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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

Month

May 2015

Knock Knock, Karma’s at the Door!

eye-hole

What is your understanding of Karma? Well until today, my understanding was that it was always just a b!+ch. Heck, if bumper stickers told me so, it must be true! Right? Well, on a serious note, I understood that positive and negative energy was somehow involved. Primarily I thought that if I was to harm another living being, (to my sister-in-law’s dismay, this includes spiders and centipedes), bad karma would be knocking at my door. I interpreted it as a law of the universe that always came true to fruition, but just like a pesky mother-in-law, you never really knew when the results of your karma would show up. Furthermore, I believed that the only thing I could do with karma was to pray that it would simply ‘knock’ at my door, and not come barging in.

Today I learned that karma goes much deeper than my initial understanding. Karma is a spiritual law of the universe, but more specifically, it is the result of a motivation of the mind. It refers to a universal state of cause and effect. Simply put, virtuous motivations will always lead to happiness, while non-virtuous motivations will lead to suffering. And because every motivation begins in our own individual minds, only we dictate our own karma. For example: If I were to grab a knife right now, depending on my motivation to use that knife, I could cause good karma or bad karma. If I were a surgeon, and that knife was intended to help someone, well that would produce good karma. But if I were to use that knife to rob someone, that would obviously create bad karma.

On a practical level, we can use the cause and effect of karma (mental motivations) to mindfully move ourselves away from a negative karmic cycle like depression. For example, over the years, when I was depressed, I used the negative emotions I felt to discourage myself, i.e. my karma was continuously negative. This negativity only created more negative karma, and therefore the darkness I felt got worse and worse. I never thought to say to myself, “I had better change my mental motivation to a positive one so that my negative thoughts don’t keep me in a cycle of bad karma and depression”. If I had truly understood what karma was back then, I would have thought to use any negative emotions during my depression to encourage me to change my mental motivations to positive ones. This isn’t always the easiest thing to do when you are in an intense stage of depression, but rather than wait in misery for someone or something else to change my mood… if I had known that only my mind can create positive karma, I would have possibly attempted to see the positivity of life with a little bit more gusto.

Another aspect of karma is that it’s like a seed we plant (either a good seed or a bad seed) that requires the right conditions for it to sprout. And contrary to our belief that another person’s mental motivation can create our seed’s sprouting conditions, is false. Only we can cause either the good seed, or the bad seed to sprout. If we perceive a person as being mean to us, and we lash out at them, we might say that they caused us to create negative karma, that they watered the negative seed. But that’s not so! Only our own personal perception of any person, place or thing can determine which seed gets watered. I may perceive a person as mean and allow that person to cause me suffering. But you may think that the exact same person is wonderful, and cause you to be happy; it’s all in the eye (perception) of the beholder. If we practice being more gentle with our perception of people, we can avoid causing ourselves undue negative karma. This isn’t to say that we should allow people to be mean to us, we are still very much entitled to create healthy boundaries. But if we initially perceive a person with a lighter heart, we are more likely to create positive karma for ourselves.

Whether you believe in karma or not, is entirely up to you. This is simply food for thought. But why not throw the idea around a bit? Maybe take peek through the peep hole for the first time, and see which kind of karma is on the other side of your door, and remember it’s up to you as to which type of karma you let in.

Selfish? or Self-care?

selfish

Selfish; a word which has evoked so many emotions in my life. Emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt, shame and most often confusion. I was told I was selfish a lot as a kid. Depending on the day, and the mood of the house, I have been told I was selfish when I wanted to show my achievements in school, such as my report card. I was told I was selfish when I needed a break from all of the responsibilities in my life. I was often told I was selfish whenever I wanted to better myself…and I didn’t understand why. This confusing emotion kept me questioning my own personal-growth motives for years. If I was told I was selfish for so long, I must be, right?

