Post-pandemic PTSD? Lessons from a marathon bombing survivor

BOSTON (AP) — Seven years in the past Wednesday, the unthinkable occurred to Bobby O’Donnell: He was nearing the end line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the place his household was gathered to cheer for him, when terrorist bombs killed three spectators and injured greater than 260 others.

His household escaped unscathed. Not O’Donnell, whose wounds had been invisible and scarred his soul.

“My damage,” he says, “was in my head.”

It took years for O’Donnell to appreciate he was affected by post-traumatic stress dysfunction. Now 26, he’s the writer of “Operating Wild,” a newly released memoir of finishing marathons or ultramarathons on all seven continents — dodging penguins on Antarctica and bounding alongside the slopes of Mount Everest — in a quest for inside therapeutic and to rediscover the enjoyment of operating.

O’Donnell, a local of Easton, Massachusetts, and a graduate of Saint Anselm Faculty in New Hampshire, was pursuing a complicated diploma in Scotland when he and his girlfriend returned to the U.S. to trip out the coronavirus disaster. An element-time paramedic, he’s been transporting COVID-19 sufferers to hospitals within the state’s Lakes area.

Dealing with the Outbreak:

He talked with The Related Press about his personal journey again to psychological well being, the significance of self-care, and the nervousness, despair and trauma some could also be fighting because the pandemic wears individuals down.


AP: So that you’re dealing with COVID-19 sufferers as a medic now?

O’Donnell: Sometimes, sure. It’s loopy not even going into somebody’s home to evaluate them. Somebody calls 911 and also you’re doing it in doorways now from 6 toes away earlier than you even go in the home.


AP: Yours is the story of somebody who suffered PTSD and invisible wounds from the phobia assault in 2013, and the way you had been capable of overcome that. However now fast-forward to 2020, and it appears like lots of people probably could possibly be struggling.

O’Donnell: Telling individuals to remain inside and fully disrupting their every day lives … psychological well being goes to be an enormous ripple impact that comes out of this. Emergency rooms are going to battle to take care of psychiatric points, as a result of we’re telling individuals to not go to the hospital. Individuals who usually would exit to hunt assist are actually afraid to enter this setting. It’s an essential time to be checking up by yourself psychological well being. Simply since you assume that somebody’s gone by one thing worse than you will have, it doesn’t devalue the trauma or misery that you just’ve had.


AP: In your e book, you’re taking us on this extraordinary private journey of attempting to return to grips with what occurred to you (on the marathon). What was extra cathartic — the precise operating or the writing of the e book?

O’Donnell: I spent a few yr touring exterior the U.S., and a tiny fraction of that — about 44 hours whole — was spent operating. A lot of this therapeutic course of for me was assembly individuals everywhere in the world and creating lifelong mates — opening myself again as much as the world. I went from being this 19-year-old child who was scared of the world to having the ability to discover myself inside it.


AP: At one level within the e book, you speak about the way it dawned on you that perhaps the bombing in a bizarre method was a blessing in your life.

O’Donnell: I feel individuals would possibly be capable of discover this out of COVID. The Boston Marathon bombing undoubtedly was the worst day of my life. But when it didn’t occur, none of something within the e book would have occurred. I might have by no means traveled, by no means skilled the world the way in which I did. It took having this horrible factor occur to me to have all of the fantastic issues that adopted happen. After I face tragedy or adversity, what I’ve come to appreciate is I have to resolve the place I would like this to go from right here.


AP: Any recommendation for individuals navigating all of the stress and trauma round COVID?

O’Donnell: Don’t be afraid to speak to individuals. One of many worst issues we do with psychological well being is that there’s this enormous stigma round it. We don’t speak about it. For me, what helped was getting out into the hills and mountains operating — being exterior and speaking to individuals. Don’t be afraid to ship somebody a textual content and test in on different individuals.


Comply with AP New England editor Invoice Kole on Twitter at

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