As the Independence Day holiday approaches, many individuals who have experienced incidents of mass violence will be making plans that look very different from the traditional types of celebrations. Some will be trying to figure out how to escape to a place that will be quiet and away from any crowds—not an easy thing to do! Some will be planning the active use of tools and strategies for trying to cover up the random, but expected, loud noises with headphones, loud music, TV/movies, or video games, distracting themselves with being busy. Some will be making plans, on their own or with the support of others, to expect the anxiety, flashbacks, and other symptoms that they have been learning to live with.
It is still important to encourage the community to be mindful that, with the knowledge of what happened on October 1, 2017, as well as the recent increase in incidents of mass violence, someone near them is likely to be one of those individuals impacted. Being mindful can be letting your neighbors know or noting on your neighborhood social media when and where you will be enjoying the traditional celebration of fireworks. Noise that is expected is somewhat easier to manage than that which is unexpected.
However, it is also important to keep in mind that trauma cues are different for each person and they are not limited to the “obvious” or expected dates on a calendar. The lives of those impacted by mass violence are forever different in ways that are personal and unique. Additionally, the definition of “those impacted” is much wider than the obvious. It is like the ripple effect of a stone thrown into a pond and reaches far beyond those “directly” involved.
While trauma is a unique experience for everyone, there are also some commonalities. Trauma creates cues or activators, which are internal and environmental reminders of the incident or some aspect of it. Feelings of guilt and loneliness are also inherent and often pervasive reactions. These reactions can create challenges when it comes to reaching out for support in coping with the trauma and its cues and activators. Sometimes cues are easily identified, such as the loud noise of fireworks. However, because the brain does not store memories of traumatic experiences in an organized way, sometimes they are not clear or even recognized.
Coping with cues and activators, therefore, requires their identification and then the development and practice of tools and techniques for managing them. In the process, there will be some cues that are found to be within one’s “control” and possible to work through in a way that they are far less impactful over time.
However, there will always be some that remain outside of one’s control, such as fireworks, violence in the news, ongoing stories of the trauma incident, political activities and expressions, and many other private and public interactions that we still cannot anticipate. Here are a few suggestions for individuals impacted by trauma and for those who want to be more aware of these concerns:
- Reach out for support—you do not have to do this alone
- The Vegas Strong Resiliency Center is open and continuing to create new programs, events, and services (see the Calendar tab on the website for details)
- Let others know what you need and how they can support you
- Keep trying strategies until you find what works for you
- Whether you find traditional or non-traditional interventions, don’t give up until you find some healthy coping skills that work for you.
- Be mindful that it is highly likely that someone you know has been impacted by violence
- Be present with them, but do not try to change or “fix” them
- Be sensitive to what they are experiencing, regardless of whether you understand it
- Be open to learning more
- Be mindful that someone attending your event, employed by your company, living in your neighborhood, or in line with you waiting to check out is likely to have been impacted by violence
- Show kindness
- Inform others when potential cues will be present
- Ask what alternatives might be useful or inform them of those that you are making available
- Be flexible
If you are reading this, it is likely that you are someone impacted by trauma or someone who cares about those who are. We want to encourage everyone to do their part to support the recovery and healing of anyone impacted by violence. You may find this helpful to you or you may know someone who never thought they would need to show this awareness. Thank you for reading, learning, and doing your part, whether it is for yourself or others.