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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

Month

February 2015

“Off With Their Heads!”

queen of hearts

I can definitely tell that I’ve been changing and growing over the past 5 months. I automatically recognize many negative emotions when they pop up and use mindfulness and patience to navigate through them rather than pushing them away. I take things one day at a time rather than ruminating about the unknown future. I’m learning so much about my addiction and how it controlled my life, and how recovery can be a life I had never imagined; a happy life. I have crisis plans and a network of friends who have ‘been where I have’ and whom I contact every day. BUT there’s still (and probably always will be) HUGE hit-me-in-the-gut, make me want to vomit, ‘what was I thinking?’, lessons almost daily. Today not being an exception!

The topic at save my life grad school was ‘Challenging Extreme Judgements’. Oh Lord…I can tell this chapter is going to sting. It spoke of how many of us ‘life students’ often use 100% emotional mind when in an argument, and don’t realize how much exaggeration is occurring on our part. When we feel hurt or upset we tell people that they NEVER do anything nice for us, or that they are ALWAYS being selfish, when in truth that is merely our emotional mind’s PERCEPTION in the moment. We feel like no one cares about us because they aren’t instantly remedying our insecurities or making us feel loved. But if we turned on our rational mind, we would see that the NEVER, and ALWAYS statements we throw out like daggers aren’t true, and that the people we are upset with feel very criticized. When we label people in extreme ways, they become defensive because our statements are unrealistic and one-sided. They then get upset that ALL of the positive things they’ve ever done for us are discounted and ignored. When we lash out with extreme judgements our loved ones don’t want to make us feel secure and loved, because they are hurt and end up pushing us away. When we accuse people of things they DON’T do, it slams the door shut on negotiation, causing hurt and misunderstanding for both parties involved.

This chapter hurts my heart to the core because I was the QUEEN of extreme judgements, and I hurt a lot of people in my life with them. I feel embarrassed that I wasn’t ‘intelligent’ enough to see how my behaviours were destructive and painful. I always felt so terribly sorry after these arguments occurred and eventually realized that I was definitely overreacting. But I had no idea why I couldn’t stop the emotional mind thoughts before it was too late. My inability to turn on rational mind until much later in the day slowly sabotaged the relationships I wanted to desperately keep. By the time I had said sorry, it was too late; the people who I loved so dearly were tired of hearing it.

I’ve learned that I created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not only by having false extreme judgements about others, but also by having them of myself. Whenever I disappointed myself by hurting someone I loved I felt unworthy and I told myself over and over that I was crazy and no one would ever love me forever. I was stuck in self-defeating ways. The labels I put on myself by my own minds doing had long-lasting effects on my self-esteem and in turn slowly crumbled any true loving foundation of a relationship I had because there’s only so long anyone could TRY to convince me otherwise. For their own well-being they needed to either walk away, or I pushed them away. I thought that relationships would NEVER work out, because they hadn’t before. But what I didn’t realize was that my extreme thoughts sabotaged them from the very start. I had no idea that words and thoughts driven by a self-defeating emotional mind should never be trusted. I thought I knew what was right, but I was very wrong.

Save my life grad school is teaching me to take a stand and RATIONALLY challenge extreme judgements/lies right when they occur! I’m learning to defend myself from these judgements which will in turn protect future relationships from them as well. Like all of this ‘life work’, changes don’t happen over night. Heck, I’ve been called the Queen of Hearts before because my all-or-nothing, emotional mind extreme judgements were equal to me yelling ‘off with their heads’ if anyone threatened my heart in anyway. How I could not see that this caused undue grief when I tried to sew their heads back on once I rationally woke up?…I don’t know.

I’m not a stupid person. I’ve just been living in a dysregulated out-of-contol mind. My mind (whether or not influenced by mental health, addiction, or past experiences…It doesn’t really matter) did and said mindless and impulsive things because I only acted on emotional mind…especially when I was in a desperate state. My all-or-nothing outlook on life and love wasn’t rational and made me believe that death was the only way to be free of the turmoil and darkness which consumed me. My suicide attempt is the ultimate example of an ALL and EXTREME decision I wouldn’t be able to apologize for when my rational mind kicked in. Thank God I have the opportunity to be a different Queen of Hearts now…the queen of my own.

