InFocus: Lisa Marie Husby, survivor of the 2011 Norway attacks

“You can shoot me in the arm, you can shoot me in the eye but we are still going to rise”

Photo Creds: Sammi Ciardi

Lisa Marie Husby is a 26-year-old second year management student from Norway. From her charismatic and outgoing personality, you would never have guessed that she was a victim to one of the most horrific terror attacks of the 21st century.

On the 22 July 2011, Ms Husby was attending a summer camp of the island of Utøya organised by the AUF, the Norwegian Labour Party youth division when lone wolf terrorist Anders Breivik dressed in a police uniform arrived and massacred 68 and injured 110.

Following the attack, Ms Husby has suffered severe depression and personal tragedies.

We will still keep fighting

However, now she says that she is healthy again. Having tried university in Norway multiple times Ms Husby has found a home at the University of St Andrews.

“I tried uni in Norway and didn’t really like it, I tried it twice, it wasn’t really for me and then I met my boyfriend in Norway and he’s from Edinburgh. He showed me around St Andrews one day and I just realised that I really want to study here.”

“So I applied and they said no three times.. Or twice? I wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I was like ‘I’m coming anyway’ and they were like ‘fine.’”

“They said maybe you should go back to uni in Norway for a year and then we can see. I said I didn’t have a year to wait I wanted to do it now.”

In her first week at St Andrews Ms Husby took part in signing The Declaration for a Shared Humanity. Religious leaders from around the world gathered at Upper College Hall on Friday 23 September to foster the idea of a common humanity as a tool against radicalisation, and as the basis for inter-faith cooperation.

As well as Ms Husby, the event was attended by senior members of the Christian Churches, the Catholic Church, Hindu communities from the UK and India, senior Buddhist monks, and an Edinburgh Imam.

At the event, Ms Husby read a poem written by the survivors of the terrorist attack. She said that “after the terrorist attack in Norway on the island, a lot of the youths that were on the island were very politically active and so was I.

“They saw lots of people after the terror attack rising to the occasion, getting together and fighting for what they believe in. The poem was basically about well ‘you can shoot me in the arm, you can shoot me in the eye, but we are still going to rise, we will still keep fighting.’”

“It was a really good day. A great way to start off in St Andrews. That was my first week.”

Ms Husby went on to explain why it was so important for her to be vocal about her experiences, “I think from day one I realised this is not something that I should be embarrassed about.”

“Because I happened to be in a terror attack and I happened to get mental health issues after it like so many others and I felt like hiding it and not talking about it just made everything worse.”

“I started talking about it and it just made everything so much easier because most people knew what happened to me but they didn’t really want to talk about it, so I figured if I start talking first it was so much easier to handle everything.”

Having previously struggled with university and depression, Ms Husby explained why she has found a home in St Andrews and been able to cope better than before, “You know everyone is going through something, it might not be as extreme as going through depression or surviving a terror attack but everyone has their own battles.”

“I think being open about it has definitely helped me a lot especially in St Andrews because I’ve met so many friends in Sallies that have had similar experiences that they’ve been through, like hard times and to be able to be in a community where you can share things is just made things much easier.”

She continued, “Coming to the UK I thought it would be more private and people wouldn’t really talk about it that often but I found it really easy to be open about mental health here and that’s great.”

“I hope that other people who perhaps do not feel the same way as me can start being more open.

Not talking about it just made everything worse

“There’s always someone there to listen and once you start being open it’s so much easier.”

Last year Ms Husby gave a Tedx talk about her experiences entitled ‘Life is just a set of new beginnings.’

During the talk she described the attack, “after the bomb went off in Oslo, I called my mum, and the first thing she said was ‘I think you guys are the next target.’”

“Seconds later I heard something that sounded like fireworks.”

Prior to the attack on the island of Utøya, Anders Breivik had placed a car bomb outside the office of the Prime Minister of Norway which killed eight people.

