Mass Shootings and our Mental Health

designadmin Guidance

Mass shootings are, literally, out-of-control in America. The sense of safety that we once took for granted can no longer exist in the realm of realistic living. Bars, schools, shopping spots, places of worship, festivals, yoga classes – these are all places that each of us, on some level, fear going at this point.

As I sit here today and try to wrap my head around the two shootings in El Paso and Dayton in the last day, one thing that comes to mind is deep concern for the people among us (including many of my clients) who are facing this storm of information on top of an already precarious relationship with mental health. Issues such as PTSD, anxiety, Agoraphobia, depression, etc. already plague so many Americans, that to add this level of stress to an already vulnerable psyche can create an entirely new layer of challenge in coping with life.

In order to sort of break this down, I’ll start with talking a little bit more about myself. While I am far from perfect and, of course, have my own host of challenges in life; I’ve never been a “scared” person. I’ve always sort of gone out and lived and done things with a pretty fearless passion. When I was a child, I had never even seen a play until I was 10. And as soon as I saw one, I told my Mom I wanted to perform.

And just that I did. I started auditioning straight away and had no problem standing in front of a group of people and strutting my proverbial stuff for the next 15 years. I moved to Chicago from New Orleans at 22, not knowing a soul. I lived in a commune and taught in a neighborhood in Chicago where many people wouldn’t even be willing to walk down the street (at the time).

I was the first person in my family to finish college, and, even though I had no frame of reference for what it would look like, I went on to complete two masters degrees. I’ve been married to a man and came out publicly as a lesbian later in life. I’ve traveled the world, in many cases, alone, and never once considered that I shouldn’t do such a thing as a result of fear. And I’ve since moved to Nashville, knowing two people, and Albuquerque, knowing not one human being here prior to arriving. I say all of this not to point out how independent I can pretend to be, but to illustrate a point. I do not live my life in fear of “what might happen” in any way, shape or form – if I take a risk or step out of my comfort zone.

But…

In the last year, I’ve started to notice myself becoming more and more afraid. I’ve felt a previously unfamiliar reticence about going to public places. I’ve noticed myself second guessing things that involve crowds, music, performances and travel. I’ve noticed myself less likely to jump at the chance to go on a Groupon Getaway or, to be honest, even a festival right in town. While these feelings certainly ebb during brief periods of pause on daily reports of mass shootings; they increase acutely after periods that we have just experienced in the last week/weekend.

This morning, I had plans to go to yoga (if you don’t recall there was a shooting at a yoga studio in Florida last year). On my way out the door, I paused. My brain said, “Do not go. Stay home. Don’t leave the house.” I went anyway. And while I am here tonight to report that yoga went fine, it is saddening to think about the level of impact this collective trauma has to be having on people far more vulnerable and far more sensitive to it than myself.

One of the things that happens when we experience childhood trauma or even trauma in adulthood (such as an accident, an unexpected loss or injury, being in combat, etc.) is a fear of loss of control. When the world around us is becoming increasingly out-of-control, it is only natural to want to retreat. To hide. To have increased symptoms of anxiety and dread. It is also possible to have an increase in feelings of aggression or self-protection in ways that might even be more dangerous than the tendency to retreat.

I’m sitting here this evening not only in deep mourning for those who have had to endure these unspeakable shootings, but also for those who have had previous traumas that are being re-enacted now – over and over and over again, as a result. It is already so hard to seek help for mental health challenges. Collective trauma is, undoubtedly, making that even harder.

If you are out there and you are afraid. Please know that you are not alone. I see you. I hear you. I want to understand how afraid you must be feeling right now. And that your pain, your re-actions and your anxiety – that are most likely at peak levels at the moment – are not going unnoticed. I wish that I had the right words or an answer to your pain. Or any of this pain. Obviously, I do not. But I am thinking about you. I do care. And I would be honored to help.

If you are feeling re-traumatized as a result of these mass shootings, I can help. Refer to this blog post for a complimentary introductory session.