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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

Month

June 2015

Meditation 101…Give It A Try

I just woke up from the most amazing, restful nap!…and I would love to teach you how YOU can rest just as deeply and peacefully. Now those of you who know me well, know that I have always loved a good daily nap, but now that I’ve added listening to guided meditation just before I fall asleep, my body feels SO much more rested and my mind feels so much more clear in 30 minutes than it ever has before.

To be honest, I always doubted the healing power of meditation. Sure, I thought that it could possibly clear my mind for a short period of time, but just as my alcohol buzz would eventually leave me with my crazy life again, I thought “what’s the point of meditation? I’m just going to ‘wake-up’ back in my chaotic and restless world anyhow!” Sigh. This was a pretty typical ‘old-Natalie’ way of thinking. Before I gave this healing tool a try, I thought that throughout my busy day of being a mom, paramedic, teacher, loved-one, friend, and superwoman, I had no room for taking ‘time out’ to meditate! Well, the irony of this past mentality, is that because I lived such a superwoman life, I should have been taking the small amount of time needed to meditate even more! When I thought of meditation, I pictured a monk on a mountain in silence for days. And granted, there are monks on mountains silent for days, I didn’t have to be anything close to that to reap the benefits of this magical mindful skill.

Step 1 to basic meditation is, be open-minded! Rather than kicking a potential benefit while it’s down (like I did), allow yourself to give it a fair try. And once you’ve completed step 1, step 2 isn’t far behind…try and try again. Meditation takes practice. Sure it may seem like a simple concept, but us human beings sure do have a lot of junk running through our minds 24/7, making sitting quietly a pretty tall order at first. So my advice is start small, start simple and start ‘guided’ if possible.

Guided meditation is just what is says…you are guided through peaceful, mental images by someone else’s voice. The theme options of the guided meditation are endless, but generally speaking most start with some type of focused breathing exercise or body-scan. For example, the guide may ask you to focus on your inhalation and exhalation, and to invision clear air moving into your lungs, and grey toxic air leaving your lungs. Or, they may ask you to focus on specific body parts allowing these parts to relax even more deeply.

These are two of my favourite simple guided meditations:

The last of these 2 meditations refers to what are called ‘chakras’. Very simply put, chakras are energy points in our body which correlate to specific human functions and human psyche. To be clear, they do not correlate to any religion, they simply represent energies in which every human body feels. By using a guided meditation related to chakras, we allow blocks in these energy points to be removed.

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You don’t need to be a spiritual guru to reap the benefits of a chakra meditation. The result of focusing deeply on any of our inner emotions and physical feelings (chakra or not) can bring a deep sense of peace and clarity. So for you skeptics out there who scanned through this blog and saw the image of the ‘spiritual person’  and thought right away that this blog wasn’t meant for you because you don’t believe in that ‘weird spiritual stuff’, well you’re wrong 🙂 This blog is for ANYONE who wishes to achieve more peace and clarity in their daily lives…it’s as simple as that.

Meditation has allowed my day-to-day life to be so much more mindful. I enjoy moments I never would have before because with practice, my mind calms on its own, and gets rid of the clutter that use to block so many possible mindful moments in my life. I even find myself doing breathing meditations while I drive (eyes open!…lol), and I simply…be. When I focus on my inner-peace, I have no time to focus on unnecessary inner-pain. Yes, inner-pain needs to be addressed and dealt with…but not felt relentlessly! Our minds and bodies need a break and a rest from pain in order to heal years of damage we may have done physically and emotionally.

So take my advice, and grab a set of earphones, find a comfy place to rest, and click on one of the meditations I suggested, or any you may know. And ENJOY! And remember that there are only 2 steps to learning how to meditate.

1. Keep an open mind & 2. Keep practicing.

~Love Nat ❤

I Went To A Sparkle Party Last Night!

