On October 1st, 2017 I was at the Route 91 country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada which became the largest mass shooting in US modern history. This was an event my family had looked forward to all year long. We all live in different places and this was a special weekend to all spend time together as a family. Similar to Stagecoach, thousands gather to have a great time listening to their favorite music and make memories with those they love. A few minutes into Jason Aldean’s set I was dancing with my family when we heard what sounded like fireworks. We are very familiar with guns since my dad goes hunting and I was on a trap team (a shotgun target sport), and we did not recognize this sound as rapid gunfire. A few more rounds later, we realized that it was in fact a shooting and to our horror there seemed to be no way to safely escape. It felt like I was in a movie and could not believe this was truly happening, it’s only something you ever hear on the news. At this point, with no shooter in sight, the options were to hide and risk dying or to run and risk dying. We ran through the streets of the strip dodging police cars, ambulances and unaware pedestrians. We ran through several hotels, and hid behind walls with no idea where the shooter was or why the shooting wouldn’t stop.
After 3 hours, my family was reunited in our hotel room. I have never been so happy to hug my family members. Many others were not this lucky and I saw some very horrible things that night that I hope nobody else will ever have to experience. It is incredible that me and 8 of my family members were unharmed. Although I have some scars from the escape, I am physically okay. However, after the event I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety which became extremely difficult to manage as a full time student.
This experience has definitely affected all aspects of my life and well being. I had to withdraw from a class at Cal Poly during fall quarter, reduce my work hours, and physically could not exercise. My appetite, sleep, and energy was extremely varied and became difficult to manage. I often could not spend time with people even when I wanted to due to severe anxiety and being overwhelmed with different emotions. For a long time I could not be alone and feared things that had never worried me before, such as driving in the dark, going to the movies, or shopping downtown. Basically any public place including my work and school became a nightmare for me and due to several triggers like loud noise, crowds, or even people running. I rarely felt safe and often had to stay home from various events in order to cope with my mental illness. The hardest part of this experience is going through something that very few people can relate to or feel comfortable talking about. In addition, PTSD has very different symptoms that are often difficult for others to understand. Coping with being a witness in a heinous act is not something that people can relate to or know how to cope with because it is extremely uncommon and difficult for everyone to talk about. Not to mention, mental illness as a whole is not well received in our society and is often stigmatized or ignored.
Not long after the event, I received many calls from the FBI to seek counseling. As a psychology major, I knew how important this would be for my recovery and immediately sought help. After 2 months of treatment I was diagnosed with anxiety, mild depression, and post traumatic stress disorder. Although hearing this was extremely difficult, therapy has changed me for the better in so many ways. Not only do I feel more confident in my strengths and even my purpose in life. Many of my symptoms have subsided and I feel that I have become resilient to overcome any challenges I may face in the future. Most importantly, now I feel that I can help others through difficult times when they feel like nobody can understand them. I’d also like to give a huge thank you to my family, friends, coworkers, sorority sisters, and boyfriend who have been an incredible support system providing me space, comfort, laughter, safety, and love when I needed it most. They have been a major part of my healing and recovery.
I think people feel uncomfortable with vulnerability and being “negative” on social media. People like to share the best parts of themselves and forget that the not so great parts are what make them strong, unique, and beautiful. I have learned that it’s in the difficult times you discover what is important to you and who you are as a person. Unless you have experienced this, it’s easy to get wrapped up in image and popularity on social media. I have actually shared a little bit of my story on social media which was well received. However, even after sharing, I haven’t posted about it again and so people have forgotten that this is still something that affects me everyday. It wasn’t one experience that I went through and it’s over now, it is a huge part of me.
For anyone who may be struggling with any sort of mental illness, I would tell them to first seek out support. Therapy is often stigmatized but I am proud to say it has been the most incredible experience that has made every part of me a better person, from my friendships, my relationships with family, and also just to better understand how my experience makes me the person I am today. If therapy is not possible, I would say to take the best possible care of yourself and put your needs first through self care and ensuring your basic physical and mental health needs are being met.