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Boston Resident Faces Fears, Hope as 2014 Marathon Approaches

Lynn Julian, of Back Bay, was at the finish line last year when the bombs went off.

Credit: Lynn Julian
Credit: Lynn Julian

The 2014 Boston Marathon has nearly arrived, and one Boston resident will be participating as she looks to heal her own scars from last year's tragic bombings. 

Lynn Julian, a Back Bay resident, is a seasoned actress and singer, and eight years ago was seriously injured while on stage, having to rely on a wheelchair to get around. Her road to recovery was long and as part of it, she was in and out of wheelchairs. She now works with the U.S. Pain Foundation, doing advocacy outreach.

Last year, she had been with friends at the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the first of the two bombs went off. When the second went off, panic set in and she suffered a sound concussion and a herniated disc, causing pain in her sciatic nerve in her lower back and right leg. The tragedy at the marathon also triggered a bout with agoraphobia.

She then became involved with the One Fund, through which she had the opportunity to take part in this year’s upcoming marathon. She will be participating in this year's race to benefit the U.S. Pain Foundation. To donate to Julian’s efforts, visit the “Be Boston Strong For U.S. Pain Foundation” fundraising page.

Patch recently spoke with Julian about her recovery after last year's marathon and what it has been like for her to return.

Patch: What was your experience like at the Boston Marathon last year?

Lynn Julian: I found myself a few dozen feet from the first bomb...and a sound louder than I've ever heard. Smoke rose above 5 story city buildings in seconds and then started to barrel down the sidewalk at us like a tsunami wave. The metal chairs and tables of the sidewalk cafe where I stood were thrown aside by patrons. I grabbed my 6lb dog, squishing it against my chest like a straightjacket, and ran into the Charlesmark Hotel. I screamed at people in the doorway to "walk walk walk, move move move," like a drill sergeant, but they stood frozen with fear, and numbed with alcohol, blocking my way into the safety of the bar. By the time I convinced people to move, others were pushing against me from behind, and I, like my dog, was being squished between customers, and stepped on repeatedly. Once I finally reached the back of the back room, I cried with relief that I had survived. Then, I began to beg and plead, desperately trying to convince bar patrons to go out the back door emergency exit. So many were tempted to go back outside...to look for belongings and take pictures of what they felt they missed seeing in person. I think I won the battle with most of them, getting them down the back stairs to the safely of Newbury street. I do feel guilty that I did not go back out to Boylston Street myself, to help more people. My hands were both still occupied with forcing my terrified dog against my chest. So, I convinced myself the street was full of police officers, EMTs and volunteers, and that I would just be in the way. I don't know if that's true, so I hope I did enough to help who I could, when I could, how I could.

P: What was recovery for you like, both mentally and physically after the Marathon, and what did you do to get back on your feet?

LJ: I spent the day after the marathon attack at the Massachusetts General Hospital Emergency Room, hoping to get my back injury, anxiety, massive headache, ringing in my ears and so much more treated. I left 7.5 hours later, extremely frustrated and disappointed. I understand now that the staff there was doing what they could, likely having worked through some of the roughest days of their careers. But, my wounds were both physical and emotional, and I felt like that wasn’t completely acknowledged. That is often what happens to pain patients—We’re told that our symptoms are “in our head”.  That stigma is something I’m trying to help change by raising awareness of those living with the silent disease that is chronic pain. I was eventually diagnosed with the following injuries: brain injury; herniated L5 disc in my low back, which presses painfully on the sciatic nerve running the length of my right leg; permanent hearing loss in my right ear; chronic tinnitus and severe PTSD.

This is an entry I wrote in my journal that week:

"My Boston neighborhood, ‘Back Bay,’ was now being referred to as a ‘crime scene.’  Most of it is barricaded off and filled with stated and federal police, along with men completely covered in white hazmat suits. I was told where I was Monday is now ‘Ground Zero.’ This is all so surreal...I am still in shock. It’s going to be a long time before I sleep soundly again."

My boyfriend, Doug, walked me outside, a little bit every day, for the first month after the marathon, to help face and fight my fears. At first we just went down the block, in the opposite direction of the attack, to CVS. Then, we visited the memorial on the far end of Boylston St. for several days in a row. Next, we went to Copley Square, which is what I consider my "backyard." Finally, we walked to the Charlesmark Hotel, near where I was standing on the sidewalk during the explosion. The blood drained from my face, and I almost fainted. We took a few days off from that area, and walked in the local parks instead. Then, last Sat. we walked past the Charlesmark a second time, Doug distracting me the whole way, and then all the way to Forum, the site of the second explosion. I DID IT…and I didn’t throw up or pass out, although I felt like doing both.  

(NOTE: I'd already had several anxiety treatments in the previous weeks, and was taught coping skills to deal with this type of "exposure therapy." I am doing daily meditation, with positive affirmations, to continue to build my confidence and inner strength to face these places again.)

P: What drove you to decide to participate in the marathon this year, and what are your thoughts on returning after last year's events?

LJ: It is my daily struggle that inspired me to race/walk the Boston Marathon, in the "Mobility Impaired" division, to raise money for the U.S. Pain Foundation. I still have several, weekly medical appointments, but, by enduring additional chronic pain, as I train daily for the first run of my life, I hope to inspire others who live in pain as well. My message is one of HOPE. Hope is free, easy to share, and you should never let anyone take that away from you. I fought my way out of that wheelchair, and I'm going to fight my way across that finish line too.  If I can do it, so can you. Never give up HOPE!   

P: Will you be walking with a group this year or are you walking alone?

LJ: I am part of a support group of 2013 Boston Marathon Survivors, which meets at Spaulding Rehab Hospital. The BAA generously offered all "survivors" running bibs in the 2014 Boston Marathon. About 20 members of our support group have decided to run the marathon, for the first time in our lives, because surviving last year's terrorist attack gave it personal meaning. Our team is called "4.15 STRONG," and we've been training every day since the beginning of December. The team uniform is a neon yellow shirt that proudly proclaims "SURVIVOR" on the back, so we'll remember we are "Boston Strong."  

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