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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

Month

December 2014

Time For Me To Leave

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Hi Everyone,

This isn’t an easy post for me to write, but I have been doing some serious thinking, and some intense work with my doctors and have decided that I need to step away from my blog…indefinitely.

I have been learning the hard way here at HU that I still care for others more than I care for myself. I can’t even say that caring is my second nature…it’s my first! Caring is a trait I will always have running through my veins, but focus on helping others is impacting the time I should be focusing on myself. I’m so use to helping and I enjoy it, so this won’t be a snap of my fingers easy thing to do. But it’s so unbelievably necessary. I hope you know how much I love you ALL! I hope that through my words you can feel how much I grew to trust you all. I shared some of my deepest darkest secrets with you, and you allowed me to open up when I had been silent for all my life. I will always be grateful for that! Thank you for every email and message telling me how my journey has helped yours. That will be something I will never forget and I will always be honoured in the trust you placed in me.

Take this time to take care of YOU as well. Get selfish and strong. We deserve it SO MUCH! I will still be journalling on my own so I won’t loose my writing therapy, but for now it’s just for my eyes to see.

Of all the words I’ve written to date, if there were two I could leave off with to show you how I feel in my heart and soul, they are simply and complexly……………………………..thank you!

~Nat xo

Locked and Loaded

Blue smoke that is rising from the muzzle of a handgun

According to a doctor at HU, living as an addict in recovery is like living with a loaded gun to your head; figuratively speaking of course. But what he does mean is that the danger of relapse is a real life or death situation. One more drink could be our last. It’s that simple. And sadly many people who graduate from HU will lose their lives within the next year. It exhausts me just thinking about how on guard I will have to be for the rest of my life! I SO wish I could just remove the bullets. But alas, HU can’t teach us how to do that…because the bullets are our genetics.

We as students have learned that 10-15% of people are born with the addict gene, and according to peer reviewed studies, trauma didn’t need to be present for this gene to be activated. Trauma simply gives addicts the narrative required to ‘use’ with what they think is a plausible cause. Simply put, if we have a reason to justify why we numb our minds through addiction, we use it. But without a reason, we would still carry the addition gene and ‘use’ if exposed to a particular drug anyway. Our addict brain craves to be numb. It doesn’t care who, what, where, when, why or how it happens. That damn limbic system and its impulsiveness wants to win every time…eventually.

I get frustrated with the amount of mental energy it takes to stay sober. It’s on my mind 24/7! So much so that I have nightmares about relapsing and losing everything I hold dear to me. I wake up in a sweat, grateful that it was just a dream, but with a sickening feeling in my gut that lasts for hours. Just when I think I’ve got steps 1, 2 & 3 of the 12-steps conquered, my addict mind confuses me and makes me doubt all the work I’ve done. And it’s a vicious cycle! The cycle goes: I doubt my strength…I get stressed…I want to drink…I doubt my strength…I get stressed…I want to drink…and on and on.

The 12 step experience is just monotonous now. Sure I learn things every time, but I’m tired of listening to the same preamble and stories. How do people do that for 40 years? I’m just so confused about my future and at this point I am so tired of trying to figure it out. Ya, Ya, I know, one day at a time. But that isn’t the way my brain works. I want to be successful, but when does my mind get to rest a little bit?…its a rhetorical question…I know the answer is never. Rest only comes when the figurative trigger is pulled.

I have 4 more weeks to find some clarity when all I feel is confused. One thing I am clinging onto is that the doctor said that he is happy when people are confused, because that means they aren’t complacent, and are striving for a life-long recovery. Short and sweet, confusion equals effort. Ok great, I get an ‘A’ for effort on my HU report card. But my positivity still ‘needs improvement’.

The Poison of Resentment

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The poison of resentment is not a very cheerful Saturday topic I know. But none-the-less it’s a very important one. How much do we really enjoy anything, let alone Saturdays, when filled with this powerful emotion? I heard a saying that resentment is like poison you drink expecting it to kill another person. It casts us onto an island of loneliness and anger, with the only ship to rescue us called forgiveness. Lonely and angry we let that ship pass by…over and over again, because being rescued by forgiveness isn’t easy. I know, because I’ve been a castaway for a long time.

Resentment was one of the topics at the 12 step meeting I went to last night, and the discussion immediately reminded me of so many things to do with the Travelodge call. It dawned on me that I have probably been stuck on resentment island for a LONG time. I harbour deep anger which leads to resentment with regards to this call, especially towards my patient, the murderer. This covert emotion is hurting me. I know this because no matter how much I delved into my feelings this past week, barely scratching the surface of my sadness and anger, I still feel burdened by something. I naively thought that sadness and anger were the only emotions that were were making me sick. But after opening up those wounds, there’s still a lonely heaviness in my heart.

