On July 23, 2015, I survived the shooting in the Grand Theater in Lafayette, LA. I was shot 7 times, and watched as my best friend of 23 years, Jillian Johnson, was shot and killed.
My mental health recovery the past 3.5 years has fluctuated between periods of very high-functioning, to shorter durations of non-functioning and/or incapacitated. The past year has been the hardest yet. The farther away from the date of the shooting I get, the more frustrating it is to realize my PTSD and grief are still very much parts of my daily life.
I've done an excellent job of staying positive, only sharing the good news, and staying hopeful that as time passes, things will get better. I have an amazing therapist whom I love and respect.
The past two months, I've become worn completely down. I have overworked myself in an attempt to stay busy and push past the pain, both emotional and physical. I still have chronic pain in my body, and nerve damage, muscle and bone pain that will be with me for the rest of my life. I work in a very physically demanding field, which I adore, but it's hard on my body.
I have reached a point in my recovery where I am no longer able to work. I will have weeks of productivity, then my body will shut down and go into trauma survival mode, where I am incapacitated in bed. I can not leave the house, and am struck with bouts of panic and dissociative episodes. This past week was the worst yet; I was unable to leave the house or bed for two days straight. I missed work, and was unable to help take care of my children.
I have two, ages 6 and 8, that I struggle to care for. I am fortunate enough to have my best friend as their father, and he is an amazing ally through parenting them and taking care of me.
I have spent hours in therapy and with psychiatrists, only to realize that my mental health is degrading and something more must be done. My high points are now barely functioning, and my low points are completely terrifying.
The lack of support survivors of mass shootings receive is an issue that has begun to frustrate me to no end. After the shooting, the City of Lafayette raised money for the families of the women killed and the survivors, but that was quickly drained after medical costs and months of therapy. The theater had my husband sign an agreement that he wouldn't sue them while I was still in ICU. He had no idea what he was signing, and did not receive counsel on any of it.
To this day, the Grand Theater has made NO changes to their security. They still do not perform bag checks. Their reason for this being they "don't want people to be afraid of coming to the movies." This alone has contributed to my rage and disgust at our inability to create change for the better.
PTSD and gun violence are highly misunderstood not only in our media, but in our culture, as I am sure you are all aware. I feel a responsibility for beginning to help educate and inform the public on what PTSD really looks like, how it can hide in plain sight, and how damaging and detrimental the effects of gun violence can be. Years can pass, and the survivor may still live the day in question 100 times over or more.
Someone may look and act as though everything is just fine, and they are crumbling on the inside. This is what trying to survive looks like.
One bullet acts like a virus; it doesn't just infect the body it hits. It spreads illness and disease into the bodies and hearts of everyone associated with the victim. I was the only member of my family in the theater that night, but for 3.5 years, the trauma of those few hours has infected everyone who knows and loves me.
This is me, trying to fight back.
I am now scheduled to enroll in partial hospitalization on Monday at a mental health and behavior facility here in Baton Rouge, and our insurance has denied coverage. I have been prescribed at least 8 weeks' worth of treatment to finally try and get ahead of the trauma. It's not cheap, and it's not money my family has.
There was no settlement. There was no insurance money doled out to survivors. I have struggled to work full-time for 3 years, and unfortunately can't call in sick with dissociative seizures, anxiety and crippling depression.
I am at my wit's end. I can no longer function normally on a daily basis.
I am starting a GoFundMe for my upcoming mental health expenses, and would like to donate any additional funds we receive (after payment to the providing institution) to Gun Violence Survivors Foundation. http://gvsfoundation.org/
GVS Foundation provides an array of services, addressing specific needs facing a survivor of gun violence in America. They are not involved in gun control or firearm debates.
Thank you for your time in reading this, in caring, and for any help you can offer my family. It is more appreciated than we can explain.