In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are once again joined by Route 91 shooting survivors Troy and Shannon Zeeman. In this segment, the Zeemans detail their process of recovery in the aftermath of tragedy, outlining relevant steps anyone can take in order to heal from trauma.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit AmenClinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to BrainMD.com.
Welcome back. We are still here with our friends, Troy and Shannon Zeeman, and we are ... This is just such a topic near and dear to my heart, so I love what we're talking about. It's terrible what you went through, it's terrible that you were shot, but the number of people that you hopefully and probably got out safely, and you'll never know because they got out safely, fortunately. It's just such an important topic and we want to hear the rest of your story. But we also want to talk about some strategies and what was the fallout? What happened afterwards? Because trauma doesn't just happen in the moment.
Troy Zeeman: Right.
Tana Amen: That's why we call it PTSD, right?
Sharon Zeeman: Yeah.
Tana Amen: So what was the fallout?
Troy Zeeman: So one of the things that we talk to managers at businesses and organizations is to try to get a peer support or what we call employee assistance program at my work. And we want those things already set up because there might be ... In the FBI studies of active shooters, most active shooters are over within four minutes. So we preach to the businesses and the organizations that four minutes of a very traumatic situation can last 40 years, and so how do we now treat people after the fact of, you just survived this, now what do we do next?
What happened was we got back, Shannon and I, my agency was very, very good. They were able to put Shannon and I both into counseling and peer support so that we can start talking about and start trying to process this traumatic event that we went through.
Sharon Zeeman: And immediately they ... We were in within a week of doing it-
Tana Amen: That's great.
Sharon Zeeman: ... which was amazing, which we had a lot of friends that either their health insurance didn't cover it. Or they were going through the state of California, which the state of California has an amazing program for victims. But unfortunately they were so inundated because we had so many people there that we had a lot of friends that ... And if they even got any help where they would go to a therapist or anything like that, it wasn't someone who had specialized in traumatic situations. So for us, we were extremely lucky at the get-go, and we went, like Troy said, four or five times and we felt we were great. And we have other friends that didn't get to talk to anybody for six to eight months if that, and then weren't even dealing with.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Wow. That's a really important principle though. The time to heal, start healing from trauma or grief, is immediately.
Sharon Zeeman: Yes.
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's like the time to heal from the bullet wound-
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:03:33].
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... to get that addressed and deal with it is immediately. Otherwise it could cause an infection that takes your life. And the same thing is true with-
Tana Amen: Night terrors.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... psychological trauma, which is really physical traumas we could actually see in your brains even, later, right?
Sharon Zeeman: And I want to applaud you because I know maybe it's a misconception, but there's this conception that police officers are too stoic and they're not going to go to therapy. They're not going to go get it treated because it is an admission of something that's wrong, when in fact it's the opposite. It's an admission of strength.
Tana Amen: That's correct.
Troy Zeeman: But I think that through my years of service, we realize that not only it's hard to be vulnerable in our job, and to be able to say that you're vulnerable and you need help is a difficult, difficult thing for law enforcement anywhere. And so that's why I think over the years, agencies and cities have really come to an understanding that brain health, like Dr. Amen said, is just as important as me going to the active shooter training and learning how to deal with it, right?
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Troy Zeeman: There are still officers out there. It's still takes them a long time to get through this stuff. I'm very lucky that I don't feel like I have to do that. I can go right away. Man, that's just been a great thing over the years to have that backing for employee assistance programs.
Tana Amen: Well, and how much more effective are our officers going to be if they're not bogged down with all of that-
Sharon Zeeman: Correct.
Tana Amen: ... the weight of those situations, like what you went through. And if you're not bogged down without emotionally and the trauma of that, and you've learned how to release that by going and getting help, you're going to be more effective as an officer.
Troy Zeeman: Right. And one thing I learned from coming to Dr. Amen is that if it's a scale of zero to 10, I can't control if I don't get all this help, mental help. I can't control that five or six or seven number. It goes zero to 10.
Tana Amen: Yeah, if [crosstalk 00:05:34]
Troy Zeeman: So even if I'm dealing with the public and the public is not necessarily appearing to be a threat, I might just believe it's a threat and it's a 10. I can't even say it's a threat as a five.
Tana Amen: It's on-off.
Troy Zeeman: It's on-on. And so going through the therapy and going through all the stuff that I've gone through, it helps me even deal with the public in a much better way and understanding my emotions and how I can control that on-off switch. Instead of just being zero to 10 I can go to a five or a four or a three or a seven.
Tana Amen: So you can assess it more appropriately.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Because when you go to zero to 10 your brain drops in activity, because all that is-
Sharon Zeeman: The adrenaline.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... is threat mode, and what we discovered through our imaging work is when people get to that 10, where it's terror, their frontal lobes drop-
Tana Amen: That's instinctual.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... so they're making instinctual decisions, not thoughtful decisions.
Tana Amen: That's more primal.
Troy Zeeman: Yeah. And what we do, and Dr. Amen knows this, but what we do as law enforcement and military is that we get trained for the worst of the worst. And we get trained, we do that training over and over again, so we react. So if I can only go zero to 10 and react, then how do I ever make a thought when it's maybe not a 10 threat, it's just the eight threat? So these types of therapy and ...
