Search

Paramedic Nat

A Blog About My Mental Health Journey

Category

humility

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!…)

33776680_10160636363685624_3771905769008529408_n.jpg

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:

34095120_10160642810460624_529259804749725696_n.jpg

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.

13043344_10156896129635624_6086081418106835161_n

You Can Preorder My New Book!

1894813936

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.

 

BrainStorm – My New Mental Health Podcast

Broken and Beautiful

I got my butt back to the Buddhist Centre – finally. It’s been months since I have had any sort of spiritual renewal and the other night was a welcomed hour and half of peace. At the risk of sounding completely unspiritual, while I was there I was reminded that self-pity is a son of a bitch. And that I have been drowning in it for quite some time. Sigh. I was also reminded that we often ‘claim innocence’ with regards to what our minds think, and thus what our bodies feel, but if we take a closer look, we often have a hidden motivation as to why we think and feel the way we do. We are always getting something from our thoughts and actions, and in my case, my cynical outlook on my current unemployed situation was allowing me to wallow in self-pity, which in turn has been ‘giving me permission’ to sink even deeper into my depression. Deep breath.

The other day I was unpacking and I found this paramedic statue. It was broken when I packed it, and was suddenly much more broken when I unpacked it – and the symbolism of this hit me hard.

19944203_320338761743723_8714290644460102066_o.jpg

I cried in secret for much of the afternoon, feeling sorry for myself and angry that I couldn’t be a paramedic anymore. But when I posted this photo on Facebook, I was reminded by a few lovely people that I could perceive this experience in a different way.

19665489_733086636870996_6372615014441449700_n.jpg

 

Kintsukuroi is the practice of repairing pottery with gold or silver and expressing that this repair has actually made the pottery more beautiful. I also know that when a bone is broken it heals much stronger than it ever was before. Being reminded of this allowed me to see that I could repair the statue (again) and that it would be even more beautiful and strong.

19667942_320528565058076_8182981580711254862_o.jpg

That night my son and I found some glue and repaired the statue together. She is sitting on my kitchen window sill now and not packed away in a box so that I can be reminded that I am ok and that yes, at times my spirit has been broken, and that self pity can seep into my veins faster than the blink of an eye, but with amazing friends out there who take the time to remind me that I am ok, I can learn to see my broken parts as beautiful again.

 

 

 

 

 

So What I Jerseyed A Girl In Walmart?

13127

My last few posts have been a bit negative and down – which has caused some concern (I appreciate the concern), so I felt that I would add some sugar to the sour taste in my mouth by sharing a story that depicts progress in my recovery, and will hopefully put a smile on your face.

Yes, I’m small. But I have been known to be mighty when my family’s safety and/or best interest is in jeopardy. So, even though I am 5’2″ and 120 ish pounds, I will tell Goliath to bring it if need be, and not even bat an eye. (I was also my grade 10 english class’ arm wrestling champion when my classmates and I felt like having said competition was more important than learning about Macbeth – Good lord! Sorry Mrs. Peconan – but I digress.) Anywhoo…I recently had the opportunity to practice my new, nicer, less eyes-go-black-like-a-great-white-shark attitude when I was shopping for a bed frame with my daughter yesterday. But before I get into that story, I need to bring you back twenty years ago when my daughter was a year old and my sister and I had the most embarrassing moment happen to us … in Walmart. Sweet baby Jesus, get ready to laugh.

One evening, I needed to buy diapers for my daughter, so my sister and I hopped into my parent’s van to make what we thought would be a quick trip to the nearby Walmart. When I pulled into the parking lot I headed for the perfect open spot close to the main doors when a car suddenly sped up from the other direction and took it. I was mad, (I think rightfully so), so I flashed my high beams at the culprit’s car to show my disapproval then proceeded to find another spot. As I was just about to get out of the van, I noticed a girl walking very briskly towards my window (clearly upset) and when I rolled the window down she proceeded to yell at me for flashing my high beams at her boyfriend’s car. I told her that she took my parking spot and to settle down as I’m sure my high beams didn’t damage his car, then rolled up my window to signal that I was finished with the ridiculous interaction…or so I had thought.

