I am a Virginia Tech survivor who suffered in silence for many years after the tragedy. Years later, I realized the psychological trauma that I had experienced and the long-term impact it had on me. Thus, I have a passion for crisis prevention, response, and recovery. I travel the nation speaking about school safety and crisis recovery to help law enforcement officers, psychologists, and community leaders.
After the shooting, I became obsessive about exercise and fell into a cycle of restricting and binging. As a result, I stopped getting a menstrual cycle. This didn’t concern me until eight years later when I realized the association between a women’s menstrual cycle and fertility. (I was naïve, what can I say!) For the first time in a long time, I decided to listen to the tiny voice inside my head that I had been shutting out: Go see a counselor about your obsession with food, exercise, and body image. You are causing your own infertility struggle.
In 2015, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I wanted so badly to get pregnant that I threw myself into my recovery. It was in that recovery that I realized the relationship between the Virginia Tech shooting and my eating disorder, and how common it is for psychological trauma to trigger addictions. Three months after I started counseling, my menstrual cycle returned. Five months after that, I got pregnant. And nine months later, I gave birth to the greatest joy in my life.
I choose to participate in the This is My Brave show to share my story with fellow survivors of mass violence so that they don’t remain in denial about their traumatic experiences for as long as I did. I want to share my story with others who have been affected my mental illness, and let them know that I can relate, and there is no judgment here. I want to share my story with those struggling with their weight and tell them they don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain size. I want to tell people that eating disorders don’t affect just young girls – but they can affect anyone, regardless of gender or age.
What do I hope the audience takes away from my story? That you don’t have to be shot to be injured. Psychological trauma doesn’t require a physical injury and so often, the struggle to return to a normal life can’t be seen, only felt. We don’t always know when someone is struggling with mental illness, since most of the time, we can’t see their pain. So, let’s be kind to one another and kind to ourselves.
I often reflect on the years between the shooting and recovery, and refer to them as the lost years after trauma. For me, the lost years ended when recovery began. <3
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Please share this post with friends and family in the Northern Virginia area. We're all affected by mental health and addiction issues, and the more we can support each other, the easier it will be for people to seek help. This Is My Brave is proof that Storytelling Saves Lives.