While moving through my 12-step program, I have come to realize how much my misconception of the word selfish has affected me. Deep down I knew that the word should be linked to a negative action, and not to taking care of myself. But because my feelings surrounding this word were so volatile and confusing, I moved through life on my tippy-toes, careful not to be selfish in anyone’s eyes ever again. I learned through trial and error who I could share my accomplishments with and who would be proud of me. For example, I learned months after I ‘lost’ my college report card that my brother Ross had had it in his wallet all along, and had been showing it to his friends because he was so proud of me. I learned that my colleagues were genuinely happy with my career advancements and didn’t see me as selfish at all. I learned that my kids were so proud of me when I walked across the stage and accepted my Advanced Care Paramedic Diploma, and when they both helped me press ‘enter’ to send the last research paper I had written to Victoria University in order to obtain my BHSc degree. But all of these examples of love and pride in my achievements still couldn’t erase my misconception of the word selfish. In fact, any personal accomplishment left me feeling that ‘selfish’ just masqueraded as pride.

The shame-based messages I received growing up also affected my ability to set healthy boundaries. I would often ‘go with the flow’ and not voice my personal opinion for fear that it would appear selfish or hurt someone’s feelings. In a crowd, I never ‘rocked the boat’. I wanted to be honest and direct with people, but outside of work the line between selfishness and self-care was as clear as a puddle of mud. I had confidence in my skills at work and knew my roll and responsibilities well, so I rarely had a problem saying what I needed to there. But in my personal life, if someone seemed to be helping me, I went with it, because I was too afraid of them leaving or appearing selfish if I questioned any of their motives.

Through this amazing journey, and more specifically through completing Step’s 4&5 (completing and sharing my moral inventory) I have come to learn the unselfish importance of self-care. Doing what is best for me, regardless of anyone else’s opinion is what I should do! Who knew?! I don’t need to justify my choices to anyone, and I definitely don’t need to feel selfish for developing boundaries I need for my recovery. My recovery is number 1! I’m so grateful for every time my sponsor corrected me during my 5th step when I thought a resentment I had stemmed from some root of my selfishness. She reminded me throughout my steps that what I was finally doing was self-care!…and she also reminded me how far I’ve come with this!

After completing my moral inventory, in the interest of self-care, I stopped drinking the poison of resentment. And I again wished anyone who had hurt me, wellness and happiness…genuinely. I’m a different person than I was 8 months ago. And this new person deserves every ounce of love and care I can receive. My greatest accomplishment has been my recovery! And as you can see, I don’t tippy-toe around about that. I’ve been shouting out my accomplishments in this blog and will continue to do so for who knows how long?

It’s not to say that I never received the encouragement or praise a child needs while growing up. Just like most parents, mine did the very best they could with the tools they had. Love was there, but so was struggle and words which were mindlessly spoken…I am guilty of the same. But moving forward I am all too happy to express my knowledge of the difference between selfishness and self-care in hope that someone out there afraid to set healthy boundaries may do so, and feel the freedom of smiling whenever they want to.

Happiness and Possibility

Happiness

Happiness to many is a very simple emotion to grasp. You want it. It feels good. You get it. Right? Well, it’s not that way for everyone. Crazy as this may sound, happiness can also be a very scary emotion for some people. But why? Why is it easier for many of us to stay content with emotions that block happiness? Why are we often more comfortable having emotions like anger sewn into the fabric of our personalities? It certainly doesn’t feel good to be angry. But at the end of the day, when it’s all we’ve ever worn, it feels…comfortable.

I think many people are afraid of things that feel different…even if that ‘thing’ is suppose to feel good. I bring up this topic because at times I notice that when I am not mindful, happiness seems to hide in a corner, even completely separate from my depression and anxiety. After all of the healing I’ve done, I at times find myself subconsciously content with an undertone of anger in my gut. It’s like an old friend who shows up unexpectedly, convincing me that I should let them in. I’m comfortable with that friend…we’ve been together for a very long time. So I sit all ‘cuddled-up’ with my friend ‘anger’ and let it slowly convince me why my dreams are impossible to fulfill, or that I don’t deserve to be happy. It can convince me that happiness just isn’t my forte. In fact, lots of negative emotions can and will convince me that answered prayers or granted wishes only lead to responsibility…and who wants that?

Equally threatening can be the concept of possibility. Many of us don’t like not knowing what ‘possibilities’ may lead to? In fact, we often lock possibility’s proverbial ‘open door’ before we even take a look outside. We shy away from a road which may lead to fulfilled dreams and joy because the road is so unfamiliar. When the saying, “the possibilities are endless!”, falls upon the ears of a happy person it’s like, well…music to their ears. But when those four words land on angry ears, the promise of anything ‘endless’ can be far too intimidating.

