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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About My Mental Health Journey

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hope

Mental Illness Stigma Hurts

Whoever made up the phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, is so wrong! Names (and words) do hurt, a lot. And seeing your children experience such hurt is infuriating. Allow me to explain.

There is a mask that people with mental illness wear. A mask on so tightly that even the individual who is wearing it often forgets what their real face looks like underneath. The mask is not comfortable – oh no – it is heavy and difficult to keep on. It portrays happiness which doesn’t exist. Social media pages like FaceBook and Instagram are filled with said masks. I have posted many pictures of myself wearing this type of mask – you know the kind … perfect selfie angle and filter to make everyone think that I’m happy and that life is just tickey-boo. Alas, life is hard, for everyone – I get it – but today it’s really hard for my daughter Caroline, and I’m so sad that what she experienced is even possible.

My daughter is 21, beautiful and smart. She makes a room light up and has a witty sense of humour that instantly draws people in; it captivates them. But there are many days when she wears the mask of mental illness. Her hair may be straightened and her highlights on fleek, but behind her aviators, in many of her pictures she is wearing a mask that is so hard to remove. It takes tremendous courage to take that mask off and show the world that you don’t always have it all together. It’s difficult, especially in today’s picture-perfect society, to show the tears that have washed away any trace of makeup that may once have given you a fake glow. Its difficult to peal away a mask that fits you so well for so long. And yesterday my daughter did this brave act and removed her mask for all to see, in hopes of not only helping herself, but in hopes of helping others as well.

This is what she wrote: (Papa, get a tissue!…)

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Mask. Off. Here is my beautiful daughter, brave and kind, sharing something that shouldn’t require courage, but for now it still does. Sharing with the world that she needs help, just like so many others, and that she’s ready! Amazing.

Coming to terms with the fact that you need help is one thing, being able to afford it is another. Until Canada, makes mental health as much of a priority as physical health, there are many Canadian’s who will go untreated because of lack of funding. The cost of most psychologist visits is approximately, $150/hour and without private insurance, treatment facilities that specialize in things such as EMDR, cost thousands of dollars. I have been fortunate over my recovery to have had insurance cover the cost of my care, but because Caroline is too old to be on my insurance plan, she has little to no coverage for the care she requires.

Enter Caroline’s friend Josh into the picture. Recognizing that the intensive therapy and treatment Caroline requires costs thousands of dollars, he crafts a gofundme page where people can donate to Caroline’s care. I swallow my pride and gratefully accept Josh’s offer to do so (it’s extremely difficult admitting that you may need help as a parent), and Caroline, also happy to potentially take away some of the financial burden from me, posts the gofundme excitedly and mask-free.

And then this happens:

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This person’s words made Caroline scramble for her mask. This person made her feel bad and selfish. This person caused Caroline to breakdown into tears and beg for Josh and I to remove the gofundme page. After she picked herself up a bit (mask now tightly affixed again), she reached out to this person and made sure that he was safe and tried to offer support as he is clearly hurting too – that’s just what Caroline does. Broken and in pain, she still made sure this person was ok.

But why does this have to happen? Would anyone say, “if you weren’t so flashy with your diabetes”…or “look at your insta pics, you don’t look like you have coronary artery disease…” no. But, sadly stigma around mental illness still exists and causes so many people to resort to the uncomfortable masks they wear rather than being ridiculed for their honesty. This needs to change. And Caroline, you will be a part of this change because you shared your beautiful face – mask-free. I am so proud of you.

If you are interested in learning more about Caroline’s GoFundMe, click here.

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Where On This Earth Am I?

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I’ve been owning the seconds of my life. I’ve been embracing them like a small baby in my arms needing comfort and security. I’ve been recognizing the frailty of it all; time, love, honesty. So mush so that I often feel like I needed someone to talk me down, and get me out of the rainbow-coloured alleys, and butterfly chases – when just like that, a second happens to knock me down. There comes this second when I don’t want to open my eyes because a relationship is immanently about to change as trust goes over the edge of a cliff. I can’t stop it from going over – I’m just a spectator – the leap is not mine to be had. Then, during the next second, the universe is torn and my heart is on the floor bleeding hot, angry blood.

I need to own my seconds again – somehow. I need to stop thinking about the cliff. It’s airy silence reminds me that it’s not mine and that I should pay no attention to it. I had to look hard to find this relationship – and now everything is gone. Time to turn life off for another day. I can’t stop thinking about what we used to be. That I loved you – that I chose you. Now all I can see are stars in the sky reminding me that another second to be owned will come…eventually.

