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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

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August 2015

Paramedic Nat’s Evening For Mental Health

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Hello again!

Just a reminder to get your tickets soon for the Paramedic Nat’s Evening for Mental Health

Special Guest: Vince Savoia from the Tema Conter Memorial Trust

Supported by:

Canadian Olympian and Mental Health Ambassador Clara Hughes

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The County of Simcoe

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Meditation 102- Relaxing Into Positive Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few more of my favourite guided mediations 🙂

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

Life-Pajamas

Change can be terrifying and very uncomfortable. So much so that many of us would rather live our lives in our ‘life-pajamas’ day after day, snuggled up on the couch watching our lives pass us by like a movie. Don’t get me wrong, life-pajamas are super awesome on those rainy, cold, dreary days we all have. But if we notice that our life-laundry is piling up, and all it’s filled with are pajamas, we may need to try on something different…for a change. Fear of the unknown can keep us from achieving so many successes, and also from equally as important failures we so desperately need to learn from. When we are stagnant because of our fear of change we block ourselves from getting dressed for life, and truly living.

What I’m trying to get at is that I have been very afraid of a certain change in my life…but making it or not has now become a matter of life or death. The change I am talking about is my co-dependent relationship with my daughter. I have known that our dependency on one another has always been extreme, but guilt with regards to things and people she has missed out on in her childhood has overridden my ability to really wear the mom-pants effectively. My rule-making sucks! And my follow through is even worse! I am the queen of turning a blind eye to the dishes that were suppose to go in the sink. I’d rather not argue about the extra half hour of TV before bed. Laundry on the floor right beside the laundry basket takes me only two seconds to pick up. And the X-box…what X-box? What I thought was being a cool mom was actually not cool at all, and I’ve let my children run around in their life-pajamas way too long!

To be honest I have parented out of guilt for all of my mothering years to some extent. But living with the guilt of making your children wonder when they would come home to find their mom dead, is a guilt-inducing traumatic event that’s very difficult to move past. So when I came home from Homewood as a guilt-riddled, barely-even-worthy-of-being-a-mom, woman, our house became even more carefree. My son missed and worried about me so much that my guilt convinced me to let him watch Full House until the wee hours of the night and eventually to fall asleep in my bed. And when my daughter started to duplicate my depressive behaviours, rather than encouraging healthy coping skills at all times, my guilt told me to be at her beck and call and to watch her like AB and Ian watched me. I had offered her all of the precious tools in the palm of my hands…but I rarely reinforced them. My guilt tricked me into thinking that any tough-love would backfire on me. It told me that if I enforced house rules they would rebel because ‘how dare I’ suddenly start to act like a mother after what I had put them through. Even though my gut told me that being too easy on them would eventually cause a tornado of confusion and angst, guilt was always so cunning that it seemed to win day after day.

Then the tornado hit! I won’t go into details as this tornado story is for my daughter to tell. But I will say that it was an F5…and I almost lost her.

The destruction this tornado left could have been dealt with in one of two ways. Option one would have been for all of us to snuggle back into our comfy life-pajamas and pretend like nothing happened and that change wasn’t needed. Or I could FINALLY give my head a shake! FINALLY realize that what my kids NEED is a mom who provides solid structure, and FINALLY stop sewing patches over the holes made from too much comfort. I KNOW that change is good…I’ve been reaping the rewards of it for 11 months now. But now it’s time for me to lovingly enforce change in my children’s habit’s and lackadaisical life-style as well. They may not like that I’ve ‘remembered’ there’s an X-box in the house, or that I deserve and need time to myself, but they will eventually get use to the change and appreciate it, just like I did.

Our tattered and torn life-pajamas got blown away in a tornado, never to be found again. And I’m grateful beyond words that it was only our pajama’s that we lost.

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An Evening For Mental Health Awareness

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I am so excited to announce my upcoming event!

Join me and special guest Vince Savoia (Founder of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust) for an evening of mental health awareness, and recovery celebration.

