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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

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October 2014

Contact Update :)

Hi everyone ūüôā

I just wanted to remind all of you wonderful people that I am still restricted to contacting anyone only through my blog. AB has my phone and I don’t have access to FB or twitter for my own good ūüôā She is NOT being mean…I promise she is taking care of me with all of her heart.

So please feel free to say hello or ask questions through the blog, or email AB at manda07@rogers.com and she will pass the emails along to me. She will not open the emails if you wanted to ask or talk about anything personal.

Chat soon! Have a great day ūüôā

~Nat

Day 13 – Mom’s Magic Show

White gloved hands holding a magic wand above a magician's top hat producing sparks and smoke on a red background

Today was a different sort of day at ‘save my life school’. Now that I’m almost finished week 3, the revolving door¬†of students starting and finishing the program has become very apparent to me. Earlier in the week I was feeling great that I was no longer the new kid on the block, but today I felt uneasy and sad. I wanted to put an ‘out of order’ sign on the revolving door, and keep everyone with me; I was just getting to know them and valued all of their impact on my life so much. Now I felt as if¬†I was witnessing a constant new-student inauguration, making my peer relationships noticeably less comforting. (It probably didn’t help that I was in layer 1 of my depression today as well).

Most of my life relationships have been filled with uncertainty and confusion because it was only a matter of time until they would end. Growing up my sister and I¬†use to¬†say, “believe it when you see it, and enjoy it while it lasts”; not a very comforting way to live. ¬†It’s been hard to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to accept a loving relationship, except in one beautiful circumstance; being a mom to my kids. I would do anything for my kids… that love is certain.

But raising my kids with a mental health illness has always felt like I was the magician in a multi-act magic show; lots of smoke and mirrors, and extravagant illusions.¬†David Copperfield has nothing on me! When I was depressed I would wave my magic wand and POOF, I¬†appeared happy. When I was exhausted from my anxiety I would start the smoke machine and PRESTO, I¬†played the energetic mom roll like a pro. But being such a wonderful magician was exhausting! I never had a break because I didn’t feel¬†comfortable¬†talking to my kids about my depression or anxiety for two reasons. 1. I myself didn’t fully understand what was going on with me. And 2. I wanted to be everything I could for my kids, and to me that didn’t include being sick…until recently. So I’ve had MANY years of perfecting my act. Heck, I was so good at it, I even tricked¬†myself sometimes. I’d often find myself¬†saying, ¬†I’m fine…totally fine. This feeling is normal…and then I would go secretly drink wine from my top hat. (Obviously I’m joking….I would never drink wine from my top hat ūüėČ )¬†¬†I wanted to be the perfect mom…so the illusion work I concocted ¬†could have made me money in Vegas.

The other night AB and I took my 18 year-old daughter Caroline out for dinner. It was the first time Caroline was willing to talk to me since my last overdose. She was hurt and upset with what her mom had done (again), and needed time to process her emotions; which was absolutely ok. But her weeks of silence prior made me wonder what she thought exactly happened? Were our views of the ‚Äėevent‚Äô different? Heaven knows I could barely wrap my head around it myself! I felt that there was a disconnect somewhere and I knew she would have some tough questions for me, but I now needed to answer them without my magic cape. No illusions, no smoke and mirrors…just authentic¬†me.

“Mom, how were you upset enough to do this? You seemed fine the days before.” was one of my first candid questions. My reply was the truth, “I was hiding my depression. I hadn’t felt good for days.”

“Why wouldn’t you tell me?”, she asked sadly. I truthfully replied, “I never want to worry you. I even tried to hide the feelings from myself”.

“How could you do that to Adam? You made the choice to put those pills in your mouth! How could you hurt him like that?”, she was so angry, and I now saw how my¬†magic show negatively impacted¬†everyone all of those years. She didn’t understand my illness, and I instantly wished I had taught her rather than tricked her. I didn’t have to scare her, but education of some sort could have erased her resentment towards me and healed her heart. She would understand that it was the illness that made me take the pills. She would understand that my depressed mind plays cruel tricks on me…that nothing seems more reasonable at the time…that I feel like everyone would be better off. She would understand that my rationale in those states is non-existent.

“Well I can’t trust you, and I need to make some boundaries until I feel better”. She said sternly, and I was proud of her decision! Masking¬†her true feelings like I had for most of my life would never work. She was wise enough to see that the truth was the only path to healing. If our relationship was to grow, rather than fall apart, packing up the magic show would be the best performance of all.

Tattoo Progress

Hey Everyone ūüôā

I have a blog in the works, but am super tired after sitting for another 7 hours for my tattoo. Soooo…I wanted to share some pics as I had promised and let you know that the blog will be posted tomorrow ASAP.

Thank you again for everything!

~Nat

IMG_7720 IMG_7721 IMG_7723 IMG_7724 IMG_7725IMG_7774 IMG_7775 IMG_7776 IMG_7777

Day 12 – Productive Anxiety Day?…Say What?

On my Tuesday morning drive to ‘save my life school’, I noticed I was experiencing an odd feeling for anxiety day; calmness. “How do you think today will be for you?” asked AB. “I’m not sure”, I replied. “But I think I’ve come to the realization that it’s going to be what it’s going to be.” AB swung her head my way and gave me the serious ‘I don’t believe you Kissy’ look. “No, really!” I continued. “I can’t change the way it’s¬†taught, and I always walk away from every class with a poignant lesson, so as long as the girl with the relentless phlegmy cough keeps her germs to herself, I will just try to breathe my way through it.” AB gave me the ‘MmmmHmmm’ look, but then said, “I’m proud of you Kissy.”