In my drinking days, I use to have what I called a ‘Sparkle Party’ around Christmas. It was a night where people could come over wearing something sparkly (just because it’s fun) and enjoy an evening of laughs …and a lot of alcohol! This year was the first time I didn’t have one, and that made me really sad. I had so many good times with my friends at those parties, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever have one again. 60867_10151288997893605_467983879_n382856_10151039113330624_1803921747_n Well last night, unexpectedly, I attended the biggest and best sparkle party I could’ve ever imagined! I was very fortunate to attend Homewood’s 25th Annual Spiritual Renewal Service, which is an event celebrating the gift of recovery, and the creation of 400 pairs of healthy, sparkling eyes, filled with hope, happiness and gratitude. Allow me to share my experience…

I hadn’t been back to Homewood, or even Guelph for that matter, since I was discharged in January of this year, and I was very nervous about the emotions I was confident would bubble-up throughout the night. Buckle up Natalie! This may be a bumpy ride! My first emotion was good ol’ anxiety on the ride there. It wasn’t anything over-the-top, but I could definitely feel it rumbling through my whole body. Luckily, I drove with two friends who’s chatting distracted the anxiety, and allowed me to quietly reflect on what it felt like to drive the route to Homewood again. It has only been 6 months since my life-changing stay there, but as we drove it felt more like 6 years. At one point I started to regret attending the event, as now being mindful of my emotions so well, pretty much guaranteed a lengthy ‘self-analysis night’. Sigh. Nevertheless, I told myself that I would survive. I was going to kick my anxiety’s butt, like the anxiety-pro I am, and soak in every moment of the evening.

When we got to the event centre, my anxiety had lessened, and began to mix with excitement as the memories of the difficult times, as well as the life-changing times at Homewood, came rushing back… vividly. I felt like I had suddenly jumped back on the Homewood emotional roller coaster; the one that scared me, twisted me in so many directions, made me sick, and made me cry, but also made me laugh and feel relief when the ride was finally over. I had no desire of riding that roller coaster again, but there I was, with another ticket for the ride, and my proverbial vomit bag tightly in hand. I wish this ride was out of order.

The Centre was beautifully decorated, and displayed obvious months of preparation. We were all given a pin that said, “Recovery Means Freedom”, and as I was examining it, I immediately bumped into my first wonderful staff member. She said I looked great (which I’m sure she would be saying to everyone, but I still accepted the compliment ), and asked about my family and how we were doing. My family!OK, hold on tight Natalie, the roller coaster is clicking up the hill! I told her that we were all doing great and immediately I felt my old friends ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ flood my body. Rather than feeling gratitude, I felt sick as the memories of what I had put my family through were at the forefront of my mind, and they stung really bad. I knew that I should have only been feeling happiness when speaking about my family now, but it quickly became apparent to me that ‘guilt-ridden Natalie’, was still alive and kicking. Damn-it. After chatting a bit longer, I took a quick bathroom break and tried to tuck any negative emotions into my back pocket to be dealt with later. Then, one foot in front of the other, I continued to mingle amongst staff and friends with what I’m sure was a timid look on my face.

Since leaving Homewood, many people have told me that I have a ‘sparkle in my eyes’, and you know what, I can confidently say that I probably do with the amount of happiness and love I feel for life now. And amazingly, last night I got to see first hand what that ‘sparkle’ looked like, because I saw it in so many of my friend’s eyes. It was truly amazing! I could barely even recognize some people, but that sparkle was impossible to miss! Positive physical transformations made my jaw drop, and the happiness in their eyes made me smile from my soul! “THAT must be the ‘sparkle’ people are talking about”, I thought to myself. And WOW, was it a blessing to see!

The night was filled with speeches of gratitude and wellness. And at one point we did what’s called a ‘recovery countdown’. This is where a year, or month, or day is called out, and people stand up and receive a round of applause when their correlating recovery day is announced. As the days of recovery got shorter and shorter, “3 weeks”, “2 weeks”, “1 week”, I could see that the ‘sparkle’ was not so prevalent in people’s eyes. And as they continued to count, I could also increasingly see the physical demons of addiction which were still tightly grasping onto so many new-comer’s lives. All I could think was, “WOW! that was me only six months ago!” I was the one who felt and looked hopeless and scared. I was the one who simply ‘existed’ and nothing more. I was the one who had so much doubt in the program or any chance of fully recovering. And I was the one who still so desperately wanted to die as I saw death as the only way in which I could end my suffering. When a very sick lady with 5 days of recovery, who had difficulty walking was assisted onto the stage to receive a 12 step book, I could physically feel her pain. I could so clearly remember how every step felt like a mile in early recovery. I imagined how difficult it most likely was for her to even stay awake, as it was for me. I could imagine the ‘shakes’ she probably battled, and the memory ‘fog’ that would make it difficult for her to speak properly. And I imagined the darkness that I can guarantee filled her entire body and soul, and the hopelessness that she was feeling with every…single…breath. I so badly wanted to tell her that her sparkle could come back too… But she would have to learn that for herself.

