April 15, 2013, was the worst day of my life. Yet I will never forget the selfless, life-saving acts of kindness I received from my civilian heroes on that day. I am a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, and their true bravery inspires me every day to share my recovery story with others, in the hopes that I can serve as a peer to someone else who needs uplifting during their dark time.
While I sincerely hope no one reading this ever has to face what my fellow survivors of terrorism and I have gone through, everyone has experienced trauma in one way or another.
And the repercussions of trauma don’t stay outside the walls of the office. They don’t happen behind closed doors or in personal circles. The experience is pervasive and overwhelming. Ignoring that stunts healing.
The good news is that healing happens in all of those in-the-office places too. When moments of compassion fill cubicles, elevators, and hallways, the workplace can become a place where individuals dealing with something larger than themselves feel safe, included, and seen.
Here are some ways you can find hope and healing in the face of trauma, in your personal life and the workplace.
Don’t be afraid to share what you’re going through
The months following the marathon felt lonely and isolating. I had incredible support from my friends and family, but I hid a lot of my pain, fears, and PTSD episodes because I was afraid I would sound crazy to them. Then, in December of 2013, I went on a trip with about 100 other survivors. There, for the first time since the hardest day of my life, I felt like I could open up about my own fears and struggles. It was amazing.
We often try to separate our personal lives from our work, since we’ve historically been taught that being emotional at work or sharing our struggles are signs of weakness. We need to slash this stigma, because the experience of connecting with people who understand you is so profound and can be a true gateway to healing.
Create meaningful peer-to-peer connections
I believe in the power of connection so strongly that I have dedicated much of my time to form these bonds. In April 2016, I had my first opportunity to meet survivors of the 2015 Bataclan concert hall attack through a group called Life for Paris. We sat down and shared stories. There was an instant connection. I was also able to meet with the French ambassador for human rights, the head of aid to victims of terrorism, and the acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. They, in turn, started connecting me with people in Nice, as well as other groups in Paris. In 2016, I visited survivors of the Orlando Pulse nightclub attack while they were still in the hospital. I have also connected with people from the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Sandy Hook, and 9/11.
My point is that it’s important to seek out connections with your peers, especially those who understand the struggles you’ve been through. Employee resource groups are so important for this purpose, whether it’s an alliance of women and working mothers, an LGBT pride group, a group of multicultural professionals, or a support system for veterans and military spouses.
No matter what your source of struggle, shame, or loneliness is, find someone who you can relate to and talk to openly. These kinds of connections are powerful, therapeutic, and necessary.
There’s no such thing as too much compassion or empathy
From the workplace to our personal lives, compassion and empathy are invaluable. I believe the key to showing these traits is all about being aware that you never know what someone is dealing with. Most people wouldn’t know what I’ve been through and what I am still going through, just by looking at me.
Your coworker could be caring for a sick child or parent, fighting a disease, or healing from a miscarriage or a car accident. For this reason, I encourage you to listen more, ask for help when you need it, offer support when you have the opportunity to, and above all treat others with more love and compassion from now on.
Michelle L’Heureux is a senior operations key account manager at John Hancock. Following her recovery from the bombing, she went on to run the Boston and Paris marathons and lend her support to survivors of terrorism and trauma around the world.