***Trigger Warning for school violence and shootings***
It’s been a challenging two weeks. I found triggers in unexpected places and I found that I had the strength to ride them out.
It started with a staff meeting at school. If you have not been in a school in a while, we have a variety of emergency drills that never existed when I was a child. In addition to the fire and tornado drills of my childhood, we now have lock-down drills. These are further subdivided into “internal threat”, “external threat” and the terrifying “imminent threat”. This is what was being discussed at the meeting. I have participated in these drills before. I have taken a group of children and had them hide in a closet sitting in complete silence as we pretend that there is an intruder in the building. They never bothered me before.
However, this year the drills have changed. What used to be called over the announcements as a “code red” or “code blue” (code blue tended to be a medical emergency that just required children to be out of the halls) has now gotten very specific. I used to discuss these drills with my babies saying using euphemisms such as “bad people” or “something dangerous outside”. Now, the principal stated that she would be extremely specific in her announcement. She would literally come on the speaker and say that, for example, “a white man in a brown coat is in the parking lot with a gun”. This, apparently is the law. It was at this point in the conversation that I started to feel triggered.
She moved on to the internal threat. She bluntly told us that the people in the office are the first to get shot and that there would be very little chance of getting many announcements out. She said she would make one announcement and that we were to scream her message down the halls, passing it on. Then she literally screamed, “Shooter in the building! Internal threat! Take cover!” Her screams went right through me and set off one of my panic episodes. I was shaking and having trouble catching my breath. Right in front of the whole staff. I kept it together. I held tight to my chair and breathed through it. Somehow, I made it through the rest of the meeting without having to leave.
I had the long drive home to regain my composure. I think it was her scream, and the thought of a chain of screams echoing through empty halls, falling on the ears of 500 children that upset me so. I now had a week to dwell on this before the actual drill. This drill was different in another way as well. I would not be hiding in the corner with my class. I am considered ancillary staff and I am on our building’s crisis team. So I would be one of the people passing the message of the shooter throughout the building. Then I was to check and make sure I could not get into any classrooms or see any children through the hallway windows. This was very distressing. It was a long week. I was terrified that I would panic and freeze up when I was called upon to do this duty.
The day came. The children hid. The halls were empty and dead silent. It was very eerie. Then came the shout that there was a shooter in the building. I had to shout this myself. I hate to think what the children think of all this. Could they make the rationalization that this was only a drill and that there was really no shooter in the building? Do they feel less safe in our usually warm and inviting school after all this? What a sad message about our society when this is what we have to practice in our elementary schools. And the reality is that in my school district, there have been neighborhood shootings. One last year was in our playground (well after school was out, but only 10 minutes after I had left for the evening). We have had SWAT teams going into houses right across from the school. A school shooting isn’t something unimaginable for me.
Here’s the tiny victory part of the story. I stayed strong, and I fought through the trigger. I was able to stay grounded. I was left shaky for quite some time after the drill. I was left with a bitter feeling in the pit of my stomach. But I stayed strong.
This is a good thing.