This inspiring book of quotations from Natalie’s Harris’s raw and gripping account of her mental health journey, “Save-My-Life School,” offers daily motivational and thoughtful lessons.
I’m approaching 40 years old, but have amazingly done most of my personal growth in just one. Crazy right? Whoa! Natalie! Back up! Are you really going to use the word ‘crazy’ when you’re a mental health advocate? What impression will people get of you? So there it is…a perfect example of how a lifetime of depression-guided, self-appraisal can to this day influence how I think (or over-think) I’m making an impression on people.
Even though recovering from the dark world of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction has undoubtedly strengthened my confidence and inner-peace, there is still a side of me, (the tattoo-free side I suppose), that deeply safeguards my albeit false, perpetually smiling image. But why does this side of me still care what image I am portraying? I really have nothing to hide! I have already very publicly announced, and illustrated to thousands of my blog readers who the Natalie is behind a fragile bubble of incessant laughter. People already know that I have travelled from the relentless hell of suicidal ideation, to the heaven of self-acceptance and love. So why would I still worry about whether or not I make a good impression, when I know that I am a good person, and when I’m pretty candid about, well…everything?
I think the answer lies in the fact that I am still a woman who battles mental illness in a world that often smiles and nods in the lime-light of mental health awareness, but quickly closes the blinds when the cameras are off to retreat to the comfortable world of complacency; and that fact alone can make even me feel like I should retract certain impressions that I’ve made.
Promoting a stigma-free world is somewhat of a social hot-topic these days, but ‘hot-topic talk’ is cheap when lives are still being lost because many people simply give the impression that they maintain a stigma-free view of people who battle mental health illnesses, when really they would rather gargle hornets than speak out about the stigma-acts they still witness. – So no wonder depression still makes an impression on even me.
But alas, my doubts about speaking up and fighting for the suppression of mental health stigma always subside, and I soon feel the need to strip down to my core beliefs again. I think from time to time that some people probably roll their eyes because my blog posts still appear on Facebook and Twitter, but I won’t stop speaking the words that so many still can’t say. Besides, at the end of the day your impression of me is really none of my business anyway.
I finally feel comfortable in my own skin and the world is a much better place when I don’t have to hide. Inner-strength is much deeper than the clothes, and THAT is the impression I fight to leave.
*A tremendous thank you to Pie Magazine (Editor Sandra Roberts and Photographer Jeff Buchanan), for the opportunity to embrace yet another level of strength through vulnerability, and to learn how beautiful living without a mask can be. xo
How deeply do you ‘think’ when you’re asked to ‘contemplate’ something? What does that mean to you? Does it mean that you simply ‘consider’ it? Or maybe it means that you just ‘give it some thought’? Well, tonight I want to challenge you to view contemplation in a much more powerful sense – a sense that is used in the practice of meditation.
Quite simply, we (a large portion of society) are not very good at deeply contemplating anything. That’s not to say that we aren’t intelligent enough to do so, we just can’t seem to go deep enough to approach contemplation without the pressure to gain insight; so we keep our thoughts superficial and above the surface in a safe, yet dramatically less enlightening, way.
Contemplating expands our view on, well…everything! Take happiness for example, the more we deeply contemplate, explore and feel this virtuous emotion, the more happiness begins to become our natural behaviour. In short, the more we take the time to immerse ourselves in an intention or a thought, such as happiness, the more it becomes our lived reality. Clear as mud?…Well, let me use an analogy to further explain the power of contemplation.
So you say you want to be ‘happy’? You want to live a life where happiness is your prevalent emotion. If only there was a way that you could rewire your brain to FEEL happiness more often and to get rid of the toxic, unnecessary noise that fills your mind 99% of the time. Well, what if I told you there is a way. – Allow me to take you diving…below the noise, in the ocean of contemplation.
You’ve ‘heard’ that it’s peaceful below the waves of life and stress that toss you around like a capsized raft, but no matter how often someone asks you to go diving so that you can actually experience life below the waves, you say ‘no’, because you’re too tired to do something ‘like that’, nor do you have ‘time’ to do something like that. But what you may not have realized is that the reason why you’re so tired is because most of your energy is spent clinging onto the raft for fear of ‘going under’. Ironic, isn’t it?