I will be thinking about us. And life moves on with yet another lesson I never asked for or saw coming. Like being sideswiped on the corner of a street by a speeding van – this relationship loss has hit me hard and fast. I have to stand my ground – trust deserves the splendour it is entitled to. Trust is everything. Until my tears have soaked my shirt with tears of truth, I will continue to look for another perfect breath. Chasing stars and hope. Backing away from the cliff at the very last second.

Looking To Smash A Broken Record

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I’m still searching for some meaning here. I’ve been ‘here’ before – figuratively and literally. I’m at Save-My-Life Summer School, where I hope to bump up my grades. “What grades?”, you may be asking. Well, my grades in coping with life and PTSD symptoms. I’m so grateful, don’t get me wrong. Like SO grateful. But no matter how you look at it, summer school sort of sucks.

I have a feeling that I will have a breakthrough – but alas, it’s only day three for God’s sake. I need to be a bit gentler on myself.

I actually bored of writing right now. No epiphanies to share. I’m numb. Completely numb. Like a robot walking the halls, emotionless and cold. I wish I had some feeling of connection to this life beyond being a mom; that connection is inherent. I mean a connection to a person or an experience. A connection to a feeling.

There were lots of spiders outside this morning. One even crawled onto my hand. A baby one. I passed it to my neighbour and he passed it to his. Without words, just passing spiders so delicately, like balancing a fragile egg on our finger nails, fearful that it would fall. It was moved safely to the seat beside us to go on with it’s merry day. It’s funny how none of us even came close to killing it. We’ve experienced enough trauma that even killing a spider is too much to bear. Well at least that’s my view of the experience.

I get so tired of feeling like a skipping record when I share what feels like the same story over and over with yet another nurse or doctor. I’m grateful – but I’m tired. The skipping record laughs at me and taunts me. Just when I think I’ve reached the end of the damn record, it skips and starts again. I wish I could just smash that record! Smash it into smithereens. Jump on it and scream for it to never play again. The pieces wouldn’t even deserve to be swept up. They don’t deserve my attention anymore. They don’t deserve my breath, my energy, my time. And I don’t deserve to be a broken record. Maybe I will smash it over the next eight weeks. It would feel so wonderful to have a different story. This one seems so pointless now.

5 Ways To Help Put The Life-Saver On Ice

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I have a new mission. I’ve chosen to accept it. I want to stop referring to my events and myself as “paramedic” Nat. I won’t be able to completely get rid of the adjective (I think it’s an adjective), because it’s my social media handle in many cases, and that’s ok, but I do feel the need to be just me again – a mission that hasn’t been an easy one. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still love the profession of paramedicine and most of my experiences as a paramedic, but I feel the need to just be me now – whatever that is – I’m still soul-searching.

I’m not alone in feeling the difficulty of putting the ‘life-saver’ side of me on ice – not even close. I have people reach out to me almost every day sharing their own struggles with separating from their life-saving persona. Whether it’s because of retirement or injury, leaving the profession of saving lives can take a toll on our own. Let’s face it, first responders and healthcare providers are cut from a different cloth – they have a passion for helping and for running ‘into the fire’, and learning how to stop doing that can be a delicate and difficult process – trust me, I know.

Five ways to help put the life-saver on ice.

  1. Allow for a grieving process to occur. This may sound silly, but I can tell you whole-heartedly that I have had to grieve the loss of my career. All five stages of the Kubler-Ross grieving process have been a part of my life over the past few years: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And when I realized that this was occurring, it helped me to recognize that a process was taking place and that each stage takes some time. It gave me permission to not have to be accepting of the loss over night.
  2. Take time for mindfulness. First responders and healthcare providers are trained to live in the past and future. We go to a call and collect information about what has happened, and prepare in our minds how to be one step ahead with how we will treat a patient. Always ready for the next…anything, and researching how we can improve on past-practice. I found that when I started to practice living in the now, I was able to enjoy a part of life that had been obscure to me for a very long time. Living in the now is a beautiful thing. This is not to say that you can’t live in the now while you are still a first responder or healthcare provider; if you can that’s amazing.
  3. See that you are still able to help people. When I wasn’t able to put my uniform on, I felt like a part of my value and self worth had vanished. It took me some time to see that I was still able to help others – on a very large scale in fact. My passion to help people and to be of service never left when I stopped being a paramedic on the road. Consider volunteering as a wonderful way to potentially fill that void.
  4. Get back to the things you love. If your busy shift-worker schedule took you away from the things you love, try to add them back into your life. Easier said than done! I still can’t drag myself to a yoga class. But writing and drawing has added joy to my life again.
  5. Enjoy eating slowly! And pee whenever you want to! Sometimes the little things can be big things. Until I was off the road I didn’t realize that for over eleven years I never knew when I was going to eat next because a call could come in at any time. And I definitely didn’t have a washroom to use while at a multiple car accident on the highway for hours. Sometimes I sit in the washroom for a few extra minutes now because I can! Too much information? – Nothing is too much information from me anymore – LOL.