I resent everything about the Travelodge call. I resent the things I saw, the voices I heard and the spirits I felt. I resent the lack of debriefing afterwards. I resent the nights I’ve been woken up by nightmares. I resent the anguish it would have caused every first responder at the scene. I resent having to prepare to testify, only for the trial to be cancelled, yet back on a year later. I resent the misery those women went through. I resent the tears I cried alone for days after the call. I resent that Mark Dobson was my patient. I resent what I heard him say. I resent that I had to see him again at the trial. And most of all, I resent the evil this appalling human being showed me, causing my gross lack of faith in humanity to this day.

I resent May 2, 2012.

I want to get better. I don’t want to drink that poison any more. But if forgiveness is the only means of rescue, how do I go about doing that? How do I go about forgiving everything in my life that I hold resentment for? So many bad things have happened that seem unforgivable. I’m going to pray on this one. I don’t have the answers tonight.

Crumbling Walls

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I’m exhausted from crying. It was another tough day today. I knew it would happen, and today was the day; I had to talk about the Travelodge call and trial. With reluctance crushing my heart with every beat, I recounted the horror of those life changing days. The days I unquestionably saw evil in a man’s eyes, and felt spirits in the room where those poor women were so brutally murdered. My walls were no match for the emotions that flooded my soul. Today I had to remember hell.

I bawled…like I knew I would. And when I was right in the middle of recalling the horror, my mind dissociated again. Thankfully, this time I could name the indescribable sensation; I didn’t have to feel so alien while my mind pulled me away from the reality of the room, and when the people around me felt like characters in a play I was watching from the front row. I also knew how to ground myself, but that skill is going to take some practice. I’m not use to controlling the dissociation while I’m in it, as loss of control is the cause of it in the first place. Fortunately, I had more support from my peers than I could have ever imagined. While reliving two of the worst days of my life, I gratefully felt blanketed in safety and trust.

My peers could connect with many of my immense feelings. The outrage that spilled out of me in the form of words was an emotion everyone could feel. I explained how infuriated I was that evil always seems to inevitably triumph over happiness. To me it’s only a matter of time that any contentment in my life gets shadowed by deep sadness. Remember the saying my sister and I had when we were little? “Believe it when you see it and enjoy it while it lasts”, is truly my adage in life. How depressing is that?

What seems so good at one moment in my life seems to leave so quickly…leaving me guarded by walls and wary of any future happiness. Sometimes I think that people who say, “there’s a lesson in all of this pain”, deserve a punch in the neck! I don’t like painful lessons! They SUCK and happen all the time. I also don’t like when people say, “it’s better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all”. Theses dorks deserve a kick in the nuts! My heart is still broken and it hurts with every passing moment. So to me love wasn’t better at all.

The stress of the day got my addict and PTSD brain going a mile a minute; which I’ve been told is quite normal. I craved all night and couldn’t come out of my room. My depression landed on me like a heavy wet blanket that I couldn’t crawl out from. It was the first time at HU that my depression was that bad. While lost in self-pity I doubted my true intentions for being here. Was I here for me? Or everyone else? My distorted thinking is cunning and plays tricks on me so slyly. The only thing I knew clearly was that I needed to stay and trust the staff.

I’m proud of myself for asking for help when the darkness hit me; I never would before. Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned even more how important it is to talk when I’m lost. (AB, once again you were right needed to feel like this in order to heal. Another painful lesson…see what I’m saying? It’s horrible!  Apparently I had to come to see that I was allowed to crumble to pieces, and when I did, the whole world wouldn’t fall apart without me. What do you mean the world wouldn’t fall apart? I’ve thought that way for so long!  I have been so use to being the strong person for so many years because shit had to get done, or lives wouldn’t survive…or so I thought. There was never any time for falling apart. I had a daughter, a little brother and a mom to take care of. Feelings would just mess everything up. In fact, having a glimmer of sadness would make me feel selfish and weak.

Now after taking a closer look at every aspect of myself, I’ve realized that the only thing that is weak now are the walls I had built so strongly to save me from my feelings. When I got here I thought, ‘good luck tearing them down’. But with a lot of tears, today and few bricks crumbled. I tried to catch them, but they were already falling. They were old and decayed and of no use to me anymore. So I let them fall, then noticed the smallest glimpse of light shining through where they had once been. The trick now is to try not to rebuild them.

I could really use a sunny day!