So take a chance and let go of the raft and give yourself permission to explore happiness by testing the waters in the ocean of contemplation. Even if at first this means that you have to plug your nose and simply put your face in the water (i.e.: close your eyes just THINK about happiness), you will quickly see how peaceful it is below the every day noise that fills your mind. When you give yourself this time, you will see the beauty and serenity that you have been missing while on noisy dry-land, and with practice you can become a master contemplation diver in no time.
Every time you submerge yourself in this ocean, you rewire your brain to being able to feel happiness innately, even when you’re living life above the water. The stress of life doesn’t weigh as heavily as it did before when you were clinging to the raft, because you now know where to go to refuel and relax. As long as you can give yourself a moment to close your eyes, and mindfully swim in the ocean of contemplation, you know that you will be ok.
The hustle and bustle of life can wear us down so easily, but how wonderful is it to know that we are always standing on the vast shore of the ocean of contemplation, with all of the serenity and peace that it offers. So take the time to explored the waters of happiness, and when you are finished, I highly recommend the Sea of Love, the Bay of Compassion and the River of Giving.
My sister-in-law Mandy, is my rock. But she’s not like any rock! She is the kind of rock you find while you’re alone on a beach and the sun reflects off of it just the right way for you to be able to find it. She’s beautiful, and doesn’t ever push her way onto the shore. She is content with shining in the background, compassionately allowing the other rocks to enjoy the view too. Peacefully glistening on a path less travelled, she blesses the earth wherever she lands. She’s a tiny rock, but she is strong! And I am so lucky to have her in my life.
Today Mandy dropped a birthday gift and card off for me, and I wanted to share what she wrote in the card because it means so much to me. So, with permission…
“Natalie, Natalie, What a tear 2015 was! In hindsight it was…I think…your best year ever. You packed a lot into those 12 months, you learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons, you ran (and won) more ‘mental marathons’ than any Olympian, you forgave and you were forgiven, you set boundaries and stood your ground, you rekindled a love for your profession, you made plans and released them to God, you saved countless, faceless lives and also a few you knew too…But most importantly you saved yourself, your family and your future. All the best for 2016 Nat! Namaste.”
“P.S. Here is your very own Buddha journal. I can’t bear to see you take notes on your grocery receipts anymore! LOL!”
Thank you Mandy! I love you! xoxoxoxooxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxodoxoxoxoxoxoxo
I have been told by many people over the past year that I love to talk about love, and I suppose they are right. Unearthing the true meaning and sentiment of love after living a life where self-pity obscured its existence, is like finding a sparkling jewel in the darkness that you though had no prospect of possessing anything beneficial at all. Once you find such a precious jewel, you make a necklace out of it and keep it as close to your heart as possible. You look at it often and hold it tight in your hands to ensure that finding it wasn’t a dream. And you can’t help but show it to everyone you meet! ‘Look at how magnificent this precious jewel is!’, you say as people walk by, hopeful that sharing a glimpse of it would prove to them that they could find the same.
No wonder I am so fascinated by my discovery of the true meaning of love (to wish someone happiness and wellness without limitations or conditions) when it seems that its meaning is so distorted in our world these days. Love doesn’t hurt, even if the band Nazareth says so. Dating myself? Possibly…Be quiet 😉 It doesn’t need anyone or anything else to complete it, even if Jerry Maguire says so. Furthermore, love is never bitter, it is only ever sweet, even if Kanye says so! Have I regained some of my youth now? In short, I don’t blame anyone for thinking that love has a negative connotation with the way we refer to it in our society today.
Us humans engage in actions that will inevitably lead to suffering because so many of our societal beliefs gain power without any true independent analysis. When did Taylor Swift’s views on love’s inevitable transformation to pain become the only data required to prove that when we feel pain it must mean that love is part of the equation somewhere. Love is never part of a painful equation. Pain that comes from the heart is more likely to come from attachment. But don’t take my word for it…turn of Taylor’s catchy tune for a bit and mindfully reflect on the difference between love and attachment, and how we often interchange them senselessly.
