(It is helpful to read the posts before this.)
I’ve been very torn about sharing my personal story. I went back and forth between wanting to keep letting everyone think all was just fine once the dust settled from the marathon bombing and wanting to share the truth. I realized I couldn't pretend anymore. Not for myself, and not for those who were also there and are silently struggling. It’s not healthy and it’s not me. I’m an open book and i'm honest. Brutally honest. And so, I’m laying it all out there. The past five months have been difficult, but i'm still here, living and pushing forward. I have a much better understanding of the mental struggle that people go through after a traumatic experience. As I have met others who were there that day and I found and started attending a support group recently, I realized that there are so many people feeling the same way. Almost none of the people I’ve met or know who were there that day feel completely like themselves yet. Almost all of them still struggle daily in some way, whether it’s nightmares, grief, or anxiety triggered by sirens, crowds, noise, public transportation, etc. I realize I’m not alone even though for 5 months, I’ve felt more alone at times than I ever have. And, again, I have an amazing support community from friends to family to acquaintances, but they do not all understand what happened that day. I believed, just like many I've met, that it would go away quickly. That the fact that I was alive and not physically hurt made the experience less significant. I was wrong.
Unfortunately, the "mental injuries" from any traumatic event are not focused on. I have always realized, but now even more so, how crucial it is to provide support to our troops and citizens, both children and adults, who have experienced ANY trauma. Someone I spoke to the other day put it well. He said, "I was in Vietnam, but I didn't see anyone killed or watch anyone's limb's blown off. I was a firefighter for many years after that and I saw a lot. So, I understand what you experienced must be difficult. I can't even imagine how difficult it is to see people hurt like that and have been there to experience and witness what you did." He got it. But, in general, I don't think most people do. I think we live in a society where it's just easier to ignore it than to try and understand it. Physical injuries are right there in front of you, so it's easier to understand that there is pain and difficulty.
The common thought among people who I have spoken to (witnesses to the bombing, family members of physically injured, and injured themselves-both amputee and as "small" as hearing loss), is that there is a lot of attention to physical injuries from April 15 and barely any attention to the mental/emotional side. Those physically injured deserve everything they are given from money to support. There is no debating that. They need continuing care and should have whatever will help them. However, there needs to be more attention to the other side of it. Those people, no matter how strong they are, have an will have a difficult time, not only physically. Combine the amputees, families of those lost, the other 250+ injured, and the hundreds of people who were witnesses or first responders, but not physically hurt, and you have a very large number of people mentally affected that day. And then, there's that "Boston Strong" thing...
Boston Strong. It seemed like a great thing. People were motivated by it, they posted, shared, wore it everywhere. But, what about the people who were actually there? That is a LOT of pressure to put on those who witnessed, survived, or lost loved ones in the events that day. They (we) are now the people who are expected to be "Boston Strong". Everyone else who watched it on TV or heard about it may have an easy time staying "Boston Strong". And, yes, I agree that it affected everyone, whether you were there, watched it on TV, or just love this city. However, It is a lot easier to remain strong if you aren't struggling with awful images, sounds, smells, and feelings from the war zone that was Boylston Street that day. It's hard for the injured and those who lost loved ones because they can't stay strong 24/7, nor should they. They deserve to break down, get emotional, or just simply have a bad day. And so does everyone else directly affected. Those images, smells, feelings, sounds are inside of us. I see flashbacks of the parts I remember. I sometimes hear something that puts me right back in that spot across from Lord and Taylor. I am strong. I have always been strong. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. But, this experience has tested my strength like nothing ever has before. I pushed myself and have remained strong through it all, but sometimes I need to cry. Sometimes I need to take some time for myself and forget everyone and everything else. All I can think about sometimes is the fact that there are so many people out there feeling the same or worse than me. I was very lucky. I was just far enough to not see the absolute worst of it. I saw people injured, I saw blood splattered, I heard things, I smelled things, but I was not physically injured. And so, I think about how if I have trouble being strong and okay at times, how much worse it must be for others. How much worse it is for those who are thrown into media attention constantly (this is a good AND bad thing). How much worse is it for those who helped tend to the injured? How much worse is it for the children there that day who are so much more vulnerable? How much worse is it for someone who was just a witness like me but isn't as strong or doesn't deal with things in a determined and forward way that I do?
I am going to be sharing other's stories here. I believe it is a good start to showing there is a large population of people affected that day that you've never heard of. A population of good people, successful people. They are soccer moms, business owners, first responders, students, nurses, office workers, and many others. They are people who are trying to get their life back, trying to get back to who they were before that day. And they need help. They need services and support from friends, family, and most importantly, the community. I encourage you to reach out to people you know who were near the finish line that day. Just be open and let them know you may not understand what they're going through, but you support them. Let them know that they can find support (they can email me here and I can send along any information I have) and that it's okay. Let them know it's okay to be having difficulty because it was a tragic event that they witnessed and reassure them that with support, they can and will move past it. Most importantly, just let them know you care.
Thanks for reading. You will get to hear from others and not just me soon! :)