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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About My Mental Health Journey

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BrainStorm – Welcome to My Recovery

Welcome to my recovery. If you have been a follower of my blog and book Save-My-Life School: A first responder’s mental health journey, you will know that my mental health journey is ever evolving. My new podcast BrainStorm will take you even deeper into the mind of someone (me) coping daily with the darkness and difficulties of PTSD, depression and addiction. I will share raw experiences and opinions, as well as new treatment information I learn about along the way.

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/save-my-life-school-a/9781894813914-item.html

On this episode of BrainStorm:

  • Who I am and how I came to be diagnosed with PTSD and depression
  • Opinions about mental health in-patient hospital care
  • Current and upcoming PTSD legislation in Canada
  • …and more

 

Tips on How to Prune Your Mental ‘Chaos Garden’

https://www.facebook.com/natalie.harris.507679/posts/10159012843815624 

The Depression Rollercoaster – Bring Your Vomit Bag

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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!

 

 

 

Answering Our Kid’s Questions Honestly

 

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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! ūüėÄ

 

Traveling Towards Goodness

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How many times have you said to yourself, ‘I just need to get it together and then life will be good’? I know that personally, I can’t even count how many times that thought has ran through my mind, or those words have crossed my lips! The problem with that perception, is that we are¬†always¬†changing, and ‘just getting it together’ suggests a permanence that doesn’t actually exist. Sadly, we grasp at permanence to hopefully prevent change because we are afraid of it, but like the amazing Eckhart Tolle said, “It is the nature of the world of form that nothing stays fixed for very long- and so it starts to fall apart again. Forms dissolve; new forms arise. Watch the clouds. They will teach you about the world of form.” (Right Mandy? <3) If we live a life with an ultimate destination in mind, and put all of our energy and time into reaching it, the moments we were suppose to enjoy as a traveller through this life are simply never experienced.

Yes, I may have just expanded the saying, ‘life is a journey, not a destination’, but after learning some fascinating points-to-ponder at Buddha class tonight, I feel that expanding on this mantra is so important to understanding its perspective.

As my teacher explained, we are ‘infinitely migrating’, and by allowing ourselves to step back and view ourselves as the travellers we are, we immediately bring a spiritual form to view, and remove ourselves from our perpetual ‘to-do-list’ and its unattainable destination. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have goals, and dreams. What it does mean is that we should stop looking for every finish line and actually take a moment to appreciate the energy of the crowd and to savour the experience of your heart pounding and your feet moving, step…by…step.

So this brings me to another personal revelation…which is definitely not new for me! As I progress on this mental health journey in the recovery phase of my life, I realize that I have once again added too many races to my to-do-list, making it very difficult for me to appreciate the energy of the crowd. The perfectionist in me has once again become blinded by my personal delusion that using the healthy response ‘no’ when I am overwhelmed, will cause a permanent view of disappointment; in myself and by others. Now let me say however, that there is a definite difference in the abundance on my plate now, compared to that which was on my plate when I was very sick; it’s positive abundance now, and for that I am forever grateful! But nonetheless, it’s abundant, and in order to continue to enjoy this journey, I need to realize that permanent disappointment is simply MY mind’s projection, and no one else’s.

I have some big plans in action, and I am going to take the time I need to enjoy the journey. Certain adventures during my recovery have become a priority currently, and I am excited to feel my heart pounding with every expanding step. So if I am not replying to emails as quickly, or having to say no, or postpone endeavours I would definitely love to be a part of, please know that I am trying my very best to help as many people as I can, and that each of you are very much in my heart.

I am so blessed to be a traveller with all of you! And equally as blessed to learn that we can train our minds to see that if we act out of love, we are in fact moving towards goodness, regardless of whether we have a good day or a bad day. And as my teacher shared with me tonight, “if we travelled well, we will meet again, and naturally love one another”.

Here’s to the journey, not the destination. ~Nat

Meditation 102- Relaxing Into Positive Outcomes

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As a follow up piece to my blog “Meditation 101”, (https://paramedicnatsmentalhealthjourney.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/meditation-101-give-it-a-try/) I thought I would share some more tips which I have learned along my spiritual journey with regards to improving meditation outcomes.

Tip 1. Let the meditation do the work¬†for you,¬†and simply enjoy what emerges.¬†Most complications in early meditation practice come from¬†having expectations as to what meditation should feel like. Yes it’s great to be educated on the wonderful sensations you can receive while clearing your mind, but if you go into a meditation¬†expecting¬†to have a specific result, you will most likely be disappointed. The key is to¬†relax, enjoy¬†and have¬†no expectations. .