Who knew that I would be attending a sparkle party again!? Certainly not me. And who knew that I didn’t need a fancy dress or shirt to have that sparkle radiating from me? Once again, certainly not me! I know that some days my sparkle won’t be as bright as the next, but what a gift to know that it’s there!

“I put my hand in yours and together we can do what we never could do alone. No longer is there a sense of hopelessness. No longer must we depend upon our own unsteady willpower. We are all together now, reaching out our hands for power and strength greater than ours, and as we join hands, we find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams”.~ Closing Prayer

Happy Sparkling!

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Hey Nat! Where Are You At?

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As my recovery progresses, I’ve realized that many people have the same interesting questions for me. So I thought I’d dedicate a blog to answering some of them as I love to educate 😉

Do you still crave alcohol every day? No, not at all actually. In the early days of my recovery from my alcohol addiction I craved it quite often. But as I have completed the 12 steps, my obsession of mind has been removed. As it has been taught to me, alcoholism is but a symptom of a greater malady. In short, alcoholics use alcohol to numb and hide from deep rooted issues, and by honestly progressing through the steps which tackle root causes of our alcoholism such as resentments and fears, we recover from our malady and joyfully do not need alcohol any more. I do still have dreams of drinking, which I’ve been told is quite normal, but the actual desire to drink is gone.

I remember thinking that people in 12 step programs must be miserable and constantly trying to avoid their cravings and battle their inner demons…but it’s not like that at all. At meetings we discuss our new found happiness and purpose for life. We rejoice in having our families back, and the opportunity to live in a world that we actually love. At meetings we enjoy a fellowship that is based on courage and mutual support, not negativity and sad stories. We go to fun events and celebrate on a regular basis. I actually look forward to going to meetings to laugh with my new-found family. Meetings are nothing close to what I had imagined (or what many movies portray), and probably nothing close to what you have imagined either.

Are you a Buddhist now? I always giggle at this question. No, I am not. However, I have definitely enjoyed learning about the gifts of love and compassion in which the Buddhist culture thrive on. Attending classes at the Buddhist Centre has also taught me how to meditate more effectively; a healing tool I originally learned at Homewood. Furthermore, classes have definitely taught me to live mindfully in the moment and have allowed me to experience deep spiritual healing through guided mediation. And icing on the cake, is that I attend the classes with my sister-in-law.

Have 12 step programs made you religious? Once again, the answer is no. 12 step programs are not a religious, but they are spiritual. A life-saving component to a 12-step program is that we (the addict) accept that we could not manage our own lives, that probably no human power could have relived our alcoholism, and that a God of our understanding could and would if He were sought. ‘God’ can be anything to us. We individually develop our own understanding of a power greater than ourselves. My concept of God may be vastly different than any other person’s in the program, and that’s ok! The purpose is to realize that we couldn’t recover from our life-threatening disease by any human means, and by turning our will surrounding our disease over to ‘God’, we take the burden off of our own shoulders, and trust that faith and rigorous honesty can allow us to recover from a ‘seemingly hopeless state of mind and body’. For millions of alcoholics this acceptance of spiritual strength, not religion, has worked. And I am testament to such a powerful, life-saving component.

Do you ever regret being a paramedic? Absolutely not! I LOVE my career and the opportunities it has provided me. I still have the urge to jump in and help every time an ambulance drives by me, or every time I see ORNGE fly over my house. Being a paramedic is a gift! The lives we impact on such a positive and monumental level is profound! And the power of the relationships we develop with our colleagues is beyond words. Yes, being a paramedic made me sick. But being sick has now opened doors I never could have imagined otherwise! I have been able to educate and connect with first-responders and their families from all over the world, and have also been able to learn so many valuable tools regarding how to heal from PTSD and have been able to share them with thousands of people. I miss being on the road every day, but I cherish the time I have been blessed with to fully-recover, and hope to become an even stronger paramedic one day soon.

Do you still talk to AB? At the present time AB and I have parted ways. I love her dearly and always will, but our views on what I could manage on a personal relationship level through my recovery became different, and I needed to go my separate way for my own personal health (and probably for hers as well). My recovery is a life and death matter, and there is NO DOUBT that AB firstly saved my life, and secondly was a profoundly loving part of a major portion of my journey, but opinions change, as do people, and we respectfully have given each other space for both of our own benefit. I do believe that there is a season for everything, and maybe AB and I will reunite one day. But in the meantime I wish her happiness every day! And will NEVER discount or not cherish the gifts she has given me.

