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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

Month

June 2017

Feeling Lost and Alone in a Crowd

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I had the honour of receiving the John Graves Simcoe Medal of Excellence tonight from MP Alex Nuttall, in commemoration of Canada’s 150th birthday.

I want to share this picture with you and ask, “what do you see?”. You will probably say that you see me among many amazing Canadians who have made tremendous contributions to their community and country, and that I am proud to have had the honour to stand among them. This is true. But let me tell you what else see in this picture.

I see a woman who is scared because she is battling ‘looking normal’ while she stumbles her way through feeling alien and out of place because she is hovering between layer 1 and 2 of her depression. I see a woman wearing earplugs in order to be among the loud crowd. I see a woman who has slept the entire day up until one hour before this event, and who could barely drag her body out of bed. I see a woman who feels guilty for not being excited to go to this celebration – and a woman who doesn’t know why she can’t be. I see a woman who can put on the best smile and give a great handshake. Who can do a news interview on the spot without batting an eye. Who can confidently answer questions from anyone in the room about PTSD and mental illness and injury. Who may have hope in her eyes, but a disconnection from the world in her heart. I see a woman who is trying to take a group photo but needs to look at her friend to feel safe, and no one around her knowing that anything is wrong with her at all.

PTSD and mental illness robs me of being able to truly celebrate and smile. I wish that it was impossible to fake-smile. The world would be able to know who to help so much more easily.

 

Tips on How to Prune Your Mental ‘Chaos Garden’

https://www.facebook.com/natalie.harris.507679/posts/10159012843815624 

I Wish I Had Learned This As a Student: Compassion vs Attachment

I Had A Shower Today

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I had a shower today. Seems like a normal and simple task, right? Well, not for those who battle mental health illnesses and injuries such as depression and post traumatic stress. Having a shower after somehow emerging from a downward spiral that seems like it will never end (unless you end it) is in my mind equal to the feeling of winning a gold medal. Moving to a mental space where you can lift your head from your pillow, and no longer contemplate peeing in a cup because the washroom feels hundreds of miles away (legit I have never done this before…but I have come close to bladder explosion when my mind is dark) is definitely worth a friggin’ gold medal!

One of the worst parts of a deep depression is that when you’re in it, you can’t see how bad it really is. Hence, peeing in a cup seeming like it’s not that bad of an idea. What happens to my mind when I am in a dark world is that I relentlessly try to get my brain to co-sign my own bullshit. My inner dialogue goes sort of like this:

Me: Brain, I know I shouldn’t pee in a cup…but if I do, it’s not the end of the world right?

Brain: It’s not a good idea Natalie. It will make a mess. You’re not a boy.

Me: But if it does make a mess, it’s my pee, so who cares?

Brain: I’m still thinking that it’s a bad idea.

Me: Well it’s not like I want to shit in a cup! Now THAT would be bad!

Brain: You’re still not selling me on this one, Natalie. You should just get out of bed and go to the washroom. The time we have spent debating this has taken longer than it would have for you to go and come back.

Me: Ugh, I hate you brain.

…and then I go pee in the washroom.

I could use so many examples in that same conversation with my brain. It’s torturous and exhausting. Yes I am using some comic relief to lighten the read, but overall these relentless internal conversations can get very dark, and when that happens I decide to sleep. I still feel guilty sleeping so much, but that method of numbing is MUCH better than the alternatives I used to use. So anyone who thinks I’m lazy can kiss my ass! I’m alive, sober, not hospitalized, and able to quickly rationalize that taking my own life is NEVER a practical option for me! A shitty decision like that will never get co-signed by my brain, because I don’t let the conversation even start. That to me is gold medal worthy all day long.

 

The Depression Rollercoaster – Bring Your Vomit Bag

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My latest blog posts have depicted my recent difficulty with seeing light in the world – again. These dark ‘slumps’, (really the word slump does not do these experiences justice – but I will use it for ease of relating to all – we all have slumps – they suck – you get the point), fool me into thinking that the universe that takes care of me even in my darkest hours has abandoned me…and abandoned everyone else as well. Days go by as I agonize through the mundane and torturous seconds of hopelessness, tossing and turning between anger, guilt and remorse, until finally…FINALLY, the universe peeks its little universe head through the darkness and says, “Sorry I’ve been out of sight for a while, but wait until you see what I have in store for your now!”

I talk to the universe a lot…literally. I look up to the sky and say, “Ok universe, show me the way”, and it always does – ALWAYS. This time it spoke to me through a text message from a friend named Matt Henegan, who is also a paramedic with PTSD. This is what he said:

“Here’s the thing, and take it with a grain of salt, as I am not here to undo anything; you’re allowed to hate the world. You’ve experienced it. The good. The bad. And the indescribably ugly. The world is easy to hate. What’s important, is to not live in this world WITH hate leading us..”

