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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

Meaningless Conversations

Is it just me, or do you think that most small-talk is ridiculous? I get it that humans are social beings, but as I have mentioned before, I don’t feel like most humans (I think), and this makes daily excursions even more annoying – even with my earplugs in. When I am at my son’s karate I put my phone away so that I can enjoy watching him, but regardless of how hard I try to ignore the banter around me, my brain is constantly doing an inner eye roll at the meaningless conversations I am subject to.

Here are some examples: (*Names have been changed to colours to maintain privacy, and just because I feel like it.)

“My daughter has her license now…just wait until Ruby* has hers in a few years, you’re in for it!” – Typical my kid is older than your kid so I’ve been through more than you as a parent banter. Boring.

“I wake up at 7:30 every morning”…”Pearl* honey, I wake up at 5:30 every morning” – Typical I have a tougher life than you so I must be stronger because I wake up earlier convo. Who cares!

“The lawn is so soggy, Mr. Green* can’t mow it yet!” Typical 1st world problem weather blabber. So not original.

“Jade* looks so good lately. I really need to lose this last 10 pounds.” Typical western culture, weight obsessed sadness. Depressing

My question is… does anyone out there ACTUALLY like having these conversations? It’s not a rhetorical question. I really want to know your view on this. Please help my alien brain to understand why some people enjoy talking about nothing. Please tell me if this doesn’t exhaust you.

Thank you.

Blah…

One of my biggest dislikes about having depression is that sometimes I don’t know how bad it is until it’s passed. Over the last week, if I were to complete a “Do You Have Depression” quiz, I’m sure it would have screamed yes. Fatigue. Hopelessness. Irritability.  Change in appetite. Isolation. Lack of interest in anything. Check! But as I’m sitting here in IT, I can’t seem to really say how bad it is. Just to be clear, I am safe and don’t have any suidical thoughts. It’s like when mental illness is SUCH a part of your life, detecting when it’s affecting you is like trying to see a firefly in permanent darkness – You know you’ve seen that bright little happy bug before, but when you live in the dark so often, you question if you really ever saw that light.

This blog may be all over the map, because I also feel my concentration is off. My creative brain is mud at the moment. Which sucks, because writing usually causes me to feel happy and productive, but tonight it feels more like a rant for my own good.

It just gets tiring navigating through the dark. Questioning your feelings all the time. That’s why I sleep a lot, to try to shut my mind off – but sleeping still sucks because of the dreams I have. I can only play Gummy Drop and eat Mini Wheats for so long. I feel judged a lot when I’m in this state, with no evidence of that even happening. I think it’s mostly me judging myself. It’s a constant banter of questioning my actions and thoughts. Feeling alien and not understanding normal conversations people have around me because they seem so mundane. Searching and searching for a moment of peace from feeling different. That only comes when I snuggle my fur babies (and Adam, but he’s so big and doesn’t really want to snuggle that much anymore).

Take a look at this picture.

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I took this today and added the sweet little caption, “A cheetah in the wild resting after capturing its prey”. Funny, happy, green grass. Well I could have also written the following caption, “Forced myself to go outside after sleeping until about 5:30pm. Felt bad that Walter has to deal with my lazy self so I dragged my ass to the park and got rid of some guilt for a while.” Not as appealing – but the truth.

I’m going to see my doc this week (hopefully) and maybe get my meds adjusted. That may be the problem.

I sort of want to be a wildlife photographer now. I wish I had money to travel. It pisses me off when people say, ‘Oh you need to travel’, when I have zero money! Like suck it people! – easy for you to say. I’m going to wear my earplugs in my car soon so I can’t hear my brakes grinding anymore because I can’t afford to get them fixed. Blah blah blah.

I’m done ranting. Happy Mental Health Awareness Week.

 

Well Deserved Drool – An ACP Student’s Dream

If I could do one more thing as a paramedic, I would be an advanced care paramedic (ACP) preceptor for my friend Jill. I just love her – and I know we would have so much fun being partners. I’m not sure how much my post traumatic stress would like it – but man it would be amazing if I could! 

I miss being a preceptor. I miss feeling pride in my student after a call well done. I miss feeling the, “I get it now!” energy that radiates off of them when a concept clicks, usually after having a chance to use said concept on a call. Thinking about this reminds me of a call I will never forget. How a ‘concept’ was used much earlier than anticipated in an ACP student’s career, and how I know we saved a life that day.