Our delusions continue when we learn to only equate love with our own happiness, and have no idea how to practice anything outside of ourselves. How can we expect to reap lasting bountiful emotions when we put so much pressure on someone else to ‘complete us’? This assumption alone weaves a level of selfishness and self-grasping into our minds that has nothing to do with love at all. If we truly possessed the wish for everyone to be happy and well, we would never attach ourselves to them; it simply wouldn’t be necessary. Furthermore, we would be happy with ourselves, and see clearly how attachment can only lead to jealousy, envy and anger. And how jealousy, envy and anger are what actually lead to pain.
In order to find the transformative jewel of love, we must deliberately take a stand to reverse negative tendencies of attachment, and exchange them with new positive, self-less habits. Luckily, the more we explore a topic, regardless of how difficult it may be, the more we come to understand it. And I certainly can’t think of a better topic to explore than the topic of love. ❤
I have some cool news to share! By nomination from Dr. David Susman PhD, a clinical psychologist and mental health advocate in Lexington, Kentucky, I have received a Sunshine Blogger Award! Pretty cool eh?
Thank you so much to Dr. Susman for the nomination! I LOVE reading your blog (davidsusman.com) and am so honoured to have been chosen by you 😀
Every nominee has the responsibility of answering the following questions. Here goes:
What is the most important thing to you? Definitely my family and friends. They continue to help me through my recovery of mental health illness and addiction every day!
If you could go anywhere right now, where would it be? Hmmmm…I would have to say for a haircut! Love you ID Salon on Collier St in Barrie, Ontario!
What’s your favourite thing about blogging? It’s like medicine for my soul. I look forward to snuggling into my bed with a coffee beside me, ready to let the words in my brain tumble out onto the computer keys. I couldn’t imaging not blogging now.
What’s your favourite thing about yourself? My ability to love and my desire to help as many people as I possibly can in this blink-of-an-eye we call life.
What has been your biggest challenge in life so far? My recovery from post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and alcoholism. Challenging…but well worth the fight!
Do you believe in love at first sight? Wow, this is a random question. Romantic love…no. Love for my children…absolutely without a doubt!
Where do you see yourself in ten years? Hopefully still writing…but on a beach-house porch somewhere away from Canada’s ‘roll you up in a snowball, and through you to the curb’ winters. Love you Canada…but not what your 9 months of winter does to my oh so difficult to obtain summer tan!
How many languages do you speak? A few actually. Try-to-reason-with-a-nine-year-old is my first language. I’m also fluent in Moderate-the-mood-swings-of-a-19-year-old. Oh…and english.
What do you think is your best post so far? Link it. https://paramedicnatsmentalhealthjourney.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/382/
What’s your favourite quote? “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” ~Helen Keller
If you could recommend one fellow blogger for me to follow, who would it be? And why? Tim Grutzius: abalancedlifeselfcare.blogspot.com Tim is a fire fighter for Alsip Fire Department in Chicago who writes about his experience with post traumatic stress and his pathway to recovery. His posts are eloquent and powerful, and provide concise and practical tips on how to find a balanced life after trauma.
Now I will nominate my choices for a Sunshine Blogger’s Award!
1. Tim Grutzius
2. Kate Gillie
3. Mike van Mil
4. The Persistent Platypus
5. Freud & Fashion
6. Anxious Accessories
7. Refractory Ramblings From The Darkside
8. Jacob Moore
Thank you again for this amazing acknowledgement! Until the next blog…bye for now.
