The School Shooting Survivors Are My Heroes, And This Is Why

by Sheri Roaf
Joe Raedle / Getty

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is defined as “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”

In the hours after the car accident that took my 18 month old son’s life, I remember the visual assaults that would play through my brain, over and over. It was like a movie on rewind that I couldn’t unsee. It was horiffic.

I remember saying to my sister that I kept hearing rap music in my head. Straight up 90’s rap. We figured it was somehow my bizarre way of processing what had happened. Perhaps it shielded me or distracted me from thinking about what had taken place.

My husband and I were diagnosed with PTSD shortly after the accident that took our Benny from us. Roughly a month after our son’s death, we began seeing a psychotherapist who diagnosed us. We spent the better part of two years working with her on a weekly basis through our grief and trauma. We still call her up from time to time as needed. Grief never ends.

It was a lot of work. It was a lot of talk therapy. My husband did EMDR to try to deal with his flashbacks, which is similar to a tapping therapy. I had done some visualization within 24 hours of the accident, which helped me tremendously.

Living with PTSD is awful. It affected my life tremendously. I couldn’t return to work for fear of having to talk to clients and co-workers. I couldn’t drive a car because I was terriffied of everything that could go wrong. Everything I did seemed to bring me back to the accident. Anxiety had taken over my every thought.

I remember not wanting to leave the house for fear that something could happen, or that someone might recognize me from the news. I was scared of the questions that could be asked by people, no matter how well intentioned. Fear had become my new friend.

I mention this because I was 33 at the time of my son’s passing. I was an adult and I was traumatized into terror by what I witnessed. It changed me. It changed how I viewed the world and how I thought. How could it not?

I have been watching the news for the last week and I sit here in awe of these teenagers that walked away from one of the deadliest shootings in history and immediately took it upon themselves to enact change. Children, who upon watching their peers die did not run away and hide. They stood up, banded together and have decided to fight.

I am not a psychologist, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of these kids now suffer from PTSD. And yet there they stand, day after day fighting for gun control. They are fighting through their fear and their terror to try to make it so there won’t be another school shooting.

These kids are my heroes. And I have to keep saying kids to remind myself how young they are. When my son died, I was a grown adult and I cannot imagine doing what they are doing. I cannot imagine fighting so hard and so publicly.

They’ve been slandered all over the press. These children that chose to put themselves out there have been attacked. I have never been more sad for my fellow man than when reading what is being said. With all that they have gone through and all that they have seen, they are speaking out. Instead of them being honored, they have been disgraced.

What have we become when we attack our children for speaking out? We should be supporting these kids, not tearing them down. They have suffered immeasurably. I cannot imagine during my most trying time if I had been attacked by the press. I don’t know how I would handle it.

These kids need to know that we are behind them 100%. They need to know that we are there to help them when they need it. They need to know that we are fighting alongside them. They need to know that the adults will not fail them this time.