It was my rallying cry. If a victim needs something, help them. Sort out the forms and receipts and paperwork later. If you’re alive and have a roof, you sit in a place of privilege. It’s your duty as a human to help those who have lost everything. Help people first. It became a mantra which would drive my reactions during any times of crisis.
On April 15, 2013, I found myself blocks away from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, there to support and cheer on students running the marathon.
The hours that followed were traumatizing as I attempted to get away from Boylston St. and back to my home. Phone lines were jammed. My phone’s battery was dying. I tweeted and Facebooked my status, trying to remain calm. We didn’t know what would happen next, and the panic was real. That night, I stayed away from TV, the footage of the attack mixing with images ingrained in my brain.
But I put on a brave face because that’s what I was supposed to do. “People come first,” I said over and over. I was there for other people. I was there for students, staff and friends impacted by this disaster. I threw myself into volunteer projects and work because people came first.
I blogged about it and was called brave.
I tore up an #sachat about supporting others in a time of crisis and was called a hero.
I was interviewed by dozens of newspapers and TV stations about the #BostonStrong phenomena.
But what I never did was think about myself. I wouldn’t admit that I wasn’t okay. And I wasn’t okay.
I know what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is, but I never thought I’d be impacted by it. PTSD creeps into you in weird ways:
- The first time you walk by the Boston Public Library on Boylston St., and it takes all you have not to vomit on the sidewalk.
- Go on a family vacation to a historic fort. A cannon goes off every hour. You freak the hell out every hour on the hour.
- The moment you see a friend on the one year anniversary day and you start sobbing as you embrace in a hug.
Many of us in Student Affairs view ourselves as helpers and healers. We serve others before we serve ourselves. But in times of crisis, we have to serve ourselves. We have to help and heal our own hearts and souls before we can be good to others.
In the days following the marathon, I threw myself into work as a way to avoid the situation at hand. It wasn’t healthy or sustainable. I needed to take the time to heal myself. I needed to talk to a professional about my struggles. I know that now. People will always come first for me but now I understand I’m a person, too.
To read more about “Committed,” a series focusing on sharing stories and continuing the conversation about Mental Health in Student Affairs, check out this post. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #SAcommits. Thanks for reading and supporting your colleagues!