I had the opportunity today to attend a presentation with two guest speakers who have PTSD. One is a military vet and the other a Marathon bombing survivor.

Believe it or not, I have never encountered another survivor before; outside of my unique group of friends from High School whom I have remained good friends with for 30 years. It was always really strange that out of this group of 7 or 8 women, I experienced it, one of my friends was running in it, another friend was working the event at the finish line, another works at one of the hospitals handling the ER trauma event portion of it and the last one someone who actually works counter terrorism. Then there was my sister in law who was running in it, her parents who were there from Nova Scotia and my sister. So there definitely is this immediate little world we all live in together that ties us together and feels unique.

That said, I have never met anyone else with a story like any of ours. I have never heard any stories of victims/survivors other than the ones where people died or were physically injured. The media never featured anyone with PTSD. It always felt very “only one” for me.

The day after, I went right back to work. I remember thinking I probably had a good reason to stay home that day but I had interviews scheduled and it would be hard for my peers to rearrange their days to pick up my slack. I never call out sick. Plus, I can’t lie so I didn’t know what I would say to my boss as the reason for calling out because I didn’t feel it was acceptable to say I was sick because I wasn’t. I have always looked back at that decision and thought process as one I regret.

I remember being so angry at work because it was all anyone would talk about. Everyone had to share their “where I was at that moment” story when none of them were there. It was a bunch of “I thought about going to the Marathon yesterday but didn’t.” Or, “my sister’s hairdresser was in Boston yesterday.” Lots of, “I was near there,” which when further probed into usually boiled down to at least 20 blocks away and completely unaware anything had even happened.

Many of those people knew I had been there but they talked about their stories like I wasn’t even in the room. It was so tone deaf. It wasn’t like I felt like I could speak up and share my details. I didn’t want to be a “one upper” in conversations which were clearly leaning towards a competition amongst them as to whose story topped the other. My story had me dead center in the middle of both bombs with the smell of burning hair on my clothes. This was not a competition I wanted to win. I was seething on the inside every day; absolutely incredulous at what they were subjecting me to- allowing their egos to be more important than my feelings as though these days weren’t any different from any others. I found myself every night that first week, stopping at bars on my way home from work to watch the news on the hunt for the remaining bomber. Strangers were more comforting than anyone I knew.

Having such vivid memories today of that week, I actually stepped away from the computer for 2 hours this afternoon to decompress; the choice I didn’t make back then and should have. Honestly, I think another reason I went to work that day was I didn’t think it was good to be alone. Being with people at work seemed like it would be helpful to me but I wound up feeling more alone there than anyplace else in the world. Funny, 8 years later I realize I am only healthy working remotely. Today, I made a different choice. I decided to indulge in an outside shower and then laid on the hammock in the sun to dry off.

What has been happening since I went to the hammock is surreal. Fortunately, my therapy appointment got rescheduled from yesterday to today because I basically went on a 45 stream of consciousness rant on all the memories which started coming up for me today. You’d be surprised at what they are because they aren’t all from the bombing.

My therapist was actually able to provide me with a scientific explanation of what was happening with my brain. She said it’s kind of like something got pricked at the bottom of the ocean, and while a small puncture, oil began seeping out and rising to the surface where it started to spread in a way there was no one place to contain it. She explained the brain actually works that way. I had a little puncture to the part of my brain which processes trauma and it’s not like the brain knows exactly which trauma to focus on. It just kind of opens the lid and a bunch of traumatic moments, which have been stored in there for a lifetime, just ooze it without any sense or structure as to which ones get loose.

Here’s a list of stuff that came out:

In high school, I remember laying on my bedroom floor crying in pain. My parents didn’t do anything about it. First, they thought I was exaggerating just to get out of going to school. Also, they had recently discovered I had been having sex with my high school boyfriend and this was probably just some consequence of that and that I deserved it. After an entire day like that, my mother finally caved and took me to the ER. Turns out I had an ovarian cyst. Nothing to do with teenage sex and insanely painful.

A number of other random injuries and illnesses over the years where I had suffered for hours and even days at a time before my parents would take me to the hospital because, again, I was just faking it or being dramatic. Once we did go to the hospital, there wasn’t one time I didn’t have a legit, diagnosable issue which required immediate treatment.

The time we were playing hide and seek outside and I was hiding behind a bush when my dog ran through the bush at full speed and hit my knee with her skull. She had dislocated my kneecap and I had to wear a brace for 6 weeks after that. To this day my mother actually likes to tell the story about how she never would have believed me if she didn’t happen to be pulling into the driveway at that very moment and see it happen herself. In that statement, she basically admits to never believing anything I said and alludes to the fact I would have been ignored and left in pain for several hours until I could finally wear them down to take me to the hospital.

