I had a message come in last week from one of our supporters through social media that made me pause. The question was, “What motivates you to get through the day?” It was a well-intentioned question meant to elicit answers that could be replicated by someone who, like me, had suffered due to gun violence.
I paused. I got out of my head and removed myself from my growing “to-do” list to really process what I had read. Someone somewhere is in pain and through my social media presence, believes I am doing well enough to provide tips on how to get well too.
Wow, I thought. My zeal to save lives has painted an inaccurate picture of my recovery process. And even just the thought of that message causing someone else pain as they compare their journey to mine deeply saddens me.
For those of you that are struggling with trauma, please remember to not compare your journey to others and to treat yourself kindly. We all experienced different traumas. We all process our experiences differently. Our support systems could be very different. Access to therapy and medication, if necessary, may vary greatly amongst us. Daily demands and responsibilities can also vary, having a direct impact on the amount of time for self-care.
I still struggle mentally with what happened to me. Every newly announced mass shooting sends me into a temporary tailspin. I never enter buildings without briefly building a mental map for escaping quickly. I don’t sit with my back to the door. I refuse to walk around while on my phone. School shooting details burrow a hole so deep into my brain that nightmare-free sleep evades me.
It is not easy. It isn’t ideal. Anxiety is something I struggled with prior to the shooting and it has not gotten better since. However, even through all of that, I feel I have taken some steps that are worthy of sharing. Even some of them that can be replicated.
1. Start talking about what happened to you with those you trust. I remember telling my boss every detail I could remember from the shooting the evening of 9/6. I’m sure he could have gone without the story but it was instinctual to start sharing. Eight months later, I’m still sharing. I’ve had conversations with other gun violence survivors who regret their decision to stay tight-lipped for too long.
2. Know your triggers and avoid them. The closer a shooting is to me, via proximity or circumstance, reading every article and detail sends me into that tailspin I mentioned earlier. I’ve gotten a bit better about recognizing this behavior and trying to stop it.
3. Find something that is successful in distracting you. For me, that is Whitney/Strong. If I’m being honest with you, I must admit that working on gun violence prevention is as much selfish as is it is selfless. I don’t want anyone I love to go through this pain. I don’t want those I don’t know to go through this pain. It’s a horrifying thought. And it’s quite logical (to me) that my best offense against that is launching a non-profit to lead the charge. It works really well for me and I wish you luck in finding your own distraction.
4. Focus on gratitude. Everyone has their own gratitude bucket. Mine is huge! I survived 12 bullets, why shouldn’t it be? I had only one request from that day and it was filled! I got to return home and be a mother and wife. Find something to go back to over and over that reminds you of what is good in this life.
5. Last and most important, seek out therapy. I see a psychiatrist regularly and she is invaluable to me. Whether it is a psychiatrist or a therapist, find someone to give you professional guidance on how to approach your trauma. And if you don’t like your therapist, find a new one. The process to identify the right therapist can be daunting but it is worth the work. I’ve had several before landing on the right one.
If you need therapy and cannot afford it, there is a sister organization that may be able to help. Moms Demand Action, (or Everytown) with a partnership with GiveanHour.org, offers no fee mental health services to every survivor member. Here is the link to learn more about their network of survivors and how you can join: https://everytown.org/survivors/.
In addition, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255.
This Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of 161 crisis centers that provides a 24/7, toll-free hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
To conclude, W/S is focused on meeting mental illness with kindness. Mentally ill or not, we need to do everything we can to remove the stigma attached to therapy and find a way for easier access to care.
I hope anyone struggling finds some assistance in what I’ve shared today. I’m here to help in any way that I can.