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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About My Mental Health Journey

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Addiction Isn’t 9-5

Addiction isn’t 9-5

As you may already know, I am fighting hard (with many amazing people) to tackle the opioid crisis in Barrie. I have had the privilege to work alongside many talented and dedicated doctors and specialists. I have sat at boardroom tables and asked questions…and even more questions. I want the answers to this crisis so bad, and I know that it will take an army of people to solve it. And members of this army include people with lived experience with addiction. I don’t see many of these people when I am in boardrooms, and I think that THIS is a critical missing piece to the crisis puzzle.

One day, while sitting at said boardroom table with doctors and specialists, I asked why the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinics are only open two hours…that’s correct, I said TWO hours a day for drop in? And only 9-5 for appointments. You see, I am one of those lived experience individuals. I am a recovered addict and I can tell you with 100 % certainty that my addiction isn’t with me for two hours a day. This huge gap in this service needs to be addressed! My addiction is ever present in my blood. It tries to fool me into drinking and abusing my drugs again. It still tells me that I’m worthless and that people would be better off without me (sidebar – I’m safe, don’t worry!) My addiction is conniving and sneaky and as they say at my 12 step meetings, it’s doing push-ups while I stay sober, just waiting to hit me hard one day.

Hearing that the RAAM clinic was only open for two hours a day broke my heart. Some people don’t have a car and it would take them two hours just to get there by bus! I am told that the hours are so low because they don’t have enough staff to operate it – well I say let’s find some. Addiction is 24/7, and available care should be too.

Are you a mental health and/or addiction specialist who lives in the Barrie area? Email me! Natalie.Harris@barrie.ca

I can’t promise anything except that I will submit your name and resume to the RAAM. Thank you!

I’m Not Interested In Negative Feedback

I, like thousands of others, have recently watched the latest Brene Brown documentary on Netflix. And while doing so, this particular quote jumped out and hit me in the face!

“If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback”

I think she is referring to negative feedback – but I could be wrong. She may be referring to all types of feedback. Regardless, I could relate to it. I could feel the examples she gave of hurtful people throwing punches from outside of the arena where they are safe from ever truly wrestling with life themselves. I could relate to the feeling of confusion when someone can’t see that I am already fighting in the arena and I could be fighting for them, not against them – if they would let me. But, not everyone wants to be helped – remember that.

When I’m not interested in hearing negative feedback, I simply block the person. In fact, I was chatting with a friend today, and I shared with her that ‘blocking’ people on social media is sometimes necessary and the right thing to do. It’s not mean; it’s an element of personal survival sometimes. And to be fair, I’m certain that people have blocked me too. BUT, I believe the difference between my block and theirs is that I block hate, and they block the possibility of seeing themselves in my own PTSD. I know this to be true because people have told me this.

Being in the arena can take a lot out of you. I used to be in the paramedic arena, and now I’m in the political arena (not sure which is harder…lol) and I get metaphorical punches to the face from time to time. I actually mentally prepared myself for this if I were to win the election – which I did. Preparation came from knocking on all of the 5600 doors in my ward and speaking with my neighbours. Overall, people were wonderful! But I did have a few tell me that they hated my tattoos, (more so who told me they like them), and that they weren’t happy with one thing or the other to do with the City. I had to let these comments bounce off of me; so I did. And no matter what, I never stepped out of the arena even when the punches were coming at me non-stop. Furthermore, I have learned that I actually thrive in the arena, and I absolutely love being there.

I read every email I receive, and when they are riddled with anger, I can totally see that the individual needs their concerns validated and they ultimately need my help – so I give it. BUT, some people are not just angry, they are relentlessly mean. They punch from outside of the arena, but would never in a million years enter into it themselves. That’s where Brene’s quote comes in for me. If you throw suggestions and concerns into the arena; I will catch them and address them – that’s my job. But if you are spitting and lying and punching me with hate outside of the arena, I won’t continue to respond. I will use my energy to help those who require it and will fight for their needs.