Life lessons seem to be hitting me in the gut left, right and center lately. Just when I think I’m due for a lesson-lull…Bam!…I get hit with a doozie! Do I have a sign on my back that says, ‘please rattle my view of the world and humanity’?…it’s totally possible. Ok, let’s see how I can describe how I’m feeling in words. ‘Overwhelmed’ doesn’t seem right… I feel that word sort of has a negative connotation, and what I’m feeling is anything but negative. ‘Mesmerized’?…partially. ‘Gob-smacked’?…I don’t really know what that means, but it sort of sounds appropriate. ‘In-awe’?…yes, but it’s still not right. ‘Awakened’! Yes, that’s it…last night’s life-lesson has awakened my knowledge of a topic I admit has baffled me for years; LOVE.
I had this awakening when I joined my sister-in-law for an hour and a half at a Buddhist Centre last night. Upon arriving, all I knew was that the topic of discussion and teaching was ‘love’ (gulp), and that meditation would be involved, but I didn’t know what else to expect at all. I was thrilled to be invited as I have been practicing meditation at night to help me fall asleep sans prescriptions drugs and I love it. But the mediation I participated in last night was much more challenging than the ‘count David Beckham’s…I mean sheep!’ technique I am use to. More challenging as in it took what felt like a small eternity to complete. (I’m use to only reaching sheep 32’ish). However, I muscled my way through it and sat as still as possible because the analogy of the guided meditation spoke volumes to me.
The Buddhist teacher told us to close our eyes and envision a lotus seed in the murky, muddy water. This seed represented our potential to find the purest of love. We then envisioned the lotus growing out of the dark water and blooming into its breath-taking colour. With a little more patience the beautiful flower revealed its jewel inside. This jewel represented a love that would have been hidden for eternity if the seed had not been brave enough to make its journey through the darkness. It wasn’t always easy for the lotus to grow in its dark conditions, but none-the-less it did…and was beautiful.
After the meditation we were told that the ideal meaning of love is found in the phrase, ‘may you be happy, may you be well’. Love simply wishes someone happiness and wellness….that’s it…that’s all…no hidden clauses or fine print…no expiry dates or restrictions applied. Love is pure and simple. Love doesn’t say ‘may you make me happy and well’, love is selfless and giving, and comes from a special home in our heart.
We as a society are so use to thinking that someone’s love for us ‘completes us’, but it doesn’t; only we can complete ourselves. We think that love from another person is what is necessary to make us happy. We can also unknowingly attach ourselves to someone who we feel happy around, who we think ‘fills a void’, because we’ve mistaken that happiness for love. We don’t want to lose that feeling for fear of being not-whole again, and the attachment this fear causes puts a lot of strain on a relationship. Furthermore, we often idealize the way a person treats us at first through that glorious ‘honeymoon’ phase, and make no room in our head or heart for natural evolution of the relationship. Sadly we believe that any change in the relationship, means a change in the love we have for one another.
This miraculous journey of awakening I’ve been on has made me come to realize there is no such thing as coincidences. I now believe that each and every event in our lives happens for a very specific reason, and they are all part of a bigger picture. And last night as I pondered the emotion, rational and wisdom of love, and where it comes from in me, I believe that not coincidentally, a very dear person sent me this clip from the Wizard of Oz and the message, “Despite our adventures, we have always been able to go home”. http://youtu.be/xvj85cOWD54
I also found a ladybug in my windowsill this morning.
No one ‘completes us’ or is the key to our happiness. Pure happiness comes from accepting ourselves with all of our faults and blunders, and in the ability to give love to another human without hidden resentment, ill feelings or expectations. Love simply says “may you be happy, may you be well”.
I’ve been blogging for about 2 months now and you’ve heard LOTS of my opinions and thoughts. But now it’s time for your views to be heard! I would love if you could email me your thoughts and opinions on anything to do with my blog or mental health in general. I will let the emails build up for 2 days then add them to a post essentially written by YOU. I think it would be so helpful for everyone to grow from your ideas and points of view. If you would like to remain anonymous just let me know and I will respect that when I post your comment(s). But try your best to shout out your views loud and clear. Let’s crush the mental health stigma!
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
I will be posting YOUR blog on Wednesday 🙂
Be as candid and honest as you can be!
