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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About My Mental Health Journey

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BrainStorm – Remembering Chester Bennington

On this episode of BrainStorm I share:

  • Remembering the late band member, Chester Bennington from Linkin Park,
  • Thoughts about a past radio interview with him,
  • The “Layers” of my depression,
  • Ideas on how to react appropriately when we feel uncomfortable with talk about mental illness,
  • How I feel that suicide is not selfish,
  • …and more

Get Save My Life School: Here

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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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.

I Wish I Had Learned This As a Student: Compassion vs Attachment

I Had A Shower Today

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I had a shower today. Seems like a normal and simple task, right? Well, not for those who battle mental health illnesses and injuries such as depression and post traumatic stress. Having a shower after somehow emerging from a downward spiral that seems like it will never end (unless you end it) is in my mind equal to the feeling of winning a gold medal. Moving to a mental space where you can lift your head from your pillow, and no longer contemplate peeing in a cup because the washroom feels hundreds of miles away (legit I have never done this before…but I have come close to bladder explosion when my mind is dark) is definitely worth a friggin’ gold medal!

One of the worst parts of a deep depression is that when you’re in it, you can’t see how bad it really is. Hence, peeing in a cup seeming like it’s not that bad of an idea. What happens to my mind when I am in a dark world is that I relentlessly try to get my brain to co-sign my own bullshit. My inner dialogue goes sort of like this:

Me: Brain, I know I shouldn’t pee in a cup…but if I do, it’s not the end of the world right?

Brain: It’s not a good idea Natalie. It will make a mess. You’re not a boy.

Me: But if it does make a mess, it’s my pee, so who cares?

Brain: I’m still thinking that it’s a bad idea.

Me: Well it’s not like I want to shit in a cup! Now THAT would be bad!

Brain: You’re still not selling me on this one, Natalie. You should just get out of bed and go to the washroom. The time we have spent debating this has taken longer than it would have for you to go and come back.

Me: Ugh, I hate you brain.

…and then I go pee in the washroom.

I could use so many examples in that same conversation with my brain. It’s torturous and exhausting. Yes I am using some comic relief to lighten the read, but overall these relentless internal conversations can get very dark, and when that happens I decide to sleep. I still feel guilty sleeping so much, but that method of numbing is MUCH better than the alternatives I used to use. So anyone who thinks I’m lazy can kiss my ass! I’m alive, sober, not hospitalized, and able to quickly rationalize that taking my own life is NEVER a practical option for me! A shitty decision like that will never get co-signed by my brain, because I don’t let the conversation even start. That to me is gold medal worthy all day long.

 

My Freedom Is Not Like Yours

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What does freedom look like to you?

To some it may be;

The mending of a broken heart,

Being cured from a disease.

The heavy weight of a jail cell opening.

Running past the finish line and falling to the ground.

Drinking refreshing clean water.

Escaping the pain of an abusive relationship.

Turning the ignition after getting your drivers licence.

Performing a play you have rehearsed for months.

Finally apologizing – and it being accepted.

Feeling the diploma placed in your hand.

Tasting the salt of the ocean for the first time.

Holding hands under the stars.

…all understandable.

Freedom to me is;

A quiet mind, free from feeling broken for a full minute.

Waking up to see the sun and actually wanting to feel it on my skin.

A night of dreams that I can’t remember.

When I finally run out of tears.

When the obsession to numb passes.

Walking Walter and not having to look over my shoulder.

Not seeing the pain in everyone’s smile.

Not feeling dark energy looming over the earth.

Having a day when I don’t learn of a suicide of a peer, and knowing exactly how that person must have felt.

Looking into Adam, Caroline, Walter, Pepsi and Loller’s eyes 🙂

Thinking that maybe…maybe…one day I can let someone in again.

Fearing death.

 

 

 

Well Deserved Drool – An ACP Student’s Dream

If I could do one more thing as a paramedic, I would be an advanced care paramedic (ACP) preceptor for my friend Jill. I just love her – and I know we would have so much fun being partners. I’m not sure how much my post traumatic stress would like it – but man it would be amazing if I could! 

I miss being a preceptor. I miss feeling pride in my student after a call well done. I miss feeling the, “I get it now!” energy that radiates off of them when a concept clicks, usually after having a chance to use said concept on a call. Thinking about this reminds me of a call I will never forget. How a ‘concept’ was used much earlier than anticipated in an ACP student’s career, and how I know we saved a life that day.

It was my ACP student’s first shift. Like normal we arrived early to check the truck and the bags. I LOVED this day! Being able to zip open the ACP bag and unveil all of its amazing medications, and tools, and potential! Like a kid in a candy store, ACP students almost drool when they can actually touch the contents in that bag, and know that it would only be a matter of time until they get to use it. Getting to that unveiling point is HARD WORK! The drool is totally expected, understandable, and well deserved!