The semi-formal evening will include a presentation documenting my mental health’s journey of happiness, sorrow and hope, followed by refreshments and mingling among fellow mental health advocates and organizations.

200 Tickets Available ~ Order Yours Now!

Don’t Swim In Sh!+ Soup!

This fast-paced world is brimming with agitation, angst and impatience. These feelings literally rumble all around us, and I’m afraid we’ve become too accustomed to it. We sort of swim in shit soup on a daily basis and don’t even realize it. Why? Well because it’s warm, and oddly satisfies us…but it’s still Shit! Even when we notice that we’re swimming in shit soup we make excuses for why we haven’t jumped out of the bowl yet. “It’s such a steep climb out! I don’t have time to find a different kind of soup! I can’t leave this bowl…because my family is in here with me!” Ugh And so we swim and swim, and get sicker and sicker, and we wonder why we smell bad. Ok…that may have been a drastic analogy, but it’s drastic for necessary effect. Now don’t get me wrong! I do not profess to be a clean life-participant here…I am fully aware that my spiritual PPE (personal protective equipment) is still just out of it’s box. I’m still cleaning off the shit I swam in for years. Heck, I was shit soup president, life guard and CEO for as long as I can remember!…and that really STINKS! But I’m out! And I’m never going back.

We fill our days with so much stuff that we barely realize how out of control our lives are. Pedal to the metal! GO GO GO!…then we collapse at the end of the day. And sadly, it often takes getting sick from the soup to finally realize how out of control we are. When we are forced to take our foot off the gas, only then do we realize that the car still goes. How many experiences need to pass us by, before we realize that driving fast only makes memories a forgotten plume of dust in the rearview mirror. And furthermore, without patience and time, ‘love’ eventually becomes a four-letter-word that gets thrown around just as often as the other popular four-letter-words do.

When it comes to developing patience, we often avoid this sticky, heavy task, because well… we just don’t the have patience for it! But I dare to ask, have you ever noticed how often you work so hard for a negative outcome? Only to realize that if you took a moment to breathe along the way you may have been able to reroute yourself? And have you ever beaten yourself up because you didn’t even notice you were headed in the wrong direction because you didn’t take your foot off the gas? Just because the GPS in your car says turn left, doesn’t mean it’s right…I mean correct. If you slow down and patiently read the directions you may see that your gut tells you to turn an entirely different way. Maybe patience takes you off the beaten path…and it may get your car dirty. But I can guarantee it won’t be as dirty as if you crashed into a bowl of shit soup! 😉

Having Faith In Transformation

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I’ve heard people from all generations mock social websites like Facebook..and to be fair, I have been known to take a Facebook hiatus or two. But when I think of the amazing transformations it allows us to see in ourselves and others, I’m super thankful that it exists. Yes, before we could waste the day away Googling anything imaginable, we would spend more time pulling out the old photo albums and have a good laugh at when we use to wear our bang’s feathered, hyper-colour Vuarnet shirts, jelly bracelets up both arms, and off-the-shoulder ‘Thriller’ shirts covered in sparkles. Wait a minute…well at least those are pictures of me. But before the world-wide-web came along, we never had the opportunity to witness the transformations of our loved ones and friends to the level we are so accustomed to now.

Yes, not everyone is like me and wants to see 347 kindergarden graduation photos every June, but when you really think about it, what an amazing gift it is to actually have these shared with us! To be allowed a glimpse into our loved one’s moments of pride, happiness, and even sorrow is a blessing. Furthermore, these sites give us permission to ‘share’ our reactions to transformations we would have normally never experienced if we all didn’t update our ‘status’ on a daily basis (or hourly, depending on who you are) :).

Transformation is what we are! Tomorrow we won’t be the same person as today. We all transform through experiences, and mould our dreams with faith that we will one day be that spouse, parent, friend or successful person we imagine we can be. And how cool is it that we get to witness these transformations in others with a click of a mouse. I can definitely attest to the power of sharing our transformations with the world. Every blog and honest word I’ve written and shared has profoundly disarmed my mental illnesses. One word at a time I have had the opportunity to fracture the shell of stigma my mind so barely existed in, and see that beautiful healing is possible by having faith in transformation.

