Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey



Mindfulness and Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day…Blah! A day I’ve never been too fond of anyway has involved me finishing ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ at home in my pajamas with my Valentine (dog) Walter, (he totally forgot to get me flowers…but whatever, he would have eaten them anyway), drinking copious amounts of coffee and taking cold FX to hopefully ward off my sore throat…how romantic. But as this silly day of love has gone by, I’ve been very conscious not to let my emotional mind start to take over for fear of heartbreak rearing it’s ugly head 10 fold. And by being so conscious of this, I have also been thinking a lot about how important mindfulness is to recovery, and also how a day of mindlessness is equally as important when needed for sanity.

Last week in save my life grad school we discussed the topic of mindfulness quite a lot. Simply put, mindfulness is awareness in the moment, in the here-and-now. It involves being aware of what we’re doing and what we’re thinking about doing. This is a skill many people implement instinctively when they are in an upsetting situation, but not I. One of my biggest problems in the past is doing before thinking, especially while I’m in an upsetting situation. In fact, in the past when I was upset my emotional mind would tell me that the only way to feel better and to calm the demons in my head was to drink, A LOT. I used to never ‘play the tape to the end’ and be mindful of the consequences of my actions. All that mattered at that moment was getting rid of the gross feeling in the pit of my stomach or of the memories that kept me awake at night. So with today being Valentine’s Day and my heart still only partially healed, the old Natalie would have used this day’s sadness as the perfect opportunity to numb! But on February 14th, 2015, I am proud to say that the only numbness I’ve felt today is when my nose was about to fall off while walking Walter outside in what feels like winter in the Yukon Territories.

A common theme I have noticed with mental health therapies is balance. A healthy life involves taking a little from column A and mixing it with column B. (At the beginning of my recovery I called this balance, ‘confusing contradictions’). For example, while in recovery it’s very important not to isolate, BUT, it’s equally as important to take time to meditate on your own. Confession time: Us Homewood U student’s quickly learned that the secret to being able to take a nap, was to say that we were ‘meditating’. Another secret was that if you wanted chocolate milk you’d better be early for lunch because it was gone faster than a parking spot on Christmas eve…but I digress. Another example of this ‘balance’ is when we are told to practice mindfulness, BUT, to also keep ourselves occupied every day so that we don’t just sit and let our minds ruminate. Can you see how life school can be a bit confusing at times? No wonder I study every day. So on days like today a little mixture of mindfulness and mindlessness may be the perfect balance for this girl. I’m mindful that I need to keep my emotions in check, but I’m mindless enough to forget to put deodorant on. Too much information?…oh well, I’m WAY past that point anyway 😉

I’ve been mindful that I’ve been quite sad at times today, and a bit lonely. I couldn’t help but think about the good times Ian and I had and how nice it was when we first started dating. It’s difficult on Cupid’s Day to not think about the flowers he would bring me home, or the first time he told me he loved me, but I didn’t beat myself up over thinking about it. I reminded myself that the feelings I had today are normal, and that I am human. In the past, these thoughts would turn into emotions that would kick-start the perfect negative self-defeating cycle of rumination and self-pity…I was a pro at it! If I was heartbroken a year ago pre-life school, I would have been a blubbering mess. I don’t even want to think about the drunk texts I would have sent! But overall I’m super proud of myself. I’ve been managing all of my emotions in a positive way today, and reminding myself that they are only temporary and that I will feel better. I’ve been saying my prayers like I’m suppose to and asking God to keep me on my recovery path and to trust that he still has good plans for my heart. And even though I honestly was not up for a meeting tonight, I was mindful that not going is typical relapse behaviour and I got my butt out that door!

So if ‘mindfulness’ is Column A, in order to keep mental health balance today, I’ve also added a little of Column B – mindlessness. Way more fun! I’m equally as proud to say that I’ve mindlessly eaten what feels like 457 of Caroline’s Valentine’s Day chocolates, had 2 naps, ate cinnamon buns for breakfast, lunch and dinner, snuggled Walter when needed, and sang in the car louder than usual on the way to my AA meeting. BAM! How’s THAT for balance?!

So as my Valentine’s day is drawing to an end, I will mindfully remind myself that the love I have in my life is immense. There’s no need to numb, or be sad. And that even though Ian and I are apart, his love taught me more than words can say. And above all, I now have love for life every day, not just on February 14th.

Day 17 – Vulnerability

“Walk in as vulnerable as you need to be.” This is an extrodinary piece of advice I heard a student say on her last day of class to all of us freshman’s 4 weeks ago. And I have reminded myself of it many times along my journey. I’ve encouraged my student and life vulnerability to evolve in order to enable myself to keep growing. It’s uncomfortable at times of course, but it’s imperative to ‘ save my life school’ success. Analogy time 😉 I use to be like a nervous student, standing on stage, ready to speak, but only while imagining everyone in the audience naked, and myself bundled in a hot restrictive snowsuit to hide from what I though would be unbearable negative judgement. But as this journey has progressed I’ve been losing (or winning…depends on how you look at it I guess) at stage-fright strip poker, and every day I have been the one getting naked….vulnerability equaled freedom! See ya later snowsuit!

I, as a ‘save my life school’ senior (la dee da) 😉 gave the vulnerability speech to a new student today, and it reminded me how far I’ve come. She was frustrated with not having all of the tools already and couldn’t comprehend how she would ever be able to change. Rewind 4 weeks ago to my second day post, “Patience Natalie…PATIENCE!” and what do I find?…Me feeling frustrated with not having all the tools and unable to comprehend how I would ever be able to change. Coincidence? I think not.

“Trust me”, I said to the girl, “just make sure you keep coming to class! I remember feeling exactly the same way during my first week. But I had to allow myself to be a bit vulnerable and trust that I would learn what I needed to learn. It’s not easy, but it will be worth it.” She agreed. I was so happy she had found the first drop of vulnerability she would need to succeed in all this. I didn’t tell her that eventually she would need an ocean of it to move forward through each week. But why try to drown her on day 2?

I’ve had a few people tell me that they love my blog, but they couldn’t do the same. They would have a hard time letting people (including strangers) know about their mental health. And touché! Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy for me as well. But layer by layer I found that the more I ‘exposed’, the less weighed down I felt. I sorta feel like a kid holding 100 balloons that cause me to walk so lightly I’m almost off the ground with every step. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself when you stop hiding from you. Some days the balloons pop because of my own negative thinking or someone else’s negative influence. But I rest assured that when I least expect it, I walk past a person who hands me 50 more balloons. 🙂

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