Love Is Essential, But Sadly It’s Not A Cure

Seeing someone you love suffer from a mental health illness, including addiction, is heart breaking and difficult to put into words. But let me know if any of this sounds familiar to you? … You would do anything to take their pain away. You would trade places with them if you could. You eat, sleep and breathe the feeling of helplessness, not knowing what to say next. You never know what tomorrow will bring. You walk on eggshells day in and day out. You get mad at the universe and wonder how there is nothing you can do to fix them. You agonizingly watch them get deeper and deeper into a world of despair, into a darkness you don’t understand. You wish you could grab them and shake them back to sanity. You’ve prayed, begged, counselled, reasoned, threatened, but nothing seems to work. Years go by while you think they’ve finally reached bottom. Only to see them get even worse.

This blog is for anyone who can relate to that first paragraph. It’s for the caregivers who suffer along side of their sick loved one baffled by the disease. It’s for the people who have wondered time and time again why they can’t fix their sick, mother, father, spouse, sister, brother, friend…whomever it may be. For those pillars of strength who have done enough research on a particular illness they could rival any psychiatrist’s lecture on the topic. For those of you who’ve travelled miles to treatment centres, psychologists, cognitive behavioural therapists, natural medicine doctors, and drug trials, praying that this time your loved one’s mental illness would be cured. For those of you who’ve tried everything BUT NOTHING SEEMS TO WORK. I’m not here to tell you to stop trying or loving, not at all! Your love and effort is PRICELESS to anyone who’s sick. But I am here to tell you that you need to breathe and ultimately realize that YOU can’t MAKE any treatment work. Some sick people lose their homes, jobs, freedom and even children, but if they aren’t truly ready to get better, or they can’t, they won’t. It’s probably one of the hardest things for a healthy family member to accept or comprehend. Even the threat of death from doctors may mean nothing to a diseased brain; sadly to many it’s often the only cure they can see.

When I was at Homewood I heard story after story about how people had been in and out of treatment centres and hospitals for years…only to find themselves still sick. Family members probably shook their heads in disbelief when relapses occurred saying to themselves, ‘but I put them in the best care facility! I made sure they stayed until the program was completed!’ Well sadly these relapses occur with this perplexing disease because the person who is sick couldn’t give themselves completely to the program. They may have wanted to, but something about their disease kept stopping them, something about their disease kept winning. It wasn’t anyones fault! And it wasn’t for lack of help. It’s a cunning and baffling disease.

The only way any therapy can work is when the sick person accepts the help completely. They have to somehow, someway do it on their own; and some are too sick to do so. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m hear to try to ease your restless minds by telling you that no amount of therapy or love guarantees that a sick person will truly comprehend the gravity of their disease and accept help. You may be mad to hear that ALL OF YOUR LOVE still can’t or couldn’t fix your loved one. Please take my word for it, it’s not that the love you gave wasn’t amazing, it’s not that the sick person didn’t see, feel and appreciate that love. It’s a HUGE part of recovery for anyone! It’s just that sadly all the love in the world can’t cure a disease that keeps them from loving THEMSELVES.

Why does one person finally accept or ask for the help they need and not another? I don’t know. Every individual is different. Just know that if your loved one didn’t, it’s not because you said one too few prayers. You didn’t love them too little, or ask too few questions. You didn’t choose the wrong doctor, or treatment centre, or therapist. You didn’t fix them…because YOU couldn’t. Some people are just too sick and you may never even have known. That’s not your fault.

My heart breaks every day for the people who have lost a loved one to a mental health illness. And my deepest condolences go out to the family of my 14 year old niece’s friend who are living with the loss right now.

Love one another, that medicine never hurts. But remember that even love can’t cure everything.