Faith often sounds like a passive word. ‘Oh, just have faith’, makes it seem like it’s something we just need to remind ourselves to do, and them BAM we’re doing it. I disagree. I believe that faith takes courage and determination. It takes passion and hope. And above all, it takes trust. If we have faith in our ability to grow and transform into the happiest form of ourselves possible, we need to trust our instincts and listen to that little voice that always seems to be guiding us down the right path. But the difficulty with faith is that during our transformations very often we need to trudge through the darkness before we even come close to seeing the light, and this is scary and uncomfortable. Faith may need to take us far out of our comfort-zone, and moving out of that zone takes a heck of a lot of courage. But at the end of the day, our options with transformation are only one of two; we transform into what we want to be, or we transform into someone we will eventually barely even recognize.

If I hadn’t had faith in even the potential of transforming into a healthy person through this blog, I would still be SO sick. I needed to trust that my instincts to open up, and become completely vulnerable were right. I was lucky to have had loving people support and encourage me to do so, and yes not everyone has this blessing, but I still needed to sit in front of this computer, write the first blog, and…press….send. Gulp! With one click I was catapulted out of my comfort-zone! And with one click, I began to heal.

So what do you think more faith in your life would look and feel like? What is holding you back from stepping outside of your comfort-zone? What vision of transformation of yourself do you have in your heart that you haven’t truly considered as possible yet? You may have heard the verse from the Bible, “Faith without works is dead”, and whether you’re religious or not is irrelevant to deciphering it’s meaning. Simply put, it’s another reminder that faith isn’t a passive word; to reap it’s immeasurable benefits it requires action. One foot in front of the other…through the darkness of doubt. In order to transform into a person who’s truly happy with their life, we need to have the courage to ‘press send’, and not just when we are on Facebook posting a kindergarden pic. 🙂

What Is Looming Over My Head?

During my most excruciating moments at Homewood, a nurse would always calmly tell me, ‘this too shall pass’. She would say it when I was curled up in a ball on the floor when I knew my relationship back home was over. She would say it when I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe after learning that my daughter was in the hospital. She would say it when I drove back after I couldn’t stay at home during Christmas because my home was filled with too many heartbreaking memories, and I didn’t feel safe being alone. She said the words and somehow they made sense, but they never took the pain away.

I haven’t been feeling good lately. I have a lot on my mind. I feel like big decisions will need to be made soon, like they are looming over my head…but I don’t know what they are about. I’m a lot more sensitive to little things. Maybe it’s because the summer’s nearing its end. Maybe it’s a lot of things I guess.

This too shall pass…but where will ‘this’ lead? Even while being ok with the ‘why’s’, a level of discomfort is still reasonable I suppose. I AM human…even though I don’t feel I am some days. I will need to do some soul-searching. I will need to listen to every gut instinct. And I will need to continue to trust that the right path is in front of me, and the directions are visible if I keep my eyes on the road.

Ok life, where are you taking me now? Why are certain things happening to me lately? What are you preparing me for? What are you strengthening in me? And why?

Please no dreams tonight! I can’t take them any more. They hurt so much.

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

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Recently I have been sharing a lot of my Buddhist lessons with you, and even when the tips are quite radical, the feedback I’ve received has been very warm and wonderful; thank you. But for the next two blogs I have a lesson to share that requires A LOT of open-mindedness. It may cause you to laugh out loud and call this ‘a joke’, loud enough that I may even hear you from my home. Heck, you may even unfriend or unfollow me out of sheer refusal to believe that this mindfulness technique could even be possible. But, I’m prepared for the backlash if it means that this advice can help even one person as much as it has helped me. I want you to be prepared that this, and my next blog, may cause dark memories to bubble up for you, but by no means do I intend to cause you pain! What I DO intend is to provide you with a way to see these memories through a different, healthier perspective.

