My latest blog posts have depicted my recent difficulty with seeing light in the world – again. These dark ‘slumps’, (really the word slump does not do these experiences justice – but I will use it for ease of relating to all – we all have slumps – they suck – you get the point), fool me into thinking that the universe that takes care of me even in my darkest hours has abandoned me…and abandoned everyone else as well. Days go by as I agonize through the mundane and torturous seconds of hopelessness, tossing and turning between anger, guilt and remorse, until finally…FINALLY, the universe peeks its little universe head through the darkness and says, “Sorry I’ve been out of sight for a while, but wait until you see what I have in store for your now!”
I talk to the universe a lot…literally. I look up to the sky and say, “Ok universe, show me the way”, and it always does – ALWAYS. This time it spoke to me through a text message from a friend named Matt Henegan, who is also a paramedic with PTSD. This is what he said:
“Here’s the thing, and take it with a grain of salt, as I am not here to undo anything; you’re allowed to hate the world. You’ve experienced it. The good. The bad. And the indescribably ugly. The world is easy to hate. What’s important, is to not live in this world WITH hate leading us..”
Truer words were never spoken. I was leading my days with hate over the last little while because of some unfortunate circumstances – one being that I have sadly learned that Luci my service dog is not a good fit for my home. She bit Walter (food aggression) and the sights and sounds of this experience triggered PTSD reflexes/reactions and have forced me to make sure that that never happens again. My family and I are devastated, and still recovering from this realization, but I know that she will find a home that is best for her. I love her and I will miss her. (* I will be donating the remainder of my Go Fund Me money to the amazing trainers at Grassroots K9 who so generously worked with Luci and I for many months. I still highly recommend them – sometimes things happen that no one can foresee.)
Leading my days with hate, self pity and anger only hurts me and everyone around me more. These emotions are an express-pass to the depression rollercoaster that always makes me vomit. This pass swiftly buckles me in for ‘the ride’ and rockets me into twists and turns that cause me to be disoriented and sick – very sick. I inevitably stumble off the ride when it’s over with my clothes disheveled and no memory of when it really even began. I hate this ride…and I’m naive to think that I won’t ever find myself on it again.
Thank you Matt for your friendship. I know that your words will help many more than just me.
*You can find Matt’s own blog documenting his battle with PTSD at http://amedicsmind.blogspot.ca/2017/03/a-mans-eyes.html He is one of the most amazing writers I have ever come across!
The other night while I was getting ready to go to a Gala, my 10 year old son asked me a question that made me realize how much my behaviour when I was drinking still affects him deeply. While doing my make-up, I wasn’t thinking anything about the topic of alcohol because after a lot of hard work and dedication the obsession it caused has been removed from me, so I was shocked to hear my son ask, “Mom, what would you do if someone gave you a drink?” I could tell that he was trying to make the question seem casual and not significant, but when I looked at him I could see the seriousness in his eyes.
So at that moment I had two ways of answering the question. I could a) laugh and say ‘oh don’t be silly that won’t happen’, or b) take the time to answer his question honestly and clearly. I suppose the reason for this blog is to sincerely express how important it is for all parents in this situation to choose option b. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year and a half of recovery, is that my old belief of hiding my emotions from my kids and avoiding answering serious questions, never helped them at all. In fact, it hurt them.
When I came home from the Homewood Rehabilitation Centre, I was still only allowed supervised visits with my son, and my daughter who was 17 at the time was still very hurt, afraid and distant. Thankfully, I learned how important honesty was when I was away, and I slowly put that into practice when my kids became comfortable enough to ask me questions. I was especially happy to see how well this ‘be vulnerable and honest’ way of life worked when I was having a sad day and my daughter heard me crying in my room, and came in and asked if I was ok. The old me would have lied and said, ‘I’m fine don’t worry’, and then would have changed the subject to some completely unimportant topic thinking that this would ‘protect them’ from pain. I was SO wrong…THIS way of answering only fuels our kid’s worries. They KNOW when we aren’t ok, and pretending we are only confuses them, and encourages them to practice the same behaviour when they are sad.