As I showed my student how to draw up a cardiac medication in a special way, (a trick of the trade that rightfully welcomed him to ‘the club’), we were shocked to hear the tones go off so soon (with the bag’s contents masquerading as a yard-sale on the bench seat). He didn’t have much drool-time as we were on our way to what would be a ‘career call’ for both of us.

Dispatch information was that we were going to a car accident literally around the corner from our station. It was a residential area, so we were anticipating a quick fender-bender call, allowing us to get back to the ‘candy shop’ in no time. But when we pulled onto the street, we immediately saw tire marks over the boulevard, barely missing a light pole, leading to a car which had crashed into a home’s garage leaving it half way through the bricks on the other side. I looked at my student, as he said, “Oh shit!” (Side note: paramedics hardly ever say oh shit – it has to be bad to say oh shit out loud).

As we pull up, I can see that the mangled car is most likely holding up the garage. In hindsight we shouldn’t have even went into the garage without it being stabilized – I actually take the safety of scenes very seriously, but for some reason on that day it looked ‘safe enough’, so I put my helmet on and headed to the car. My student was already there and could see the single passenger slumped over and blue. “I think he’s VSA (vital signs absent)!” He yelled. “Oh Jesus, here we go.” I thought.

My partner got to work wiggling into the passenger seat with the airway bag and started breathing for the patient who was a young male, maybe about 25 years old. His colour improved, and he had a pulse…but a weird pulse. My student and I grabbed the rest of the equipment, including the ACP bag we had just thrown back together in about 60 seconds, and began assessing the patient. Without getting into the medical details of the call, my student ended up having to draw up the exact medication with the trick I had just shown him how to do minutes before. There was a work bench in the garage – perfect! It became our drug table. I printed out the patient’s ECG as the fire department started to secure the garage roof. We would still have a bit of time on the scene because of the extrication that needed to happen safely. As pieces of the roof fell down around us (not big pieces, don’t worry 😉 ), our patient began to have a seizure. I yelled back to my student, “Oh you also need to draw up some midazlolam now”…an ACP student’s dream. After a base hospital patch fail or two for ECG guidance, we made some critical decisions together and got shit done…yet another ACP student’s dream.

With the help of the fire department we were on the way to the hospital with our patient in good time. He was in a very odd cardiac rhythm, so we were guessing he had taken some sort of drug to cause an apparent healthy young man to be this sick. My student and I loved to read ECG’s and both of us were stumped on what this patient’s heart was doing.

We transferred care at the hospital with our patient alive but still unconscious. As my student and I walked out to the ambulance bay, we stopped and starred at each other with wide eyes! If this was a sign of what calls were to come with him – we were in for a fun preceptorship ride!

Two days later we were able to check in with the hospital to see if our patient was still admitted. That was all we could be told though due to patient confidentiality. If it was a yes, he would most likely be alive, but with an unknown level of brain function. If it was a no, he could be dead and at the funeral home, or could have made a miraculous recovery and had gone home. He was still admitted and in the intensive care unit – not a great sign.

We took a walk to find his room. When we stepped inside there was what appeared to be his mom sitting beside the hospital bed, and what could have been a sister or a girl friend in a chair a little further away. Our patient was ‘not awake’, and hooked up to the monitor. It was his mom, and when we said that we were the paramedics who picked him up, she immediately started to cry. She stood up and hugged us both. The girl in the chair was crying too, but appeared to be frozen in time. After we answered a few questions about the call, we had a moment to ask how he was – at that time he was still ‘not awake’. Then just like he had heard us (and maybe he did) he rolled over and opened his eyes. His mom turned to him and said, “these are the paramedics who saved you”. He looked a bit confused at first, but without saying a word, he tossed his blankets off, sat up, disconnected the ECG leads on his chest, and walked over to us. He hugged both of us, still without saying a word. My student and I couldn’t help but join in the tears that were being sharing in the room.

He was so tall! It’s funny because one thing I remember when I was on the road was that when I’m focused on doing my job, and especially when that job is literally saving someone’s life, I never notice what my patient’s really look like, or how tall they are. Well this patient was young and tall, and lucky to be alive after a night of partying with cocaine.

I drove past that house many times after that call. The garage door now repaired and the boards that covered the hole in the side of the wall now back to bricks. Like nothing had ever happened there before – but I would always remember what had.

My student and I did have a preceptorship filled with many dynamic calls where life and death walked a tightrope before our very eyes, sadly often with a very different outcome than the call above. But that’s just the way in goes, actually saving a life doesn’t happen that often even after many years as a paramedic. I still miss the road every day. But thankfully I will always have the memory of that patient (who was blue when we found him), giving us a hug with a second chance at life.

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