I teach the necessity of ‘blocking’ to my kids, so why wouldn’t I practice what I preach? BUT, equally as important, I also teach them to send out love to the person they blocked; so that they don’t build a resentment towards them. That’s easier said than done when the people they/we block is/are a bully. “How am I supposed to send out love to a bully mom?” They have asked. “Slowly”. I reply.

You see, blocking someone on social media is a powerful demonstration of the boundaries you are absolutely allowed to set. And when I block toxic people, I am simply making room for amazing new people. I believe we teach people how to treat us. So, if I block you because you are relentlessly mean, I am teaching you that I will not stand for that and that I deserve happiness and positivity.

Don’t feel bad for setting boundaries. And remember to look around the arena from time to time to see that others are fighting too. Acknowledge them and thank them for being in the arena with you. The more fighters the better! That’s how positive change happens! And if you see a new person enter the arena because they have changed their perspective and want to be a fighter too, welcome them with open arms – even if they were one of the people on the outside throwing punches at one point – I have known this to have happened too.

To the people I have blocked: I have zero resentments towards you and I truly wish you happiness and wellness…from afar.

Gratitude From Scotland

Thank you. Xo

My ‘Medals’

I’m not athletic. So much so that my chances at receiving a medal in school for being athletic were nil. I remember signing up for track and field as a spare when I was in grade 8, only because I got to miss a day of school; I had zero intentions of actually running, or throwing, or whatever else you do at those things. But on this particular day, Susan got a nosebleed and I was up to run the 800 meter race! Sweet baby Jesus! I didn’t even know how far 800 meters was! I begged that the teachers pick someone else…but I was it; no other spares signed up. It was up to me and my New Kids On The Block t-shirt to run (hahaha…that’s funny) the 800 meter race. Long story short, I was last place and walked the majority of the laps around the track while people clapped and giggled and as I thought I would die from embarrassment. Oh, I also participated in cross country once and came in second last…only because my best friend Sandra had an asthma attack. That’s horrible! Oh the memories!

Needless to say, medals were never in the cards for me…or so I thought. Until the other day I came upon a bunch of speaker name-tag lanyards I have received over the years at conferences and events. And clumped together they looked like…medals. My medals. They of course are just plastic and paper, but to me they are as priceless as gold. As I looked at each one, I remembered the event (as well as I could) and said thank you to the universe for allowing me the opportunity to, a) still be on this planet, and b) to have had the chance to show people that even through the darkest times, recovery is possible.

I smiled as I hung each one back around my neck. They represent talks that I have given literally across this great country of ours. They represent healing and passion. And most of all, the represent hope.

So, as I stood in front of the mirror to take a selfie for this blog, I thought to myself, I may not ever adorn real medals like Olympian Michael Phelps and Clara Hughes, but to me, those pieces of paper sure do remind me that I have won.

Please Tell Your Story!

Why it’s important to share your story! I couldn’t be more grateful.

Here are some of the letters Zoey and I received after presenting to a grade 10 and 11 class in Orillia.

”I’ve always been very closed off about my emotions. After you spoke to us I talked to my parents about how I’ve been feeling and it felt really good.“

”You coming in allowed me to also share my experience that I had never told anyone. There is no last piece that I wanted to say. I was suicidal. They were two summers ago. I thank you for opening me and sharing. As I wouldn’t of shared if you did not come in.”

“As students we don’t often get an outlet to talk about these types of thing opening and without judgement, but your presentation really felt like a safe space.“

”I’m able to better empathize with people dealing with mental health issues, especially after talking about the compilation book and hearing Zoey Raffay speak.”

“You made me feel safe enough to talk about my uncle, a topic I never bring up. Thank you for that.”

” I appreciated the talk around the room. It helped me to know I’m not alone!”

”Tell Zoey Raffay that I was glad to hear her story too.”

”(Your story) give an understanding of how mental health can affect you. Plus how it can affect people around you. Talking about it really helped some of my close friends.”

