Columbine 15 years later: PTSD and me

I used to say that Columbine wouldn't define who I am, but in a way, it does.

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  • Editor's note: This article was previously published on a+c+l+p. It has been modified and republished here with permission.

  • I did something I know I shouldn't have done. I was warned not to do it by good friends and family who knew better.

  • But I really couldn't help it, and I literally could not not do it.

  • I watched the two episodes of Grey's Anatomy where there was a shooter on the loose in the hospital.

  • Now, that may sound silly to some, but I'll try to explain more.

  • I'm writing this in January. Every year since 2007 I've taken time to write about my feelings of the anniversary. I try to be real and honest and uplifting and positive. I write about my memories and feelings that I don't want to forget. And this is my reality of my day to day feelings because of what happened to me.

  • I'm no expert but I think I suffer from some sort of PTSD. I think it's gotten worse over the years as our world has gotten scarier and more shootings have happened.

  • I used to say that "Columbine" wouldn't define who I am, but in a way, it does. Not completely. I don't think my whole existence is based around what happened that day, but if I'm being honest, it does define me just a little. And that's just me being honest.

  • I will never know if what happened to me that day and the days and months and weeks and years later truly changed my path or my personality, or what I feel and what I believe.

  • Would I be so paranoid? Would news of shootings cause me to react as much as they do now? I will never know, so I really believe that what happened to me did change me, and shape me into who I am, for better or for worse.

  • Would watching an episode of a fictional television show send me into an emotional tail spin had I not gone through a school shooting myself?

  • Why am I even asking these questions? I don't really know, but I feel like I need to believe that I am this way because of my life experiences, and that it's OK to stand up and fully embrace the fact that I suffer from PTSD.

  • Even 15 years later.

  • A few days ago after I watched those shows, the thought came to me that if I had been in counseling all these years, would I still suffer like this? And then it hit me that it had been 15 years.

  • Fifteen years. Exactly half my life. That's a huge pill to swallow. It sounds like so many years, has it really been that long?

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  • To record my feelings about "Grey's Anatomy" I have to say that I should not have watched those episodes.

  • My friend and sister were right, I should have skipped them. But I chose not to, I was trying to be strong and I was a little curious about it, so I chose to watch them.

  • I have to say that I can typically watch shows and movies with gun violence without reacting poorly. But only if it is far-fetched, or action packed or something like that.

  • But when it is a show depicting something that parallels Columbine, that's when my feelings and emotions kick in and I can't control it.

  • With Grey's, they showed people having a normal morning, not knowing what was about to happen (like I did) people hiding in closets (like I did), people screaming, and scrambling around, someone who died from his wounds because they couldn't get him help in time, the police not immediately rushing in to find the shooter, people not knowing what was going on.

  • All those things are things that my classmates and teachers went through, and more. It felt so real.

  • It brought so many feelings to the surface.

  • So there I sat on our living room floor, folding laundry, painfully making myself continue on watching those two episodes.

  • And to be blunt, I cried ugly, I literally sobbed into my hands the entire time, gasping for breath and basically traumatizing myself.

  • I felt physically ill and my tummy hurt and I felt like I needed to throw up, I literally couldn't move and I couldn't even find it in me to stand up after it was over. So there I sat.

  • My body reacted in a way that even I didn't know it could.

  • I couldn't sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes I replayed different scenes in my head, I thought about how much fear they must have had (yes, this being a television show) and then I remembered how it affected me.

  • Sometimes I think that I shouldn't feel like this anymore. I shouldn't let things like this bother me, I shouldn't be reacting this way. But what do I know? What do others know? School shootings, and the way it affects survivors has yet to be seen and known, at least in the long, long run.

  • So I just have to accept that this is part of who I am. So yes, It does define me a little bit.

  • But what also defines me is my faith. My values. My choices. My family.

  • And it's OK that being in a school shooting when I was 15, hearing gun shots, seeing gun smoke a few feet away from me, feeling scared, hiding in a closet, running for my life and all the crap that happened after, has defined who I am.

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  • I might never be able to watch certain shows or movies. I will always look over my shoulder when I enter a store, or walk to my car. I will always watch people carefully and make a quick plan of action in my head when I go out in public. I will always react to terrible news of other shootings in ways I can't predict.

  • It's been 15 years and the way I feel and think about it has changed, and evolved and I've taken steps forward and then 10 steps backward. I can't be ashamed that this is part of me.

  • My high school means more to me than it might mean to a person who never went through the things I went through.

  • Columbine High School is a part of me. And I'm proud of that.

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Cindy Maudsley is a Colorado native who now calls Bountiful, Utah home. She is happily married and is a stay at home mom to her two young daughters who inspire her to keep a blog as a way to journal their family memories and stories. Aside from writing she enjoys reading, baking, Instagram, and spending time with good friends and family.

Website: http://maudsleyfamily.blogspot.com

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