So on this particular day I decided to tell the truth. I didn’t get into a huge discussion, I simply said, ‘I’m just having a sad day because I miss someone, but I will be ok.’ Honest, to the point, and obviously EFFECTIVE, because she lovingly looked at me and said ‘ok’, told me that if I needed anything to let her know, and then proceeded to laugh and giggle with her little brother downstairs. I was shocked at first! I thought that by showing my vulnerability my daughter would think that I was weak. But the opposite happened! She saw that I was HUMAN, was satisfied with the answer I gave her because it was the TRUTH, and therefore no longer needed to worry. It was a life changing moment…for all of us.
I practice honesty all the time now, just like I did the night that my son asked me the question about what would I do if someone gave me a drink. I took the extra moment to look at him and replied,’I would say no thank you to the person and get another Perrier’. And like I had expected, that was all he needed to hear. And in this particular case, he KNEW it was the truth because anyone who knows me now, knows how I do love my Perrier! 😀
Change can be terrifying and very uncomfortable. So much so that many of us would rather live our lives in our ‘life-pajamas’ day after day, snuggled up on the couch watching our lives pass us by like a movie. Don’t get me wrong, life-pajamas are super awesome on those rainy, cold, dreary days we all have. But if we notice that our life-laundry is piling up, and all it’s filled with are pajamas, we may need to try on something different…for a change. Fear of the unknown can keep us from achieving so many successes, and also from equally as important failures we so desperately need to learn from. When we are stagnant because of our fear of change we block ourselves from getting dressed for life, and truly living.
What I’m trying to get at is that I have been very afraid of a certain change in my life…but making it or not has now become a matter of life or death. The change I am talking about is my co-dependent relationship with my daughter. I have known that our dependency on one another has always been extreme, but guilt with regards to things and people she has missed out on in her childhood has overridden my ability to really wear the mom-pants effectively. My rule-making sucks! And my follow through is even worse! I am the queen of turning a blind eye to the dishes that were suppose to go in the sink. I’d rather not argue about the extra half hour of TV before bed. Laundry on the floor right beside the laundry basket takes me only two seconds to pick up. And the X-box…what X-box? What I thought was being a cool mom was actually not cool at all, and I’ve let my children run around in their life-pajamas way too long!
To be honest I have parented out of guilt for all of my mothering years to some extent. But living with the guilt of making your children wonder when they would come home to find their mom dead, is a guilt-inducing traumatic event that’s very difficult to move past. So when I came home from Homewood as a guilt-riddled, barely-even-worthy-of-being-a-mom, woman, our house became even more carefree. My son missed and worried about me so much that my guilt convinced me to let him watch Full House until the wee hours of the night and eventually to fall asleep in my bed. And when my daughter started to duplicate my depressive behaviours, rather than encouraging healthy coping skills at all times, my guilt told me to be at her beck and call and to watch her like AB and Ian watched me. I had offered her all of the precious tools in the palm of my hands…but I rarely reinforced them. My guilt tricked me into thinking that any tough-love would backfire on me. It told me that if I enforced house rules they would rebel because ‘how dare I’ suddenly start to act like a mother after what I had put them through. Even though my gut told me that being too easy on them would eventually cause a tornado of confusion and angst, guilt was always so cunning that it seemed to win day after day.
Then the tornado hit! I won’t go into details as this tornado story is for my daughter to tell. But I will say that it was an F5…and I almost lost her.
The destruction this tornado left could have been dealt with in one of two ways. Option one would have been for all of us to snuggle back into our comfy life-pajamas and pretend like nothing happened and that change wasn’t needed. Or I could FINALLY give my head a shake! FINALLY realize that what my kids NEED is a mom who provides solid structure, and FINALLY stop sewing patches over the holes made from too much comfort. I KNOW that change is good…I’ve been reaping the rewards of it for 11 months now. But now it’s time for me to lovingly enforce change in my children’s habit’s and lackadaisical life-style as well. They may not like that I’ve ‘remembered’ there’s an X-box in the house, or that I deserve and need time to myself, but they will eventually get use to the change and appreciate it, just like I did.
Our tattered and torn life-pajamas got blown away in a tornado, never to be found again. And I’m grateful beyond words that it was only our pajama’s that we lost.