Putting the life-saver on ice doesn’t at all mean that I need to forget the love I have for my past career. It was part of who I was for so long and I carry many amazing, positive memories with me forever because of it. But the fact of the matter is what I do is different now, and it’s ok for me to be ok with that.

My Interview On The Agenda

Thank you again to The Agenda for this amazing opportunity.

BrainStorm Bonus Episode – Learning How To Make Healthy Boundaries Using “The Four Agreements”

On this bonus episode:

-I share how I use “The Four Agreements”, by author Don Miguel Ruiz, to help me form healthy boundaries in my recovery,
-How to cope with negative support,
-and Lollers finds Walter’s bone. 🙂

I have a new book coming out that you can preorder here.

You Can Preorder My New Book!

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Click Here!

This inspiring book of quotations from Natalie’s Harris’s raw and gripping account of her mental health journey, “Save-My-Life School,” offers daily motivational and thoughtful lessons.

 

Busy and Bored

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Busy and bored – I’m both. It’s possible. Weird right? Even though I am not on the road as a medic anymore (sigh) I am a busy bee. Family, fur babies, podcasts, new book, new speaking engagements, and lots of emails to reply to, keep my busy every day – and I’m grateful that I am able to do all of these things – but I’m bored. I’m on a new medication and I think it is giving me a lot of extra energy (Abilify for those who are wondering). I wake up super early and can’t get back to sleep which is weird for me as the old super depressed Nat only slept!

So with that being said I want to share a few amazing words of inspiration some friends have given me over the last day or too to help easy my mind with it’s new found energy and boredom.

From Christine Newman: “Here’s what I can tell you for sure Sis… things will seesaw for a while until you eventually find your happy medium. Some days you will be in the groove and rocking your socks off. Other days, the needle skips on the record and everything sounds like shit. And at least Lollers didn’t barf IN your shoes”. Brilliant! She also told me that because I have been through so much this year, that it will take some time to find a happy medium.

From Caroline Richards: “Well, I guess this is just where I’m at, I really need to just accept this”. Beautiful and true! When Caroline said this to me, I felt like she was speaking to my soul. I have to accept where I am – it really makes things a lot easier.

From @365daysofbipol2: “When you feel like you are moving forward and seem like you’re going nowhere you are on a plateau. Learn to enjoy the view”. Simple and profound all in one.

From Dr. Debra Lindh: ” Some days are harder than others. Remember: We grow when we’re stretched not when we are comfortable”. Isn’t that the truth – thank you for reminding me. 

I hope that if you are feeling the way I am that these messages help you as much as they have helped me. XO Time for some Pearl Jam and Linkin Park. 

Positive and Positive Attract

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I had an excellent meeting with the CEO and Head of the Nursing Department of a hospital in which my daughter and I had a very terrible experience with a nurse and her lack of professionalism and compassion. I’ve always believed that positive and positive attract – and today that theory was once again proven.

The primary reason for my request of this meeting today was to share a negative experience, but I don’t go about doing so with the old Natalie ‘jersey them’ attitude anymore. I now approach difficult experiences as an opportunity to grow; and today I think that all three of us in the meeting did just that.

After sharing my recollection of the events in a detailed fashion, I continued the meeting with a request to not have the nurse in question reprimanded, but rather to have my daughter’s and my discontent shared with the nurse (or how would she even have the opportunity to change her actions and bedside manner), and to share an offering of peer support to her and all of the staff at the hospital. I explained to the CEO and Head of Nursing what Wings of Change was and how it could easily be facilitated at the hospital. I am not naive to think that it is quite possible that this nurse was having a bad day and could require some support of her own – however this does NOT condone her actions. This conversation point went over very well and I will be sending more information about Wings of Change to both of them for there consideration.

I also suggested the following:

  • A patient suggestion/comment portal be introduced on the hospital’s website;
  • Signage be added to the emergency department that offers contact information to the hospital’s patient advocates (a service many people still do not know exists).

I also applied to be on the Patient and Family Advisory Committee and requested that if I am selected that I have a voice in the adult and youth mental health department services and care.

According to the College of Nurses in Ontario, Standards of Care, “Nurses are obliged to provide empathic and knowledgeable care” (www.cno.org), and MOST do. But when a situation occurs where this standard is not met, I encourage you to contact the patient advocate in the hospital you are being provided care in.

I would like to thank both the CEO and Head of Nursing for meeting with me today and for their professionalism and genuine concern with regards to the care of my daughter.

 

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