Easy Does It

I’m sick. It’s just a chest and head cold, but it’s kept me cooped up in bed for a few days now. I don’t like the feeling of digressing from my daily routine by staying at home as my new found education has taught me that isolating is relapse behaviour. But am I truly isolating? Or quarantining myself for the good of the public? I find myself juggling whether or not to rest my physical self, or to try and battle the elements (and pray I won’t cough till I vomit when the cold hits my lungs) and focus on my mental self. I constantly go back and forth between thinking, “well I personally wouldn’t want anyone hacking up a lung in the yoga studio”, to “well maybe if I just push myself half as hard I will be ok”, and then “but yoga etiquette says I’m not suppose to leave the studio until the class is finished and coughing for 90 minutes is horribly rude”, right back to “well going means I’m definitely still on my recovery pathway because I’m out of the house”. UGH…that’s literally how my mind works. But when I give myself a break and really think about it, even being mindful of making sure I stay on my recovery pathway is more than I ever did before.

Being that I’m a mindfulness rookie, deciphering between what is being mindful and simply being too judgemental of myself is tough. In save my life grad school we have learned that we should avoid extreme judgements, because we often base them on only an observation or two. Furthermore, if we’re in emotional mind when we are making these judgements, our perceptions are often distorted by the emotional crap we are rolling in. Making incorrect judgements is part of being human, I get that. But when mentally sick and physically sick get rolled into one (like today), and making the right judgement/recovery choices daily can be a matter of life or death, decisions regarding my health in general can get a little overwhelming.

At the end of the day I do think I’m balancing things quite well. I’m keeping my germs away from the public (you’re welcome!), but I’m very mindful to make sure that sitting in my room for most of the day doesn’t put me into a downward spiral. I need to give myself a little slack sometimes and remember ‘easy does it’. I suppose I am taking this as a learning opportunity which is good. And over time, the decisions that seem so big to me now, (go to yoga, or not go to yoga) will become easier, more natural and rather automatic. I’ve learned in school that it takes a lot of dedication and practice to change our old habits, but, the end result is well worth our effort.

Mindfulness and Valentine’s Day

pink-heart-hi

Valentine’s Day…Blah! A day I’ve never been too fond of anyway has involved me finishing ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ at home in my pajamas with my Valentine (dog) Walter, (he totally forgot to get me flowers…but whatever, he would have eaten them anyway), drinking copious amounts of coffee and taking cold FX to hopefully ward off my sore throat…how romantic. But as this silly day of love has gone by, I’ve been very conscious not to let my emotional mind start to take over for fear of heartbreak rearing it’s ugly head 10 fold. And by being so conscious of this, I have also been thinking a lot about how important mindfulness is to recovery, and also how a day of mindlessness is equally as important when needed for sanity.

Last week in save my life grad school we discussed the topic of mindfulness quite a lot. Simply put, mindfulness is awareness in the moment, in the here-and-now. It involves being aware of what we’re doing and what we’re thinking about doing. This is a skill many people implement instinctively when they are in an upsetting situation, but not I. One of my biggest problems in the past is doing before thinking, especially while I’m in an upsetting situation. In fact, in the past when I was upset my emotional mind would tell me that the only way to feel better and to calm the demons in my head was to drink, A LOT. I used to never ‘play the tape to the end’ and be mindful of the consequences of my actions. All that mattered at that moment was getting rid of the gross feeling in the pit of my stomach or of the memories that kept me awake at night. So with today being Valentine’s Day and my heart still only partially healed, the old Natalie would have used this day’s sadness as the perfect opportunity to numb! But on February 14th, 2015, I am proud to say that the only numbness I’ve felt today is when my nose was about to fall off while walking Walter outside in what feels like winter in the Yukon Territories.

A common theme I have noticed with mental health therapies is balance. A healthy life involves taking a little from column A and mixing it with column B. (At the beginning of my recovery I called this balance, ‘confusing contradictions’). For example, while in recovery it’s very important not to isolate, BUT, it’s equally as important to take time to meditate on your own. Confession time: Us Homewood U student’s quickly learned that the secret to being able to take a nap, was to say that we were ‘meditating’. Another secret was that if you wanted chocolate milk you’d better be early for lunch because it was gone faster than a parking spot on Christmas eve…but I digress. Another example of this ‘balance’ is when we are told to practice mindfulness, BUT, to also keep ourselves occupied every day so that we don’t just sit and let our minds ruminate. Can you see how life school can be a bit confusing at times? No wonder I study every day. So on days like today a little mixture of mindfulness and mindlessness may be the perfect balance for this girl. I’m mindful that I need to keep my emotions in check, but I’m mindless enough to forget to put deodorant on. Too much information?…oh well, I’m WAY past that point anyway 😉