“I connected to some things that are a part of your story to the point where it hurts but because of you I have learned to never give up on yourself.“

”The talk touched a lot of our classes soft spots. and it meant a lot to me when you thanked me for supporting my friends.” — with Zoey Raffay.

Depression vs Sadness

Depression vs Sadness (I have to say I learned some of these distinctions from Michael Landsberg) – thank you.

Sadness-You CAN cheer up.

Depression-You CAN’T cheer up.

Sadness-You have a fear of death.

Depression-You have a fear of life.

Sadness-Overwhelming level of emotions.

Depression-Lack of emotion (numbness).

Sadness-Can pass in a short time.

Depression-Can last for many many days.

Sadness-Doesn’t require medication.

Depression-Often requires medication.

Sadness-Often the result of an upsetting occurrence.

Depression-Can begin without any warning.

Sadness-Does not contain distorted thinking.

Depression-Is often fuelled by distorted thinking.

Sadness-You can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Depression-You ARE the tunnel.

The Stretcher

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press Winnipeg paramedics Jon Peters and Heather Dayholos use one of eight new power-lift stretchers at the legislature Thursday.

“Only the the front wheels turn”, Jason says to his mom, my best-friend Heather, as she tries to maneuver the hotel baggage cart. 

I must admit, it’s not easy to steer at all. I know this, not because I’ve tried yet, but because it seems to steer quite similarly to an old paramedic stretcher. 

“I can help.” I say to Heather, and as we try to navigate the hotel lobby, elevator and room, we crash into more walls than, “Canada’s Worst Driver”.

I laugh out loud while I share ‘orders’ as politely as possible. “You need to back up”, “Don’t turn yet”, “Let me take that side”. It’s a hilarious episode that I’m sure amused the onlookers. 

Heather and I manage to park the hotel baggage cart in the hall for the night, and when the next day arrives I wheel the cart back into the room and load it up while Heather is in the washroom getting ready. “You did that all by yourself?” She asks, when she sees this. “Ya, it’s all good! It’s sort of like a paramedic stretcher. It’s not easy to figure out right away.” I smile at her. And in my mind I can recall all of the stretcher mishaps I had as a new paramedic, and I feel the paramedic-teacher side of me make sure that Heather knows that she still did a great job.

Fast forward to the afternoon. After an amazing day of presentations to the Canadian Mental Health Association, by our not-for-profit, BrainStorm Revolution, I grab the hotel baggage cart and look for Heather so we can plan our destructive route back to our room. But then, Matt arrives! A fellow retired paramedic who naturally grabs the other end of the cart, and we maneuver with grace through the conference area and into the elevator. “Keep your hands in at all times.” Matt remarks…we laugh…and I know that we are definitely on the same page. “Always a medic. At least these halls don’t smell like cigarettes!” I say as we go up a few floors. “It will be the last room on the right!” I joke as we push the cart down the long hotel hall. I can feel that we are both making sure that we are doing our fair share of the pushing/pulling, just like a good, veteran medic does. And we chuckle at how the two retired medics inherently took up the causes to drive the cart correctly. 

The experience reminded me so much of the old days. The GOOD old days; because there still are a lot of great memories. I miss some of the times I had with my partners as we navigated the toughest terrains with a stretcher. The wet baseball field, the car-piece scattered highway, the golf course, the snow banks, the sandy beach, the flooded streets, the hoarders hallways, the back alleys, the patron-filled restaurants, the icy driveways…oh the icy driveways! The muddy trails, the white carpets, the dusty factory, and the homes…of many. SO many. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Hey, Matt. Thanks for the memories today. And Heather, you would have made an amazing medic!

My Second Letter To Premier Ford About Paramedic Cuts

May 8th, 2019
 
Dear Premier Doug Ford and Honourable Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott,
 
I am writing this letter as City Councillor of Ward 6 in Barrie, Ontario, and as a retired advanced care paramedic from the County of Simcoe, in response to the latest report from the Provincial Government which states that shared ambulance grants are frozen at 2018 levels, and that any increase in service costs contained in municipal 2019 budgets will fall on the municipal taxpayers.
 
