Luke's story

Gun scare at American university

Whilst on an American exchange programme, theatre student Luke experienced a terrifying lockdown at the university when a suspected armed intruder arrived on the campus.

“We were in the middle of Shakespeare class on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon when an announcement came through the speakers like Big Brother, warning us that a potentially armed suspect was on campus,” says Luke, “so the lights were turned off, the windows closed with the blinds down, and all the doors bolted together. I was sat at the front on my own in the dark feeling very apprehensive.”

The teacher left the room to try and find out whether the building they were in, on what was a large campus, was under threat. Luke says: “American students are brought up to expect such warnings since their school days but they were becoming frightened whilst she was gone, and that’s when it hit me that this was real and we could be in danger.” He was overwhelmed with fear, not being able to see or hear anything, not knowing whether the intruder was close by or whether they were surrounded by armed police.

Fortunately, they were given the all clear, but after that incident things really got worse for Luke. He was already feeling under pressure with a heavy workload and emotional difficulties. He saw a counsellor who suggested he had situational environmental depression, but when the exchange ended and he returned to the UK things didn’t improve. He kept waking in the middle of the night, reliving the lockdown and other bad experiences he’d been through.

Luke never considered he might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, saying “I always thought it was war veterans or some other kind of person who gets it.” He was diagnosed by the counselling service at his university, and a medical friend of his mother suggested Luke try EMDR.

The therpist gave him a pulsing device to hold in each hand – these vibrate alternately and can be used instead of eye movements to provide the bilateral stimulation part of EMDR therapy. Luke closed his eyes and pictured images of the lockdown and other incidents which had distressed him. Gradually, memories which at first took a whole hour to process would only take him ten minutes to work through, as their emotional charge was greatly reduced.

“At first, I just couldn’t believe I would be able to think about events in a different way or talk about them without becoming extremely upset,” says Luke, “but now I can look back at that difficult chapter in my life without feeling traumatised, and go to places and feel safe.”

Luke was able to continue at university during the therapy, gaining a first class honours degree as well as a special academic achievement award for his year group of which he is immensely proud. He even found the confidence to get back in touch with his directing mentor in the US and has now joined her theatre company showcasing new work on Zoom.

Luke says: “Before I had EMDR I just wanted to block everything out. Now I’ve got a fantastic opportunity. There will be lots of people experiencing trauma, and I want to tell them that with help it really is possible to get past the worst experiences and get on with your life.”