After the angry girl walked away, my sister and I went into the store and proceeded to walk down the main aisle looking for the diapers, but as we did, we noticed that this same girl was standing at the end of each small aisle with her hands on her hips clearly waiting to have more of a ‘chat’ about what had ensued. I sort of fluffed her immature behaviour off and avoided her until I had to go down a certain isle to get the diapers I needed for my daughter. As I walked towards the diapers, this girl who had clearly not gotten over the fact that I flashed my high beams at her rude gesture, stepped in front of me and put her hand in my face. Yelling and swearing, (and also about a foot taller than me), she got on my last nerve so I put my hand up into her face and told her to move out of my way. Standing toe to toe at this point, my sister got nervous and reached to move the girl’s hand away from my face – then all hell broke loose! Sweet baby Jesus, here we go! 

I’m not sure how all of the next set of event’s unfolded, but in a whirlwind of adrenaline, I did what any Canadian girl growing up playing road hockey and watching Tie Domi would do…I jerseyed her! It was the only thing I knew how to do! I pulled her jean jacket over her head, and as she tried to swing punches at me from around her jacket, I kept pushing her to the ground and moving her away from my sister. Just before I pushed her into a paint display, Walmart employees came running with their blue smocks blowing in the wind and broke us up. Like two hockey players headed to the penalty box, we were separated, and I couldn’t help but notice that her hair was now teased like a wasp’s nest on the top of her head and her day planner or journal was scattered all over the aisle. How the hell did that happen? “DID I DO THAT?” I thought? My brother is going to die when he hears that I just jerseyed a girl in Walmart! (I’m literally shaking my head right now! LOL.)

For what it’s worth, the employees kicked mean-jacket, I mean jean-jacket, girl out immediately and told my sister and I that they had heard/seen that she was the instigator of this royal-rumble. I chalked it up to being the most embarrassing moment of my life and I now thank the heavens above that YouTube had not yet been invented in 1997. I was THAT girl – there’s no denying it. The YouTube headline would have been: Canadian Girl Jerseys Rage Filled Jean-Jacket Chick in Walmart! …I probably would have made it on Leno.

Ok, now back to bed frame shopping yesterday with my daughter, (the same daughter who I fought jean-jacket girl for to get diapers twenty years earlier). As a frugal shopper I went to the discounted furniture area right away and found a nice bed frame, but it didn’t have a price. So I tracked down a sales representative to show her the frame and get a price, and when my daughter, the sales rep and I returned to the discounted area, another lady was holding onto the bed frame – my bed frame – the only one available. Right away I blurted out, “Are you wanting to buy that?”, and as soon as I did, my daughter started to slowly reverse out of the area preparing to escape before don’t mess with me mom appeared. But the thing is, that mom didn’t appear! Even when the lady said that she in fact was looking to buy the same bed frame, I calmly turned to the sales rep and asked her what the price was prior to dropping the gloves, and to both of our dismay we found that it was already sold. No right hooks or upper cuts required.

Now that I have a much different perspective on life these days, (and to be honest, much less energy), I have zero desire for combat. In fact, when I now approach a potential battle ground, I automatically use what I learned in rehab called wise mind before I react, and by doing so, much less harm and aggravation comes to me these days. Not only do I benefit from this, so do my kids. Yesterday my daughter was ready to hightail it out the door in embarrassment when she saw what used to be an opportunity for me to debate appear. But there is no need for her to run anymore. There’s no need to fight. It’s just not worth it.

Now, if the bed wasn’t sold, I still most likely would have reminded the other interested shopper that ‘I saw it first’ (juvenile but true), but if she was adamant on buying it, I probably would have backed off knowing that it wasn’t worth the argument, and definitely not worth my daughter’s embarrassment in me. And if I had known what wise mind was twenty years ago when I needed to buy diapers, I may have even avoided the jerseying encounter all together. (But damn it makes for a good story!)

