If you’ve haven’t already heard—and you probably have—a teenage gunman opened fire at a Parkland, Florida high school today. 17 fatalities have been confirmed by the Broward County Sheriff at the time of this post. The suspect was identified as a 19-year-old former student named Nikolas Cruz. Unlike many mass shooters, he did not commit suicide prior to apprehension, nor did he resist arrest.
This post is gonna be a little different: normally I spend weeks researching and writing each piece—which is why I post so infrequently and consequently have so few readers that I’m essentially talking to myself. I tend to dive too deep into the details, and try really hard to avoid editorializing or inserting myself into the stories of other people’s tragedy. I can’t shake that scholarly, MLA-formatted mindset.
But, I can’t even attempt to piece together a story so new and raw. There’s enough real journalists doing just that already.
And to be honest, mass shootings fucking terrify me. I had a, let’s say difficult childhood, and have a menagerie of trauma-related anxieties. The most debilitating of these involves the persistent (irrational) fear that I’ll be mass-murdered by an alienated, gun-wielding neckbeard pretty much anywhere that’s not in my bathroom—and even then, sometimes. I’ve walked from Penn Station to West Harlem—only a casual, six-mile stroll—in July’s heat because I was so paranoid I’d get shot on the subway that I couldn’t bring myself to even swipe into the station. I read a lot of fucked up murder shit, but mass-shooters affect me in a very personal place. Even thinking about them too much—and I always think too much—can lead me down a PTSD episode death spiral.
Plus, the scholarly research I’ve read (Homicide Studies is my new favorite academic journal) leads me to think that giving the perpetrators more attention than they’ve already received is maybe not the best idea.
A user going by “PTSD–Throwaway” on a Reddit live-thread on the attack posted a comment that resonated and is undoubtedly worth sharing. The currently top-rated comment is one of many nearly-identical posts on threads about mass shootings, each slightly adjusted in to reflect an incident’s geography. Although my “issues” don’t stem from being shot, it’s exactly what I so desperately needed to hear in the wake of my traumatic experiences.
PTSD nearly killed me. I’m so grateful I had enough money to get the help necessary to claw my way out. But I still struggle. And now, I spend so much of my life trying to do what I can to help others claw their way out, too. This comment is worth sharing, because maybe it might help someone else, too.
After I got shot, I kept hoping someone would just tell me what to expect. On the very slim chance you, person who is reading this right now, was at Parkland or knows someone who was:
Whoever you are, I remember what today feels like, and how alone and overwhelmed you must feel. You are not alone. There are thousands of us shooting survivors around, and we are all rooting for you to get through this. I’m going to lay out the advice I wish someone had given me, but the key pieces of advice are that it is okay for this to be big and scary and messy and overwhelming right now, and that it will get better.
- Do not drink or do drugs to cope with this. Go to therapy. You frankly can stop reading here. Everything else I am going to tell you derives from these two points.
- The state government will pay for you to go to whatever therapist you want, even if you move out of state. They will do this until you are better. Pick the best therapist you can find and be greedy with how often you go.
- There is no set timeline for getting over this. Some people get over this stuff in a month. Some people take years. However long it takes you is okay as long as you are actively engaging in your recovery.
- Your parents will need to take keep track of a lot of paperwork. If that is not something they are going to be able to do a good job with, that’s okay. Ask the hospital social worker if you can get a victim’s advocate’s card and make the victim’s advocate handle the paperwork.
- It’s okay if your world shrinks for a while. It’s okay if your mom drives you around for a few weeks because you don’t feel safe driving yourself around. It’s not okay if you develop a drinking or drug habit. You will need to pick your emotional battles. Pick the ones that are going to matter five years from now.
- Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve are going to be unexpectedly hard for you because fireworks sound like gunshots. This completely blindsided me while I was out on NYE–I don’t want it to blindside you.
Please also be watchful for signs of PTSD. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of symptoms to watch out for:
- Having bad dreams at night or have trouble sleeping
- Being afraid or nervous
- Feeling very sad or angry or without hope
- Being forgetful or not able to pay attention
- Feeling as if you cannot control your thoughts and memories
- Losing or gaining weight
- Having headaches, stomach aches or problems eating
- Feeling like no one understands you or that your life was stolen from you
- Avoiding places with crowds
- Drinking or doing drugs
- Avoiding talking about the shooting
You might experience a few of these for a while, and then they’ll dissipate on their own. Great! But if they persist or are interfering with your daily life, you might need to seek professional counseling. Please hear this: counseling is not anything to be ashamed of. If you need it, get it. Seriously. Like I said above, Florida will pay for it, and society wants you to take advantage of it.
WHAT KIND OF COUNSELING SHOULD I GET?
I did prolonged exposure therapy (PET). I have gotten PMs from folks who did EMDR and liked it. At any rate, the most important thing is to find a good therapist. Someone at the school will develop a list of folks who are qualified to treat you. If you don’t get the list directly given to you, contact your school counselor. If you don’t have access to a list, or if you end up needing a therapist after you go to college, look for a level one trauma hospital in your area. See if the hospital has an affiliated “traumatic stress center” or “post-traumatic stress center.” Very often, a hospital that receives GSW patients (like a level one trauma center) has a baked-in PTSD clinic. If they don’t, they can probably refer you to wherever they refer their PTSD patients.
ARE THERE RESOURCES AVAILABLE FOR ME IN FLORIDA?
Yes. The standard Florida Victims’ Compensation Program should apply, and I am confident there will be other financial and medical resources made available to you. I am also confident that your parents or a social worker will handle all of the paperwork–you should not worry about this today. If you ever need help figuring out what forms of compensation are available to you, you can contact the Florida Attorney General.
I’M A PARENT AND NEED HELP FIGURING OUT HOW TO TALK TO MY CHILD ABOUT THIS
This guide from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology might help guide your conversation.
DOES IT GET BETTER?
Yes. You’re not the first person to go through this, as awful as it is. I’m about three years out from being shot, and life is fairly normal these days. I sleep fine. I can go to places that look like where I got shot. I promise you, it will get easier–and please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about what to expect.
If you are a shooting survivor and would like to help me refine the above text, please PM me, and I will add it. I was not a victim of a school shooting, so I am particularly interested in hearing from school shooting survivors, as the issues facing teenagers are different than those facing adults. If you are a licensed therapist or psychologist, please reach out–I would really value your input.
This is an edited repost of a previously posted comment.