Tip 2.¬†Stop trying to be an expert at meditation.¬†You know the goal of meditation is to clear your mind and open blocked spiritual pathways, but stop getting frustrated when your mind is busy and it’s difficult to relax.¬†This is the one time¬†not trying so hard actually leads to success.¬†

Tip 3. Allow¬†your mind to explore a larger perspective.¬†Let your breathing take you where it may! When a thought comes to mind, accept it, then let it go. Don’t fight it. Focusing on an end result of your meditation will force your mind to close off and in return shrinks your perspective.

Tip 4.¬†Be happy with your efforts.¬†Results such as deeper relaxation and improved daily mindfulness will come your way, but only if you don’t put pressure on yourself to reap the rewards right away. Be happy with even 2 minutes of deep breathing. What a wonderful gift to give yourself!

Here are a few more of my favourite guided mediations ūüôā

Remember that whatever time you can put aside to meditate is good enough! Stop your expectations, and just breathe. <3

Is It Possible To View Trauma In A Healthier Way? Part 1

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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.

Stigma Fighters

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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.

~Nat

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Truth, Honesty and Transparency

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If you asked me to name a definite universal intolerance, I would say it’s dishonesty. The good in us wants to believe that the people we love are transparent, that the words they say are true. We rage wars, big and small, personal and international, when transparency isn’t a mutual part of a relationship. Fear of being lied to, and the threat these lies cause to personal security, builds theoretical and literal walls between loved ones and strangers alike. Lies and love are bitter enemies. “If I don’t let you in, you can’t hurt me.”…is a common belief among anyone worried that a lie may eventually stab them in the heart, and take away their ability to ever love again. When we believe that lies are inevitable, at the same time as believing that honesty and love are what feed our souls, we can end up malnourished in a desert of disappointment, believing that any truth we may find, is a mirage.

So how do we survive lies? How do we continue to nurture our souls after being SO SURE that we were nurturing someone else’s with mutual respect, only to learn that they could secretly disregard your emotions, and painfully catapult words at your heart and soul so easily for their own selfish reasons? Yes, this recently has happened to me…

My recovery and I have been challenged. And this challenge caused me to experience my first anxiety attack since returning from Homewood. The duration of the anxiety attack was small, but the meaning of it was massive! It reminded me of how fragile my recovery is, and how my failure and success are always playing a potentially destructive game of tug-of-war with each other. I knew that I would be challenged MANY times in my recovery, in MANY ways, because let’s face it, life happens! However, I was expecting reasonably¬†predictable challenges to come my way, such as parenting challenges or work challenges. But alas, ¬†‘predictable’ and I usually don’t dance together, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the loyalty and support I lovingly dispensed to a friend over many months, was shockingly discarded and shattered into a million pieces with one¬†disgusting¬†word.

Thankfully I’m a much different person now, and I am happy to say that my recovery has given me the opportunity to see ALL mistrusts as opportunities for spiritual growth. That’s not to say that this recent occurrence hasn’t cause me pain. On the contrary! It’s hurt me more than a razor blade shaving off layers of my heart. But I’m OK! To be clear, the act of lying to me is never ok, but the experience is. The old Natalie would have retreated and isolated if I had experienced such an event before. I would have locked myself behind the dark walls of alcohol and depression and not cared if I would ever see the light of day. I would have added layers of mortar to the walls which I had built to protect me from feeling pain, and which also suffocated my ability to hope. And with carrying the necessary respect for how sick I was back then, this may have even killed me…

But I’m a new me! I have no craving for alcohol. I have no need to isolate. I have no need to build a wall. And I have no need to die! I look at the weight that this incident placed on my chest not as a way to cause me pain, but as a way to continue to crack open my inner spirituality and awareness. I was able to prove to myself once again that I don’t live in a world of resentment any longer. I am allowing myself to¬†feel¬†emotions, because they are there for me to feel, and use them as fertilizer for my soul, one sprinkle at a time. I can only be poisoned if I let myself be…and I refuse to drink the ‘resentment Kool-Aid’ I use to drink like it was my only source of refreshment. Ugh…that’s the¬†worst Kool-Aid EVER! They need to discontinue that flavour! ūüėČ

So now what? Where do I go from here? How do I recover from this disappointment? My answer is simple: I will continue to be transparent, and walk with my head held high and truth in my eyes. I will never be lost if I always follow this path. I will not stop trying to help people for fear of being discarded. And I will allow myself the patience required to heal, and save myself a trip to the desert of disappointment…It’s way too hot there anyway. But remember, if you ever find yourself in this desert, rather than wasting your time looking for mirages, make a sand castle and hitch a ride home on a camel…and don’t drink the Kool-Aid! <3

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