While immersed in a life of recovery where completing even the smallest daily task is a huge accomplishment for me, I define defeat very differently now. Picking my battles is a daily adage I must live by so that I don’t burn out too quickly and overwhelm my already taxed brain. If I don’t, I can find myself in a depression vortex that is very difficult to escape. In the Buddhist culture they practice ‘accepting defeat and offering the victory’. This doesn’t mean that you begrudgingly give up, it means that you choose to take the higher road resulting in a more peaceful life overall. It means that you have the ability to have compassion for the other person and to see that they have demands, expectations and needs set upon themselves as well. When we are able to do this, our ‘enemy’ disappears.

 

The Word Stealing Demon

brain-e1405015158293.jpg

I have been blessed with many things. I live in Canada, and get to celebrate its 150th birthday in my new home, snuggled up with my fur babies and microwaved popcorn. The popcorn is a big deal as I haven’t had a microwave in four years (don’t feel bad for me – I could have gotten one if I weren’t so lazy), and I’ve missed the smell of popcorn in my home. Popcorn and fresh coffee – the best smells of all time. Anyway, I digress. Blessings, yes I have many. My kids love their new home and are settling in well. Walter let me tie a Canada flag onto his back for a picture. And I have made a huge dent in the unpacking process – success. But along with success comes stress. Some good (eustress) and some bad (distress), and as a human with PTSD, I find the eustress/distress border difficult to navigate.

No one will argue that moving is stressful (and if you do, I won’t believe you), but it’s supposed to be a good stress for me this time around. New start, cute house, happy neighbourhood – and all of these things are true. But my PTSD brain makes mountains out of mole hills causing what should be good, to be bad. The effects that any stress has on my brain is extremely frustrating, but also intriguing at times. As a human who used to revel in the fact that my brain had a good grasp on intelligent things, like being able to rationalize and formulate things quite well, my now injured brain can’t help but to stand back and ‘looks at itself’ when life gets stressful and it screams out to me how obvious it is that I  am not able to rationalize or formulate incoming information the way I used to. I can’t help but wonder why my brain’s ability to do certain things has changed so much.

When my pre-PTSD brain was presented with a stressful situation, it would soak it in and enjoy conquering the task at hand. But when my post-PTSD brain is presented with a stressful situation, it forgets how to even speak properly. I lose my words and literally can’t find them. I want to say shelf, but that word in buried in the dark abyss of my broken mind – literally gone. What seems like a simple task often forces me to play an embarrassing game of smoke and mirrors so that people won’t worry about me. If they only knew how much of a broken puzzle my mind becomes in those stressful moments. Trying to find the word ‘shelf’ feels like a demon is holding it tightly in his hands, hunched over it and snickering at me. “Go ahead and joke that your brain isn’t working“, he whispers to me, “but I will keep this until I choose to let it go, and no one will know how you feel right now, just trying to find a word“. In those moments it’s like electrical shocks fire all over my brain, faster than light, consuming my breath because of how tiring it is, trying to find a word that should be so easy to find. I know that some of you are thinking that you get it because sometimes you can’t find words too  – and I appreciate your kind attempt at trying to relate to my feelings. But the only people who truly get it are those with a broken brain. If you are not part of the ‘broken brain club’ (the shittiest club I know), you lose words like everyone does, but you don’t have a demon that steals them.

You may be asking yourself why I use the word demon when trying to describe many of my emotions in my blogs – don’t worry, you don’t have to call in an exorcist. I do because that’s literally what I feel like I live with some days. Brain injuries are evil in my mind (pun intended), and living with one feels like someone or something is in control of it. I could use a marionette (also creepy – sorry) to describe the lack of control I feel some days as well. I think a huge part of me loves to blog because it provides me with the physical time I need to find my words…the time my brain needs to feel less broken.

Who knew that not being able to ‘find a word’ could cause so much pain and confusion.