Like I have spoken of before, all feelings are universal, therefore no one (except a sociopath) is exempt from being hurt at some point in their lives. Trauma, abandonment, heart-break, natural disasters, accidents, deaths…(the list is endless), are all sources of gut wrenching, seemingly unrecoverable events which cause us an unending cycle of torment. This torment can be so extreme that we may even turn to destructive choices, such as drugs and alcohol, to numb the pain they cause; but that numbness doesn’t last forever (trust me) and we eventually experience the pain again…and sometimes even worse.

Our lives are filled with so much agitation and angst, often because, whether we realize it or not, trauma can continue to harm us by stifling our healthy choices years after the event(s) occurred. So what can we do with these thoughts in order to live in peace? And is that even possible? No one wants to live with the resentment and anger these events cause us, and which in essence keep traumatizing us and making us very ill. So I ask you, if there was a way you could change your view of these traumatic events, would you consider trying it?

The mindfulness technique I want to share with you in this blog is called reframing. No, this doesn’t mean literally reframing the pictures in your home, but it does mean reframing the pictures in your mind. This technique blends the acceptance that 1)we create, and can therefore change, our emotions, with 2) we truly deserve to be happy no matter how much pain our past has caused us. Reframing moves us away from judging our experiences, (without losing their reality), and changing the negative energy surrounding them to positive. By putting a new view or ‘frame’ on our experiences, we change the way we see them. It involves giving yourself permission to take off the frame which other people or an event put on your memory for you, and finally choosing your own frame! It’s like a redecorating of sorts…but of your life. We can’t throw out our family trees, or turn back the hands of time to avoid a trauma (even though God knows so many of us try to), but we can choose to see our past’s through a different more peaceful perspective…and I’m going to show you how to do that.

I have had MUCH success with ‘reframing’ when it comes to my painful childhood memories. When my mom sent me away to a home for unwed mothers when I was 18 years old against my will, this experience caused me to carry anger, resentment and guilt for the next twenty years of my life! And for those entire twenty years, my only means of ‘recovery’ from this trauma was to numb the pain with alcohol, speak badly of my mother, and convince myself that I would be ok as long as I stayed mad at her to prove that I would never accept what she did to me, my daughter, her father and my siblings. HA! That would teach her right?! Wrong. Even an apology from her about ten years back didn’t change the frame attached tightly around this traumatic event in which I saw it through. Without reframing this experience, which washed my hands of my mother’s motives, self-pity would have continued to affect my ability to trust, love, and forgive I’m sure for the rest of my life.

Through the lesson of reframing, I was eventually able to see my mother’s choice to send me away differently. MY frame included truly understanding that my mom was doing the best she could at that time. It involved my acceptance that SHE was probably sick too. The lies she told became her truth, and yes they hurt me and so many other people deeply, but MY frame comprehends that I will never be able to understand what was in HER head, or why she thought her actions were just…so scrutinizing them will only prolong my pain.

Now this is where I feel that some of you may be yelling at your computer screen because you may be misinterpreting reframing as acceptance of her actions. But reframing couldn’t be any further from that! I DO NOT ACCEPT the pain and tears I witnessed my daughter experience when she didn’t hear from her dad on her birthdays, or any other holidays. I DO NOT ACCEPT the pain which removing me from my daughter’s father’s life caused him and his family. I DO NOT ACCEPT lies. Nor DO I ACCEPT manipulation. But in order for me to heal and grow in a peaceful way with this trauma inevitably always a part of my life, I DO accept giving myself permission to forgive and permission to understand that I am not my mom, and I am not her choices. THIS new frame is MUCH more beautiful! THIS new frame gives me peace! Yes, THIS new frame still allows me to see this traumatic experience as a part of my past, but more importantly, THIS new frame no longer allows it to be a detriment to my future.