Truer words were never spoken. I was leading my days with hate over the last little while because of some unfortunate circumstances – one being that I have sadly learned that Luci my service dog is not a good fit for my home. She bit Walter (food aggression) and the sights and sounds of this experience triggered PTSD reflexes/reactions and have forced me to make sure that that never happens again. My family and I are devastated, and still recovering from this realization, but I know that she will find a home that is best for her. I love her and I will miss her. (* I will be donating the remainder of my Go Fund Me money to the amazing trainers at Grassroots K9 who so generously worked with Luci and I for many months. I still highly recommend them – sometimes things happen that no one can foresee.)

Leading my days with hate, self pity and anger only hurts me and everyone around me more. These emotions are an express-pass to the depression rollercoaster that always makes me vomit. This pass swiftly buckles me in for ‘the ride’ and rockets me into twists and turns that cause me to be disoriented and sick – very sick. I inevitably stumble off the ride when it’s over with my clothes disheveled and no memory of when it really even began. I hate this ride…and I’m naive to think that I won’t ever find myself on it again.

Thank you Matt for your friendship. I know that your words will help many more than just me.

*You can find Matt’s own blog documenting his battle with PTSD at http://amedicsmind.blogspot.ca/2017/03/a-mans-eyes.html  He is one of the most amazing writers I have ever come across!

 

 

 

My Freedom Is Not Like Yours

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What does freedom look like to you?

To some it may be;

The mending of a broken heart,

Being cured from a disease.

The heavy weight of a jail cell opening.

Running past the finish line and falling to the ground.

Drinking refreshing clean water.

Escaping the pain of an abusive relationship.

Turning the ignition after getting your drivers licence.

Performing a play you have rehearsed for months.

Finally apologizing – and it being accepted.

Feeling the diploma placed in your hand.

Tasting the salt of the ocean for the first time.

Holding hands under the stars.

…all understandable.

Freedom to me is;

A quiet mind, free from feeling broken for a full minute.

Waking up to see the sun and actually wanting to feel it on my skin.

A night of dreams that I can’t remember.

When I finally run out of tears.

When the obsession to numb passes.

Walking Walter and not having to look over my shoulder.

Not seeing the pain in everyone’s smile.

Not feeling dark energy looming over the earth.

Having a day when I don’t learn of a suicide of a peer, and knowing exactly how that person must have felt.

Looking into Adam, Caroline, Walter, Pepsi and Loller’s eyes 🙂

Thinking that maybe…maybe…one day I can let someone in again.

Fearing death.

 

 

 

Reaching Your Pension Shouldn’t Cost You Your Life

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It’s PTSD Awareness Month and Paramedic Services Week in Ontario, and I can’t help but write about how painful this time is for me. I don’t want pity. I just want people to take care of themselves so that they don’t have to experience what I do almost every day – most often invisibly.

I think that the awareness of what PTSD is, is out there. We now need to focus on how to prevent it. I think that it’s so important to let first responder students know that it isn’t practical to think that a career that involves constant exposure to trauma will lead you to a healthy retirement – unless they work extremely hard at taking care of their mental and physical health. Yes, I’m sure there are some exceptions to the rule, but most first responders I know, start to find the career difficult to cope with around the 10 year mark. ‘Invincibility’ begins to waver at this point, and it becomes apparent that holding on for another 30 years until retirement isn’t healthy at all. Without they knowledge of how to take care of ourselves along the way, the ‘gold medal’ of a full pension begins to resemble a cheap chocolate dollar store coin that is half melted and tastes like crap. And with a hero persona weaved into the fabric of every uniform we wear, hanging it up by choice often makes us feel like a failure…so we don’t – we unknowingly wait until we are forced to hang it up because PTSD has taken over our brains and has physically altered them forever.

I still don’t know how to de-program my mind completely from being a first responder. I do know that I have had to go through the grieving process – like a death – of my career. I sure wish I had been told that this would be a likely possibility when I was in college.

I feel that there needs to be more research done on how to leave a first responder profession in a healthy way. Whether that be at retirement or before retirement by choice or due to injury.

If you are a first responder and you believe that you are not attached to the hero image, perceptions and feelings of being one, I challenge you to look more closely at that belief – doing so may save your life. Without your uniform you ARE a beautiful human being, but I can tell you from experience that if you don’t practice reminding yourself this as you progress through your career, you will hit a wall of reality when it comes time to move on (whenever that is) that may be so daunting and impossible to break through that it may kill you.

When/if you think that PTSD won’t/can’t happen to you, stop and see that you’ve added a brick to that wall! It CAN happen to you, and realizing this and using those moments of false invincibility to kick that brick away, will allow you to continue to see that you are much more than your uniform – hard to imagine right? Well let me remind you how much more you are – you are healthy parent, spouse, sibling, friend. An ALIVE parent, spouse, sibling, friend. Take care of you now – please.

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