Following the 2011 attack Ms Husby continued to work for the AUF, “I worked for the organisation for a while but it was difficult going back and living on my own as I’d turned 20 that year.

“There was so much happening with the trial and some people having been shot and some surviving and some not, there was so much happening all the time, so I stopped working for a little bit and go back to school, it didn’t work.”

Anders Breivik acknowledged that he had committed the offences but pleaded not guilty as he believed that the killings were needed. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison which can be repeatedly extended by five years as long as he is considered a threat to society, this is the maximum sentence permitted by Norwegian law.

Ms Husby expressed some dismay about the way the attack is regarded in Norway, saying, “we don’t really talk about the ‘terror attack’ anymore in the way of it being a terror attack. It’s more sort of seen as the attack of a crazy man.”

“I think we have to get away from that as there are extremists on both sides. There are left wing extremists, there are right wing extremists, there is Christian extremism and Muslim extremism.

“We cannot just because he is a Christian-Norwegian just say ‘oh he’s crazy.’ But if it was a Muslim that did it people would just say ‘oh extremist.’ I think we need to think about that more especially when the right wing are expanding across Europe.”

She furthermore commented that it was “difficult” for herself when the party that Anders Breivik had belonged to, the Progress Party, prior to his crimes had been elected to government for the second time since 2013.

Ms Husby left politics a few years following the attack and began to work for an oil and gas company.

“I was the leader of my party in my city, and I was meant to be running for mayor but then I got really depressed again and didn’t function really for about a year and had to have some pretty heavy treatment for a full year both physically and mentally and just stopped doing politics for a year. Now I’m back to being healthy again and I haven’t really had a bad day since then, it’s going very well.”

Ms Husby asserted, “I don’t really miss politics at the moment I’m very happy just being a normal student.”

“It was a really good experience and it’s something that I want to go back to later in life. But at the moment it’s nice not having to go to meetings every day and do lots of debating.”

Ms Husby speaks fondly of her time at St Andrews so far and the friends that she has made, “I thought it would be a little different, like difficult to get to know people because when you’re 18 compared to like 25, which is how old I was when I started here, I thought I’d never be able to find friends that I would have to hang out with just post grads. But there are a lot of people who are more mature.

“I made loads of friends from Sallies who were really mature for their age. Or maybe its because I want that uni experience, I’m a bit younger up in my head and people here are very mature as well.”

“The University of St Andrews have been so helpful. I have some learning difficulties, like I’m not as sharp as I used to be in that sense, so I have some extra time on my exams sometimes.”

“So you know if I wasn’t open about it I wouldn’t have people helping me get better every day, it would just be me thinking about it.”

Ms Husby also explained that following the attack her one goal was to go back to being the person she was prior to the events of 2011.

However she said, “trying to go back to the old me turned out not to be the way forward, when you experience something like that you can’t really go back to the way things were before because of that drastic change in your life. I think you need to acknowledge that you have to find a new direction and a new way to function.”

“I’ve never been ashamed of going to see a psychologist because it’s just as important as looking after your physical health – looking after your mental health.”

Despite her experiences, Ms Husby continues to make the most of life and sets herself “wishes.”

One of these she has already obtained. After 25 concerts, Ms Husby fulfilled her dream of dancing on stage with her favourite artist, Bruce Springsteen.

“In Belgium he kissed me, that was really fun … In Leeds I went up on stage, I had a poster that said that I really wanted to dance with someone in the band and they found it really funny and put me on stage.”

She continued, “I have small and big wishes, in my room in Gannochy I have this note where I write down everything I want to achieve this year. So this year I want to be on the TEDx committee because i think that would be really fun.”

“On my bucket list is studying abroad, which I’m doing right now.”

“I always wanted to go to the Galapagos, that’s a big one. And I really want to push myself this year grades-wise because last year I just really wanted to focus on being happy and healthy mentally and this year I think I’m going to push myself a bit, now that I know I can do it.

“So this year i really want to end up on the Dean’s list, you know just putting that out there.”


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