by Omer

March 15, 2020

To keep this in line with personal mental health, I’ve decided to note my own experience of my exposure to the NZ Christchurch attack that happened one year ago, on the 15th of March, 2019.

I remember seeing the news on my phone of the Christchurch attack, a few hours before I was to attend Friday prayer myself and I didn’t know how to take the news. I didn’t know if I was sad, upset, disappointed, shocked or in denial.  I even saw a short video which had somehow gone viral over WhatsApp, I wasn’t aware it was live-streamed at the time. For those that don’t know or haven’t seen it, the video was the first person view of the shooter walking into the mosque and shooting at innocent worshippers.
I didn’t know how to react or feel. I had just watched people get shot down and killed before my eyes, in a place where I consider home even though I had never been to those specific mosques in Christchurch before, in fact, I had never even been to NZ.

A mosque is a unique place for a Muslim. If you go anywhere around the world and visit a new mosque you’ll feel as if you belong there. It’s a different feeling and I love it. I always feel comfortable visiting a new mosque, because Islam (ideally) removes any racism or division and I feel as if that any new mosque that I visit, is a part of who I am. My identity. Not just spiritually, but physically. That place, is literally where I belong, even though it may be so far away from home. I’m not sure if I was able to express this well enough, but it’s a beautiful feeling. This has been my general experience visiting mosques around the world.

So when I watched this video, which I wish I hadn’t, I witnessed this place that is so familiar to myself and as mentioned before, a place where I feel I belong even though I had never been there before, and it hurt me more than I first recognised.

I don’t know what it was, but my mind just put the news and the pain on hold, put it aside and decided not to dive into it just yet. I almost ignored it. There was news everywhere, people were talking about it, every setting that I attended there was a conversation about it, everyone was waiting on updates, stories of the individuals and the families affected started emerging and I, I just watched from afar. As if immune to everything that was going on.

For about a week, I didn’t allow myself to experience the hurt that came with the news and the indirect trauma. I don’t know, I guess nobody enjoys experiencing trauma and for me, it’s always been a reflex to avoid experiencing any form of emotional pain immediately (even though I know, as a mental health professional, the importance of living through the pain).

So after a week, I decided it was important that I faced this ache, which is completely incomparable to the pain of the families that lost their loved ones. But I knew I needed to do feel it, finally. I began reading about the stories of those that lost their lives. I started to read and listen to the families talking about their loved ones. Stories of heroism started to emerge and individual stories of the survivors were also taken in. 

As I was reading and watching all of these different stories and different perspectives, it was a combination of empathy, pain and heartache for those involved, and I guess, experiencing the pain and somewhat healing for myself. 

It took me a week to allow myself to experience the heartache of the Christchurch attack, but I wasn’t aware of this whole process until I reflected back on it. At first, I didn’t think much of the fact that I put off these emotions, but it could be the fact that I’m generally one to reflect back on experiences to learn from them, or also the fact that I’ve learned so much more about mental health now. Whatever it was, I noticed (much later on) that I did in fact experience some form of light or mild indirect trauma from watching a video that I shouldn’t have. 

Everything does happen for a reason though, I’m a firm believer in that. And I’m almost certain there are things that I’ve learned through this experience, whether about myself or the state of the world. 

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