My knees always hurt as a kid. Supposedly, it had something to do with me being lazy and not playing sports, probably from being overweight as well. First, I wasn’t believed about this pain but as if they needed “insurance,” the stipulation was added that if I really was in pain, it was somehow my fault. It wasn’t until I had the dog-knee injury that I was able to tell a doctor about this constant pain. Wouldn’t you know, I had a defect in both of my knees that I had been born with? The doctor performed surgeries on both knees by the time I was 16.

In my senior year of college, I became extremely exhausted, like beyond normal for a kid that age. I couldn’t get out of bed, I was skipping and failing all my classes. When I told my parents something was wrong, they first attributed it to just partying and being irresponsible. Then, they remembered how I didn’t want to go to college in the first place and all the fighting over that. They decided that me telling them I might need to drop out of school was my way of getting back at them for making me go in the first place.

They wouldn’t let me drop out but when they found out a student could take a medical leave, they took me to see a doctor. That was their compromise. Probably figured I wouldn’t be able to get a doctor to provide the school with the necessary documentation. Backfired. I was severely anemic. So much so, I was immediately referred to an Oncologist for Leukemia testing and a bone marrow biopsy. I was also having severe GI issues and had to get a colonoscopy at age 20, an endoscopy as well. So many procedures and tests were done and we never really got an official diagnosis. The GI doctor felt like there was probably IBS which my mother found acceptable because she had it at my age from extreme stress in her life. Obviously, I didn’t get a cancer diagnosis so we just moved on. I left school and then went to work full time. When I think back on that time now, I am pretty sure it was actually a major depressive breakdown and because I couldn’t tell my parents about feelings, my body started destroying itself to get attention. My therapist said the same thing tonight. As I was describing it, she immediately identified it as depression.

My assault trial. My parents asked me not to press charges because of how difficult a court case would be. I did it anyway. Heading towards the trial, I often felt the sense I was being followed and watched. I was. The criminal had hired a PI to see if they could get dirt on me. A few years after all that, I was having a drink in a bar with my cousin who asked me how I felt about my father having PTSD and seeking VA treatment. That was the first I had heard of it. Aside from my mother,I was THE most impacted member of my family by my father’ problems. Like, severely. Instead of telling me, he told his sister and her kid who assumed I knew. When I told my cousin I hadn’t known that, she asked if I knew about the time my rapist’s parents called my parents to get them to influence me to drop the charges. Nope. That was also kept secret from me. Not to mention, there was always an element of bad blood between me and my cousin as we were only a year apart in age. We had a complicated relationship over the years and my father knew damn well that her having that kind of knowledge before me would be a massive betrayal.

During the trial, my father and my friend, Nicole, went to the courthouse with me every day. At first, I think he was going so he could hear the story to try and determine if I was telling the truth or not. I certainly don’t think he expected to hear me attacked as mentally incompetent and a person capable of fabricating stories simply because I had a medical file with evidence of past therapy and was a writer in college. Actually, interesting irony happening here. Anyway, I don’t remember what my father said to me one afternoon but I do specifically remember Nicole speaking up to my father to correct him on his perceptions of me. Something along the lines of “not sure what your issue with your daughter is but I know her as the bravest, most selfless person I have ever met. She is doing this to protect future victims and because of the guilt she felt about the victims which came after her. You need to stop treating her the way you do and have some respect for how strong she is.”

I receive victim’s compensation assistance from the state of MA. I don’t tell people that because I am ashamed of it. Someone with my job, my salary, my benefits, my privilege and station in life shouldn’t need extra money when there are so many people less fortunate than me. I am deeply, deeply ashamed of this. Additionally, if people know what the money went towards, they would judge me as further privileged. I needed the money for therapy co-payments, monthly massage, acupuncture, yoga classes and chiropractor appointments. That makes me sound like a suburban soccer mom. Thing is, that’s all the shit that helps me manage the physical and mental effects of living with PTSD and I live hand to mouth because I am on a single person’s income. Sure, I have a house, car, amenities just like all of you have. But I’m not splitting the cost with anyone. I haven’t even been able to find money from my paycheck to put in a savings account until we went into quarantine last year and I wasn’t spending money on gas or the car. So yeah, I need the assistance.

Do you remember what I did before I figured out all these techniques to better manage my PTSD? I went to the bar every night, binge drank and then drove home. I got arrested for DUI, lost my license and continued going to the bars by calling cabs when I couldn’t drive for 8 months. I got so drunk one time, after the DUI, I fell and hit my head on the toilet when I was trying to stick my fingers down my throat and purge my dinner out. I knocked myself unconscious and woke up in the hospital with a bunch of staples in my head. What’s worse? That or monthly massage?

When I don’t appear approachable at work because someone interrupts me unexpectedly, I am branded and not considered for a promotion. I am discussed as someone with negative behaviors. It has impacted my job prospects multiple times over several years. Those “negative behaviors” are because someone tripped a PTSD trigger at work and I was considerate enough to never tell them because I didn’t want anyone to know I had it and I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I am just as capable as everyone else, sometimes more. I just have to approach things differently from others. I’m not a bad person. I have a bad problem.