I Hate Today

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I Hate today. Group ripped our hearts out. Someone’s aching soul spilled onto the floor. It hurt. It made me enraged with the disgust of life. It made me disbelieve that things could be good. Good people go through so much pain. Only to have the people that hurt us walk away unscathed. Evil. Darkness. Torturous pain. There is no fairness. I can’t see why this needs to be. Today I hate the lessons purged to teach. If pain had a colour today, I saw it. It was blacker than the vastest hole in the darkest midnight sky. If pain had a feeling today, I felt it. It seized my soul and massacred my heart, while my breath was hopeless cries. If pain had a feeling today, I felt it. Crushed and numb in the palm of strong and calloused hands. Left alone. Empty. I Hate today.

Who Would You Save?

There are a lot of healthcare professionals adorning the halls of HU. You name a profession, it’s probably here. Strangely this helps me feel fair-minded as it reminds me that educated people have this disease too. I know, how ignorant of me…but it’s the truth. But sincerely speaking, on the topic of education, whether I had a high-school diploma or a PhD, no amount of education could have stopped the predisposing factors of addiction I inherited throughout my life, nor could it have sheltered me from PTSD. In the text-book of life, there are no answers to some important questions no matter how hard I study. For example, my ever curious brain wonders, does my education and passion for my career help or hinder my recovery? Why do I crave being back on the road when it hurt me so much? Will I ever be able to return to the road and not risk relapse? My doctor’s educated mind has informed me that, right now, these questions don’t have an answer at all. Allow me to elaborate…

The question as to whether or not my health-care education helps or hinders my recovery, rages war in my mind with its double-edged sword. Deceivingly it fools me into thinking that I have more control over my disease than an uneducated person would. Knowing what I know must surely curb my addiction and automatically heal my PTSD to some extent right? Wrong!  But on a positive note, my education grants me temporary serenity when I’m embarrassed about being sick because I understand the disease process behind my addiction and mental health illnesses, and know on a pathological level that weakness isn’t a causative factor. But with all that being said, like society, I still have so much to learn about my disease and illnesses. Thankfully genetic research is advancing in this field. According to a study published in the Psychiatric Clinics of North America in 2012, gene discovery is being facilitated by a variety of powerful approaches, but it’s in its infancy. (Ducci, F & Goldman, G.) In other words, we are still light years away from fully understanding this part of the brain, but education is the key to healing.

Being so passionately enmeshed with my career and education transfixes my minds on one particular question. One which I have heard many other healthcare professionals ask as well; when can I go back to work? But why are we so eager to rush back into our uniforms? What is it about healthcare professionals that makes us confuse our careers for our lives? You may be reading this blog and saying to yourself, “my health care career isn’t THAT important to me.”…but I challenge that statement. Whether it’s for financial or self-pride reasons, I would wager a bet that any of you would feel lost if I said your healthcare job was gone tomorrow. Think about it – it’s become so much of who we are. No wonder I dream about going back to the road as a paramedic even when relapse may dangle over my head like lethal Christmas mistletoe. I don’t know what the future holds for me, just like I didn’t know what my next call would be. So for now I need to just focus my attention on my recovery in the present.

During an interesting discussion today, our doctor tried to encourage us to explore who we truly are minus being a healthcare professional. What the heck would that look like? So one by one we would start to follow his direction, but then, one by one our minds would always wander back to the same career-based thoughts and concerns. “If I don’t go back to work will I be able to afford my lifestyle? Will I be viewed in the same light now that people know I am sick?”…and on and on. I watched as the doctor would sit and grin as we slowly made the conversation about work again. We couldn’t remove our healthcare psyche. At one point a comment was made that someone didn’t want to have a minimum wage job. An atrocity!  “How could we possibly live without our salaries?” they asked. The doctor’s response was crystal clear; security and money didn’t stop us from getting here now did it?

The doctor asked “what’s the rush?” again and again when we talked about going back to work. Why did we not want to use this time to learn how to live? Why couldn’t we see that our careers weren’t the center of our lives? Then he had us do an activity. He told us to look around the room and choose the person we would save in a disaster. Everyone scanned the room and started naming names. Then he suddenly stopped us. He let the room go quiet, and spoke in a serious tone. “I knew you would all be ready to save each others lives. Now it’s time to save your own.” Touche doctor. Touche.

Reference: Ducci, F. & Goldman, D. The genetic basis of addictive disorders. Psychiatric Clinic of North America. 2012 Jun;35(2):495-519. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2012.03010.