It was my ACP student’s first shift. Like normal we arrived early to check the truck and the bags. I LOVED this day! Being able to zip open the ACP bag and unveil all of its amazing medications, and tools, and potential! Like a kid in a candy store, ACP students almost drool when they can actually touch the contents in that bag, and know that it would only be a matter of time until they get to use it. Getting to that unveiling point is HARD WORK! The drool is totally expected, understandable, and well deserved!

As I showed my student how to draw up a cardiac medication in a special way, (a trick of the trade that rightfully welcomed him to ‘the club’), we were shocked to hear the tones go off so soon (with the bag’s contents masquerading as a yard-sale on the bench seat). He didn’t have much drool-time as we were on our way to what would be a ‘career call’ for both of us.

Dispatch information was that we were going to a car accident literally around the corner from our station. It was a residential area, so we were anticipating a quick fender-bender call, allowing us to get back to the ‘candy shop’ in no time. But when we pulled onto the street, we immediately saw tire marks over the boulevard, barely missing a light pole, leading to a car which had crashed into a home’s garage leaving it half way through the bricks on the other side. I looked at my student, as he said, “Oh shit!” (Side note: paramedics hardly ever say oh shit – it has to be bad to say oh shit out loud).

As we pull up, I can see that the mangled car is most likely holding up the garage. In hindsight we shouldn’t have even went into the garage without it being stabilized – I actually take the safety of scenes very seriously, but for some reason on that day it looked ‘safe enough’, so I put my helmet on and headed to the car. My student was already there and could see the single passenger slumped over and blue. “I think he’s VSA (vital signs absent)!” He yelled. “Oh Jesus, here we go.” I thought.

My partner got to work wiggling into the passenger seat with the airway bag and started breathing for the patient who was a young male, maybe about 25 years old. His colour improved, and he had a pulse…but a weird pulse. My student and I grabbed the rest of the equipment, including the ACP bag we had just thrown back together in about 60 seconds, and began assessing the patient. Without getting into the medical details of the call, my student ended up having to draw up the exact medication with the trick I had just shown him how to do minutes before. There was a work bench in the garage – perfect! It became our drug table. I printed out the patient’s ECG as the fire department started to secure the garage roof. We would still have a bit of time on the scene because of the extrication that needed to happen safely. As pieces of the roof fell down around us (not big pieces, don’t worry 😉 ), our patient began to have a seizure. I yelled back to my student, “Oh you also need to draw up some midazlolam now”…an ACP student’s dream. After a base hospital patch fail or two for ECG guidance, we made some critical decisions together and got shit done…yet another ACP student’s dream.

With the help of the fire department we were on the way to the hospital with our patient in good time. He was in a very odd cardiac rhythm, so we were guessing he had taken some sort of drug to cause an apparent healthy young man to be this sick. My student and I loved to read ECG’s and both of us were stumped on what this patient’s heart was doing.

We transferred care at the hospital with our patient alive but still unconscious. As my student and I walked out to the ambulance bay, we stopped and starred at each other with wide eyes! If this was a sign of what calls were to come with him – we were in for a fun preceptorship ride!

Two days later we were able to check in with the hospital to see if our patient was still admitted. That was all we could be told though due to patient confidentiality. If it was a yes, he would most likely be alive, but with an unknown level of brain function. If it was a no, he could be dead and at the funeral home, or could have made a miraculous recovery and had gone home. He was still admitted and in the intensive care unit – not a great sign.

We took a walk to find his room. When we stepped inside there was what appeared to be his mom sitting beside the hospital bed, and what could have been a sister or a girl friend in a chair a little further away. Our patient was ‘not awake’, and hooked up to the monitor. It was his mom, and when we said that we were the paramedics who picked him up, she immediately started to cry. She stood up and hugged us both. The girl in the chair was crying too, but appeared to be frozen in time. After we answered a few questions about the call, we had a moment to ask how he was – at that time he was still ‘not awake’. Then just like he had heard us (and maybe he did) he rolled over and opened his eyes. His mom turned to him and said, “these are the paramedics who saved you”. He looked a bit confused at first, but without saying a word, he tossed his blankets off, sat up, disconnected the ECG leads on his chest, and walked over to us. He hugged both of us, still without saying a word. My student and I couldn’t help but join in the tears that were being sharing in the room.

He was so tall! It’s funny because one thing I remember when I was on the road was that when I’m focused on doing my job, and especially when that job is literally saving someone’s life, I never notice what my patient’s really look like, or how tall they are. Well this patient was young and tall, and lucky to be alive after a night of partying with cocaine.

I drove past that house many times after that call. The garage door now repaired and the boards that covered the hole in the side of the wall now back to bricks. Like nothing had ever happened there before – but I would always remember what had.

