On April 16, 2007, I lay on the floor as a gunman tried to enter my classroom at Virginia Tech. In 2015, I sought counseling for an eating disorder. One of the first things I said to my counselor was, “This is not related to the shooting. I want to own this eating disorder, and I want to fix it.” She likely thought to herself, All right honey, we’ll get there. Only a couple of months later, I found myself sobbing in her office. I was allowing years of bottled-up fear, loneliness, guilt, and anxiety to be released. I had finally begun the process of dealing with the Virginia Tech tragedy.
After the shooting, I internally struggled to return to a normal life.
So what did I do? I faked a normal life. I got a job working for the federal government, got a master’s degree, ran a marathon, got engaged, got married, ran more marathons, got a second master’s degree, bought a house…. the list goes on. I came across as happy and successful to family, friends, and social media; I actually believed I was.
For eight years, I couldn’t make any sense of my feelings. So I didn’t try. I just kept moving and I clung to distractions. Fortunately, counseling has helped me make sense of that confused, scrambled mess.
There was a mismatch between how I was feeling inside (anxious, vulnerable, scared, and lonely) and about people’s comments about how well I was dealing with the shooting. I didn’t want to disappoint people, and I didn’t connect with what they were saying. And so that disconnect, and my own denial, became routine for me.
I needed help but I didn’t realize it. I built walls because I didn’t want to feel the sadness. I didn’t realize that when you don’t acknowledge the sadness, you also aren’t allowing in joy and love. You can’t pick and choose which feelings you allow inside.
I needed someone to help me learn to accept my feelings. I needed someone to re-teach me how to deal with them. I needed someone to help me to stop comparing my feelings to others’. I needed someone to help me understand that my feelings were a way for my body to communicate with my mind. But what good is someone’s help if I’m not listening?
What made me go seek counseling? First, I wanted something more than I wanted my eating disorder. I wanted to start a family. I wasn’t treating my body in a healthy way, so I couldn’t get pregnant. I was causing my own fertility issues, and I was the only one who could fix it. Second, I had to stop caring what other people thought. This is so much easier said than done. Today, the only judgment I care about is from the Big Man upstairs.
Admitting that you have a mental illness or addiction is difficult. But counseling is so, so helpful, and your mental health is so, so important!
About Lisa: Lisa Hamp is a survivor from the Virginia Tech shooting. Lisa suffered from untreated PTSD and an eating disorder for many years after the incident. Today, she is an advocate for school safety and mental health services. She speaks to law enforcement, first responders, school counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals sharing her experience. Learn more about Lisa at www.lisahamp.com.