Secondary Trauma: Las Vegas

When I published my last blog 2 weeks ago, I had already selected the topic for this bi-weekly blog. I was pretty excited-as I was really getting things organized, ahead of the game, and about to leave for a conference in Las Vegas for my side business. Little did I know what was coming.

On 10/1/17 (Sunday night about 10:03 PST, and 1:03 A.M. EST: 10/2/17), an individual with a motive that is not completely understood yet, opened fire on attendees at the Route 91 annual country music festival in Las Vegas-directly across the street from the Mandalay Bay hotel and resort. I was supposed to land in Las Vegas around 8:15 p.m. However, due to a layover flight in Denver, that was very delayed, I did not land until almost 9:30 p.m. PST. When all was said and done, after retrieving my luggage, and hailing a cab, as I later pieced everything together, my cab driver was driving me right by the site on route to my hotel at approximately 10:01 p.m. I was literally, within about 2 minutes of either flying bullets, and/or being hailed down by those fleeing the scene to get to safety.

I was oblivious, and quite exhausted. I checked into my hotel, attempted to go to sleep (however, due to some very loud individuals in the room next door to me that did not speak English, I could not sleep). I now suspect, that they were conversing about the shooting in their native language. In any event, I never once turned on the TV, tossed and turned, and finally, about 3:30 a.m. PST, I started drifting off to sleep. Within a half-hour, my phone started going off like fireworks. Very annoyed, as you might imagine, as I had just started finally getting to sleep, this continued for like 20 minutes. I then had the thought, ‘maybe I better check my phone; maybe someone back home is in trouble or died’. So I checked my phone, and I don’t think I need to explain the rest. Back home in the Eastern time zone, my family and friends were worried, as they knew how close the timing was with me getting into Vegas.

I describe that morning, and all of the next day as a blur. It has only been a week and a half at this point, and it is still a blur to me. I felt like I was walking around in this wonderful town, that is normally so full of energy and fun, in a comatose state. And it wasn’t even really sleep deprivation. Just shock. Later, I pieced together the timing of everything, and that is when things really started to hit me-not just how close I was, but that I was suffering from secondary trauma. Monday night, I slept like a baby, likely because I had not slept at all the night before as I mentioned prior. But starting Tuesday night, (and this continues now-off and on), the nightmares started. Combinations of 9/11 things, along with the shooter, and even some past traumatic issues that are intermingled. I know, that it is my unconscious brain working overtime.

What is Secondary trauma?
‘Secondary trauma is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about, or is near the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Its symptoms mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Accordingly, individuals affected by secondary stress may find themselves re-experiencing personal trauma or notice an increase in arousal and avoidance reactions related to the indirect trauma exposure. They may also experience changes in memory and perception; alterations in their sense of self-efficacy; a depletion of personal resources; and disruption in their perceptions of safety, trust, and independence. (Source: NIMH, 2017)’.

I remember when 9/11 happened, hearing people that were actually there talk about it. I, like many, watched everything unfold on TV. But I always heard that it was vastly different when you were actually there.
I now know what those persons meant. Wednesday, I went down to pay my respects to the site (see photo above). The best way that I can describe this, is that I felt like my feet were rooted into the ground. I couldn’t move. I felt numb, sickened, and I kept looking over my shoulder. The next day, I left to come home. I cried the entire way to the airport in my cab. I just wanted to get out of there-and yet, I didn’t want to go home either. Nothing felt safe. Nothing felt real.
Saturday night, back home, I was supposed to go to a concert-to see one of my all -time favorite bands. I couldn’t do it. (Remember the avoidance piece of trauma outlined in the definition above?) Anything concert related makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I don’t know how long that will take to get over.
I have been telling people, that I don’t think we even begin to understand how long it will take for the healing to occur. And that it is not so simple, as just moving on, and ‘forgetting about it’.
This( unexpected) blog is being written to help people understand that even if you were not directly on the scene of the trauma (or narrowly missed it like me), that it can still affect you.

Coping With Secondary Trauma:
I am finding, that the best ways to cope are the following:
1. Avoid the news! When I was in Las Vegas, as you might imagine, I was saturated with it. Definitely difficult to escape. But even back home, there is a tendency to want to check in on every detail. I don’t think I need to explain that most of the news is bad news. The constant reminders of what happened, especially for someone living with the trauma are unnecessary.
2. Write your feelings out. Don’t avoid them. And don’t avoid the tears. The first couple of days I was trying to stifle them. This, I found, did not work. Last Saturday night, when I did not attend the concert I planned to, I sat on the couch and cried-all night. While it didn’t necessarily solve anything, it did help me release some of that pain I had been carrying around since returning from Las Vegas.
3. Exercise and eat right. I cannot emphasize this one enough. Body and brain work together. You have to treat each right. There was one day when I was in the gym lifting weights. For some reason that felt cathartic.
4. Talk about it. Even with complete strangers. You would be surprised. Even complete strangers that you are introduced to, want to listen.
5. And corresponding with #4, I have found, that the more I talk about it, the less it is buried in my unconscious, and the less it comes out in my dreams/nightmares.

As a final note(s), I want to put a huge thank you out in the universe to my cab driver in Las Vegas, who drove me to my hotel that night. I will never know what his name is, but if I had been just 3 or 4 people behind where I was in the cab line, I have no idea how different things could have been. Or, even more intense the secondary trauma could be.

There is a reason for everything so they say, and I want to use this experience to help others going forward that are experiencing their own version of trauma-whether primary, or secondary.