Today I was invited to Speak at Big Eco Show at The Centre for Life in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
It was an absolute pleasure to spend the day with Nicola, Suzanne and Jen; particularly as one of my first ever public speaking engagements was at the Daisy Green launch event in 2008, as I was preparing for my trip to Cambodia. I will always be grateful to Nicola for the faith she placed in me not only to be part of her special night, but the support from the girls towards me raising my fundraising target for MAG back then, and helping make that first crazy adventure possible!
Today I spoke on how July 7th taught me much about my own personal resilience, and how the experience made me the resilient person I am today.
What is personal Resilience?
In preparing for today a couple of weeks ago I came across a postcard sent to me from the ‘Families of September 11th in new York – it really struck a chord with me and I think best sums up my own personal vision of the resilience I have found over the last 7 years.
Resilience does not come from extraordinary or rare qualities, but from the everyday magic of ordinary.
Other quotes which resonate in my own interpretation of personal resilience include:
We all at certain times in our lives find ourselves broken. True strength is found in picking up the pieces.
Resilience – The ability to not only bounce back, but to bounce forward.
When I woke up and got ready for my business trip to London on 7th July 2005 I was very much an ordinary girl, although a bit older now, I still think of myself as ordinary, I have just experienced the extraordinary.
The only difference I see between me and the people who humble me by using phrases as brave, courageous or inspirational, to describe me is that luckily, they haven’t been tested in the same way as I have.
But we are all tested in some way at some time in our life.
Be kind for everyone we meet is fighting their own battle.
On July 7th I arrived in London at 9am and all appeared pretty normal, however I couldn’t get on the tube, so walked to Euston and managed to get on the number 30.
11 minutes later my world was a very different place when the young man I followed up the stairs detonated the bomb in his rucksack, killing himself and 13 others.
I have no recollection of the blast other than a strange feeling of being violently compressed, I was knocked unconscious, lost both eardrums and front teeth, and had a shocking head ache which lasted two years, but I still class myself as one of the luckiest girls in London that day.
When asked by emergency responders how I was, that would be my first response – I’m the luckiest girl in London – they all thought I was crazy, but I still to this day know how lucky I was to survive with only the injuries I did. I am still the luckiest girl in London on July 7th.
My seat was the last seat at the back of the upper deck of the bus which was still attached after the blast. Behind us were only the remains of the lower deck, everyone behind us upstairs had been thrown into the road and the people I could see in the bus behind me were actually the people downstairs who sadly did not survive. I know I will never see anything so dreadful in my life.
After making my way off the bus with the lady who had been sat next to me, we decided to stick together and I am very glad we did.
At one point I remember her starting to shake un-controllably, I thought she was going to lose it. I couldn’t blame her if she did. We had just climbed out of a bombed bus. Due to the blast my eyes couldn’t focus properly though and I remember trying to look and see if I was also shaking but I really couldn’t tell. I remember thinking I have to keep her calm. I tried to calm and soothe her as best I could. It all sounds pretty altruistic – but in all honesty I was thinking – it will only be worse if she starts freaking out, you have to stop her from losing it completely. I still don’t know if I was shaking as much as she was, but somehow I managed to calm her by repeatedly telling her we were ok, we were alive.
All I could think was – panicking is only going to make a bad situation worse. There’s no point panicking or making a drama, it’s bad enough already. Keep calm and carry on is now a bit of a motto for me. In my home I have lampshades and cushions reminding me to keep calm and carry on.
Thankfully we were greeted by many random acts of kindness throughout that day, and I still believe the random acts of kindness had a much more profound effect on me that day than any explosive device could have. It reinforced the inherent good nature of humans. It’s just a shame that sometimes it takes the worst situations for it to shine through. But it shone that day.
A man took us in to shelter in his hairdressers. We were also lucky enough to be collected from the hairdressers, by another man who worked for British Transport Police. He told us he had been a sailor in the Falklands and ‘had been blown up himself once’ on the ship that was sunk. He told us he knew what we needed and he would look after us.
I felt very safe with him, but also more importantly he was proof – within 30 minutes – my life wasn’t over. Everyone else looked at us like it was, but my memories in the police station were that the most normal man, who seemed to be taking it all in his stride and organising everything was him.
He showed me I could be ok, when I couldn’t bear the way everyone else looked at me. For years I thought it was pity in their eyes, but years later I realised they were probably thinking ‘christ what would I do’ well there were probably a few swear words in what they were actually thinking.