Tana Amen: It's super important.
Troy Zeeman: Yeah, the behavioral science behind it is amazing. It's amazing. And so we talk a lot about this in our training too, of how I've gone through a number of ambushes, and then Las Vegas, and then dealing with people who are the victims of this or the families of this. And it's a big thing and it helps out a lot to be able to control that zero to 10 range.
Tana Amen: I practice martial arts and I love it. And one of the things they teach you is avoidance. It's awareness and avoidance, right? You stay out of a fight you can't win as best as you can. I mean, you only fight if there's no other choice.
Troy Zeeman: Absolutely.
Tana Amen: So just that philosophy I think is really important, and I actually think it's an important philosophy for health. So you went through a battle with your health. We talk about being a warrior for that same reason, avoidance, do whatever you can to prevent, and when you can't then you have to fight.
But it's so interesting. We were talking off camera about strategies, and he gets all annoyed with me sometimes because we'll go places and I'm like, "No, we can't sit there." I'm always looking ... You don't know where someone, something could come from. So it's like, "I need to sit between the exits because ..." He's like, "What is the matter with you?" But what are some rational strategies? He thinks I'm irrational with my strategies, but-
Troy Zeeman: No. Shannon has been taking me to Stagecoach for six years before 2017.
Sharon Zeeman: We couldn't go in 2017, because that was [crosstalk 00:08:16]
Dr. Daniel Amen: Stagecoach is a music festival.
Troy Zeeman: Stagecoach is a music festival, just like Las Vegas festival. It's a three day festival.
Sharon Zeeman: Big, outdoors.
Troy Zeeman: Big, outdoors.
Sharon Zeeman: A little like Coachella, maybe not quite as crazy.
Troy Zeeman: Yes. And so I would go there and I would walk the actual perimeter of the venue-
Tana Amen: I like that.
Troy Zeeman: ... and look at all of the first aid areas.
Sharon Zeeman: Of course you do.
Tana Amen: I do, yes.
Troy Zeeman: Look at all the new things-
Tana Amen: I'm a trauma nurse.
Troy Zeeman: I would look for the law enforcement, the security. I would look for emergency exits.
Tana Amen: I like that.
Troy Zeeman: And so I can't memorize it all, but I know-
Tana Amen: Which makes sense.
Troy Zeeman: ... yes, and I'm aware of the venue and how it's laid out. So if an emergency were to happen, then I know that I would be safe going left instead of right. If my only option is to go right, because that's all I know and the danger is right, I'm still going to go right. So we're teaching people, if you are aware of the scenario-
Tana Amen: Because we're a little like cattle. We're a little like sheep that way. We follow that instinct, we follow the crowd. But if you're thinking about it in advance, if you're trained, like you're saying, you will have a plan, you will do something different.
Troy Zeeman: Yes. Yes. Even though you're not paranoid about it and you're not making a plan right there, it's just in your mind that you know that an exit is right around the building. And if you can't see around the building, then if a threat happens, you won't be able to go around the building and check if there's an emergency. You're just going to go, "Oh my gosh, I got to get out of here. I know that there are the emergency exits that way. I'm going to run to that way." So that's kind of what we try to teach too. So that's-
Sharon Zeeman: And we talk about-
Dr. Daniel Amen: That's like Brain warriors. That's what we call our tribe, Brain Warriors-
Tana Amen: Preparation awareness wins.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... is that they're aware, and they're prepared.
Troy Zeeman: Right, exactly.
Sharon Zeeman: You don't have to be, you know what's my word? The word's not crazy but-
Troy Zeeman: Paranoid.
Sharon Zeeman: ... paranoid, thank you. Let's call it prepared.
Tana Amen: Let's just ... Everybody calls it [crosstalk 00:10:03].
Sharon Zeeman: He calls me paranoid. I call me prepared. Everybody has their own word for it, right? But we would always make fun of Troy when we would go to all these venues because-
Tana Amen: But you don't know.
Sharon Zeeman: We know. We kind of took it back. But he was kind of like Uber doing it, over the top a little bit. And it was when we were at Route 91 my girlfriend had actually said, "Troy, we're so proud of you, you're relaxing a little bit,"-
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:10:32].
Sharon Zeeman: ... and we were getting more into the venue. And so he says it's her fault because she said that.
Troy Zeeman: I relaxed so I got shot. Yeah, not really, really.
Sharon Zeeman: But we talk about this, like it should be, even when you go into the grocery store, you should be aware of where your other options are because you just don't want that single exit. When you go to work, you shouldn't always go the exact same door in and out, the exact same stairs in and out. You should know all your different options every single time. So like you guys were saying, be aware, have a plan, know what's going around. But we all know if you're not training your brain, you're not going to remember it, so if you do it one time and then you never do it again-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, you won't remember it.
Sharon Zeeman: ... you're going to forget it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When we met at the police station in Newport Beach, I was there meeting with Chief Lewis about our program, and he's like, "Oh, I have to introduce you to Officer Zeeman," and he told me what you went through, and then we talked.