I’ve heard people from all generations mock social websites like Facebook..and to be fair, I have been known to take a Facebook hiatus or two. But when I think of the amazing transformations it allows us to see in ourselves and others, I’m super thankful that it exists. Yes, before we could waste the day away Googling anything imaginable, we would spend more time pulling out the old photo albums and have a good laugh at when we use to wear our bang’s feathered, hyper-colour Vuarnet shirts, jelly bracelets up both arms, and off-the-shoulder ‘Thriller’ shirts covered in sparkles. Wait a minute…well at least those are pictures of me. But before the world-wide-web came along, we never had the opportunity to witness the transformations of our loved ones and friends to the level we are so accustomed to now.
Yes, not everyone is like me and wants to see 347 kindergarden graduation photos every June, but when you really think about it, what an amazing gift it is to actually have these shared with us! To be allowed a glimpse into our loved one’s moments of pride, happiness, and even sorrow is a blessing. Furthermore, these sites give us permission to ‘share’ our reactions to transformations we would have normally never experienced if we all didn’t update our ‘status’ on a daily basis (or hourly, depending on who you are) :).
Transformation is what we are! Tomorrow we won’t be the same person as today. We all transform through experiences, and mould our dreams with faith that we will one day be that spouse, parent, friend or successful person we imagine we can be. And how cool is it that we get to witness these transformations in others with a click of a mouse. I can definitely attest to the power of sharing our transformations with the world. Every blog and honest word I’ve written and shared has profoundly disarmed my mental illnesses. One word at a time I have had the opportunity to fracture the shell of stigma my mind so barely existed in, and see that beautiful healing is possible by having faith in transformation.
Faith often sounds like a passive word. ‘Oh, just have faith’, makes it seem like it’s something we just need to remind ourselves to do, and them BAM we’re doing it. I disagree. I believe that faith takes courage and determination. It takes passion and hope. And above all, it takes trust. If we have faith in our ability to grow and transform into the happiest form of ourselves possible, we need to trust our instincts and listen to that little voice that always seems to be guiding us down the right path. But the difficulty with faith is that during our transformations very often we need to trudge through the darkness before we even come close to seeing the light, and this is scary and uncomfortable. Faith may need to take us far out of our comfort-zone, and moving out of that zone takes a heck of a lot of courage. But at the end of the day, our options with transformation are only one of two; we transform into what we want to be, or we transform into someone we will eventually barely even recognize.
If I hadn’t had faith in even the potential of transforming into a healthy person through this blog, I would still be SO sick. I needed to trust that my instincts to open up, and become completely vulnerable were right. I was lucky to have had loving people support and encourage me to do so, and yes not everyone has this blessing, but I still needed to sit in front of this computer, write the first blog, and…press….send. Gulp! With one click I was catapulted out of my comfort-zone! And with one click, I began to heal.
So what do you think more faith in your life would look and feel like? What is holding you back from stepping outside of your comfort-zone? What vision of transformation of yourself do you have in your heart that you haven’t truly considered as possible yet? You may have heard the verse from the Bible, “Faith without works is dead”, and whether you’re religious or not is irrelevant to deciphering it’s meaning. Simply put, it’s another reminder that faith isn’t a passive word; to reap it’s immeasurable benefits it requires action. One foot in front of the other…through the darkness of doubt. In order to transform into a person who’s truly happy with their life, we need to have the courage to ‘press send’, and not just when we are on Facebook posting a kindergarden pic. 🙂
Recently I have been sharing a lot of my Buddhist lessons with you, and even when the tips are quite radical, the feedback I’ve received has been very warm and wonderful; thank you. But for the next two blogs I have a lesson to share that requires A LOT of open-mindedness. It may cause you to laugh out loud and call this ‘a joke’, loud enough that I may even hear you from my home. Heck, you may even unfriend or unfollow me out of sheer refusal to believe that this mindfulness technique could even be possible. But, I’m prepared for the backlash if it means that this advice can help even one person as much as it has helped me. I want you to be prepared that this, and my next blog, may cause dark memories to bubble up for you, but by no means do I intend to cause you pain! What I DO intend is to provide you with a way to see these memories through a different, healthier perspective.