Humility Has Saturated My Soul

Confucius says, “Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” Profound right? And so true. But in our commercialized, ego-obsessed society, humility isn’t always the easiest trait to practice. Allow me to elaborate…

I have come to see quite clearly that the social media forum is an extremely powerful way to help the largest amount people I can; so I use it…a lot. Through my eyes as a care-giver, the results are wonderful, and continue to be, but as my ‘followers’ increase, I am forever practicing mindfulness to be sure that I remember that this number is not just a number, each follower is a human being.

The part of me that still battles my concern about what other people think of me has an insatiable need to be sure I’m not just quenching my own thirst. I have had conversations with the people I trust on more than one occasion about whether or not they perceive humility when I share my thoughts, pictures, etc.  It’s not an easy internal battle to be honest, I am petrified of having my ego ever displace my ability to genuinely love and care for people, and potentially bring me back to the darkness I have (with a lot of work) escaped. So, where am I going with this? Well, luckily for me, sometimes there is no need to question if a post I share is humble – sometimes it can’t be anything but.

Today I was given a gift that brought me to my knees and wrapped me in insurmountable humility, and I want to share it with you. My friend Mike Speers, went out of his way to photograph my book, Save-My-Life School, at the Vimy Ridge 100th year anniversary and tribute because he knew I couldn’t be there myself. My first feeling when I saw them was, “I don’t deserve this”, as humility seeped into every cell of my body. It was his way of saying thank you for what I had shared, and I knew immediately that I needed to show my gratitude for his kindness and pay tribute to the memorials I am so honoured to even figuratively be photographed beside. These photos deserved much more than a quick Facebook or Twitter post, they deserved explanation and gratitude to the highest measure.

17952576_10158674426100624_1589951603385424955_n

In front of the Vimy Ridge Monument in France.

About Vimy:

“The Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Situated in northern France, the heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. The Canadians would be assaulting over an open graveyard since previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties.”

“Canadian divisions stormed the ridge at 5:30am on 9 April 1917. More than 15,000 Canadian infantry overran the Germans all along the front. Incredible bravery and discipline allowed the infantry to continue moving forward under heavy fire, even when their officers were killed.There were countless acts of sacrifice, as Canadians single-handedly charged machine-gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts. Hill 145, the highest and most important feature of the Ridge, and where the Vimy monument now stands, was captured in a frontal bayonet charge against machine-gun positions. Three more days of costly battle delivered final victory. The Canadian operation was an important success, even if the larger British and French offensive, of which it had been a part, had failed. But it was victory at a heavy cost: 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded.”

“Vimy became a symbol for the sacrifice of the young Dominion. In 1922, the French government ceded to Canada in perpetuity Vimy Ridge, and the land surrounding it. The gleaming white marble and haunting sculptures of the Vimy Memorial, unveiled in 1936, stand as a terrible and poignant reminder of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France who have no known graves.”

The Battle of Vimy Ridge – Canadian War Museum.

17951819_10158674426025624_4692499909562118685_n

And if having my book photographed beside the Vimy Ridge Monument wasn’t enough, Mike also took a photo beside the grave of Lieutenant Colonel John Mc Crae, the author of the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’. Gratitude overflowing.

Nothing I ever do will ever compare to the ultimate sacrifices the men at the Battle of Vimy Ridge made for our freedom. And these photos will forever saturate my soul in humility.

Mike, with a humble heart, I accept your gift and sign of appreciation. Thank you.

Sunny Spring Darkness

spring-flowers-_black-and-white-3840x2400-wide-wallpapers.net.jpg

Spring is in full-swing and April 1st is here. I have always practiced safe-reading when I open a possible April-fool’s article (i.e.: I scan the content to be sure that the last paragraph doesn’t reveal that the words I have read are all false), so in the interest of saving you from scanning if you are accustom to the same behaviour, I will tell you now that what I am about to share is true – possibly unbelievable – but nevertheless true. Here goes… sunshine often makes me sad.  Ridiculous right? Like who would not want to wake up to a beautiful spring day? Who would not feel rejuvenated and alive when they open the curtains to see sunshine streaming down onto the budding leaves? Who would not feel happy on a sunny day…well, me.

