BY GOWRI ABHINADA
For some students like junior Gustavo Lanz, it is apparent that trauma can be a life-changing experience. He has recognized trauma is hard to overcome when it comes to the extremities of undergoing gun violence in Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD), to those who struggle with the ripples of this tragedy. Lanz, however, said although the burden of overcoming distress can be gruesome, it is important and empowering to grow from these emotions.
“Overcoming trauma is important for the sake of being able to continue with life knowing that the traumatic event doesn’t have control in defining who you are,” Lanz said. “A trauma of this magnitude has shaken our community to the core. Overcoming trauma means taking power away from those who’ve hurt us and defining ourselves by what we know we are and what we can be.”
According to Lanz, he was deeply impacted by the tragedy which took place at MSD. He said he recalls the emotions he felt after hearing the chilling news from his mother.
“[When my mother told me about the news,] I was pretty dumbfounded; [while I was hearing the news, it was] almost as if I’d just imagined what she said,” Lanz said. “You never expect [school shootings] to happen in your community until they actually do. [School shootings] are forever a case [of] not here, not possible.”
Like Lanz, freshman Tess Segal said she was impacted and managed her emotions she faced by protesting her anger.
“Anger is a whole lot easier to process than fear and sadness. My first instinct was to fight, to protest and maybe that was a distraction from facing the fact that I no longer felt safe at school,” Segal said. “Instead of thinking about that very visceral terror, I thought about the legislation, lobbyists and the politicians [to cope].”
Segal said she became politically involved after the incident by creating signs and volunteering in organizations to create change. She said she found these activities helpful in overcoming trauma and she hopes they will prevent future tragedies.
“Not a whole month after [the incident], I created a countdown sign and I started volunteering for Headcount, where I got to help people register to vote for the 2018 midterms,” Segal said. “Vote out senators and representatives bought out by the gun lobby; recognize that gun violence is a public health crisis and these tragedies are and always have been preventable and believe in real change.”
Junior Alexandra Geisser said she lived through the tragedy, which occurred on Valentine’s Day. According to Geisser, she is a survivor of gun violence and a former MSD student who transferred to American Heritage soon after the calamity.
“[The MSD shooting] wasn’t supposed to happen to me, my friends, my school [or] even my neighborhood. I wasn’t supposed to walk out with my hands on my head, glass shattered at my feet [and] blood pooling around bodies,” Geisser said. “Moving schools gave me the opportunity to distance myself from the trauma and to process [the event], without being back on campus in that atmosphere.”
According to Geisser, once the tragedy took place, she resorted to what she calls writing therapy.
“Writing my feelings and thoughts certainly helped,” Geisser said. “In my particular instance, projecting onto my characters or stories also helped me cope and process the trauma better.”
Much like Geisser, Algebra 2 Honors teacher at MSD Shanti Viswanathan said she experienced the same disaster and felt broken after the incident occurred.
“I was completely on adrenaline after the shooting; my sole intention was to save my students. My fear factor was null but once [the adrenaline] was gone, I experienced pockets of memory loss and grief,” Viswanathan said. “A guest from Columbine told me that when one goes through tragedy, your brain conveniently forgets the most horrid parts of the day; that’s how my brain coped. My adrenaline died [two days after the MSD shooting] and by then I was all tears.”
Viswanathan said she was shaken from what occurred at her workplace and struggled to come to terms with the situation. She said the district forced inhabitants of MSD to return a week after the tragedy, which made the healing process difficult after losing many people that day. She said her peers outside of school congratulated her for protecting her students, but she said receiving the recognition came off as insensitive toward her.
“[Some of my peers] called me brave and I didn’t want to be congratulated; I had lost so many dear to me and my second home. It was like we were being penalized,” Viswanathan said. “We were forced to come [back to school] after a week and the funerals weren’t even over. We were trying to cope.”
Viswanathan said she sought therapy to try to overcome her trauma. In addition, she said there are numerous ways MSD has supplied students with helping deal with their troubles. According to Viswanathan, mental wellness centers for teachers and students are being facilitated as well as a monthly professional development day. MSD also has a masseuse who offers oil massages, manicures, tea and spices to students to calm them.
“[Students and faculty] all take counseling but for me, it’s being with my students [that helps me heal] as we’ve gone through the same things,” Viswanathan said. “My students and I understand each other perfectly without even speaking.”
As a teacher who has seen the power in children’s voices, Viswanathan said she feels youth activism is integral when facing loss.
“The youth are the difference in how we cope with trauma. Taking out bump stocks was because [politicians] would lose votes if they ignored all these children marching against them,” Viswanathan said. “If [politicians] don’t get votes because the children are leading the change, then it makes everyone here at MSD become stronger because we are winning the fight for our lives.”
Geisser said she has acted on issues relating to gun violence. Last year she attended March for Our Lives, which occurred on March 24 and said presented a speech last year in her new school on April 20, in honor of Columbine High School. She said she feels tangible change such as protests need to occur, in order for her to overcome her trauma and feel safe again.
“I don’t feel safer in school and even measures taken to protect students feel empty or useless,” Geisser said. “More needs to be done for [students] to heal.”
Even though freshman Kai Amarante wasn’t present at MSD when the tragedy occurred, he said he believes activism is integral in the healing process. Amarante said he believes the trauma will take a long time to heal, but through movements such as the March for Our Lives, change could be made.
“Activism for gun control is extremely critical, to not only save lives and help cope with trauma, but also teach young people about the importance of participating in politics,” Amarante said.
According to Amarante, he personally helped those impacted by MSD by going to the March for Our Lives movement.
“It’s important to be civically engaged to overcome the trauma in order to prevent another tragedy like this one,” Amarante said.
According to Viswanathan, she said gun control will contribute to dealing with the pain of the grim reality of MSD.
“Making a difference and voting to let politicians know that we will vote them out is integral for the future and today for overcoming trauma,” Viswanathan said. “When we know something is being done to fix the problem, it makes us feel much better.”
Viswanathan said she finds youth efforts, like movements, to be commendable since they represent the hope the youth has for the future.
“Kids are planning to cause change. Both parties talk about things other than the actual solution,” Viswanathan said. “What helps is when we stand up and fight; we grow stronger together from that. The kids will change the story.”
Like Viswanathan, Lanz said he feels activism is essential toward overcoming trauma. According to Lanz, he feels change will bring true healing.
“Youth activism, like March for Our Lives, has been vital to push for things like gun control proposals currently in Congress,” Lanz said. “Personally, I’ve tried to be as active in the movement as possible. In my eyes, the best way to cope with something so horrible is to ensure it never happens again.”