I have been very difficult to deal with lately, more so than usual. I went through a nasty depression from November through February but came out of it in March. I started to feel pretty optimistic that I was going to even out and get back to my normal self. I think I got about 3 days. Since then, I got jet packed into crippling anxiety.

I feel like I’m constantly explaining my behavior in relation to one of my mental illnesses. I’m not making excuses. I’m just providing explanations. That said, my emotions are literally on the tip of a bullet of a constantly cocked trigger.

While anyone would break under the stress I am under right now, I did have the realization yesterday as to what time of year it is. I’m coming up on that anniversary. 9 years ago 4/15. While the memories don’t pervade my every day, the anxiety has never abated. I carry it with me like a 6th tattoo. When the dog barks unexpectedly it trips a wire. By business partner witnessed it yesterday. When I am listening to a work conversation laced with the stripping of layer by layer of control until we get to a machine, the wire gets tripped. I had a panic attack so bad while in a meeting last week, I didn’t speak in a meeting which was noticeable to several people. Turns out, I’m a bit of a beacon for more than just myself.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting where a business partner messaged me to say I looked troubled and that he couldn’t see a spark in my eyes anymore. At first, I thought it was because I forgot to line my eyebrows. That distracts me all day on Zoom when I forget. But seriously, how can people actually see it? My mom taught me to be meticulous with outward appearance so that no one would ever be able to know what’s on the inside. For 2 years working remote, I still get dressed for work every and do my makeup. I don’t have to and many people gave that stuff up long ago. Not me. Everybody needs me to look unruffled. I need me to look unruffled.

Today was just another in a bad string of bad days but it dropped me deeper than anything else at work ever has. Twice this week, my integrity has been questioned. That’s something I can’t process or tolerate. For all my flaws and shortcomings, my integrity is who I am and everyone gives me that. No one ever questions that. It’s just kind of a known thing that goes without saying. Other stuff yes and fair. Integrity, no one crosses that boundary with me because I have proven that if nothing else, I have all of it when it comes to integrity. I have never slacked at work, ever. Not even when in the depths of depression. I don’t even take a day off because of depression. I fight through it and I carry 12 hour work days while I do. I would never leave a “soldier” on the field. Never. I’m the person who would die trying to save someone else. That is not an exaggeration.

Only recently have I begun to find a way to explain how I operate….especially in crisis when all your faculties shut down and you’ve got nothing but adrenaline keeping you alive. You can’t think, you run in autopilot. Let me illustrate my autopilot for you.4/15/2013, standing in a bar window, location tattooed around my ankle so I never forget, I was watching the marathon runners go by, crowds of family and friends on the sidewalk cheering them on. I was waiting by the finish line for my sister in law because I ran out of time to meet my sister 5 blocks down. I was going to celebrate Niki at the finish line of her first Marathon and then go with her to meet up with my sister.

I was drinking a Blue Moon when I heard a loud sound to my left. My brain absolutely registered it to be a bomb but my body didn’t catch up right away because there is a bit of disbelief your mind runs through to gaslight yourself out of convincing yourself you heard what you heard. After all, when in your life have you heard a bomb go off and why would you? Standing there frozen, I heard a second one to my right. Next thing I remember is the hand of a stranger reaching out and pulling at my arm, leading me out the back of the bar.

From there, we all started piling out into a back alley and spilling onto Newbury Street, melding into layers and layers of added crowds spilling out of other side streets and alleyways. At first, we walked somewhat briskly, I think all a little stunned and frozen in our lives 5 minutes before they changed forever. Then the pace picked up into a trot, hundreds of people trotting and jogging away, not towards anything just away.

I had just survived 2 bombs going off on either side of me. Literally on either side of me. People in front of me on the sidewalk were bleeding out, losing limbs and even dying. I could smell burning hair, burning flesh, blood. Those scents permeated my clothes for days after that.

I wasn’t running for my life. I wasn’t even thinking about myself at all. My brain and body weren’t even a part of me at that moment. I was trying to find my 5 months, pregnant sister. I called my parents to tell them I was trying to find her and then the phone cut off. A stranger reached out and put her arm around me. I stood still amidst a crowd of people running around me and just looked around. I didn’t know where to begin to find my sister. Finding her and keeping her safe was my one and only thought. It was a moment which defined my life and my attachment to her. I have never been able to explain to anyone how it broke me to not know where she was. It’s a bond and a terror I have never felt before or since then.