I know that I am not alone in this feeling because a friend has shared with me that he feels this too, even before I shared that I experience this alien-like emotion myself. He is a fellow depression and post traumatic stress sufferer, and one sunny day when I was texting him from my curtain-closed, outside-avoiding room, he said that he hated sunny days. He didn’t need to elaborate – I knew exactly what he meant. Sunny days are supposed to evoke happiness and energy. They are supposed to make you smile and put on a nice outfit and go for car rides with the windows finally down. But for my friend and I, a sunny day often makes us feel guilty. 

I can hear kids playing outside and the neighbours emerging from their winter hibernation. But if I am having a dark day, the last thing I want is to be reminded that I have no desire to do such things…at all! I can hear the leaf blowers and motorcycles (sure sign sounds of spring), but on a dark day I literally plug my ears over my earplugs because again I don’t want to be reminded of the productiveness and fun others are having at apparent ease. When my depression descends, its darkness smothers the sun with mocking, evil laughs. When I’m in the darkness, a sunny day feels like eternity, and the guilt it induces will inevitably build with every non-constructive second that passes. When depression rears its ugly head, even the sunniest day can’t make the world seem good.

Glum story, right? As I type this I feel like a spring-time Scrooge yelling, “Bahumbug” to the sky and the birds and any potential vitamin D. Oh well. It is what it is – I wish this was an April fool’s joke.

Tomorrow’s a new day.

 

To Clara, With Love

17554300_10158573872355624_5834877150754166347_n

January 28, 2014 – Bell Let’s Talk Day. I was sitting in my living room watching TV with family members when Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes came onto the screen. I had definitely seen her before. I remember literally sitting on the edge of my seat cheering her on as she won medal after medal in both the winter and summer games. She represented so much strength and courage. She was OUR Canadian athlete! – And she had made us so proud! I wasn’t sure right away why she was on the news that night, but it was no coincidence that I was watching, because as she began to talk and share about her mental health struggles, I felt a sudden, incredible feeling of validation and rare happiness. Olympian Clara Hughes had been battling a dark road of depression, as I had been, and suddenly after hearing her speak, I knew that one day I would share my story too.

Oct 6, 2014 – The the first time I ever shared anything publicly about my dark world. I started a blog, and this is what I wrote.

Hi Everyone,

This is a big deal for me. This first blog will be short; but to me its HUGE. I’ve been battling a mental health illness and I feel it’s time to talk about it; but it’s not easy. Let me start by saying, today is the first day of my partial hospitalization mental health program. I have a long road ahead of me, which started years ago. I want to share it with you and possibly help anyone who has been battling a mental health illness with a stigma so big it often keeps our minds closed to the pain these illnesses cause.

Stay tuned if you would like. I will be posting often.

~MedicNat

Fast forward to today, March 28, 2017, and I have developed a friendship with that same amazing Canadian Olympian, Clara Hughes. She has written the foreword to my book Save-My-Life School, and after she sent me this (among many) shout-out, this is what I replied.

Dear Clara, ❤

I can say without a doubt that this book would never have even be even a figment of my imagination if I had not seen you on TV a few years back honestly sharing about your mental health journey!

YOU made vulnerability something beautiful to me!

YOU showed me that I didn’t need to hide anymore, and that every time I shared my own journey, stigma would melt away from me – and it did.

YOU encouraged me through messages and emails when I was battling the darkness that still grabs a hold of me sometimes.

YOU told me to never stop – and I won’t.

Over time my posts may lessen and my voice may not be as loud, but by inspiring me to have the courage to put my heart and soul into Save-My-Life School, my message will never be gone.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You are such a wonderful friend ❤

Sending you SO MUCH LOVE.

~Nat xo

17553772_10158573600580624_7508295064975080746_n.jpg

img_0786

11947874_10156114598765624_8922414734296233184_o

Here’s to many more years of friendship! Love you dearly Clara! XO

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: