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The Anxiety, Trauma and Strength That Followed the Mass Shooting in Nova Scotia

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Jamie Blair

Greg Blair

Cst. Heidi Stevenson

Emily Tuck

Jolene Oliver

Aaron Tuck

Joey Webber

Frank Gulenchyn

Dawn Madsen

Kristen Beaton and Baby Beaton

Heather O’Brian

Lilian Hyslop

Elizabeth Thomas

John Zahl

Sean McLeod

Alanna Jenkins

Joy Bond

Peter Bond

Tom Bagley

Gina Goulet

Corrie Ellison

These are the names of the 22 beautiful souls that were violently taken from this world one week ago now between April 18 and 19. When I woke up a week ago to the news that there was a man dressed as a police officer, driving a mock police car roaming the streets and murdering people just because he could, I was terrified.

It’s not normal. This is Nova Scotia. This is not supposed to happen here.

But it did. 

Even though living in Nova Scotia gave me the sense that something like this would never happen here, it was always my biggest fear. Lock-down drills throughout my high school and college years only added to that fear. In the days that followed I thought my anxiety was going to swallow me whole. With all that’s going on with COVID-19 and now this, it’s been hard to process the emotions and fear I have been feeling. I never thought I would find myself having to assure friends I was safe during a shooting, my home is a couple hours away. I never thought I would question whether or not I was truly safe in my own home. And I definitely never thought I would question whether or not a police officer was actually a police officer. But here we are.

I cry every day and the emergency alert that accompanied one of the five false alarms (all on the same day) about a possible active shooter caused me to have an instant panic attack. One of the false alarms was because was an air-soft gun that was mistaken for an actual firearm. Another was when the sounds from a construction site were mistaken for gunshots. It was after this moment a few days ago when I realized that even though I have an anxiety disorder, I am not in this alone. The entire province of Nova Scotia is feeling the same trauma as I am right now. We are and always have been one large community and family. We are all scared and traumatized right now. Our sense of security was ripped away from us in a matter of hours. We all feel lost right now and we are all grieving. This past week has shown me that the way to heal and move forward from this is together, even if we can’t actually be physically together right now. We, as this giant community, stood up and said no, this will not break us. That man, we will not speak his name, he is nothing. Instead we will stand together and celebrate the ones we lost, the ones who were taken from us all too soon. 

Whenever I think about the shooter and his name pops in my head, I remind myself about the people he took away. I want to remember their names and not his. I want to remember who they were and the lives that they lived. And I couldn’t write this without sharing a little bit of that with you.

Kristen Beaton was a pregnant mother and CCA (continuing care assistant) who was working on the front-lines of the COVID crisis and fighting for PPE (personal protective equipment) for health care and other front-line workers. Her family took up this fight for her. After hearing her story, Haley Wickenheiser and Ryan Reynolds along with the help of an organization called Conquer COVID-19 are working to send PPEs to Nova Scotia in her honor.

Constable Heidi Stevenson worked for the RCMP for 23 years. She died doing her job and protecting her community. She rammed the gunman’s mock police car with her own police car and therefore he was no longer able to drive it. That action alone probably saved many people’s lives because the advantage he had was that he looked like a police officer. She took that away from him before he killed her.

Emily Tuck was a 17-year-old fiddler. On Friday April 24, Canada came together virtually in a special aired all over Canada called Nova Scotia Remembers, to honor all of the victims through music because that is what we as Nova Scotians do. The most moving tribute was performed by our own Natalie MacMaster, also a fiddler and Nova Scotian for those of you who aren’t familiar with her. She, along with her daughter who played the piano, joined herself with a video of Emily playing a song for the Nova Scotia kitchen party group. The result was beautiful and powerful, and you bet ugly cried. You can see the beautiful performance and tribute to this beautiful young girl here:

These are just some of the things I’ve learned about a few of the victims of this tragedy.

Having an anxiety disorder can make you feel scared a lot more often than not. Add to it a global pandemic and a national tragedy, and it’s pretty easy to get lost in the darkness. However, what I have learned, especially in this past week of heartbreak, is that you never have to go through it alone. Anxiety disorder or no anxiety disorder, we are all struggling right now. But we will always find a way to come together, even in the darkest of times. We put candles on our porches and hung out the blue of the Nova Scotia tartan (or in my, case painted it in my front window because I don’t actually have a tartan), to remember the people whose lives were lost. We wore red last Friday the 24 to honor Cst. Stevenson. Small gestures that we did together.

Reach out to each other. Check on each other. Because chances are someone out there is feeling the exact same way. The world seems dark and scary right now especially with anxiety. But there are little sparks of hope all around us. This tragedy has shaken us and we may feel traumatized and are grieving right now. But this will not break us. This pandemic may have forced us to stop and stay home but it will not keep us apart. In the words of the song sung by The Rankin Family, “We will rise again.”

Getty image via JXD123

Originally published: April 28, 2020
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