Troy Zeeman: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: One of my thoughts is, "Oh, you should," I'm like ... and then you told me about Shannon and the chemotherapy and I'm like, "Oh, we should look at your brains." right? I mean, that's just what I do. I Was like, "Oh, we should look at your brains." And then you came. What was that like?
Troy Zeeman: Yes. I thought it was great. I've never really heard of your work. I didn't know that you could scan the brain the way you do. And then when Shannon and I came here and you showed me some of this stuff that you did, it was amazing. And it was something that I felt really would help me a lot more than just going to a normal counselor and talking on the couch and saying, "Yeah, these are the things that I do." I've been doing that for 20 years and I think it has helped. But when I was able to see my actual brain and look at it and you say, "These are the points that we can work on and we can work on specific things."
One of the things that you've said in the past was, "With a physical injury, we can see it and with that physical injury we treat that physical injury. If I have a broken arm, I'm not going to treat both of my arms." So when you talk about that kind of stuff, it resonated so much because I was able to say, "Well, we can focus on this PTSD or this trauma." And instead of trying to look through the whole brain by-
Tana Amen: Kitchen sink, yeah.
Troy Zeeman: ... just voices, right? And it's been amazing. You guys gave me a plan. I've stuck to that plan and I went through EMDR, and EMDR was an eye-opener. I had no idea. Without you guys telling me it was there, I didn't even know it was there. It is unbelievable. I went through four treatments and I've gotten past the PTSD in Route 91, and we're working on more stuff through my job and the history that I've had. But it only took four times to do that with the vitamins you've given me, and the breaths and the yoga. I know, I do yoga, but it's great.
Tana Amen: No, it's great.
Troy Zeeman: I love yoga.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, one other thing. In both of your scans, we saw this diamond pattern where your emotional brain is activated. I think Shannon, for you, it was like, "My memory is not what it was."
Sharon Zeeman: Correct, but it makes sense.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And you thought it was the chemotherapy.
Sharon Zeeman: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And when we saw the trauma pattern, well, when you've been emotionally traumatized by going through cancer, so many people do, that's totally normal, that it can actually steal your memory, because of the chronic stress associated. So some brains, after chemotherapy, look terribly toxic, because of the poison in you, right, to poison the cancer. But your brain didn't look terribly toxic, which is good news. But the emotional trauma was clearly still there, and treating that can really help your memory come back, and just know that, it's okay, I don't have dementia, I'm not headed to the dark place, can be really helpful. So talk about your experience a bit.
Sharon Zeeman: Oh, yeah. Well, I would have to say that I was completely shocked of what you guys showed me in my brain, that I really thought, like you were saying, it was going to be the toxins that they had put in my body and we were going to see on your scan of more the ... Do we say the outside of my brain?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sharon Zeeman: I thought that was just going to be demolished. I never even contemplated the aspect of like-
Tana Amen: Most people don't.
Sharon Zeeman: ... the emotionality of what I was going through. I was in a really dark place and I just thought it was something that I just needed to keep my head-
Tana Amen: Suck it up.
Sharon Zeeman: ... focused and go. From the moment I got diagnosed with breast cancer, I was going to be a warrior for this and I was going to kick its butt and then I was going to help everybody else in its path do the same.
Tana Amen: Well, you may have done that, but it still takes a toll.
Sharon Zeeman: Correct. But I never even thought to look at myself for that. It was always just like, "Oh. Well, this, we're going to take it and then go help other people." And then when we were in the Route 91 shooting, it was the same kind of thing. We came back, we did four or five sessions of therapy and then it was like, "Okay, we're just going to be here to help everyone else get through it." And it was right around when it was getting close to the anniversary of Route 91 for the two years, and then right after it is my anniversary for my breast cancer survivor, I started really getting in a dark place that I have no clue. And just coincidentally or magically-
Tana Amen: If people [crosstalk 00:16:37].
Sharon Zeeman: ... or as God leads you where you need to go, Troy meets Dr. Amen, and we decide, okay, let's scan our brains.
And when they flipped over into, like, it was, "What do you think you're going to see on the emotional side?" Because they were like, "Oh, your brain doesn't look as bad as we thought." And I was like, "Oh my gosh, well what is wrong with me?"
Tana Amen: Right.
Sharon Zeeman: And when he flipped it, and we'd already been there with Troy and I knew the diamond formation was-
Tana Amen: Trauma.
Sharon Zeeman: ... trauma, and I saw how much trauma I had, I just completely started crying. It was an answer that I never knew was there.
Tana Amen: So you knew it was there, but you didn't know what it was.
Sharon Zeeman: I didn't know what it was. And as soon as they said-
Dr. Daniel Amen: That's why I love the imaging work we do because it uncovers things that people don't know are there. Because if you don't look, how the heck would you ever know? All right. When we come back, so many things. We're going to try and be as practical as we can. Before you're in a situation, what are the things to do during. And then be brave, like Troy and Shannon and Tana. If you've had trauma in your past, there are tools to help you. Stay with us.
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