My student and I did have a preceptorship filled with many dynamic calls where life and death walked a tightrope before our very eyes, sadly often with a very different outcome than the call above. But that’s just the way in goes, actually saving a life doesn’t happen that often even after many years as a paramedic. I still miss the road every day. But thankfully I will always have the memory of that patient (who was blue when we found him), giving us a hug with a second chance at life.

The Flat Stanley Effect on Save-My-Life School

Official Media Release Link: https://www.prlog.org/12636351-mental-health-awareness-travels.html

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I had no idea that my quest to spread mental health awareness would travel to the ends of the earth—literally! My book, Save-My-Life School: A First Responder’s Mental Health Journey, just released this past January, is an outgrowth of my blog, which chronicled my battle with PTSD, depression, addiction, overdoses and a suicide attempt.

Organically, people have been posting pictures of the book all over the world to the Facebook page savemylifeschool. There are over a hundred different shots of the book from Mexico to Kuwait to Vimy Ridge; with celebrities, politicians, children, dogs, cats and in front of workplaces. It is a plethora of interesting travels with my mental health ‘journey.’

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Save-My-Life School at Vimy Ridge, France

Heather Down, publisher remarks, “It’s kind of funny because we were brainstorming ways to get traction and our PR manager, Kim Forster happened to post a beautiful picture of the book with her new puppy and it just started a trend. We had no idea this would happen.”

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Here are some more amazing photos!

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Michael Landsberg, Mental Health Ambassador #SickNotWeak

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Member of Parliament from Caribou Prince George, Todd Doherty

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Terracina, Italy

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Head of Trauma Programs, Stacey Ferland, Homewood Health, Guelph, Ontario

Co-founder of #ivegotyourback911, Jill Foster

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President and Vice President of the Ontario Provincial Police Association, Rob Jamieson and Chris Hoffman

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Oops…that’s just a pic of David Beckham…my bad 😉

How can it get any cuter than this?!

Lots of sunny beaches in Cuba, Mexico, Exuma …

911 Communications Officer Ryan Dedmon, California USA

Dr. Jonathan Douglas, Barrie, Ontario

Ontario Paramedic Association President, Ashleigh Hewer

Deputy Chief of Brant County Paramedic Services, Randy Papple

Chicago Fire Fighter, Tim Grutzuis

Member of Parliament, Barrie-Innisfil, John Brassard

Barrie City Councillor, Arif Khan

Founder of Sirens of Silence, Australia

Enjoy this video montage of more great pics! https://www.youtube.com/embed/1kzegSGovoY

For more amazing pics, visit Save-My-Life Schools Facebook Page

Let’s Play Bad Thing – Good Thing!

Let’s play bad thing – good thing!

Bad thing: Walter isn’t feeling well
Good thing: I live 5 mins from a 24 hour animal clinic
Bad thing: I watched a poor family leave just after they had their pet put down 😦
Good thing: The next people into the clinic had kittens to hold
Bad thing: The the super cute Irish vet is engaged
Good thing: Walter didn’t have to stay over night
Bad thing: Walter vomited in the car on the way home
Good thing: I caught it in my hand
Bad thing: As I flung the vomit out the window – not all of it made it
Good thing: It was raining and the plants were wet enough for me to wipe most of the remaining vomit off
Bad thing: Emergency vet trips are expensive
Good thing: I have insurance

Extra good thing: Walter is asleep on my bed ❤

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’13 Reasons Why’ – My Review

I am at the Canadian Mental Health Association Suicide Prevention Conference in beautiful Orillia, Ontario, and I thought what a perfect time to share my thoughts on the widely talked about series, ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’, which is based on the events leading up to a teenager’s suicide. For those of you who haven’t watched this series yet, this post will be a spoiler – so alert! This post also speaks very candidly about suicidal ideation and may be a trigger for some.

The basic premise of the show is that a girl who is in high school dies by suicide and leaves a series of cassette tapes for various friends to listen to, to show them the ways in which they played a role in her death – thirteen ways to be exact. When I heard about this show I was happy that teenage suicide would be discussed in a medium that most teens are very familiar with – Netflix. And I was hopeful that it would be a realistic portrayal of the dark world in which the minds of those with suicidal ideation live in. My overall review however is that I am very disappointed.

Let me preface the following comments with a reminder that these are my thoughts alone. My perspective and my opinion – as a suicide survivor.

