Friendly reminder and/or educational information sharing moment: (With all due respect).
PTSD is NOT fixed if I fix my addiction. PTSD has caused physiological changes to my brain. Three parts (hypocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex) have been physically altered. This is proven in MRI’s. PTSD requires different focused treatment separate from addiction treatment. Yes, both conditions OFTEN go hand-in-hand, but NOT all the time.
My disease of addiction became active when I developed PTSD. Some of the symptoms of my PTSD and addiction include depression and anxiety and all affect different parts of my brain. But, you and I can also suffer from depression and anxiety SEPARATE from PTSD and addiction.
Please don’t imply that if you treat addiction, all other mental illness/injuries will follow. This is scientifically not true and can make those who are in recovery from addiction feel less than if they still battle with mental illness/injuries and “practice the principles in all their affairs”.
The brain is a complex organ that science still has much to teach us about. My recovery WILL present differently from everyone else’s because we are all separate human beings with different neuroplasticity and treatment options available to us.
Let’s give each individual’s recovery from all mental illnesses/injuries the acknowledgement of difference it deserves. ❤️
Why did I relapse? I stopped taking care of me; plain and …well not so simple. I stopped doing the work my recovery requires of me to continue it. I was at a meeting tonight and I was sharing with a friend whom I haven’t seen in a while about how disappointed I am in myself and my illness/injury. She looked at me and said, “Natalie, if you had diabetes and didn‘t take care of yourself for months, you would get sick from that too”. So true.
After being elected as City Councillor, I dove into the role to be the best I could be. No topic/crisis was too big that I didn’t want to tackle (and still do). I was FINALLY employed again and feeling like I was contributing to society and helping my community. But alas, in typical Natalie fashion, I focused so entirely on my new role, that I forgot that I am still sick/injured – and that that’s ok. I forgot that I still need to do the work I have learned to do through treatment programs. I stopped going to meetings, stopped seeing my psychologist, stopped eating healthy, stopped meditating, stopped going to the Buddhist Centre…and on and on. So no wonder I gained 20 pounds, caused my hormones to go all over the place, let my depression creep back in again (it’s a sneaky bugger), and had a massive relapse that led me to the hospital. NO. WONDER.
Life is a series of evolutions. At one point I evolved and let go of the paramedic dream I had; it was time to move on from that. I learned how to not see that as my identity anymore. But what I failed to do at the same time is learn that ALL of me is new during this new evolution in my life. Being sick/injured doesn’t mean that I can‘t be successful and healthy. But it does mean that what ‘success’ and ‘health‘ are to me are different now – and that’s ok. One day at a time.
It’s been a very tough week. Keeping it real here, my depression hit me square in the face with a vengeance. I spiralled fast, and sought medical attention for it. (Thank you Mike Pesce for helping me with this – I adore you). I don’t need to get into the details – PTSD relapse looks different for everyone. But I will share what I’ve learned THIS time around.
– Isolation will make you sink deeper into your darkness, (I promise you this). So no matter how hard you want to keep your pain a secret, reach out and tell someone. Let the tears flow. You ARE loved, even when your brain lies to you and tells you that you aren’t.
– When PTSD is “reactivated”, (as my psychologist calls it), the current darkness will NOT last as long as the last reactivation’s darkness. Your brain is resilient and has built pathways to remind you of how to get back “to earth”, (as I call it, because I feel like an alien in this stage).
– Be honest with your family. Tell them what you need. They WANT to help you but can’t read your mind. Now, I will add a caveat to this point – I totally understand that at the peak of a relapse you may not know what you need! BUT, when you figure it out, share it. Communication will decrease any anxiety that the unknown brings to family members.
– Be kind to yourself. Man-O-Man, I am NOT good at this when my relapses hit. I hate myself and feel like a failure. I blame myself for getting PTSD. I feel unworthy of anything and I definitely don’t love myself. Sigh…when you’re in this darkness it’s so hard to be kind to yourself. But maybe do ONE thing when you’re there to remind your brain that you are deserving of health. Hug your pet, (like I definitely do). Don’t punish yourself for being in pyjamas for a day … or two… or three, (because let’s be real – it happens). Get “skip-the-dishes”, (when you’re able to eat). And that laundry can wait another damn day.
