I was away this weekend at a martial arts camp and came back to the news of the massacre in Orlando. I am stunned and heartbroken. I know I will have more to say in the coming days, but for now, just a couple of reminders.
Vicarious trauma is real, and it happens in several ways. If something horrible happens to someone close to you or happens near you (for example, if you see someone being hurt), you may also experience trauma. You don't need to be emotionally or physically close to the person who is hurt, however. People who work in professions where they hear people talk about being victimized--counselors, doctors, domestic violence shelter workers, and yes, self-defense instructors--experience vicarious trauma.
But you don't even have to be that close to what has happened. The nightclub in Orlando was targeted because its patrons were mostly LGBTQ people. If you are part of that community, or close to people who are part of that community, or simply an empathetic person you may be experiencing some vicarious trauma. This can manifest in a lot of ways. Hypervigilence, insomnia, trouble feeling connected to people around you, mood swings, feeling disconnected from your body are a few ways this might show up.
Whatever you are feeling or experiencing, what happened in Orlando is horrific. If you are upset, even if you think you are more upset than you "should" be, that is a normal, human response to tragedy. And if you are having symptoms of trauma, acknowledge those, too. Your mind, heart, and your body are trying to process an awful event.
Second, connect with people you love. Trauma lives in isolation. Community is the antidote. Come together with people who will support you in your grief and anger and fear. Be kind to each other. Validate others' feelings even if they are different from yours, and don't let others tell you that what you are feeling is wrong. Make time to hang out with friends, attend a vigil, or just spend time with one other person who makes you feel safe and seen.
Third, be gentle with yourself and do something nurturing for yourself, whatever that may be: take a bath, eat some good chocolate, prepare a nice meal, set aside time where you turn off all of your devices and read a familiar book that you know you love. Whatever little thing that takes care of YOU.
Finally, be an ally. If you aren't LGBTQ, recognize that this community was targeted because of who they are and that many people in the community are feeling defensive, angry, and scared. Show your support to the community by reaching out to LGBTQ people in your circle and letting them know that you stand with them against hate.
Further reading on trauma and vicarious trauma:
The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.-Dr. van der Kolk first named the phenomenon of PTSD while treating Vietnam veterans in the '70s. He has spent his life studying trauma and this is his first book for lay people to help them understand trauma.
A Woman's Toolkit for Recovery from Violence and Trauma by Anna Valdiserri- Valdiserri writes compassionately and clearly as a lay person who has learned to deal with her own trauma.
Irritable Hearts: a PTSD Love Story by Mac Mclelland-Mclelland was a correspondent in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. While covering conditions in the emergency camps she witnessed something horrible (she never describes what she witnessed to spare her readers from possibly experiencing vicarious trauma themselves). This is her account of learning about vicarious trauma as she struggles to understand what is happening to her.