I’ve been mindful that I’ve been quite sad at times today, and a bit lonely. I couldn’t help but think about the good times Ian and I had and how nice it was when we first started dating. It’s difficult on Cupid’s Day to not think about the flowers he would bring me home, or the first time he told me he loved me, but I didn’t beat myself up over thinking about it. I reminded myself that the feelings I had today are normal, and that I am human. In the past, these thoughts would turn into emotions that would kick-start the perfect negative self-defeating cycle of rumination and self-pity…I was a pro at it! If I was heartbroken a year ago pre-life school, I would have been a blubbering mess. I don’t even want to think about the drunk texts I would have sent! But overall I’m super proud of myself. I’ve been managing all of my emotions in a positive way today, and reminding myself that they are only temporary and that I will feel better. I’ve been saying my prayers like I’m suppose to and asking God to keep me on my recovery path and to trust that he still has good plans for my heart. And even though I honestly was not up for a meeting tonight, I was mindful that not going is typical relapse behaviour and I got my butt out that door!

So if ‘mindfulness’ is Column A, in order to keep mental health balance today, I’ve also added a little of Column B – mindlessness. Way more fun! I’m equally as proud to say that I’ve mindlessly eaten what feels like 457 of Caroline’s Valentine’s Day chocolates, had 2 naps, ate cinnamon buns for breakfast, lunch and dinner, snuggled Walter when needed, and sang in the car louder than usual on the way to my AA meeting. BAM! How’s THAT for balance?!

So as my Valentine’s day is drawing to an end, I will mindfully remind myself that the love I have in my life is immense. There’s no need to numb, or be sad. And that even though Ian and I are apart, his love taught me more than words can say. And above all, I now have love for life every day, not just on February 14th.

Taking Time on the Pathway to Recovery

pathway

Save my life Grad school has been amazing! I am truly shocked at how much I am still learning about myself and my emotions. When I finished 7 weeks of normal save my life school, I thought I had learned almost everything I needed to know to survive in this confusing messed-up world. But then HU came along and presented me with even more valuable mind-chaos to grow through by untangling each thought and emotion. It’s hard to believe that over 4 months has gone by since I became a ‘life’ student…recess is still my favourite class.

Yesterday’s topic in class was ‘The Pathways of Recovery’. Its lesson revolved around the feeling of hopelessness, which is incredibly common in people with mental health illnesses. Have you ever told yourself, “Why try, everything goes wrong anyway?” Or what about, “Things that are going good today, won’t last.” Well I sure have! These phrases fuelled my pessimistic outlook on the world, and if still used, will force me to have trouble believing recovery will make a real difference in my life. All-in-all, these self-defeating beliefs are NOT ok to live with.

Now you may be thinking, “But Natalie, SO MANY bad things have happened to me! It seems like just when I get my head out of water something pulls me down again.” And you know what, sometimes this is true. But all kinds of things can and do happen in people’s lives; some good, some bad. Hard times don’t discriminate. We ALL have terrible losses that hurt us to the core. We all have experienced sadness that we thought was never even possible. Some people get diagnosed with cancer, go bankrupt, get divorced, and some have even experienced the loss of a child. Life just sucks sometimes! It’s pretty cut and dry. But what I am learning is that choosing to cope with these terrible circumstances in a healthy way, rather than numbing instantly and hiding from our emotions, is possible. Yes that is correct, the way we cope with the atrocities of life are a choice. I never thought those words would come out of my mouth!

Before learning any coping skills over the past 4 months, when something bad happened to me I numbed it right away, usually with alcohol. Furthermore, I would hide from situations in my life which may cause conflict, thus causing me pain. This avoidance of pain is an unhealthy way to behave as well, and often lead me slowly into a horrible depression. Rather than tackling a problem head on and getting it sorted out right away, I would ignore, ignore, ignore! I thought it would disappear! What was I thinking? It only grew into a bigger problem every day.