Where do you see yourself in the next year? For now I am still taking things day-by-day. I am enjoying life for the first time in my life, and making concrete plans for the future doesn’t sit well with me yet. However, I can say that I am working alongside a friend, developing a presentation I am excited to share with all of you soon. My recovery work will never end, and I look forward to seeing where this new, healthy path may lead me. Happily, I now trust in whatever the future holds, and I look forward to sharing it with you. 🙂

The World According to my Dog Walter

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Anyone with kids has probably heard the following not-so-compelling argument:

Kid(s): “Can I PLEASE get a puppy! I promise I’ll walk it and feed it and take care of it! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!”

Parent(s): “No you won’t. You will love it for a week and then I will be the one walking, feeding and taking care of it. No way. Not gonna happen. I will buy you a goldfish!”

Kid(s): “But EVERY kid has a puppy! Goldfish are dumb!”

Parent(s): “Not EVERY kid has one, and goldfish are lovely!”

Kid(s): “You can ground me forever if I don’t take care of it! You can even take away my allowance!”

…and then the clincher, Kid(s): “You’ll be the BEST MOM/DAD EVER!”

SIGH! Then, at SOME point the begging wins out…and you suddenly become the proud owner of a furry creature who pees in your house, chews your favourite boots, eats Bounce sheets, Nerf gun bullets, roast string and your underwear! Well that’s MY experience anyway. Sigh. 

Meet Walter 🙂

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Soooo everything I predicted came true. I walk, feed and take care of Walter 98% of the time. I told ya…mom’s know these things!  But what I WASN’T predicting, was that I would fall in love with him. This little creature has literally changed my life. He’s my care-free shadow wherever I go! He follows me around the house. Sleeps next to me. Insists on laying on the bathroom floor whenever I am in there, and wakes me up every morning. We have a bond I never thought was possible. A loving, generous person once called him my ‘therapy dog’, and that he is!

We, (Walter and I) were cleaning the house the other day and chatted about how if he wasn’t there I wouldn’t be chatting at all. Yes I talk to my dog all the time! He keeps me company 24/7, and makes me laugh as I chase him after him when he attempts to eat things like granola bar wrappers and old, mouldy leaves. I can’t help but think about how much he keeps me out of my bed and active as well. I understand his language, and miraculously, he understands mine. We just ‘get each other’, and I don’t know what I would do without him, bad dog-breath and all!

He gets me out of myself, and forces me to interact with the world. When we walk or go to the dog-park, I find it easy, and actually enjoy socializing with other dog owners because we have a common love, and it’s impossible not to smile when you see your dog happy and playing with other dogs. Furthermore, watching Walter run faster after a ball than any other dog at the park also makes me a pretty proud dog-mama! 😉 And icing on the cake is watching those eyebrows blowing in the wind out the car window…it’s laugh inducing immediately! I’m even smiling right now writing about it 🙂

Not only has Walter taught me so much about unconditional love, our walks together have taught me to see things about the world itself that I never would have seen otherwise. While journeying around the neighbourhood I have learned that lilac trees smell just as wonderful when they are wilting. That falling maple-tree ‘helicopter’ seeds look just like falling snow when a big enough gust of wind blows. That crystal-clear nights sound as quiet at the sky looks. That rain puddles are super fun to splash in no matter how old you are. That fresh snow falling under the street-lights is as peaceful as a cool lake on a hot summer’s day. That the smell of BBQ’d hamburgers and the sound of the ice-cream truck in the distance will never get old, and that no matter how hard Walter tries, he will never outrun a squirrel.

Being a depression survivor, it’s also immensely comforting knowing that Walter knows when I’m sad. He can sense it! Even if I’m not crying, he will sit on my chest and kiss my face. And if I am crying, he lays his head on my leg and looks up at me as if to say, “you will be ok”. He’s a precious little creature who has helped me heal through many heartbroken, dark days. In fact, he’s my best friend ❤

If I could write Walter a letter, this is what it would say:

Dear Walter,

If you only knew how much you have changed my life for the better. Your big brown eyes overflow with so much love, and I couldn’t imagine not having them wake me up every morning. Thank you for the snuggles and laughs you give me every day, and for the bugs you eat in the house.

