I was watching Good Trouble on a Friday afternoon with my best friend in the upstairs lounge when the first explosion happened. Then the power went out and the fire alarm began blaring. We all knew it wasn’t a drill. We ran out of the building through seven flights of pitch black stairs onto the grass. My friend and I sat down a minute later and I Facetimed my friend in Vegas. I was on the phone with her as the dorm exploded. The loudest boom I ever heard rang in my ears as people came sprinting in our direction. I hung up the phone and tried to comprehend what was happening. Smoke poured out of the top of the building and shrapnel went flying. I was terrified and the chaos was making it worse. I had nothing but my phone and the clothes I was wearing. We slowly walked to the Knowledge Center and sat down on the ground floor, still in shock, and began to make arrangements for the night. July 5th, 2019 will probably be the scariest day of my life for a long time and I’m coming to terms with the fact that I went through a traumatic event and what that means for me. Below I will tell you my story and also explain how you can best deal with some of the things I experienced.
Grief comes in waves and it is very unpredictable. The first counselor who spoke to us told us to do things that made us happy and to not be angry, because that wasn’t helping anything. A lot of us wanted to punch her. We couldn’t just wish away what we were going through, and it was really frustrating that I heard that from a person who was supposed to know how to help us. I wouldn’t be able to appreciate what she was saying for a long time. All I knew was that I didn’t want to leave my best friends’ side, so we stayed together for the first 72 hours.
When going through this experience, I never wanted to be alone. If you’ve been through a traumatic event, surround yourself with the love and support of people who understand. Reflect on what you need, whether that’s group therapy, your closest friend, or alone time to process. Know that your typical first choice of comfort and coping may not fit this situation and that’s okay. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and give yourself what you need in that moment.
For the first couple days, I was in shock. It didn’t feel real and I kept pretending I was fine on the surface. I received an outpouring of support from people who wanted to help, but all I wanted was a hug. I had everything I needed, but nothing I wanted, and I didn’t know how to explain that. None of my items had been retrieved from my dorm, and I felt like a stranger among my new things. I wanted my blanket and the leftover spaghetti in my fridge from Denny’s, and my laptop so my roommate and I could keep binge watching Pretty Little Liars. These things were so simple and it was so hard to wrap my head around the fact I had nothing.
When in a situation like this, common words you hear are, “I’m glad you’re alive.” I may have been alive, but that didn’t mean I was okay. I didn’t want to replace my things – I wanted to be holding them. I felt displaced and terrified. It’s important to acknowledge all of your areas of hurt. Just because you walked away without a scratch doesn’t mean you’re fine. The people in charge know this – that’s why they tell you to go to the counselor 10 times. But accepting this yourself is another issue. I felt like I had to be strong. This was incredibly taxing, and by Sunday evening I couldn’t do it anymore. Reach out to the few people you can crumble and fall apart with and accept help when you’re ready. Your healing journey is on your own terms. The people that you’ve relied on in the past are there for you, even if you don’t know how to ask for and receive help yet. The important people in your life will be there when you’re ready.
I couldn’t cry until Sunday morning, and when I started, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stop. I cried again on Tuesday for a long time. I felt paralyzed with emotion and I didn’t know how to cope with the intense and overwhelming feelings. Crying is okay. Somehow through my tears I realized this was me processing the worst week of my life and that was a good thing, even if it hurt in that moment. I pulled myself out of those emotions and caught up on some much needed sleep.
During the first few days, sleep seemed like an impossible feat. I woke up early, went to bed late, and couldn’t sleep through the night. My body was running on pure adrenaline and I was physically exhausted. The stress and anxiety was keeping me from sleeping, and the nightmares and dreams I had made the few hours I got incredibly restless. Although my sleep schedule was awful during this time, I know getting hours here and there were so important as I began to process and accept everything.
On the Tuesday evening after the incident, someone burnt some popcorn and set off the fire alarm. When I heard that same sound I was instantly terrified. As we all made our way toward “safety”, I began shaking so hard. I was cursing the adrenaline in my body and realized how deeply scarred I was by what had happened on July 5th. After this, I decided it was probably time to go see a counselor.
Although the word “trigger” is used casually among tweens and teens, there are things everywhere that actually make me feel triggered and continue to replay those events in my mind. Every time I hear a loud noise or someone drops something, I jump out of my skin. Understanding what triggers those feelings of adrenaline and fear is an important part of the healing process. Although loud noises are completely unavoidable, processing what I’ve been through has been a very important part of accepting and healing.
At this point, I am starting to accept what happened and how it affected me. Although my anxiety and stress are at an all time high, I know how to surround myself with love and joy during this crazy, chaotic time. Whether it be grabbing lunch with my friends, Facetiming my pal, or making sure to stay caught up on Big Brother and the Bachelorette, I’m taking care of myself and regaining normalcy. I’ve also gained good friends, learned who I can count on, and been involuntarily thrown into a community of people who went through the same thing and will be stronger because of it.
If you went through a traumatic event and are still processing it alone, please reach out for help. Acknowledge that it won’t get better overnight, but it will definitely get better with time. Below are some resources and some of the things that made me feel better while I was going through this.
Here are a list of things that helped me heal through this traumatic time:
This blog was written by Ali Shinton, an Immunize Nevada intern.