It’s very likely that everyone in the Century 16 theater on July 20, 2012 will suffer from PTSD at some point, maybe when reality really sets in.
PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that can affect anyone faced with a traumatic event. (You can read more on PTSD on Wikipedia by clicking the link.)
I’m also sure that people across the world, adults and children alike, will now think twice about entering a dark, noisy, enclosed movie theater no matter the movie, gripped by the “what if” question – an overwhelming symptom of PTSD.
Jonesie suffers from PTSD from a dog attack when he was 6. He immediately suffered signs of stress (who wouldn’t?) that we thought that he would “grow out of”. He was attacked by a dog twice his size, knocked to the ground and received puncture wounds in both legs. His physical wounds healed over the matter of about six months and they will be there forever, but his emotional wounds were far more reaching.
Over the course of two years, his symptoms got worse and worse until he had created a world that was no bigger than his comfort zone. Places and people that he was comfortable with. A new store would throw him over the edge, a noisy place, he couldn’t go in our backyard because it was fenced in. He wouldn’t walk on a sidewalk if there was a car parked on the street – we walked in the street around the car. “Don’t block me in.”
Some of the changes kind of happened so slowly that we didn’t even really realize what was happening. I didn’t realize that this kid that frustrated the life out of me was suffering. That everything in his world represented danger and provoked fear. The night he refused to trick or treat, at age 8, and refused to walk on the sidewalk next to a car, who went to 5 houses and couldn’t take any more shook me to the core.
That was Halloween 2011 and he was psychologically evaluated the week after Thanksgiving. He was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety. I was devastated because while he was suffering I was frustrated.
I’m happy to say that he has been in therapy, including desensitization therapy, for about three months now and is doing great.
What I’ve learned is that victims who suffer from PTSD relive the event over and over and over, whether they voice it or not. They begin to shrink their lives and their surroundings to what they can control so that there is never a chance for a *anything* out of the norm to happen. And they aren’t even going to consider putting themselves in an environment where something might happen. This can either happen immediately or over several years.
My teens and I have talked about this, how horrible and senseless this whole thing is. And the topic comes up randomly even today. But, I’ve learned a lot in Jonesie’s PTSD therapy and just kind of walked them through the facts that this is a one time thing. This isn’t typical of a movie theater anywhere and that they do have control over their fears.
We also talk openly about the whole what is meant to be, will be thing. I truly and honestly believe that if it is your time to go that there really isn’t much that you can do to stop it. Would anyone have gone to the movie that night if they knew Suspect A was going to be there with is own personal agenda? Absolutely not. As evidenced by their last tweets and facebook statuses, they were prepared for a good night. We, in America the land of the free, have the right to expect a “good night”. Bad nights are the exception, let us not forget that.
The victims and family members may never, ever walk into a movie theater again plagued by grip of PTSD. The Batman logo may send them into an anxiety attack. The smell of popcorn might make them sick and they may never be able to sleep in the dark again, but I hope that in time, be it days or years, that their hearts and minds heal the pain and that they can let go of the fear and live their lives with happiness in their hearts. I hope that they can find peace in knowing that the entire country, possibly the entire world, holds them in their thoughts.
The Aurora Mental Health Center has crisis counselors available at 303.617.2300 to anyone in need of help. Please don’t hesitate to call for help.