Side-bar…we have a king-sized bed, so it would be nice from time to time if you could give me some room to sleep, BUT I thank you for at least keeping your bones on the other side. I’m sorry that I’ve made you a ‘begging dog’ because I share everything I eat with you, but that dog food looks super boring!…I can’t help but think that you love enjoying good food too! However, you do eat cat poo…soooo I’m fairly certain we have exceptionally different taste buds! Thank you for letting me blame my farts on you, and welcoming me home the same enthusiastic, like-you-haven’t-seen-me-in-months way every time.

I know you miss your dad, I do too very much. But he gave you to me because he knew without a doubt that you would continue to save my life. Just like you show me unconditional love, the gift of you is one of the greatest acts of unconditional love I have ever known! And if he reads this one day, he can see how much you have helped me to heal and grow and enjoy this amazing life. ❤

You are the perfect dog for me! And I love you more than any super-expensive bone could say!

Please stop eating my underwear and bras.

Love you so VERY MUCH FOREVER!

Your dog-mom, Natalie xo

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The Power of Imagination

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When I was young, the things I imagined appeared so real to me that I was often convinced that it was my reality. I remember having such powerful daydreams of becoming a superhero who could fly and throw fireballs. Admit it, you imagined you were a superhero too! It felt SO real that I thought it would make perfect sense to attach myself to a helicopter, then throw toys that I had wrapped up in red construction paper at kids who bullied me and they would be in awe of my super powers! I also thought it made perfect sense to plan my marriage to Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block. (Insert eye roll)…So it’s fair to say my imagination had a broad spectrum. LOL.

But what has happened to that imagination we so often used as a child? Why is it that as we get older we find it difficult to use the power of our imagination to the same level we did back then? Sure, busy days and busy lives may seem to only allow for daydreams at best, which include thoughts of how to get the kids to soccer, or how to pay a bill, or how to plan for our retirement…And yes, these things need to be thought about. But why in our adult lives have we forgotten to use our imagination to truly experience and inhabit the dreams and aspirations we have? Other cultures do it all the time! So in this blog, with the hope of benefiting our overall wellbeing, I would like to propose that we try to take back, and use, the power of our imaginations.

Yes, being a superhero who hangs from helicopters and throws fireballs isn’t on the top of my to-do list anymore! LOL. But, without genuine faith in my ability to succeed, aka utilize positive imagination, I at times seem to be very capable of thinking that I am still the ‘self’ who can’t do something. Who can’t attain a certain goal. Who can’t possibly deserve to be happy. And sadly, if I stay convinced of these things, and can’t even imagine being happy and living out my dreams, I reinforce the belief that I’m simply a limited ‘self’.

When we use our imagination, we allow ourselves to go somewhere else at that very moment. You can experience your dreams through imagination. If you think about it, every single human-made thing on this planet has originated in our imaginations. If you can think it, you can do it! If you have an aspiration to be something, imaging your success in attaining that goal is so very important. Olympians deeply imagine what it would feel like crossing the finish line and winning the gold medal in order to believe they can do so. Inventors deeply imagine their invention being used for its purpose so that they truly believe they can build it. In short, our imagination is the passageway to all possibility. But without allowing ourselves time to imagine, our dreams are quite unlikely to come true.

So now you may be asking yourselves, “When do I do this imagining Natalie?” and “Isn’t imagining just a waste of time?” My answer to the first question is to try to fall asleep imagining your positive goal, rather than the busy day ahead. But just like mediation, this takes practice. Our busy minds are SO filled with stuff, that calming the storm long enough to imagine something positive may take a bit of getting use to. But make it part of your nightly routine…and it will become just that, routine! Secondly, I can speak from experience that imagining happiness and the attainment of goals is NOT a waste of time. When I was sick, I actually found it silly to allow myself to imagine being happy. And by not trying, I just became more angry and numb every day. Now I love the peacefulness I feel when I  let my imagination guide me and my future goals. I also use this idea to keep my motives in check. If it ‘feels right’ when I imagine myself following through with a certain task, I know I am on the right path. Furthermore, rather than embarking blindly into a life mission, imagining the mission can help me sort through the possible hurdles and begin to actually feel the rewards as I travel down that road.

So dust off that imagination cap! Stop thinking that it makes you look silly! 🙂 Use your dreams to calm your mind and see what possibilities arise. Yes my imagination has matured, and I know that I won’t be marrying Donnie Wahlberg or turning into a superhero that can throw fireballs…but through imagination, I sure do feel that I can fly! 😉

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