For those who follow my Tumblrs, you know that I haven’t been talking about Orlando. In fact, I pretty much put a moratorium on the topic on my blogs; as I put it, I’m not all that interested in massively triggering myself for the sake of a discussion. But I’m still triggered, and the ramifications are still making themselves known to me, much like they are with many other people. So I thought this would be a good time to discuss PTSD, and how that can affect us, on a community and on an individual level.
Many followers of my two asexual blogs (kinkyasexuals and neurodivergentarosandaces) know that I have PTSD and have for a few years. The label itself is not something I necessarily shy away from, but I’ve never spoken about why or how I got PTSD. After this, it’s not something I’m ever going to talk about again on a community or public speaking level (or at least, I hope I won’t have to). I’m a resident of Sandy Hook. In fact, I’ve lived here for almost 22 years. Even not being here when the shooting happened, even not knowing anyone that died, it’s something I, nor anyone else, can’t get away from. It’s something that’s altered the very fabric of Newtown and everyone who lives here; it’s inescapable, unavoidable. (For those wondering why I used both Sandy Hook and Newtown, Sandy Hook is to Newtown what Washington Heights is to Manhattan. A neighborhood/segment of town with its own distinct postal code, but geographically and legally part of the broader town and city.)
Everywhere I go while I’m here, there are tiny little reminders. There’s the fact that I only recently drove up the road leading past the school again for the first time since the shooting. There are bumper stickers and magnets on most cars, and decals in shop windows. There’s the Sandy Hook Promise building near the grocery store. There are murals and graffiti on walls and under bridges on the edges of neighboring towns. I’ve driven by the temporary school a few times and each time I’ve had a wildly different reaction- I either speed up so as to avoid having to look at or think about it, or I slow down because I want to watch the children and remind myself that there’s life left, or my heart starts pounding. This very moment it registered, after looking at the date, that today is the 3 and a half year anniversary and I had to contain myself from breaking down into hysterical tears. So much of my personal time is marked by that date now.
I know the shooter’s name. I refuse to say it. Every shooting afterwards, I refuse to learn or remember the shooter’s name, even if I can’t get away from it in the immediate aftermath. And I want, I so desperately want, to memorize the name and face of every victim, but every time I see a list I’m gripped with a sudden paralyzing fear that I will know these names, or the list suddenly transforms in my head to me rereading the names of babies and teachers, panicking that my mom- who works in a different elementary school- might be next. So I stop, and I breathe, and I blacklist, and I avoid like the plague.
And I feel guilt. I feel guilty and selfish and stupid. This isn’t about me, it’s never even been about me. Hell, I didn’t even know anyone that died in Sandy Hook, much less Orlando! Why am I panicking so? Why am I so upset? Why does this seem so familiar?
The truth is, in the United States, any highly publicized shooting is going to seem familiar on an aching level that’s too deep to name. Even if you personally have never been touched by any of them, after a while, all the experiences will run together and you’ll wonder if you haven’t always been mourning, always been yearning, always been holding back your tears and dwelling on how selfish you seem for reacting this way to a tragedy that doesn’t personally touch you. Unfortunately, on an individual level, there’s nothing we can do to change this. But every comparison to Orlando and Sandy Hook that comes up sets me shaking and raging and feeling sick, and I have to remember to breathe. I drink chamomile tea like it’s my job. I talk to friends and distract myself and try not to cry. When Hilkary Clinton used Sandy Hook as a gotcha moment against Bernie Sanders on Twitter, I threw my phone against the wall and hyperventilated and wanted to throw up, and stayed up two hours later than intended texting my best friend and drinking tea so I could lie down without shaking. (For the record, Hillary Clinton has tried to ingratiate herself too deeply with the residents of Newtown as mourners, has brought up the shooting way too much in local campaigning. There are very few residents left who like her or have patience for her anymore. Any politicians who may be reading: know when to stop pounding that particular drum, please.)
So what does this have to do with Orlando, really? Because some of you guys may be finding yourselves having similar reactions, regardless of whether or not you’ve had experience with this before, or whether you were there or knew anyone. An event like this sends shockwaves throughout the LGBTQIAP+ community. We all know someone, even if we don’t know someone. I’m going to try and take my experience and give you guys ideas as to how to deal with this, if you can, if you need it:
- Be gentle with yourself. You’re feeling very raw right now. Any little thing is bound to set you off, either to start crying or to start raging and fighting. I have a Discourse Death Wish right now, the need to throw myself in and argue and shout and fight. But I also know that engaging with that isn’t actually going to make myself feel better. Drink tea if you like it, watch something soothing, read your favorite book.
- This is going to last for a little while, and you may feel the ramifications for the rest of your life. Only time will tell what your reaction is going to be, and what the best way to soothe yourself is. Forgive yourself for feeling flustered, forgive yourself for feeling nothing, forgive yourself for not knowing what you’re feeling. It will come to you in time.
- Know when to let go. People are going to argue, they’re going to say stupid and hurtful things. To this day, there are conspiracy theorists who believe that the shooting never happened, and who damage memorials and call first responders to harass them for telling lies. Bigots are probably more likely to take center show than conspiracy theorists for Orlando, but know when it’s going to be disadvantageous to yourself to jump into the fray. Put yourself first, and as hard as it may be, let someone else do the fighting if you need to.
- I personally find that for me, I don’t tell people where I’m from if they aren’t from Connecticut or the immediate surrounding areas. I say I’m from the Danbury area, a small city nearby, and if I grow to trust them I will talk about it eventually. Experience has taught me that not everyone is worthy of the conversation, and my emotions. Though it’s drastically different, and the communities are different, the same theory applies. Unless you can trust someone with your emotions, or you think they’re adjacent to or in the community in some way, don’t let them have the discussion with you. It may seem rude, but unless you want to come out in the most awkward way possible only to be told that this straight ‘ally’ is way more involved in the community than you and know what’s going on in it better than you (another autobiographical moment from my very recent history), they aren’t going to understand why or how you’re so upset. It will be easier as time goes on, but try and save your emotions for people who deserve them.
- On the same vein, have a group that you can talk to, if necessary. In my house, we talk about all shootings, especially this most recent one, as little as possible. The only one we discuss is Sandy Hook, because that’s the only one we can all cope with, all relate to in a similar way. With the Orlando shootings, I have my set close group of friends who know my background and are also not straight and/or not cis, and I can talk about it with them without feeling quite as selfish as normal.
- At the end of the day, everyone is going to react differently. My list may be totally useless to some of you and completely relevant to others. All I know is that when I was in a museum in backwoods Vermont and saw an art piece dedicated to Sandy Hook and got so angry I could have smashed the thing, it was time to seek help. The reactions from PTSD and trauma run the gamut, from depressed, to nothingness, to constant weeping, to rage, to panic attacks and shaking. Sometimes all at the same time. You’re going to be feeling negative, and helpless, and different in some way. Just know that you are by no means the only person going through this, and probably not even the only one going through it the way you are.
Though I will not talk about Sandy Hook or my experiences again publicly, I will open up both of my ask boxes to people if they feel they need to talk. Please keep in mind that I won’t be responding to anons, as I cannot respond to them privately. Please also keep in mind that I’m in the midst of an internship and therefore may not get to your message right away. However, if you find that you’re in a similar situation, I will talk with you.