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.
Living in the now is great and all, but I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for me. Finances, health, relationships – these are all big question marks. But I suppose they are question marks for everyone really. I don’t do well without having inspiration in my life. That’s why I usually have several projects on the go – when I’m healthy the more inspiration the better – I think. Wings of Change, a new Save~My~Life School quote book and journal, my Brain Storm podcast, future speaking engagements, a little pastel artwork…I don’t do well with doing nothing.
When my brain feels well, I usually get to work on a lot of projects because I know that beyond the horizon there will be yet another era of my alien life that will grab me tightly and not let me go for however long it chooses. And during alien life, projects are few and far between. But they are inspired when they do arise. Being in darkness fills my brain with outer-space ideas and feelings that rip out of my soul because they are too painful to contain. Actually, they are impossible to contain.
My alien mind is interesting and thought provoking while I’m in a healthy mind. But when I’m actually in alien mind, it seems anything but interesting! When I’m in it, death screams in my face constantly. It literally spews hot spit-filled air on me as I try to breathe. I have a noise sensitivity when my healthier mind is active, but when my alien mind is active, noise is more than just sound! It’s like acid that permeates the air, my cells…my entire existence. It hurts, a lot. It makes my eardrums bleed invisible blood. It makes my eyes cry invisible black tar filled tears that I can’t easily wipe away. It makes my lungs cave in on themselves and scream that they hate taking yet another breath…and another breath…and another. And all of these symptoms are SO real to me when I am in my alien mind. You could tell me they aren’t but I wouldn’t believe you. In fact, I would probably punch you in the throat if you tried.
It was nice to draw today without my alien mind active. I can personally still see that mind lingering in the background with the colours I choose and the features I draw. But when I put the pastels away today I sang a song, and cleaned up, and made dinner for my kids. Lasagna and garlic bread! Some days are ok. And I will have some art to remind me of it when these ok days are gone.
It will be interesting to see what I draw when the alien returns.
T’was the night before Christmas, and everything’s good,
It’s been two whole years since my stay at Homewood.
The stockings are hung, I found them this year,
No wine in my mug, my head is so clear.
The children are happy, all childlike and kind,
While memories, some sad ones, are stuck in rewind.
No tears in my kerchief, and no more night-caps,
I’ve escaped the relentless delusional traps.
Addiction once owned every piece of my mind,
But now I am living so free and not blind.
Away to the window, I see a new dawn,
The world isn’t dark now, I’m so less withdrawn.
The moon in the sky can still make me feel antsy,
I’ve gained a few pounds but they make me look fancy.
Little ol’ me loves to live in the now,
My chakras aligned, ‘no regrets’ is my vow.
My kids see me laugh now and say that I glow.
No hugs filled with wine breath, that’s so long ago.
Now Walter, Now Pepsi, Now Oliver play
With Carol and Adam on each silly day.
We snuggle and tickle and joke all year long,
And a drive isn’t finished ’til Adam’s new song.
I’m off to wrap presents I somehow afford,
Remembering always this day’s for the Lord.
With gratitude flowing I no longer fight.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
I’m approaching 40 years old, but have amazingly done most of my personal growth in just one. Crazy right? Whoa! Natalie! Back up! Are you really going to use the word ‘crazy’ when you’re a mental health advocate? What impression will people get of you? So there it is…a perfect example of how a lifetime of depression-guided, self-appraisal can to this day influence how I think (or over-think) I’m making an impression on people.
Even though recovering from the dark world of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction has undoubtedly strengthened my confidence and inner-peace, there is still a side of me, (the tattoo-free side I suppose), that deeply safeguards my albeit false, perpetually smiling image. But why does this side of me still care what image I am portraying? I really have nothing to hide! I have already very publicly announced, and illustrated to thousands of my blog readers who the Natalie is behind a fragile bubble of incessant laughter. People already know that I have travelled from the relentless hell of suicidal ideation, to the heaven of self-acceptance and love. So why would I still worry about whether or not I make a good impression, when I know that I am a good person, and when I’m pretty candid about, well…everything?
