Breaking the Silence

Website for the American Mental Health Counselors Association's Breaking the Silence initiative to address mental health stigma.

Orlando Survivors: You Are Not Crazy

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By contributing blogger Dr. LaMarr Edgerson

Citizens of Orlando my heart goes out to you. As a proud member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) I’ve visited your city during one of our annual conferences and found it to be very beautiful. While in the process of recovery from your tragedy I sincerely hope a few words in this blog will help with your healing. My name is Dr. LaMarr D. Edgerson and I am a clinical mental health counselor. My specialty is post-traumatic stress.

A recovering client once said to me, “PTSD is a sane response to an insane experience.” I couldn’t agree more. I’d like to tell each and every Orlandoan this… “You are not going crazy!”  You will experience a very sane response to an insane and tragic event that happened. In the upcoming days, weeks, months and years you may feel a variety of confusing, but normal emotions as a result of what happened in that fateful Sunday night. I am not only speaking to the surviving patrons of the club, but to the entire city – those who were there and those who were not. You may ALL feel the impact of that event.

The incident was only a week ago; therefore, many of you may still be in a state of shock and disbelief over the fact that something like this could happen in your great city. Some of you will be in denial of the overwhelming emotions that will bombard you – out of nowhere. Some of you may even think you’re weak if you allow yourself to feel anything that’s out of the ordinary. Please, do not fall into this trap. It will only serve to make the symptoms you’re trying to avoid worst. As a clinical mental health counselor I can assure you there is nothing weak about feeling vulnerable.

Here are two very common, yet very strange things you can expect. A trigger can be considered a bridge between an emotion and an object. When you experience any reminder of that night, you may feel the same fearful emotions of that night. The mind works this way as a safety measure for the future. Another phenomena is the flashback. This feels as if the event is continuously reoccurring even though you know it’s a new day and you’re not in that club. Again, you will experience the same fear, anxiety and confusion. Regarding these two oddities, again I say… “You’re not crazy!” This is a very normal reaction to a traumatic event.

Clinically, some of you will go through the five stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. There may be other associated emotional experiences as well: anxiety, fear, problematic sleeping, concentration problems, withdrawal, dissociation, numbness, extreme moodiness, irritability, guilt, shame, hopelessness, helplessness, and/or vulnerability. You might also feel strong physical symptoms such as hypervigilence, insomnia, agitation, migraines, racing heartbeat, unusual body sensation such as an upset stomach, fatigue, or lack of appetite. You could experience one or all of those symptoms.

It is very common to experience a combination of grief, loss and trauma when an event such as what your city experienced occurs. Within the first 30 days of a traumatic event a cluster of symptoms may develop leading to a diagnosis called Acute Stress Disorder. If after 30 days those symptoms persist or worsen, then it becomes categorized as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’ve listed many of those symptoms above.

PTSD can last for months, years and even decades if left untreated or improperly treated. You may go to urgent care, emergency room or even your primary care doctor for relief. They will probably give you some type of medication to manage your uncontrollable feelings. Some people even try to resolve PTSD by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. That is definitely not the answer. The only way to resolve PTSD is to seek professional care from a qualified clinical mental health counselor. If you know of one or someone who has had success with one, then that’s the first place to start. If you’re unsure of where to begin, click here for more information. Good luck.

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