So, maybe you’re not ready to use this advice today – I totally get it. But if you can take one thing away from this – know that you’re not alone. Xo
Sometimes we are faced with adversities which challenge our heart and soul’s beliefs. Change at first can be terrifying, but eventually it can be beautiful. Adversity breeds sorrow, but then it breeds strength. Love can be found in the most unexpected places if we open our eyes; breathe it in. Once you put yourself on the path of positivity, let it guide you. You don’t always need to know the way. Sometimes there are detours, a lesson – but all the while necessary. Trust in these lessons. One foot in front of the other, seemingly alone, but actually together.
Let me bring you into the chaotic world of a paramedic.
0630: Tones go off and you are dispatched to a young man who has crashed his car into a garage. 0640: You arrive to find an approximately 20 year old male slumped over the steering wheel of a house where his car has crashed into the garage. The car roof is holding up the remainder of the garage’s roof. You can see through the window that the driver is blue and not breathing. 0642: The fire department secures the remainder of the garage and you resuscitate the driver. He gets a pulse back. He requires medications for seizures and you do all of this while he is still trapped in the car. 0720: You off-load the driver to the hospital. (*You find out days later that he has survived and you visit him in the ICU – he gives you a thank you hug). 0800: You are dispatched to a potential domestic violence call. 0810: When you arrive the wife reports that he husband has hung himself in the garage. Police break into the garage and cut him down. 0813: You resuscitate him. He gets his pulse back. You put him on a backboard and transport him to the hospital. (*The next day you learn that he had a second noose in the garage…for who? We will never know because he was taken off life support and his organs were donated. 0900: You have to pee really badly. 0901: You are dispatched to a hardware store where you find a young pregnant lady yelling. She can’t speak. She is having a stroke and is 7 months pregnant. 0915: You transport her to a stroke centre. (*You bump into her husband months down the road and he tells you that she is recovering well and walking again and that the baby was born healthy). 0955: You still need to pee really badly! 0956: You are dispatched to a grocery store where a man has been found dead in a washroom. 1000: Upon arrival you find an approximately 40 year old man with vital signs absent (VSA). You attempt to resuscitate him. He has choked on food and you need to remove it. 1002: You remove the food with your tools, but the patient remains VSA. 1015: You are called to an accident on the highway. Drivers are telling 911 dispatchers that a motorcycle has crashed into a transport truck. 1016: You request that air ambulance meet you on scene. 1026: Air ambulance lands on the highway and you share that you have performed chest needles on him because he has two collapsed lungs. (*You never learn of the outcome of this patient). 1100: You finally get to pee.
All of this…before noon. Does that seem outrageous? Maybe. But this is the very literal life of a paramedic. I could insert hundreds of call types into this article – the point is that paramedics (and all first responders – however I am only speaking to what I know in this post as a retired paramedic) learn to understand chaos. They learn how to perform delicate tasks in such incredibly difficult circumstances. They save lives; and sometimes they don’t. But regardless, they impact their communities on such a profound level and they thrive in the ring with chaos.
Now imagine that you have days like this at work for YEARS.
Now imagine that you get sick and can’t go to work.
Now imagine that the chaos suddenly stops.
I believe it is so important to recognize that first responders need so much support when they leave the road (for whatever reason) because if they are not taught how to live without chaos…they may create it themselves. I know this, because I did…and sometimes still do.
I was comfortable in chaos as a paramedic! That’s all I knew. My peers and I welcomed adversity and challenge. It gave us purpose and direction.
Now imagine if that purpose and direction were suddenly gone.
Is it any surprise that first responders are having difficulty, and even dying, when they are no longer able to put their uniforms on? I think not.
Stopping the external chaos doesn’t necessarily stop the internal chaos. I totally understand this. If you are reading this and nodding your head – know that you are not alone. There is help for you out there. Peer support has come a long way. Here are some resources that may be beneficial to you:
Please feel free to share and add resource found in your community.
And thank you to everyone who runs towards chaos – I know that it isn’t easy. And I know that it’s even more difficult to stop.