If your dreams were scheduled to come true tomorrow, would you say you’re ready for that? Or when the time came to act upon your dreams, would you rather retract the dream for fear of the unknown? Finish this sentence; I’m afraid that if I start dreaming…  What is your answer? And if you do have this fear, how can you overcome it? I personally think that a lot of our fear of happiness and possibilities comes from the fact that in order to truly appreciate them, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Take the happiness of ‘love’ for example. It takes courage to love. The emotional stakes are high when the possibilities of the heart are exposed. When we are in love, it’s like our hearts are beating behind a cellophane wall…so easy to see, and so easy to break. Therefore, rather than possibly experiencing the magical happiness that only love can provide, we hide behind our armour of anger, which in turn protects our hearts from damage…or does it?

Will I always have a difficult time clearing my mind from my cunning ‘friend’ anger? Or will I continue to feel the peace possible if I practice mindfulness enough? I hope for the latter. But if there is one thing I do know, it’s that this girl is ready for her happiness to continue to grow each day. I’m good with making vulnerability my new ‘friend’, and seeing where the possibilities of this journey continue to take me.

Onions For Sale

Onions

I’ve found myself at a fork in the road, with a ‘very important decision’ being the  destination. I have until June 10th to accept my Masters offer from UBC, and I don’t know if I’m ready to undertake this commitment yet. As many of you may know, this is usually not a difficult decision for me. Normally if I hear ‘education opportunity’ I say ‘sign me up’ before I blink. But this time around feels different. Now that I am enjoying my life and health, I am wary to add anything extra to my plate. I am now able to see that while I do love education, many of my expensive pieces of paper were obtained as a form of numbing myself from the real world. It was easy for me to get lost in a research paper rather than address my crumbling mental health and family life. So here I sit, with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ email defining a significant part of what the next 4 years of my life would look like, and I’m personally shocked at which road I’m leaning at going down.

While at my women’s recovery group this morning my sponsor said something that struck such a huge chord with me. She was talking about how before her recovery she was always a person who needed to make it to a sale that was going on. She felt that if she missed that one opportunity to get that awesome ‘thing’ (lets use shoes for this analogy), she would miss out of having them forever. But as she has grown and explored this personality trait, she has come to learn that there will always be another sale! How profound I thought! And how true! I immediately associated this idea with my underlying need to accept the Masters offer now. What would that make me if I missed ‘this sale’? What version of Natalie would I be without buying the fancy shoes (that I can’t afford) tomorrow? Sure the shoes would look great…but would they give me blisters and make me hate every step I took? Or would they be super comfy and and put a spring in my step? Yes, I know I can’t have an answer unless I buy them and try them on. But do I really need new shoes right now? The one’s I’m wearing are the best one’s I’ve ever know! And I’m not so sure I’m ready to trade them in.

So how does the decision to not accept my Master’s offer this year affect my still burning desire to help others who are suffering from mental health illnesses like PTSD? Well, I feel it means that I am to carry on writing and sharing about my experience, strength and hope, while possibly looking into reaching beyond the realm of this blog page. One thing I know without a doubt, is that writing every single one of my blogs has been a joy to me at some level. Either by getting something off of my chest and feeling free, or by learning how someone else could relate to my words and how it helped them to feel not alone. ALL pretty amazing results if you ask me!

Another amazing woman in my group mentioned this morning that, she wasn’t sure which layer of the onion she was at with regards to the healing she has made throughout her recovery. I could instantly relate to that analogy as well! The onion I’m peeling back is getting easier (i.e.: It may not bring tears to my eyes as often), but I have no idea how many more layers are left. Or if there will ever be an end? So why not continue to be mindful of the layers I’m peeling back, and not put the onion aside to struggle through a extension of education I can’t afford, nor feel ready for?

Just like there will always be a sale, there will always be time for me to complete my Master’s. And for now, I’m more comfortable continuing ‘life education’ with my onion in hand. I look forward to peeling each layer back and seeing what amazing lessons are left to learn through the tears. Who knew? 🙂

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