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First Person: Las Vegas Survivor

April 3, 2018 1:34 p.m.

First Person: Recovering After Las Vegas


Shiva Ghaed, clinical psychologist, Naval Medical Center San Diego

Related Story: First Person: Las Vegas Survivor


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

It's been six months since a shooter killed 58 people at the root 91 Festival in Las Vegas. Many Californians were among those killed including one woman from San Diego. Yesterday we heard from, psychologist about how she survived and her decision to start a free support group here in San Diego, as part of her first-person serious, she tells us more about that personal group and her recovery.
>> The first meeting was seven days after the shooting. That first Monday 42 people showed up. We have met every single weekend we have had anywhere from between fortysomething 260 something people. I really spent the first few weeks just heavy on cycle education, teaching people about trauma, about what was normal, what was expected. Also, I made sure that they understood what could get in the way of recovery. Avoidance is a really serious problem, it's something that people who have experienced trauma really do a lot of and avoidance is the one thing that will sustain and perpetuate systems of anxiety and systems of Parma. Avoidance takes a lot of different forms, avoidance can be sort of the obvious avoiding, talking about something traumatic, but avoidance can also take some of the more subtle trickery or forms like staying super busy, keeping yourself busy, doing things that are productive. So that you don't have to think about something distressing. Also avoiding can be shutting down your feelings. When you engage in avoidance behaviors, whatever form they take. They provide relief. You feel better. When you avoid, it just becomes a negative feedback and it reinforces the belief that going out is dangerous. So, what allows us to have a corrective learning experiences to go back into all of those situations and to reexperience the anxiety, we are not putting ourselves in actually dangerous situations, we are going into places that feel dangerous but are not dangerous. So that we can learn to dissociate the actual danger. From all of the other unrelated items that we have just linked up with it. I have to admit that I was a little arrogance. Right after the massacre and I thought that my expertise and doing this work for nearly 2 decades would somehow prevent me from experiencing any trauma symptoms, right? I thought I was immune and when I came to find out, which was extraordinary to me was that my amygdala is like everybody else's. So, my amygdala did not care how much training I had or what my expertise was in or how much knowledge I have about trauma. My amygdala was going to react exactly like everybody else's. So that first two months, was very challenging. And I just simply made a decision that I was going to be a living example. I was going to put myself out in every possible exposure situation that I could. And, I might have been in our community the first person to go back to basic Vegas. So two weeks after the shooting I was on a plane, and it was a pretty rough plane ride. Out to Vegas. And I spent a whole weekend there being triggered by just about everything. And I got through it and I got back and there were, life happens. Everyone triggers like that, but I forced myself to go out in public and got to the dance floor and I felt somewhat detached the first couple months and I didn't really feel like I wanted to, I did it anyway. Don't let your feelings dictate your decisions for the day. If it's healthy, go and do it anyway. I started this group immediately, because when people are in crisis, it's really hard, if you especially do not have any prior experience seeking treatment like this, I mean, where do you look, where do you start? I wanted to make it easy for them. Initially, I would say the majority of people, myself included, were having sleep problems. Were feeling very hypervigilant. All expected trauma reactions and people were very agitated. Very emotional. A lot of guilt, a lot of self blame. A lot of why me, why not me, why couldn't I have done more? And, the group of folks that have really come consistently have just you know, many have them have made a full recovery. It has been incredible to witness the amount of love and support that a group of initially strangers have been able to give to one another. But, make no mistake. As much as other people have gained, and benefited from this group that I started and have been running, for almost 6 months now, I feel that I have gained twofold.
>> Shiva Ghaed is a clinical psychologist, you can learn more about her support group for fellow survivors of the Las Vegas That first-person feature was produced by Michael Lipkin.