Just like redecorating your home takes time and patience, so does redecorating your memories. My advice is to work on one room at a time. It will take some courage to dust off the old, ugly photos you’ve been hiding in a drawer. But when you choose to, and after your tears have washed them off, you don’t need to display them on a mantle, but putting YOUR frame around them will make them easier to display in your mind.

Compassion vs. Attachment

young-couple-holding-hands One day while being enlightened in Buddhist class, the topic of ‘compassion’ came up. I was all ears when the teacher shared how in the Buddhist culture compassion for all living beings comes from a wish that all are well, very much like love. But after listening for a while, I felt frustration bubbling up inside of me, and I was compelled to put up my hand to make what I thought was going to be an excellent point!…My poor sister-in-law pretty much counts down the minutes every time we go until I make my so-called ‘excellent point’. Some things never change… Sorry Mandy 😉 I announced that I agree that the idea of compassion sounds wonderful, but, too much compassion made me sick! Being a paramedic involves compassion to some extent every day! And after 12 years of compassion, I developed post traumatic stress disorder…so how is compassion good for anything? Bam! I thought I had delivered a zinger! But then, like the calm beautiful woman she is, the teacher gently replied, “Compassion never made you sick. Attachment did“. WOW! Put your hand down Natalie!… 

What a compelling statement! I had NEVER thought of it that way! But it made complete sense! Compassion is what made me a paramedic…I have no doubt about that! Witnessing my mom being cared for by smiling compassionate paramedics back when she had seizures on a regular basis is what inspired me to become a paramedic myself. But over the years, my attachment to even the potential of the successful outcome of a call, made me sick when I was not able to achieve the happy ending I seemed to always looked for. Even though I was very much aware of the limitations of any skill or directive I possessed, my goal going in to a call was to ‘win’ every time…and realistically, those ‘wins’ can be rare.

So this brings me to another thought. How can I be sure that I am not attached to the outcome of advice I give through this blog? When does it get to the point that I too get pulled under when I am trying to save someone who’s drowning in the dark sea of mental illness? I think I found my answer today while once again chatting with my sister-in-law…drum-roll!…I’ve gone too far when I feel co-dependency has occurred.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what co-dependency is, in short, it’s an excessive reliance on other people’s help which eventually enables the person’s illness, inevitably discouraging recovery. For example, the adult child who still lives at home and has his or her parent(s) provide everything they need to survive lives in a co-dependent relationship. The excessive help these parents give, actually discourages their child’s recovery from extreme dependence. The problem with the development of co-dependency is that it’s usually not a quick double-drowning! It’s more like a slow safe rescue in your rescue boat, but when you’re not looking, during your hopeful journey to shore, the person you rescued is adding a cup of water to the boat, and over time, you unexpectedly both sink! Sigh!…

Yes, the purpose of my blog is to help others, and to deliver compassion; I hope that goes without saying! It’s to help me, and it’s to help you. But what I need to remember is that my help doesn’t give me the right to champion other people’s success. Furthermore, beyond my ability to give you good directions, I have no right to map out your journey…because it’s just that…YOUR JOURNEY. I will never stop cheering you on, and I will wait for you at the finish-line. But by only being your coach, the medal at the end of the race belongs to only you.

Looking back on my years as a paramedic, I WISH I had viewed the outcome of my calls in this much healthier, less attached way. I can hold the wish that my patients are well when I leave the call, be they in life or death, but when I pack up my bags and drive to the next call, I can’t be attached to the outcome. When we’ve done all we can do, compassion should only bring us peace, it should never hurt.

I like to believe that as I drive my rescue boat around looking for people to help, that I have at least started a ripple in the water which will spread for years and years. But when my boat is full, I may have to limit my help to a shout of encouragement over the dark sea. And if my boat starts to sink, I will need to detach in a healthy way, and hope that I taught you to swim. And when you finish your journey and reach the shore, let me know, and we can guide the rescue boat together…Heck, I’ll even get you your own! 😉

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