Like I have spoken of before, all feelings are universal, therefore no one (except a sociopath) is exempt from being hurt at some point in their lives. Trauma, abandonment, heart-break, natural disasters, accidents, deaths…(the list is endless), are all sources of gut wrenching, seemingly unrecoverable events which cause us an unending cycle of torment. This torment can be so extreme that we may even turn to destructive choices, such as drugs and alcohol, to numb the pain they cause; but that numbness doesn’t last forever (trust me) and we eventually experience the pain again…and sometimes even worse.
Our lives are filled with so much agitation and angst, often because, whether we realize it or not, trauma can continue to harm us by stifling our healthy choices years after the event(s) occurred. So what can we do with these thoughts in order to live in peace? And is that even possible? No one wants to live with the resentment and anger these events cause us, and which in essence keep traumatizing us and making us very ill. So I ask you, if there was a way you could change your view of these traumatic events, would you consider trying it?
The mindfulness technique I want to share with you in this blog is called reframing. No, this doesn’t mean literally reframing the pictures in your home, but it does mean reframing the pictures in your mind. This technique blends the acceptance that 1)we create, and can therefore change, our emotions, with 2) we truly deserve to be happy no matter how much pain our past has caused us. Reframing moves us away from judging our experiences, (without losing their reality), and changing the negative energy surrounding them to positive. By putting a new view or ‘frame’ on our experiences, we change the way we see them. It involves giving yourself permission to take off the frame which other people or an event put on your memory for you, and finally choosing your own frame! It’s like a redecorating of sorts…but of your life. We can’t throw out our family trees, or turn back the hands of time to avoid a trauma (even though God knows so many of us try to), but we can choose to see our past’s through a different more peaceful perspective…and I’m going to show you how to do that.
I have had MUCH success with ‘reframing’ when it comes to my painful childhood memories. When my mom sent me away to a home for unwed mothers when I was 18 years old against my will, this experience caused me to carry anger, resentment and guilt for the next twenty years of my life! And for those entire twenty years, my only means of ‘recovery’ from this trauma was to numb the pain with alcohol, speak badly of my mother, and convince myself that I would be ok as long as I stayed mad at her to prove that I would never accept what she did to me, my daughter, her father and my siblings. HA! That would teach her right?! Wrong. Even an apology from her about ten years back didn’t change the frame attached tightly around this traumatic event in which I saw it through. Without reframing this experience, which washed my hands of my mother’s motives, self-pity would have continued to affect my ability to trust, love, and forgive I’m sure for the rest of my life.
Through the lesson of reframing, I was eventually able to see my mother’s choice to send me away differently. MY frame included truly understanding that my mom was doing the best she could at that time. It involved my acceptance that SHE was probably sick too. The lies she told became her truth, and yes they hurt me and so many other people deeply, but MY frame comprehends that I will never be able to understand what was in HER head, or why she thought her actions were just…so scrutinizing them will only prolong my pain.
Now this is where I feel that some of you may be yelling at your computer screen because you may be misinterpreting reframing as acceptance of her actions. But reframing couldn’t be any further from that! I DO NOT ACCEPT the pain and tears I witnessed my daughter experience when she didn’t hear from her dad on her birthdays, or any other holidays. I DO NOT ACCEPT the pain which removing me from my daughter’s father’s life caused him and his family. I DO NOT ACCEPT lies. Nor DO I ACCEPT manipulation. But in order for me to heal and grow in a peaceful way with this trauma inevitably always a part of my life, I DO accept giving myself permission to forgive and permission to understand that I am not my mom, and I am not her choices. THIS new frame is MUCH more beautiful! THIS new frame gives me peace! Yes, THIS new frame still allows me to see this traumatic experience as a part of my past, but more importantly, THIS new frame no longer allows it to be a detriment to my future.
Just like redecorating your home takes time and patience, so does redecorating your memories. My advice is to work on one room at a time. It will take some courage to dust off the old, ugly photos you’ve been hiding in a drawer. But when you choose to, and after your tears have washed them off, you don’t need to display them on a mantle, but putting YOUR frame around them will make them easier to display in your mind.
I am honoured to have been recently asked by the international, non-profit organization Stigma Fighters to share my mental health story with them and their followers. The only requirement being that it be told in 1000 words or less…gulp…I’m always up for a challenge! I hope that by sharing my story with fellow mental illness sufferers and their families, I can inspire hope and courage, and fight the stigma of mental illness one word at a time.