It alarms me greatly that tax rates of already financially struggling families will need to be increased to even maintain the level of care they receive from Ontario paramedic services. How are you not seeing that placing more financial strain on these families will only lead to greater stress levels in their homes, which in turn often results in negative health impacts, which will lead to more calls for paramedic services – straining an already inadequate number of paramedics, and cause more over-crowding of hospitals?
 
This will be a vicious and deadly cycle if you do not reverse your decision to amalgamate paramedic services from 59, to 10.
 
I do appreciate that you, Premier Ford, responded to my previous letter, and forwarded it on to the Honourable Minister Elliott, and I hope that you would be so kind as to answer these questions prior to forwarding this letter to anyone else:
 
1. If you do continue your plan to amalgamate the services, what will the public process be with respect to choosing/designing and implementing said services?
2. Can paramedic services appeal the government’s chosen model?
3. What data was used to determine that 10 services was ideal for the provision of paramedic care to Ontarian’s
 
And to the Honourable Minister Elliott, you have stated that you will work directly alongside municipal partners to engage in meaningful discussions about protecting and enhancing emergency support services.
 
1. Which services have you had discussions with to date?
 
I look forward to your responses and welcome any further discussion via email or in person at your convenience.
 
Sincerely,
 
Natalie Harris
 
BHSc, AEMCA, ACP (Ret.)
 
Ward 6 Barrie City Councillor
 
 
 
CC MPP Andrea Khanjin
 
MPP Doug Downey
 

My Open Letter To State Senator Walsh

My Open Letter To State Senator Maureen Walsh:

Dear State Senator Maureen Walsh,

Please allow me to explain to you, in the nicest way possible, how nurses do anything but, “play cards all day”. When I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times, that shared your ignorant and incorrect preconceived notion that nurses do such a thing, I was immediately prompted to share with you a list of just SOME of the things that nurses actually do.

I am not a nurse. But I am a retired advanced care paramedic who has had the privilege to work with many nurses over the duration of my eleven year career. In that time I have witnessed nurses perform the following tasks:

-triage patient after patient for hours without a break, while paramedics continuously roll stretchers with more patients into the hospital hall.

-hold a distraught mother’s hand while a baby gets a lumbar puncture to see if it has meningitis.

-know exactly where to get an IV on a patient with seconds to spare before the patient goes into cardiac arrest.

-deliver babies when the doctor is not available…many times.

-clean up vomit more times than I can count.

-perform ECG’s on heart attack patients while the family cries in the hallway.

-juggle multiple patients at once, with care and compassion, as hiring freezes occur and populations continue to increase.

-auscultate the lungs of a child with asthma who literally can barely breathe.

-hold the amputated limbs of a trauma patient.

-hug a father when he is told that his teenaged son has overdosed and died.

-calm a scared psychiatric patient when no one else could.

-be the doctor’s eyes and ears at all times.

-perfectly orchestrate an operating room filled with equipment and doctors while a patient gets a heart bypass.

-not have the opportunity to use the washroom when they have to…for a long time, if a trauma patient rolls in.

-explain to a family member what life support means, and watch the look of sadness on the family member’s face when they understand.

-give crayons to a young cancer patient who is waiting for chemo.

-hold the hand of an elderly woman with dementia who, “just wants to go home”, knowing full well that the woman’s home no longer exists.

-decontaminate patients exposed to toxic substances.

-take care of a police officer who was hurt while on duty.

-smile in the face of adversity…more times than I can ever count.

Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system, and do much more than “play cards all day”.

I’m sure you have received an overwhelming amount of angry letters from citizens who respect nurses and everything they stand for; and now you can add this one to your list.

Do yourself a favour, apologize, profusely, and often, because one day I am sure that you will need the care of a nurse just like most of society does, and when you do, I can guarantee you that there won’t be a deck of cards in site, and that you will be cared for with compassion and urgency; because THAT’S just what nurses do.

Sincerely,

Natalie Harris

Barrie City Councillor – Ward 6

BHSc, ACP, AEMCA (Ret.)

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