On the day I was really very practical, calling colleagues to ask only one favour each and then saying I had to go as I wanted to loan my phone to other survivors. It freaked out my colleagues how practical I was. Unlike them I had only 3 things on my mind while the enormity of the situation was overwhelming for them.
All I wanted was
Get away from danger – the bus
Get somewhere safe, and once I’d done that – find a way home!
The day was very simple for me, in amongst all that crisis and panic. Everyone else did all the worrying and panicking. That day taught me that when the proverbial does hit the fan. Worry and drama only makes it worse.
The day taught me a lot about my values – and what is important to me in life.
Somewhere safe to call home, and a family who love you.
The rest – all of the things we spend our lives chasing – are window dressing really.
The day taught me so much about the importance of helping others. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers and people who knew me.
I learned how to be grateful for so much we take for granted.
It sounds flippant, but you have had a good day as long as you get home with most of your body parts intact, and even if you lose a few less essential bits like I did, some of them – like teeth and ear drums, you can cope without, they can in fact be replaced with something else almost as good. Of course many were not as lucky as me, and that is why I know how lucky I am.
I learned to be so grateful for what I have and what my family did not have to endure – that 52 families did.
I also learned that what ever obstacles I may encounter in life – well they can’t be as bad as climbing out of that bus – can they? I learnt that even in the toughest situations, we can usually find a way through.
I can also ask myself when faced with something I would rather not do… would one of those 52 people just get on with it? Would their families love to have what my family have right now? Of course the answer is always yes, just get on with it.
I have learnt to practice optimism, and understand the value of positive thoughts – especially on the tough days, not just the good ones.
I cannot really feel sorry for myself – that would be such an insult to those 52 families, and lives which were destroyed nearly 8 years ago. I have learnt real gratitude, and that is a gift to me.
I’ve learnt to stop worrying about the things that really don’t matter. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, which means I do have some fears I didn’t have before – like personal space on public transport, which most people don’t have – but I don’t have many of the fears that bog most people down every day.
Because of my PTSD I have had to develop good coping strategies when it comes to stress and anxiety. There are days I will push myself – possibly a little too hard, and so there are also days when I know I must take it easy, relax and just appreciate what is around me. I’ve had to learn to look after myself when I am feeling stressed and anxious; asking for help is still the hardest thing, and something I still struggle with; but I try to be more mindful of that now.
I’ve learnt to take personal responsibility for myself, and my actions. I will still make mistakes in life, we all do, but as long as I learn from them, and move on, that’s ok, I won’t beat myself up about them – again, why make a bad situation worse?
I’ve learnt that unexpected things can, and do happen, some things cannot be changed – but we can chose to be flexible and decide how we respond, and take control that way; but that you have to be flexible and adaptable to do that.
On July 7th someone tried to take my life, and if they couldn’t have my life they wanted me to be a victim.
I have chosen not to be a victim, to be a survivor, and the only way I am able to do that is take responsibility for my actions, and my response to that day and every day since. I made the decision around 4pm that afternoon, that if they didn’t take my life that day, I was not going to hand it to them on a plate any other day, by agreeing to be their victim.
At the age of 30, I became all too aware of my own mortality, there is still so much I need to achieve, and that – rather than is my bum too big or decorating the living room, is what keeps me awake at night now.
The places I want to see, and the things I want to do before I die. And of course, what will be my legacy for the world? How will I be remembered? Making a good cheesecake and having a beautiful shoe and hat collection are no longer a good enough legacy for me to leave.
My goals are now focussed on helping others, creating a more peaceful future, preventing violent extremism and terrorism happening again. Events like Monday in Boston strengthen my resolve, not weaken it. Helping others overcome trauma and to achieve their goals and potential are now what is important to me.
I first met the Daisy Green team four years ago as they launched and when I was planning my first house building trip to Cambodia. On that trip, I walked through a mine field. I detonated my own landmine – to make a village safe. And now I am planning to go back once more, to build another house and to speak once again to Mr Tun Channereth the landmine survivor Nobel peace Prize winner with whom I built those houses. I plan to document his story, and mine and the stories of other trauma survivors. To tell our tales of personal resilience and how we overcame adversity to achieve things we would not have imagined possible if it were not for the tests we have all faced.
I hope the book will help other trauma survivors and that will be my legacy and message of resilience.
• Details of the Crowd funding project to launch the book can be found at:
We will have only 40 days to raise the funds needed to support the creation and publication of the book