My mental health symptoms started very young. I remember being in grade school telling my mom that I felt ‘weird’, and I would tear my room apart in anger and frustration when the only response I would get as to why I was having these feelings was, ‘it’s your hormones’. I felt lost and like an alien in my own body. Looking back now I can link these exact feelings to my adult depression and dissociation, but it took many long, painful, and very lonely years to even come close to understanding the emotions which made me feel like I didn’t belong on this planet.
I remember seeing doctors in my teen years, and they would prescribe an anti-depressant or two, but I never felt better, and I desperately craved intensive help. I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t find the answer to how to recover from my relentless sadness by reading a book, or seeing a doctor every once in a while. And because there seemed to be no further help available at that time, I carried on with life as a single mom and eventually a paramedic, wondering if my alien feelings were normal, and if they would ever go away.
I soon learned that by filling my time, I also filled my mind with thoughts other than my confusing mental health self-analysis. So over the years I’ve had various relationships (which always failed), went back to school and earned my degree, and became an advanced care paramedic. But if that weren’t enough, I also became a teacher for the paramedic college program and a peer educator. I was tired on a regular basis, and the feeling of exhaustion became my new normal. But no matter how hard I tried to keep busy, the roller-coaster of emotions and darkness I experienced would inevitably return, and I became quite hopeless that I would ever feel truly happy.
Then in May of 2012, I was a paramedic at a double-murder call at a hotel in my city. The details of the call are gruesome, and include satanic-cult rituals and the almost complete decapitation of two women by a man who also attempted to kill himself. That man, the murder, was my patient. I did my best to block the call from my mind, but had endless difficulty coping with the fact that there was such evil in the world. I had lost all faith in humanity and began to drink alcohol quite heavily to numb the demons in my mind.
I carried on ‘existing’ for two more years until I had to go to trial as a main witness for the double-murder call. When I took the stand I did my best to not look at the man sitting behind a bullet-proof glass wall who had so often entered my dreams and turned them into nightmares. But at one point I had to make eye contact with him, and when I did, every painful, dark emotion I had stuffed away since May 2012 rushed back to me, and triggered the emergence of my post traumatic stress disorder.
The relentless pain of my PTSD and depression caused me to overdose twice, landed me in the mental health department of the hospital many times, and forced the Children’s Aid Society to restrict my contact with my son. I was completely broken! But luckily after I was hospitalized, I began daily classes in a partial hospitalization program and learned about so many amazing coping tools for my illnesses. I learned about things such as, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, positive self-talk, healthy boundaries, avoiding co-dependency, improving my spirituality and addiction education. It was the long-term education I had been craving for years! And as my journey progressed through this program, it was eventually appropriately renamed by a friend, ‘save my life school’.
Six weeks into save my life school, and after a serious suicide attempt, I was finally accepted into the world renowned rehabilitation hospital Homewood, in Guelph, Ontario. During my stay there my personal relationship with the love of my life fell apart and I discovered that I was without a doubt an alcoholic. Through each excruciating day, I participated in intense group sessions for my PTSD, and went to 12-step meetings every day. I was very resistant to any help at first, as my hopelessness had hit an all time low, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. But after a near-tradgedy occurred at home with one of my children, I finally shook off my self-pity and dug in deep to heal my mind, heart and soul.
Once I truly decided to listen to the experts and follow their guidance, there was no turning back! I was on the road to recovery and it felt amazing! Slowly my family began to trust me again, and my relationship with my children became one filled with security and peace. I have been sober 10 months now and no longer have the obsession for alcohol. I have a sponsor and three 12-step home groups who support me and have taught me how important it is to my recovery to have a Higher Power in my life, and to rely on His guidance rather than my delusions.
Life is good! And I never thought that was possible! I finally look forward to waking up in the morning and living, not just existing. I have documented my recovery in a blog entitled: https://paramedicnatsmentalhealthjourney.wordpress.com and have had the privilege of helping fight the stigma of mental illness all over the world with every post. I am not ashamed to speak about my experiences anymore, and can attest 100% to the healing power of talk. If you are suffering, you don’t have to do it alone. I know it may seem difficult, but recovery IS possible. But in order to GET help, you need to ASK for it.
Sending love to the souls we have lost to this fight, and to those who are battling everyday.