The bottom line is, I didn’t like to feel. But if I want to stay on the recovery path I have to start trusting in my ability to get through hard times, no matter how gross they make me feel. I can’t just run to a bottle of wine or down a jar of pills at the first glimpse of sadness. Clearly those choices made everything worse. Adopting the ability to choose to accept the normal pain life brings us is going to be tough at first. Thinking with a rational mind when all I’m use to thinking with is an emotional mind, will take time and practice.

What I’ve learned in school is that we have to give ourselves TIME and permission to process a painful event. We need to allow ourselves to experience ALL the normal human emotions which may come with the situation. That’s when thing get scary for me. Then we need TIME to develop a game plan, and TIME to implement it. Healthy people do these things instinctively. Buggers. But with practice this can be second nature for anyone with mental health illnesses too. I usually want the pain and discomfort to go away fast! But oddly enough, the sooner I accept that it will take TIME to get through a loss, the sooner I will heal from the loss.

Recently I have experienced this ability to get through pain with time and it’s quite empowering. My heart break with Ian has hurt me A LOT. And at first I definitely didn’t cope with it in a healthy way. I wanted to rip my heart out of my chest rather than feel the pain of losing someone I love. But as time has gone on, it’s getting better. I’ve tolerated the distress adequately and allowed time to go by. I still have bad days and need to talk it out with a friend, (healing isn’t progress every day) but overall I am able to tell myself that what I’m feeling is normal and that it won’t last forever. Even through the biggest heart break of my life I still haven’t picked up a drink; that’s cause for some pride 🙂

Shit is going to happen. At times life sucks. And especially for people with mental health illnesses, the fight to get through tragedy can also be a fight for their lives. I am by far NO expert in this ‘give yourself time to heal’ world; I’m a freshman at best! But through the effort and determination to stay on the pathway to recovery, we can gain life stability and improved life outcomes.

Recovery Days

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Well hello there! 🙂 I’ve decided to peek my head back into the blog world. You may be saying to yourself, ‘but why?’, I just left not long ago…I was suppose to be focusing on me. But I have my reasons for returning. 1. I love to write. It’s a passion and an outlet that I have enjoyed all my life. 2. I love to help. It’s not like me to keep the lessons I am still learning to myself. They are bursting out of me and sharing helps me heal. And last but not least, number 3, I’ve missed you guys! Your support propelled me forward every day and I looked forward to your words of wisdom and love. So I’ve decided to blog once or twice a week about my recovery days.

I want to share what it’s like to be out of the Homewood bubble. What hurdles have I met and needed to jump over? What changes I have found in life itself? And what skills I am continuing to learn at the outpatient program I have recently started…yes that’s right, I’m in ‘save my life grad school’! I have SO much to tell you about, so let’s get started…

One of my very good HU friends has nick-named me the ‘dark-knight’. Why you may ask? Well, I graduated HU a week early and apparently that is quite unheard of; something only superheroes can do. (Insert me laughing hysterically). The only times we saw people have the HU doors close behind them prematurely is because they got the boot! (And A LOT of people did! ) But I didn’t get the boot…thank God! What happened is I actually started ‘going backwards’ according to my team of care providers. I felt like I was making huge leaps and bounds in my first week of the PTSD phase of the program, but something changed. I was able to share my stories in group and it helped me tremendously. But as the days went on, and I had to hear of my new friends tragedies, I started to dissociate. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and literally couldn’t handle it. I tried so hard to shake the gross feelings off of me after the group each day, but the feeling never fully went away. I started to get VERY angry at life again, and with that and the combination of trying to deal with some family issues at home, I almost relapsed.