12 Steps to Freedom?

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Prior to being a member of HU, my exposure to 12 Step programs had been reserved to TV shows and movies. I saw how characters would stand and announce their name and their disease, followed by a room of people replying, ‘Hi So and So’ in unison. But that was all I knew. I had no idea how life-saving these fellowships were, or how spiritually connected everyone in the room was (regardless of who/what their higher power is). I suppose I had a stereotype in mind that the people in these meetings just came to complain about their vices, and when they were finished, they would all go out for a beer. How bad is that? Well my stereotype was superbly wrong!

Being that I’m in the addiction program at HU (as well as the PTSD program), it’s mandatory that I go to a 12-step meeting every day. Yes you heard me correctly, EVERY DAY. Furthermore, we are encouraged to try different types of meetings as they all use the same 12 steps for recovery, and in the end, an addiction is an addiction, so any meeting is suitable. Each fellowship has their own style of meeting, and my HU peers and I are told choose which fits us best. This recovery world is already so alien to me. So it’s nice to have SOME options. Many meetings have speakers, while some forgo the speaker and partake in discussions about pertinent topics instead. But no matter which meeting I attend, I have found one thing that undoubtably resonates through ALL of them…you can gain true freedom if you follow the steps.

The people I’ve met who attend these meetings have shattered my stereotype forever. Gone is the image I had of addicts sitting around relentlessly venting about their misery. It’s not like that at all! Yes, some talk about past addiction experiences occur, but most discussions are very solution based. Generally speaking, no one wants to listen to anyone bitch and complain. Everyone wants to hear how sobriety changed their lives for the better and how they came to achieve it. People of all ages and from ALL walks of life attend meetings; the other day I sat between a police officer and a doctor. When I’m there it’s plain to see that addiction doesn’t discriminate.

I have learned that the spiritual side of meetings has deterred people in the past. Some believe that 12 step programs have a religious connotation…but in fact, organized religion has no place at meetings; what is discussed is spirituality. It is reiterated over and over again that everyone is encouraged to trust in their higher power whether it’s God, nature, the power of the group, or anything you choose. There is no religion of any kind linked to the program unless YOU want it to be, and you never need to talk about it. In fact, no one even needs to talk about the source of their spirituality at all. All that matters is that you realize you could not get better alone. Recovery on your own terms was too much to bear. Quiet simply, every member needs to be able to put their addiction in the hands of their higher power and believe that there is something greater than us that can help. Understandably that can be a huge struggle for many people; I’m still working on it myself. But even if you search and search and still can’t figure it out, that’s ok! You can always go to a meeting just for the unconditional support. 12 step meetings are simply rooms filled with hope, strength and determination, as well as reassurance that you don’t have to fight the demon in your head alone.

The people at meetings are fighters. Their stories depict years of internal war with addiction and relentless battles with compulsion. I admire every person I meet within the walls of a meeting. Their honestly and vulnerability gives me hope that I can heal. Their stories resonate in my mind days after a meeting and reassure me that I’m not alone. How wonderful to not be alone. I can see myself making life-long friends with these fighters because their support for me was instantaneous. I feel blessed to have been introduced to this world and look forward to the freedom it promises.

My HU Family

I’ve made it through 2 weeks of laughs, tears, confusion and awakenings at HU; it’s gone by so quickly! And I’ve done it along side some pretty amazing individuals. So I wanted to take a moment and recap some of the experiences I’ve had with my peers. (Always confidential as usual).

I’ve become a professional mover. Sigh. I hate moving. But with patients cycling through the doors of HU on a regular basis, it’s not out of the ordinary to have to move rooms from time to time. But I have moved 5 times in two weeks 😦 It’s not a complicated procedure but it definitely affects my level of comfort here…being that I haven’t quite found it fully. It’s not the staff’s fault. Sadly I’ve been colliding with some severe rule-breaking occurrences making my habitat ‘not available’ for some time. So seeing my sorry-self wheel my few belongings down the halls of HU is now a comical event.- “There she goes again!” People have wanted to take pictures of my sad little hobo state…but alas, that is not allowed.

Did I mention that the people here are amazing! It’s one big family. Cliche?…Yes. But it’s true! We all form an intricate web of support, kindness and understanding. Simply put, we all just get it! One guy in my group rightfully described the atmosphere here as ‘disgustingly happy’. We welcome new-comers like they are our baby birds. We reassure them that their wings will heal, if they trust the process. We understand perfectly what each other is feeling because all of us have crash landed here too. When it was us walking through the doors for the first time, lost and scared, we had that special person pick us up and fix our wings, so it’s only natural we return the favour. Everyone smiles and says hello and there are no cliques. When it’s time to eat you don’t need to search for ‘your table’ like in high school. Thank God!  You literally walk to an empty seat and sit down – just like that!  Everyone will start talking to you instantly. Questions like, “What’s your DOC (drug of choice)?” “How many weeks have you been here?” “How do you like it?” always gets the ball rolling easily. It’s probably the least judgmental place on earth! We all feel safe…and we say it often.

