Life is full of surprises. A lot of times, these surprises either warms our heart to make us smile, giggle, even to the point of hilarious laughter. Talk about birthday surprises from family members, a romantic interlude from a persistent lover, or a humorous prank from a close buddy. But sometimes, surprises bring about shocking news or events that could lead to grief, anxiety disorder, depression, and serious emotional and mental conditions. Tragedies such as deaths, accidents, kidnappings, robberies, rapes, weather disasters and other natural phenomena can shatter a person’s emotional balance.
The tragic Virginia Tech Massacre last April 16, 2007 that left 32 people ( 27 students and 5 faculty members) dead and 25 others wounded was one of the most dangerous, if not the deadliest school shooting incident in modern US history. Seung-Hui Cho, a South Korean who committed suicide after the killing spree, had been previously declared by a Virginia special justice in 2005 to be suffering from mental illness.
This tragedy generated extensive media coverage worlwide. Millions of viewers who are not really closely related to any of the victims felt varied emotions such as a great sense of loss, fear, anger, surprise, shock and disbelief.
How much more grief do you think the families and friends of the victims must have felt at the time the news was being aired? Survivors and relatives of those trapped inside Virginia Tech frantically communicated with the outside world using their cellphones. They too underwent such a traumatic experience. The helplessness they must have felt brought so much anguish and fear in the heart of every student in that shool, not to mention each parent who as well as in every parent’s whole being.
The trauma brought about by the Virginia Tech Massacre to the victims, survivors, to their families, relatives, friends, and to the general public can never be undermined. In fact, health experts are closely monitoring all those involved for possible signs or symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is a type of anxiety disorder resulting from an individual’s life-threatening experience or a very traumatic event that has affected the person emotionally or may have even caused a person to experience an anxiety attack. Having lived through such a harrowing experience can bring about the following problems: the feeling of history repeating itself; sleep problems like insomia or having nightmares; a feeling of isolation; agitation or irritability; and even guilt.
People with serious anxiety disorders show one or a combination of these signs and symptoms of PTSD:
lPeople suffering from PTSD may develop the feeling of “history repeating itself” which psychologically subjects them to the same traumatic event over and over again. The anxiety can be very distressing and could lead to an almost daily panic attack. PTSD usually occurs about three weeks after the traumatic incident. In some cases, signs of PTSD may be delayed and would only start to appear some years later.
lInsomia or having some troubles getting sleep may be caused by worrying or unresolved feelings about the tragic event. Nightmares may be about the same traumatic experience or it could be anything that is frightening and threatening to the person.
lThe feeling of isolation is characterized by not feeling close to people. It is similar to socio phobia in the sense that there is fear in being with strangers, and sometimes, even with lovedones. people behaving this way needs a lot of reassurance, comfort and encouragement.
lPeople with PTSD are usually highly irritable. They easily get angry by even the slightest provocation, or even in the absence of it. They are highly sensitive and are easily agitated or rattled.
lGuilt haunts people with PTSD. They feel guilty about surviving the tragedy while others did not. They feel irrational guilt that they could have done something for the others, or blame themselves for being the cause of the incident or accident.
While there is almost nothing that can be done to prevent disasters or school shootings, there is help available for those with anxiety problems or PTSD. Anti anxiety medications may help people with PTSD feel less afraid and tense. It may take weeks before they experience its full medical benefits. Consulting with health care specialists and counselor for therapy may greatly help.
Indeed, traumatic events come when we least expect them. For that reason, it is important that we continue to nurture our family ties and relationships. We need to surround ourselves with people who will always be there to reassure us, affirm us and comfort us whenever we are caught by life’s great surprises.
Remember Forrest Gump’s most familiar quote: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”