Even after we reunited and then found Niki, we walked like 10 miles outside the city with Niki’s parents. None of us could get our cars out of the parking garages as they were all blocked off. Pretty sure I spent that whole walk running down the list of the other people I cared about. I had a friend and her mother working the finish line. Were they still alive? My friend Kim was running and was only about a block away from where Niki got stopped. Did Kim get stopped in time? Was she still alive? Another friend worked at Brigham and Women’s. Was she helping with the trauma victims? What was she seeing? Was she seeing what I had? What about my friend who worked counter terrorism? Was she on the street on the case right away? Were there other bombs? Oh yeah, and what about my company’s branch that was on the corner near where one bomb went off? Wasn’t my friend’s husband working there that day? I’d need to call them as soon as I got my cell service back up.

What about my dad? He’s a war Vet with PTSD? I had literally only been able to connect with him long enough to tell him I couldn’t find Melissa and that I loved him (which I have never said to him, by the way) and then the phone cut out before he could respond. What was he going through in that moment? He had 2 out of 3 of his kids, plus his daughter in law in this mess. Did he think we were going to die? How did he tell my mother about that phone call? What horrible memories was he reliving in those moments? What did this do to him? What did my phone call do to him? If it was anything like the internal death I was feeling about being separated from my sister….well, it’s hard to breathe even just thinking about it now. It’s a feeling I hope no one ever has to experience. Don’t even get me started on the bomb she dropped this past Thanksgiving about moving her family out of the country. It took me a couple months to even say that out loud to myself because it has devastated me. In fact, my meltdown in a meeting at work a few weeks ago was because due to someone not listening, we were about to revisit an entirely resolved issue and make me miss dinner with my sister….when I don’t know how many of those I have left.

When we got back to my sister’s house that day, I had to wait several hours for the T and the garages to open back up before I could get my car. Once the cell service came back up in Boston, I just made a bunch of phone calls to check in on everyone else I knew had been there. I needed to make sure everyone else was safe. I could smell death in my hair but I just needed to check on everyone else.

Here’s where it gets really twisted. I hadn’t even planned to be at the Marathon that day. At work, we had just come through a grueling first quarter working 12-14 hours every day. Our boss told us all to pick a day in April and take a vacation day, a comp day. So I picked that day. Because he knew where I was, I made sure to call him and assure him I’d be at work the next day. Want to know the irony of it? I wouldn’t even consider taking the next day off because I was scheduled to conduct interviews. Yep. Same as what’s happening right now. If I didn’t go to work, my peers would have to scramble to cover for those interviews and I wouldn’t ever put that on them. I had a responsibility and I would follow through on that. Never mind how late I got home or that I didn’t sleep or eat. I just made sure to shower so I wouldn’t bring the smell of death in my hair to work.

The rest of that week was all about the manhunt to find the bombers. It was on tv and the news and social media nonstop. I had to sit in meetings at work listening to co-workers talk about where they were when they heard about the bombs….and I promise you none of them were anywhere near where I was. They hadn’t even been in the city. I had to,listen to nonstop stories of “my sister’s hairdresser’s boyfriend was at the Capital Grille when it happened.” “My daughter’s roommate was at Fenway watching the Red Sox.” All the way up to, “ I once went to a restaurant on that street in my 20s.” Seriously, you are all talking about this in front of me at every meeting for 4 days straight when I was fucking there….right there.

Even the day when the manhunt was zeroing in on the remaining terrorist, they were going door to door in my aunt’s neighborhood and had them all doing shelter in place. As I was walking into work that Friday morning, my always frantic aunt called me. I was waking into the building as I was trying to calm down my frantic aunt who was sitting on the floor afraid to move.

After work that night, I went to a bar by myself. The tv was on the manhunt and they found him on live tv as I was watching from my barstool surrounded by strangers. That’s when I started to cry. 4 days of thinking about my family, my friends, my co-workers, not wanting to inconvenience anyone and certainly not wanting to miss a day of work before I actually thought about myself. 4 days. And I certainly didn’t skip out on doing those interviews less than 24 hours after I survived a fucking bombing. Nope, I was likely still in shock and a shell of my former self. I should have been home, knocked out on sedatives or at my therapist’s office or in a hospital but nope, wouldn’t leave anyone in a lurch. Even when I did book an “emergency” therapy appointment, it wasn’t for another week and I made sure it was after 5 so I wouldn’t have to leave work early. How fucked up is that?

