RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A woman who survived being shot during the Raleigh mass shooting says she has found peace and is thankful to be alive.

In an exclusive interview with CBS 17, Lynn Gardner spoke publicly for the first time since she was shot last October on the same day a gunman is accused of killing five people in the city’s Hedingham neighborhood.

Gardner called it a normal day. She was celebrating her birthday with her good friend Nicole Connors. The two went to lunch and then came back to Hedingham to get their dogs to go for a walk, and that’s when life changed.

“I’m waiting for (Nicole) in front of her mailbox, and I notice, as I was approaching the mailbox, on my left peripheral I could see someone standing beside me in black camo pants,” Gardner said.

From there, Gardner said things turned hectic.

“I heard, ‘bang, bang, bang,’ and I heard Nicole say, ‘Why are you shooting us?’” Garnder said.

That’s when Raleigh police say 15-year-old Austin Thompson approached the two women and opened fire, killing Connors. Gardner described the moment as a blur.

“My eyes start surveying my surroundings and I’m looking down at my body, and I see that I’m lying in a pool of blood,” she said.

Gardner was shot several times including in her face. She spent over three months recovering in the hospital with her days filled with surgeries and physical therapy, but she says more importantly, filled with love from family, friends, even strangers from across the country.

“It just warms my heart, i’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it, because it’s humbling,” Gardner said.

She’s received love in the form of messages, prayers, even a portrait painted by a complete stranger.

“I had it in the windowsill, and various times of the day the sun would hit it and it looked like I was glowing,” Gardner said of the portrait.

All of that has helped her forgive.

“I knew in order for me to go forward, I had to forgive Austin,” she said.

After being released from the hospital, Gardner calls this chapter of her life her new season. She’s connected with other survivors and regained physical strength.

“I go to physical therapy twice a week, and we’re working on my balance and endurance,” she explained.

She’s also made some big life changes, including moving out of the Hedingham neighborhood.

“I didn’t want live there and keep going over and over with that event,” she said.

“I know we live in a dark world. … People make crazy decisions and they do things to people that change their world, but I’m not going to let what happened to me make me not be the loving and caring person that I am,” Gardner said.