What I didn’t like about the show (beyond the horrible acting) was that it focused primarily on the main character, Hannah’s, vengeful personality rather than the darkness that mental illness would have forced her to experience prior to her death. The writers share details about horrible trauma she experiences (which quite often is a predetermining factor for mental illness which leads to death by suicide), but beyond the traumatic details each episode reveals, the show falls short of effectively bringing the viewer inside her mind – the mind of suicidal ideation.

The plot’s main focus is on the reveal of Hannah’s vengeful tapes. Episode after episode her angry voice tells her friends how they directly played a role in her death causing them to conspire against each other so that the ‘blame’ doesn’t land on themselves. Yes, the slow unraveling of lies and coverup’s make for a great TV series drama, but there is so much more to the story of a teenaged girl who dies by suicide – so much more than the spitefulness the writer’s focused on.

From what I have come to learn from experience, is that a person who encounters trauma may in fact go through a stage of wanting to seek revenge, but when the stage of death by suicide is reached, the individual is so deeply trapped in a world of hopelessness, and is suffocated by relentless distorted thinking that their mind literally doesn’t have the cognitive ‘space’ for the thought of revenge any longer. At the point when a person dies by suicide, their mind convinces them that they, and their family would be better off dead for any number of reasons why – sadly this list of reasons could go on ad infinitum. At this point their mind which has been imprisoned by mental illness’s cell-walls only thinks of how to be freed from it’s pain. At this point, darkness has seeped into their veins, making it physically impossible to see anything but death.

Graphic detail alert. In the very last episode the main character dies after bleeding out because she cuts her wrists. In reference to this scene, I feel that it was the writers responsibility to show how the knife represents a life-threatening illness that won. Sadly, I feel the writers made the knife seem like a choice in her hand.

Yes, ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’, continued the important discussion about teenage suicide, but I feel it dropped the ball on its chance to invoke conversation about mental illness. And if they had done the latter, they would have made an important step towards making sure that this sentence wouldn’t be confusing to anyone.

 

Humility Has Saturated My Soul

Confucius says, “Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” Profound right? And so true. But in our commercialized, ego-obsessed society, humility isn’t always the easiest trait to practice. Allow me to elaborate…

I have come to see quite clearly that the social media forum is an extremely powerful way to help the largest amount people I can; so I use it…a lot. Through my eyes as a care-giver, the results are wonderful, and continue to be, but as my ‘followers’ increase, I am forever practicing mindfulness to be sure that I remember that this number is not just a number, each follower is a human being.

The part of me that still battles my concern about what other people think of me has an insatiable need to be sure I’m not just quenching my own thirst. I have had conversations with the people I trust on more than one occasion about whether or not they perceive humility when I share my thoughts, pictures, etc.  It’s not an easy internal battle to be honest, I am petrified of having my ego ever displace my ability to genuinely love and care for people, and potentially bring me back to the darkness I have (with a lot of work) escaped. So, where am I going with this? Well, luckily for me, sometimes there is no need to question if a post I share is humble – sometimes it can’t be anything but.

Today I was given a gift that brought me to my knees and wrapped me in insurmountable humility, and I want to share it with you. My friend Mike Speers, went out of his way to photograph my book, Save-My-Life School, at the Vimy Ridge 100th year anniversary and tribute because he knew I couldn’t be there myself. My first feeling when I saw them was, “I don’t deserve this”, as humility seeped into every cell of my body. It was his way of saying thank you for what I had shared, and I knew immediately that I needed to show my gratitude for his kindness and pay tribute to the memorials I am so honoured to even figuratively be photographed beside. These photos deserved much more than a quick Facebook or Twitter post, they deserved explanation and gratitude to the highest measure.

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In front of the Vimy Ridge Monument in France.

About Vimy:

“The Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Situated in northern France, the heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. The Canadians would be assaulting over an open graveyard since previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties.”

“Canadian divisions stormed the ridge at 5:30am on 9 April 1917. More than 15,000 Canadian infantry overran the Germans all along the front. Incredible bravery and discipline allowed the infantry to continue moving forward under heavy fire, even when their officers were killed.There were countless acts of sacrifice, as Canadians single-handedly charged machine-gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts. Hill 145, the highest and most important feature of the Ridge, and where the Vimy monument now stands, was captured in a frontal bayonet charge against machine-gun positions. Three more days of costly battle delivered final victory. The Canadian operation was an important success, even if the larger British and French offensive, of which it had been a part, had failed. But it was victory at a heavy cost: 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded.”

“Vimy became a symbol for the sacrifice of the young Dominion. In 1922, the French government ceded to Canada in perpetuity Vimy Ridge, and the land surrounding it. The gleaming white marble and haunting sculptures of the Vimy Memorial, unveiled in 1936, stand as a terrible and poignant reminder of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France who have no known graves.”

