disliked that person so much, they didn't even fully look at me and that is why I was "snubbed". The mother and sister told me how the family felt bad after and hoped to see me again to explain. It was like a weight that had been sitting in a piece of my chest had been lifted. We had a great chat about many things and I now have a whole new, positive experience to replace that last one.
The night was great. It was at the Boston College Club on Federal Street, 36 floors up with a panoramic view of the city. Of course, I did NOT have my camera which was a huge bummer. We mingled and socialized and had many laughs and nice moments. It's so much easier to be in a room with people who understand. I find my body is at ease after the initial anxious start. It makes sense that we're less likely to have anxiety attacks in a room like that as opposed to, oh, you know, Jury Duty. I was more at ease than I had been in two days.
The night ended being introduced and chatting with a vet who was one of the people running the event. He is an amputee and it will be ten years this Fall since he was injured while serving. Someone who knew all that had happened Wednesday and Thursday wanted me to speak with him, telling him I'd been having a difficult time. It was so great to talk to him. To someone who had been through this, but not someone who is in the midst of it. He had me tell him what was going on, he asked me questions about support, which I found myself saying, "I don't have a lot of it".
Now, I can say, yes, there are a lot of people who, if I really asked, would be supportive. However, I know most people are too weirded out or afraid to have me talk about all of this. Others are too close to me to handle it emotionally themselves. And then there are people who are absolutely not supportive and want me to "suck it up", which is why I don't talk about it as much and why I don't reach out and ask for help. I was a "suck it up" person before. Things didn't really get to me. Anyone who spent any real time with me before last April knows that's true. This is different. You can't be a witness to a terrorist attack and see the things I saw and suck it up. And I honestly believe anyone who feels they sucked it up and moved on, will be hit with it at some point. I do believe all of the anxiety, emotion, etc surrounding this will lessen over time, but as much as everyone else feels it was forever ago, it is still very fresh, especially with the anniversary approaching.
Sometimes I still feel guilty about still being so affected by that day, but then I go to an event with my "marathon family" or speak to a vet or first responder who understands, has gone through or is going through it. I realize just how much we are all feeling the same way, no matter what injury (or no physical injury), no matter how strong or happy people seem, the underlying effects are still there and increasing as the anniversary approaches. It's reassuring and comforting. I continued chatting with the man mentioned above. He reassured me that it was all normal, that even those trained for war are affected, so of course, those of us standing on the sidewalk on a happy, uplifting day, never having been "prepared" for war zone and finding ourselves in exactly that, would of course be deeply affected by it. A friend who is an army ranger even said recently in an interview that he applied more tourniquets at the finish line than in the many times he was deployed and saw battle.
To end the night, I was given his phone number to call if I ever needed "to bitch" and "vent" to someone who understands and would just listen, giving advice only if asked. He said he knows people are probably giving me advice all of the time, wanting to help, but that it's not what we need. We need people to just listen. We know people who haven't been through it won't understand. We don't expect them to. Instead, we want people willing to listen and be there. To know I have another option of someone to reach out to is so helpful, even if I never use it.
I spent the next day visiting a sick friend and then, just staying home, sort of obsessing over the fire and marathon information (obsessing over the news has started again and I'm trying to stop myself). I stopped myself after a while and focused on work. I'm not sleeping again, waking at 5am no matter what time I go to sleep or how many times I wake up. So, Saturday I woke up exhausted. The stress of that week along with no sleep was really hitting me. I was also really sad. I watched some coverage of the two lost firefighters, such great men, but had to stop because I was crying too much and wanted to stop. I napped, I let myself feel it all. And then, I got out of the house. I am trying to find that balance between letting myself feel all that comes but not letting myself "stay there". The rest of the day was fine and then another night of no sleep. Sunday was a long and exhausting day of cleaning (what else do you do when you wake at 5am on a Sunday?), spending time with family, and ending with a birthday dinner for my sister.
Yesterday, was my first day back to Boylston Street in a while, at least in the exact block where I stood last year. I realized I've been avoiding it and have to bring myself back regularly to prepare for the anniversary day and the marathon, should I decide to go. I met a new friend, a member of my "marathon family" for coffee right at Starbucks next to Forum. As I walked down the street, I felt the weight in my chest, but mostly had the numb feeling I get instead of the anxiety and emotion. I was happy for the numbness. As I approached and looked toward where I had been standing, it all seems so close. I still put it farther away in my head when I think of it, but when I see it, it always hits me. We had a nice chat for a couple of hours, talking about the similar things we find ourselves experiencing and coping skills. We laughed and reflected. It was a nice way to go back there. I find when i'm inside, it's easier than being out on the sidewalk. I will try to go a few more times this week, especially with the nice weather.
My birthday this week and I've been very torn on what to do. I want to do fun things to replace bad memories but again, I'm not good at asking for things. It took me until yesterday to even reach out to one group of friends to ask if they are available for lunch or dinner sometime from Th-Sun and still have others to contact. It feels so weird to ask people to come celebrate my birthday with me and to want to explain just why it is so important to me this year. I'm sick of talking about it. I am torn every day between wanting people to be fully aware of what is going on, for myself and others, but sick of saying it. So, if you read this and we have mutual friends or connections, anyone who may see me out and about, it would actually be helpful and fine with me to tell them things are difficult again. I don't know if I'm going to have an anxiety attack in public. I don't know if I'm going to feel really sad one day. I don't want to stay in my house but some days it's so much harder to have a conversation or smile, I don't want people to feel "offended" by it. I'd rather them know. If anything, I'm still the girl who tells the truth, good, bad and ugly.
I am still very frustrated with the "everyone is strong and moving on" statements. It's not that it's not a true statement. Every person I've met on this journey is strong and stronger because of all we've dealt with. Everyone is doing what they can to move on daily. But, people are still having trouble with it. It isn't just "going away" and "better" because it's been a year. If anything, it's now worse again. The anxiety, the emotion. It was nice to actually read an article that was about moving on and strength, but also made a great statement from organizers of the tribute and marathon:
"While "Boston Strong" has been the city's defiant rallying cry for a year,
commemorations must also acknowledge how injuries and wounds – physical and
mental – haven't fully healed, organizers say".
Now, to do some work and enjoy the fact that the sun is FINALLY out, taking it day by day, hour by hour.
Thanks for reading!