Can’t wait to get your emails. ~Nat
So AB says I have to blog tonight…don’t worry, she’s not Chinese water-torturing me to do so…she just knows it will be good for me and I needed a push. In fact, she actually offered to give me ALL of my responsibilities and freedom back (I think it was a test), but I declined. I’m not sure how I would handle being on my own all of a sudden; I like feeling safe with someone always with me. So while I’m indeed weaning myself off ‘save my life school’ next week, I’m not ready to be completely released into this mad world; it feels too, ‘weird’.
Ok, back to the ups and downs…I skipped school on Friday. Yup. I said it. And it didn’t come without its ‘disappointments’. I couldn’t sleep all Thursday night…I tossed and turned to no avail. So when Walter reminded me in his snuggly way that it was time for his morning pee at 0715, I had managed to get about 2 hours in total…sigh. I had a headache from hell and I felt like a zombie, which probably didn’t help my mental tug of war between the ‘you’d better go to school or you’ll disappoint people’ and the ‘but I feel horrible and not having a day to myself will make me feel worse’ emotions. I wasn’t feeling depressed or anxious; I simply felt like crap! But now that I have a mental health label across my forehead, I find it very difficult to explain to people that some of my choices are purely human necessity choices; anyone would be frustrated with not sleeping at all! But alas, now that I have a list of ‘bad decisions’ longer than Santa’s naughty list, I’m not easily trusted. Touché.
So I decided to stay home. Oh, God. I SO hope everyone will understand my decision and not give me a hassle. I hope they believe I’m actually feeling physically sick. Well I would soon find out that my loved ones were NOT impressed…and I felt horrible. And to top it all off, my confused brain thought that ‘not-impressed’ meant MAD…but it didn’t. Use your tools Natalie…you have no proof of them being mad! They simply want the best for me ALWAYS! Over all, I had very mixed emotions about this outcome. One side of me was mad because I knew in my heart I made the right choice for ME, but no one (except my friend, Caroline) would believe me (again, I had no proof). The other side of me doubted all of my instincts and second guessed my decision. I still have SUCH a hard time not fully understanding where my distorted thoughts cross over into healthy thoughts; and it pisses me off.
Being a ‘normal’ girl feels as far away as the next galaxy to me. It frustrates me so much that my actions have caused me to not be trusted by my loved ones, and by myself. (Those damn consequences again). I ‘feel’ like I’ve disappointed so many people, and that weighs so heavily on my shoulders and makes me second guess my confidence in…me . What ‘normal’ is, I have no clue. But I use to feel like I had some idea. So I tried to do ‘normal’ things the past couple of days, and it felt great. My friend and I picked Adam up from school on Friday then went to the BulkBarn for treats (and a bone for Walter). Fun ‘normal’ thing to do – check! I had a lovely girl’s dinner with my daughter the night before. Awesome ‘normal’ girl”s-night thing to do – check! Then we all hung out and played video games (well Adam played video games). Super fun ‘normal’ thing for Adam to do – check! And I made pasta for dinner. Yummy, ‘normal’ dinner choice- check! I felt all sorts of normal…and it was amazing. I really needed it. Fast forward to today… I wanted to hang onto that normal feeling for as long as I could! I loved watching Adam play in the snow with his friends. I loved just sitting and chatting with my friend. I loved doing laundry (I can’t believe I just said that), and I loved learning with 100% certainty that my broken heart would eventually heal. This normal girl was kicking ass with commonplace!
I also went and looked at condos. I need to downsize eventually and I’m actually really looking forward to it. I still have a lot of research to do…but it was nice feeling out my options. It will also help me find another piece to the healing-heart puzzle I’m slowly putting together. I’m not running away from things (I have been known to do that from time-to-time), but rather I’m seeing that a fresh new start is what I really need…eventually.
No sad poems or posts tonight…just rambling confessions of confusion…and I’m damn sure that’s normal. 😉
“Mad World” ~Gary Jules/REM
All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head, I wanna drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow
And I find it kinda funny
I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very mad world, mad world
Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
And I feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me
And I find it kinda funny
I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very mad world, mad world
Enlarging your world