We divulge some unbelievably painful personal information in group which not surprisingly solidifies peer connections even more. We learn about each others deep down, blood curdling pain. We cry with each other until our eyes burn, and encourage perseverance when you can tell the person can barely go any further. We know those tears will heal us. We know we’re not alone. And we know our secrets are safe.

On a happier note. We have some super-intense hockey rivalries going on here. 🙂 People from across Canada wear their team’s jerseys up and down the halls showing undying dedication to their hometown city (even Toronto…lol. I love the Leafs! Don’t send me hate mail 🙂 ) It’s an amazingly diverse community here at HU. Oh, and if you want some candy to munch on during the game, you’re in luck! We deal chocolate bars and sour keys out of duffel bags and side-drawers like…well…you know.

Do you want to learn how to knit? Play dominoes? Cranium? Well you’re in luck! Because at HU somebody nearby would love teach you! Who needs drugs and alcohol when you can have a heart-pounding game of checkers! Am I right? OK, so I may not be knitting my Christmas socks yet…but on a serious note, these things are actually pretty fun with the people here. Who knew? Not in a million years did I think I would be sitting in a greenhouse planting cacti with a bunch of addicts. Or showing my neighbour how to use a glue-gun on his Christmas ornament at 2 o’clock in the afternoon…sober.

All-in-all it’s pretty amazing here. And I can even say that through burning eyes as I had a pretty gut-wrenching session today. If I have to be away from my family and friends I will take being with this gang any day!

 

My Alien World

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I learned something AMAZING in PTSD class today. Quite literally I solved a mystery that’s been bewildering me since I was a child. Some of you may remember me talking about how I felt ‘disconnected’ from the physical world during my times of depression (Layer’s of my Depression blog). And that the best way I could explain this sensation was that I felt like an alien and that everything around me wasn’t real; I felt like I was outside of my body. Growing up I told very few people about this feeling (until now…lol) because I was embarrassed by it, and my attempts at trying to describe it usually resulted in one of two responses; “I’m really not sure what you mean”, or “You worry too much Natalie”. Sigh  So for as long as I can remember, I kept my mouth shut when my depression demon descended. I would frequently drag myself through life in my alien bubble, lost and utterly alone because I just didn’t know what was going on with me. It was SUCH and isolating feeling. I hated it and I couldn’t wait for the feeling to go away so that I could finally feel human again. If I only knew what was making me feel that way?….

Fast forward to today. Have you ever heard the word ‘alexithymia’? Well I sure hadn’t until a few hours ago. It literally means to have ‘no words for a feeling’. I could relate to this odd definition instantly! So could many of my peers. My teacher then went on to tell us that it’s used to describe the sensation from a condition called dissociation. “What is dissociation?” you may ask. Well, sometimes when people experience major trauma(s), they teach their bodies to numb, or remove themselves from an uncomfortable feeling as a protective response. Dissociating can make us feel like we are outside of our bodies looking in, but there are no exact words to describe the feeling! Eureka!  Does this mean I wasn’t going crazy all these years? Other people experience this phenomenon too? Yes it does.

Dissociation is a highly effective coping mechanism; but not necessarily healthy. It allows us to create a different world that is void of any emotion hence saving us from the pain a traumatic event would cause. But after months, years, decades, of dissociating when a trigger reminds us of the trauma, this alien state can emerge without us even recognizing the trigger; it becomes our normal coping mechanism when we least expect it. My alien world is now starting to make sense to me!

The traumas I’ve experienced over my life caused massive depression and most likely a dissociative state in order for me to hide from my painful emotions. (Layer 1 – ‘weird’ feeling) Coupled with the fact that I was never encouraged to express my emotions growing up, dissociation would have been the perfect escape route for me.

Now, in my adult life, when my depression starts to rear it’s ugly head, my dissociative feelings bubble up (with or without trauma) because it’s been so closely linked to my depressive world all these years. Yes, I only just learned about this condition ‘dissociation’ today, and my eagerness to link my alien moments to it may be premature, but it sure makes a lot of sense to me.

I REALLY hope that this post answers questions to any possible moments of alexithymia you may have experienced out there in blog-world. And remember that you’re not alone, and you’re not an alien.

I recommend talking to your doctor about any of your mental health concerns to get more clarity as my opinions are only my own. But in the meantime I’m sending a big hug out to anyone who has ever been confused by this symptom. I know I sure could have used one while I cried in my alien world.

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