I think the answer lies in the fact that I am still a woman who battles mental illness in a world that often smiles and nods in the lime-light of mental health awareness, but quickly closes the blinds when the cameras are off to retreat to the comfortable world of complacency; and that fact alone can make even me feel like I should retract certain impressions that I’ve made.
Promoting a stigma-free world is somewhat of a social hot-topic these days, but ‘hot-topic talk’ is cheap when lives are still being lost because many people simply give the impression that they maintain a stigma-free view of people who battle mental health illnesses, when really they would rather gargle hornets than speak out about the stigma-acts they still witness. – So no wonder depression still makes an impression on even me.
But alas, my doubts about speaking up and fighting for the suppression of mental health stigma always subside, and I soon feel the need to strip down to my core beliefs again. I think from time to time that some people probably roll their eyes because my blog posts still appear on Facebook and Twitter, but I won’t stop speaking the words that so many still can’t say. Besides, at the end of the day your impression of me is really none of my business anyway.
I finally feel comfortable in my own skin and the world is a much better place when I don’t have to hide. Inner-strength is much deeper than the clothes, and THAT is the impression I fight to leave.
*A tremendous thank you to Pie Magazine (Editor Sandra Roberts and Photographer Jeff Buchanan), for the opportunity to embrace yet another level of strength through vulnerability, and to learn how beautiful living without a mask can be. xo
I know that I have written about the healing power of mindfulness and living in the moment a lot, but I just want to share how difficult it is to do such things when depression rears its ugly head. When depression engulfs me in its cloud, I NEED to sleep all day or be bombarded by reminders of, a) things I am not doing and should do, b) things I have done in the past that I shouldn’t have done, or c) things in the future that I want to do but don’t know how to. Sigh…
For those of you who are fortunate enough to not live with depression, let me share what it’s like to live inside my head when I do. And keep in mind, the following daily routine example is one during my mildest form of depression.
9:00 am: What I Want to do: Clean the backyard. Get a coffee. Get caught up on paying bills. What I do: Nothing.
10:00 am: What I want to do: Get dressed and drive to get a coffee from Tim’s. What I do: Flop out of bed (which is an accomplishment in itself) throw on some shoes and a sweater even though it’s 30 degrees outside because putting on a bra is WAY too much energy; I’d rather sweat like a track runner while I drive.
11:00 am: What I want to do: Go outside with my neighbour who invites me to have a Perrier. What I do: Ignore the invitation until my guilt takes over, then text him from my bed telling him that I can’t today.
Noon: What I want to do: Make lunch, walk my dog and put together my new rowing machine. What I do: Eat ice-cream out of the carton, let my dog go for a quick pee in the backyard, and walk past the rowing machine in the box by the door that the cats have torn apart.
1:00 pm: What I want to do: Not sleep. What I do: Sleep.
2:00 pm: What I want to do: Not sleep. What I do: Sleep.
3:00pm: What I want to do: Get out of bed because I have a headache from not doing anything all day. What I do: Convince myself to stay in bed, because I have a headache from not doing anything all day. Proceed to wallow in self-pity because this time of the day is the ‘danger-zone’ part of the day, meaning that if I don’t FORCE myself to get out of bed, there is NO turning back…I will remain in bed all day.
4:00 pm: What I want to do: Some stretches on the floor to get my blood circulating and hopefully relieve my headache. What I do: Touch my toes. Once.
5:00 pm: What I want to do: Laundry. What I do: Kick the pile of dirty clothes into a taller, less large-looking pile. Return to bed.
6:00 pm: What I want to do: Brush my teeth. What I do: Remind myself that I am well into the ‘danger-zone’ so it is not even practical to do such a thing when I will be asleep very soon.
7:00 pm: What I want to do: Nothing. What I do: Nothing. Success!
8:00 pm: What I want to do: Anything but sit in bed! What I do: Not even change positions in bed.
9:00 pm: What I want to do: Write. What I do: Write. The only way I can live in the moment. My healthy source of serenity.
There you go folks. As I sit here and type from the same spot I woke up in 12 hours before, I am actually happy that to me I had a relatively functional day!