After having a desperately sad and hopeless day, I left HU one night without anyone knowing, and started to search for a bar. I had texted AB just before I left and said that I was leaving, and didn’t text her again. I walked down the street in the freezing cold night, back in my self-centred, self-pity phase, and was spiralling fast. I asked a stranger on the street where I could find a ‘restaurant’, and he directed me. As I walked I imagined what it would be like to even order a glass of red wine. I dreamt about how amazing the smell would be! I would just go for one, it wouldn’t be that bad. But as I walked I couldn’t stop thinking about how much AB would be worrying about me. I decided to text her and tell her I was ok…but when I tried to, I realized that my phone had died. I had plenty of battery when I left…and it was randomly dead. I stopped in my tracks. I had to go back! It wasn’t fair to do that to AB! She didn’t deserve to be worrying about selfish me again! I could have kept walking in the direction the stranger showed me, but instead I jogged back to HU (well as much as I could with the cold freezing my lungs so badly) and got past the nursing station without a soul even knowing I had been gone.

I prayed for my phone to hurry up and charge! Then I was finally able to tell AB I was OK. I believe my phone died for a reason that night. Prior to that I wasn’t thinking about the consequences my heat-of-the-moment decision would have on my entire life… I HAD to stop that behaviour. The consequences would have been enormous! I most definitely would have gotten kicked out of HU! I would have disappointed everyone! I would not have received the excellent news I just heard a few days ago that CAS is closing my file…I can see my son whenever I’d like to! I could have lost my job! I could have died… But I believe, because of the grace of God, I turned around and realized what I was doing would have been catastrophic.

The rest of my days at HU were sort of surreal. I couldn’t believe 7 weeks had gone by. I was watching all of my close friends graduate and was amongst mostly new faces. At the end of the day I was ready to go home. I was scared…but I was ready. I had fully and completely given my will over to the 12-step programs and to the big guy upstairs. I needed to do exactly I was told to do when I got home, and if I did, I would be ok. Now time for real life…

Getting home was so nice. But I have to confess a story showing how delusional and self-centred I was!…Before I went away I was hoping that people would have a welcome home party for me! What the f*<K! I’ve told this story to many AA friends which has caused them to almost pee their pants laughing! This was my mindset before though! Now I’m embarrassed to even think I thought that. I was so blessed to have a small welcome home cake from my family, but there was no rented hall or streamers waiting for my arrival (insert embarrassed face). Just more proof that an addict mind thinks truly of themselves first.

Being home does involve me thinking about myself…but in a healthy way. Recovery is a moment by moment mission! And if I let up…relapse could rear its ugly head. My day is pretty consistent and peaceful. I go to hot yoga every morning, hang out with my kids, eat healthy, walk Walter, read my AA books, pray/meditate, and go to meetings…LOTS of meetings. And last week I started another out-patient program which is twice a week. I’ve started to develop a great network of recovering addict friends and have joined a CA group… I’m responsible for bringing cream and sugar to every meeting; it’s a big deal 😉 I’m still on the hunt for a sponsor, but I want them to be right for me, so I’m not rushing into that. But don’t worry, I won’t leave it for that long…it is a pivotal component to successful recovery.

I’m SO grateful for how much HU focused on the addiction part of my PTSD recovery. As you can probably remember I was very resistant to the idea at first. What could a 12 step program actually do to help me? Why would I want to go to these meetings all the time? Ugh…I was convinced I had it all figured out. And in turn I made the initial weeks of HU very difficult for myself. Once again self-righteous Natalie thought that a program which has helped MILLIONS of people around the world live happy, clean and prosperous lives couldn’t possibly help me! When I FINALLY decided to surrender and follow the simple steps provided to anyone willing to recover, my mind started to become calm. I told myself to stop complicating things! Just…follow…the…steps! And you know what, they do work…if you work them.

My PTSD has been at bay for a long time now. And for this I am very grateful. I know that it will be something that I have to consciously address and talk about if it is ever bothering me, but talking is just so much easier thanks to things like this blog. I haven’t had a bout of depression or anxiety since I’ve been home, and am genuinely living one day at a time so much more peacefully than before. I finally got the help I had been craving for years! And it will be a work in progress for the rest of my life. I look forward to sharing more stories about my recovery with you, and can’t tell you how much more I feel at home with these keys under my fingers. It won’t be every day…but if you would like to join me, I will happily take you with me down this road called recovery. XO ~Nat

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