Also, in that 4 days of making sure I worked and didn’t inconvenience anyone, all I could think about were the 3 people who died, one of whom was a little boy. A little boy whose family owned a vacation home down the street from my parent’s vacation home at the time. Survivor’s guilt is another thing I don’t know how to explain to anyone. Sometimes I wish I knew more war vets so I could have something in common with people and not feel perpetually alone and misunderstood. That little boy was all I could think about in between interviews and endless meetings about other people’s “non” experiences.

When I finally started to “feel” and think about what I had just been through, I was crying in a bar, surrounded by strangers, all of whom came up and consoled me and talked to me about what I had been through. Do you know how many people at work consoled me? Zero. And they all knew I was there. I received more comfort from strangers that Friday night than I have ever received from anyone I know in what has now been 9 years. I’ve always been angry about that. I don’t ask anyone for anything, despite how much is asked of me. I shouldn’t have to ask for anything when it comes to an event like that. I’m still angry about it.

It’s not just about my work ethic or the fact I am the last person I ever think about in any situation, even the biggest crisis. It’s about the promises I made to myself and to those who died or were physically injured. I made some “deals” about my life and purpose. I made some commitments to my values and set some expectations about what would have meaning in my life and what shouldn’t. Among those things was around making sure I only did work with purpose…the purpose of serving and advocating for others while always “doing the right thing” for them, regardless of what I stood to gain or lose. I also went to Grad school and got my Masters because of that. I started traveling because of that. I also battled some very tough years using alcohol and risk to manage the survivor’s guilt. Then I overcame that.

I am sitting here today, one week out from this anniversary, quibbling about whether or not I’m doing enough interviews to be “fair.” I literally haven’t had a day off all year. I pushed all my doctor’s appointments out the last 3 months. I am putting off a hip replacement surgery and, while conducting interviews, am in incredible pain, especially the longer I have to sit. I don’t even have a few minutes in the day to find a pet sitter for my vacation, finish my visa for Rwanda or make an appointment for my yellow fever vaccine, get my license renewed, or follow up to find out when my new car will arrive. But let’s be sure I’m not doing 1 less interview than someone else. And heaven forbid I wanted to take next Friday off. Nope, already have 3 interviews booked and my compromise was that I’d take the afternoon off. Nope, staying so I can add more interviews so I can be fair.

I guess you could say I have been triggered. I am fucking mad as fuck to have my integrity and work ethic questioned. Who do these people think they are? I’m thinking about a little dead boy who should be alive and looking at colleges right now. But you’re right, being available to interview someone who doesn’t want to work somewhere without 100% remote work flexibility is the equivalent to the graves I never stop counting….but only think about when it doesn’t inconvenience someone else’s needs.

So that’s who I am. That’s the shit I’m thinking when I’m getting aggravated at work, being more direct than usual, starting my day off as a pleasant person who has turned into a grumpy, asshole by noon. That’s who I am when I see I’m getting pulled into a bad, bad plan that is 100% reactive, 0% strategic or thinking more than a week out. I have value. I have a lot of value. I made promises and I am not holding them up right now when letting myself get consumed by this madness outside of everyone’s control. A Starbucks gift card was a nice touch but I can’t leave the house long enough to use it because I have to be fair.

And don’t pull me into the “suck up” of waiting until I say what a healthy limit is and then letting everyone know how flexible you are to work outside a healthy limit….that it doesn’t bother you. Well then don’t complain about how everyone you hire keeps quitting. Keep it to yourself while I am looking at actual, real data that suggests there are about 18 different ways to proceed without killing our selves and sucking the life out of ourselves. And know that I went to work and did interviews after washing death out of my hair. Don’t question what I’m doing now if my numbers don’t add up to everyone else’s every day. What I’m doing and how I do it is the only integrity I see happening at the moment. Call me a bitch, call me an asshole, call me impatient, get annoyed with my unpredictable triggers and anxiety attacks. Just don’t ever, ever, ever question my work ethic or integrity. I have earned my stripes on those. My integrity and standards are far beyond the levels of even the best people I know.

During an emergency, when the body shuts down virtually all functions and literally directs you away from danger without you even having to think about it, my body overrides that to prioritize others above myself. You’ll have to forgive the misfiring synapses of anxiety which occur at what may appear to be unusual times to others. When those attacks happen, it’s because I have spent at least 4 days serving everyone but myself and my fight or flight is finally catching up. I don’t know a more honorable person to be in the fight with than me.