Now I’m off to bed…I’m exhausted.
It may seem weird, as Bill 163 (The Protecting Ontario’s First Responders Bill) isn’t technically passed until tomorrow, but I wanted to talk about how this accomplishment is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to protecting and fighting for the mental health and well being of ALL of our healthcare providers across Canada!
I have read a few posts today with regards to how Bill 163 should not pass yet because it doesn’t include certain workplace mental health injuries or healthcare professions. And while I certainly encourage discussion of the expansion of legislation in order to protect the greatest number of individuals, I DO NOT support the delay of this Bill. For a few reasons:
I do agree that there are members of our peer community that should be included in this Bill. In fact, that is why my Wings of Change Peer Support Group is all inclusive. However… I am very wary of delaying a Bill that WILL help so many immediately. People are dying and I know of MANY people who desperately need this Bill NOW. There are other legislations in the works as we speak that have the opportunity to address a broader spectrum of peers, but the world of politics is slow because so many legislations are being brought forward every day.
I will not stand by and see another peer battle PTSD without hope. I will not stand by and learn that my peer can’t afford their mortgage and needs to go bankrupt. I certainly will not stand by to hear another family cry when they learn that the demons of PTSD have taken their loved one away from them forever. That is why I do not support any delay of this Bill.
I wish our fellow healthcare provider peers didn’t feel ‘left behind’ in Bill 163’s process. The fact of the matter is that politics and legislations are not easy to steer, and at this moment we need to celebrate that Bill 163 is a blessing that will save lives. But rest assured, there is a bigger fight happening already. I am a stakeholder in Bill C-211 which is the Federal PTSD Bill, and I will be fighting to include ALL healthcare providers in this legislation.
If you would like to join me in this next fight, feel free to send me a message. ALL voices are imperative in order to keep this positive mental health momentum going!
Bill 163 is just the beginning, (and a great one at that). But the Canadian Government hasn’t heard the last of me yet 😀
I am thinking of buying one of these watches. Even though I am not much of jewellery person, this piece speaks volumes to me… on so many levels.
When I was in Save My Life School over a year ago, I was introduced to the idea of living in the moment, or in ‘the now’. At first it was an ideal eye-roll topic for a bearer of a mind saturated with negativity such as myself. Why would I want to live in the moment when I didn’t even want to live? Back when I knew it all (insert present moment eye-roll) I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the value of living, let alone mindfully doing so. I was at war with the ‘now’ in my mind – the last thing I wanted to do was pay attention to it!
The irony of all of that ‘living in the now’ business, was that it took TIME for me to grasp and appreciate its power. And more importantly, it took me months to realize that living in the now didn’t necessarily mean living in present pain. When I opened up to the idea, and forced the demons in my mind to be quiet long enough to be mindful of things beyond my pain, the world transformed into something I never knew even existed. Day by day (or more accurately, second by second) when I practiced living in the now and mindfully payed attention to the beauty all around me, life went from excruciating, to just painful, to tolerable, to pretty good, to wait-a-minute is that a smile on my face, to holy-crap I can be happy, and then finally to realizing that I can accept what comes my way and enjoy life.
Now don’t get me wrong, this timeline (ugh, the living in the now puns are really hard to avoid in this blog) is not always as fluid as described; I still find living in the now very difficult some days, because like ALL mindfulness practices, becoming skilled in them takes practice and…you got it…time. On difficult days, just taking a moment to focus on my breath is an accomplishment for me.
The amazing Eckhart Tolle wrote, “Once you see and accept the transience of all things and the inevitability of change, you can enjoy the pleasures of the world while they last without fear of loss or anxiety about the future.” Just like all emotions, they pass and change. So even if the emotion you feel right now is unpleasant, trust that you CAN feel a different emotion…soon. And if that unpleasant emotion is about the past or future, try to mindfully focus on the now, which is ONLY in the breath that you are taking.
As my beautiful sister-in-law Mandy once said, “Living in the now teaches us to stop giving permanence to impermanent things”. I challenge you to try it out. Open your heart and mind to the possibility of NOW.