On April 16, 2007, two weeks after my 21st birthday, I was sitting in class at Virginia Tech when I heard an unfamiliar popping sound. It sounded like gunshots, but I was confused as to why there would be gunshots inside the building. Part of me deep-down knew something wasn’t right.
During the next twelve minutes, my classmates and I laid on the floor pushing the desks and chairs against the door while the shooter shot at our door and tried to push it open. Fortunately, our barricade held and the shooter was unable to enter our classroom. Unfortunately, he entered the other four classrooms, killing 30 and injuring 19 students and professors.
Trauma occurs in a variety of forms and to varying degrees. It has a lasting effect on those who experience it. For a long time, I underestimated the effect that trauma had on me. I stopped being present because for twelve minutes being present really sucked. I constantly felt vulnerable because for twelve minutes I was really vulnerable. Trauma creates a wall between you and anyone who didn’t experience the event with you. I want to tell all survivors of school shootings and other traumatic experiences that these feelings are normal! I wish someone had told me that nine years ago.
It took me years to admit that I needed help. I went to counseling a week after the event, the summer after the event, and eight years after the event. It took me three counselors until I found one that worked for me. Recovery is not a linear process. There will be setbacks along the way. It takes consistent work, but it is so worth it!
Today, writing and presenting about my personal experience helps me continue in my recovery. I share my story so that I can encourage others who have experienced trauma and may be having similar feelings. Mental health illnesses are nothing to be ashamed about. Seeking counseling isn’t for the weak, but for the brave. The shooting lasted from 9:40 AM to 9:52 AM on April 16, 2007. While 9:52 AM marked the end of the shooting, it was just the beginning of a long recovery.