The Battle of Vimy Ridge – Canadian War Museum.

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And if having my book photographed beside the Vimy Ridge Monument wasn’t enough, Mike also took a photo beside the grave of Lieutenant Colonel John Mc Crae, the author of the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’. Gratitude overflowing.

Nothing I ever do will ever compare to the ultimate sacrifices the men at the Battle of Vimy Ridge made for our freedom. And these photos will forever saturate my soul in humility.

Mike, with a humble heart, I accept your gift and sign of appreciation. Thank you.

Alien Contemplation Time

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I was at my therapist appointment yesterday (whilst hovering between layer 1 and 2 of my depression), and she said that maybe we could work on me not calling myself an alien anymore – maybe we could choose a different word for the out-of-this-world sensations I experience while I’m in those layers. I replied that I was a nice alien (for fear that she was thinking that all aliens are bad), and she politely laughed and said she knew that, but with one eyebrow up, she still thought that maybe there was still a better word. I sat there in silence, because I didn’t know what to say, as I sort of didn’t mind the word. Although I knew her intensions were good, her remark made me feel alone, and it reminded me that she (like so many others) has never felt like an alien before.

Maybe my silence caused her to feel my uneasy energy as she quickly changed her point of view and said that maybe I didn’t need to change the word ‘alien’, but that I needed to learn how to cope with, and accept, the sensations that descend when I feel like I’m out of this world – that sounded like a better plan to me.

You see, my alien sensations have been with me for many years, but peaked while I was at Save-My-Life Boarding School when I was recounting traumatic experiences. I don’t experience them as often, but they ARE a part of my life. I haven’t liked to experience them because they make me feel different. They remind me that my brain works very differently than other people’s brains, and that the best blog or book can never truly articulate what it feels like to be in that different realm – a dissociated realm. The best way I can describe it is that I feel like I’m outside of my body and that the world and all the human beings on it are in a slow-motion movie and seem like ants on auto-pilot. It’s not a happy or exciting movie – it has a glum filter, and just seems to keep going and going relentlessly.

Today that feeling is gone, just like that! I don’t know why, and I don’t know when it will return.

I plan on documenting more about how I feel this way. And I hope that with time I can accept that when it happens it will pass, and to stop comparing myself to other people who I think are ‘normal’ – because what the heck is normal anyway? Maybe it’s a gift to be able to feel like an alien?…I’m still on the universe-fence about that one.

Sunny Spring Darkness

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Spring is in full-swing and April 1st is here. I have always practiced safe-reading when I open a possible April-fool’s article (i.e.: I scan the content to be sure that the last paragraph doesn’t reveal that the words I have read are all false), so in the interest of saving you from scanning if you are accustom to the same behaviour, I will tell you now that what I am about to share is true – possibly unbelievable – but nevertheless true. Here goes… sunshine often makes me sad.  Ridiculous right? Like who would not want to wake up to a beautiful spring day? Who would not feel rejuvenated and alive when they open the curtains to see sunshine streaming down onto the budding leaves? Who would not feel happy on a sunny day…well, me.

I know that I am not alone in this feeling because a friend has shared with me that he feels this too, even before I shared that I experience this alien-like emotion myself. He is a fellow depression and post traumatic stress sufferer, and one sunny day when I was texting him from my curtain-closed, outside-avoiding room, he said that he hated sunny days. He didn’t need to elaborate – I knew exactly what he meant. Sunny days are supposed to evoke happiness and energy. They are supposed to make you smile and put on a nice outfit and go for car rides with the windows finally down. But for my friend and I, a sunny day often makes us feel guilty. 

I can hear kids playing outside and the neighbours emerging from their winter hibernation. But if I am having a dark day, the last thing I want is to be reminded that I have no desire to do such things…at all! I can hear the leaf blowers and motorcycles (sure sign sounds of spring), but on a dark day I literally plug my ears over my earplugs because again I don’t want to be reminded of the productiveness and fun others are having at apparent ease. When my depression descends, its darkness smothers the sun with mocking, evil laughs. When I’m in the darkness, a sunny day feels like eternity, and the guilt it induces will inevitably build with every non-constructive second that passes. When depression rears its ugly head, even the sunniest day can’t make the world seem good.

Glum story, right? As I type this I feel like a spring-time Scrooge yelling, “Bahumbug” to the sky and the birds and any potential vitamin D. Oh well. It is what it is – I wish this was an April fool’s joke.

Tomorrow’s a new day.

 

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