I don’t know what personal hurdles other people experience in their lives so by no means am I assuming I have it harder than anyone else. But I did ask my therapist tonight why it always feels like I have to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro every day just to be believed and validated. I asked her if I was being naive and that everyone experiences this. She simply said “no, most other people don’t experience that.” So I asked her why me. Not out of self pity. I told her the myriad of things I am grateful for. I am strong enough to handle these things when many others are not. All the times friends tried to tell me to get over the bombing or that there should be a timeline on talking about it or an end date to the PTSD, I had the good sense not to buy into that because my dad has had PTSD for 50 years. I’m not an idiot. I know there is no timeline for this and I know you never get over it. You can only learn to integrate it and manage it which both he and I are doing at the same time.

She went back to the oil spill. She pointed out all these examples I listed earlier. She told me I was traumatized as a child, over and over again. That my parents had some very strange beliefs and hang ups, probably from their own parents, which made them think it was ok to let their child be in pain for hours and days at a time while blaming that child for the issue or believing she was lying. I understand that which is why I am not sharing these examples to shit on my parents. I understand and empathize everything they did good and bad. I have long moved past the age where it’s ok to feel sorry for yourself and blame your parents for all your problems. There does come a time when you need to realize what you are in control of and to focus on the future, while allowing yourself to accept their imperfections are true of your past and you learn to forgive and love them for who they are now. They are my best friends now.

Regardless, my brain has stored away all these traumatic experiences I never think about and it just keeps them all together in one box. Going back to the marathon today through the eyes and voice of someone else opened the box. Perhaps it had something to do with the common threads of our stories. Intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, assuming you are only experiencing a problem because you have always had mental health issues like depression….this is just a defect because of that. You weren’t “injured.” Your friends tell you things like “you just need to choose to be happy.” Or “this is the 3rd year you have talked about it, at some point you just need to move on and stop thinking about it so much.” Or, the people making their own comments on my social media about how I need to realize other people have problems too. No shit. I went through 2 rape trials for other people, not myself.

I kind of assume it goes without saying that if I am sharing a feeling or frustration of my own, everyone knows there is an asterisk in front of it stating that I am aware we all have problems and don’t think myself a “winner” of suffering over anyone else. In fact, anyone who truly knows me knows that I don’t do competition with other people. I loathe it. You can look back over just about every experience in my life and not find any examples of me trying to compete against anyone else. The one time a woman decided to compete with me over a guy, I was utterly destroyed and still think about it over 20 years later. I conceded very quickly on that front. The fact he kept coming back wasn’t due to any of my own machinations or manipulations. That was all her game.

The only competition I indulge in is that against myself….to see if I can overcome and succeed against myself just a little better than the day before. It’s downright hateful, insulting and patronizing to ever try to tell me I don’t know what others are going through or that I haven’t considered other people have problems. I have been in therapy my entire life because I empathize with people who hurt me. I actually try to imagine how bad their circumstances are in order for them to behave the way they have to hurt me. Do you know what that does to a person? To not only have to process my own shit but also understand why someone else did it to me and process their shit too? Jesus H. Christ. Who do you think I am? You don’t think about me at all. That’s the problem.

My therapist praised me for taking “time off” this afternoon and that it’s good this flow of weird stuff is coming out of my brain. My old approach would have been to just work through it, stuff it down and then allow it to unleash somewhere later, usually a work trigger that someone could salivate over in order to give me a brand so they don’t have to consider me for anything. She said this will probably continue for a few more days. Random memories that seem disparate from one another….like going from remembering a bombing straight to an ovarian cyst.

The trauma experience is very similar. The way I processed and was processed by others after the bombing is making me remember all the times I was dismissed and in pain as a child. I look at all my friends with kids right now. I can’t imagine a one of you telling your kid to wait it out if they tell you they have been injured or are in significant pain. You will take them to the doctor simply because you suspect something they haven’t even mentioned. Think about the last bone break or illness requiring a prescription that your kid experienced. How long did it take you to respond? Then, imagine you didn’t.

I have a lot more of that in my brain than I am consciously aware of. I think it’s kind of the filter in which I profess life. It’s easy to point to the bombing because everyone saw that happen on tv so people can somewhat understand why a person wouldn’t be totally right after something like that. Plus, that’s a real thing for me no one denies. But it also attaches itself to a lot of other moments where I had similar feelings and they don’t process themselves one item at a time as I call them up. I never really understood this until today. This is a very strange experience right now….like little traumas just popping up in random clouds above my head every few minutes while at the same time being scientifically aware of what my brain is doing. Kind of reminds me of my second knee surgery when I woke up in the middle of the surgery. I was still wacko out of it and I couldn’t feel pain but I could feel pressure and the sensation of the little scissors next to my knee. I remember seeing a video screen showing the inside of my knee and then they knocked me out again.