After finding my seat (as far away as possible from germ-girl), we were¬†of course¬†handed a multiple paged, double-sided booklet to read. Breathe, here we go.¬†But something odd happened again as the teacher started reading! Drum-roll please!…¬†I learned something in paragraph 1 on anxiety day! My jaw dropped as I heard the teacher say, “It’s entirely normal to experience feelings more intensely when you begin to face situations you’ve been avoiding for a long time. If this is happening to you, you’re on the right track.”¬†So feeling extra anxious on anxiety day was what I should have been feeling all along? Eureka! Furthermore, “Many people who are prone to anxiety tend to withhold their feelings which only aggravates stress and anxiety more”.¬†Soooo let me get this straight,¬†my ranting blogs on anxiety day were¬†healing¬†for me? Nice!¬† Apparently feelings are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; feelings simply¬†exist.¬†The perceptions or judgements we make which¬†lead to the feelings, however, may be right or wrong. I also learned that¬†overtime the practice of continually suppressing your feelings can lead to increased difficulty in expressing or even identifying them. *Announcement to all those parents out there! When the process of suppression begins in childhood we can grow up feeling completely out of touch with our feelings, leaving only a feeling of emptiness. So when your child is crying…they¬†are¬†sad. When they yell…they¬†are¬†mad; and those feelings are¬†OK! *

As we continued onto page 261 of appendix B, part 2 of the 2nd edition, (Ok, I’m¬†exaggerating for effect),¬†something¬†else in the reading rang true to me with regards to my EMS family and suppressing our feelings. “In some cases anxiety and panic itself may be a signal that suppressed feelings are trying to emerge.” Interesting. I knew¬†that my anxiety didn’t occur at work, but that may be because it didn’t have time to set in until I was home.¬†We, as first responders, are accustomed to suppressing our feelings at work largely due to the fact that we don’t have the¬†time¬†to deconstruct a call that may be causing us anxiety or worry. In fact, we are often sent to the next call without even completing our paperwork. Our patients rely on our ability to be¬†‘on’ and focused for that next call, so we have no choice but to suppress any lingering feelings¬†from the previous call. Likewise, according to our reading, every feeling carries a ‘charge of energy’, and when we hold that energy in and do not give it expression, it may create a state of tension. I can definitely relate to that! After a long day of back-to-back calls, my shoulders are like rocks and my irritability is an 11/10.¬†Fellow paramedics can I get an AMEN!¬†But if I have enough down time to eat my lunch, pee when required, and decompress after every call, I feel less tense¬†when I get home, and I may not need to resort to¬†that huge glass of wine to unwind.¬†Wow, I may change today’s name from ‘Torturous Tuesday’ to ‘Tell me like it is Tuesday”! ¬†

The last big point I could relate to today was that once we learn how to identify our feelings, the next step is learning how to express them. This usually involves being willing to share your feelings with others.¬†Check.¬†And that we may choose to ‘write out’ our feelings to express them. Double check! ūüėČ

“Kissy, was anxiety day actually¬†GOOD¬†today?” Why yes it was AB. Yes it was.

Day 11 – Smiling In The Mirror

When I walked into class this morning I noticed that I wasn’t the little fish in the sea anymore. Five new timid, unassuming students had joined ‘save your life school’ today. As they sat there staring at the table or their hands, all I could think was,¬†I SO know how they feel right now. They probably think they don’t belong here…that they won’t like talking in a group…that there was nothing some silly class could do to help them…that the stigma they are use to using as a shield between themselves and their voice would¬†never disappear. My heart went out to them, but I knew from experience that regardless of¬†how uncomfortable they felt now, they would eventually see they were right where they needed to be.

‘Self esteem’ class was first on deck today. “Anyone want to tell me about something positive they did this weekend?” asked our teacher as her first icebreaker at bat…Crickets…¬†None of the new classmates were budging so I ‘chirped’ in, “I had a great night with some friends watching movies, eating junk food, and drinking cream soda!” (Big smile on my face). “Very nice”, replied my teacher. Then she tried another swing. “Anyone want to tell me who they think determines your self esteem?”¬†Blank faces and uncomfortable coughs.¬†I guess this one’s up to me again. “We determine our own self esteem”, I answered confidently. “Correct”.¬†I’m such a prized student now…lol.¬†Ok, last at bat, “Can anyone tell me a goal they have in their future?” Awkward stretches and coffee gulps…¬†Don’t worry everyone, I got this.¬†“I would like to have my Masters Degree completed by 2018″. Homerun?..Welllll maybe not so much.¬†My teacher¬†smiled, but¬†a new student a few seats over mumbled, “Wow, Masters Degree…my goal was to step outside of my house today.” Awe crap…maybe¬†just getting on base would have been a better choice Natalie;¬†(I wasn’t sure).¬†All scores aside, the morning class was primarily made up of the teacher asking questions, followed by me answering them to end the awkward silence. Never-the-less, I understood SO¬†well what the new students were probably feeling; like they didn’t even know who they were anymore. (And they definitely didn’t know who the punk with the short black hair and the tattoo was.) ūüôā

The teacher then went on to discuss that, “We are who¬†we¬†see in the mirror. We determine and control our own self-image. If we want to change our life, we must change our vision of our life”. How true! And fitting for the day. Three weeks ago I saw a scared, anxious, guilt-filled mom/student in the mirror. I was the coffee gulping, awkward stretching student who had no idea how this class would affect me. My reflection¬†in the mirror back then, was¬†probably what any one of the new students saw today. And that same reflection of myself probably¬†would have rolled my eyes at anyone who mentioned that a Masters Degree was a realistic goal…at that time. ūüėČ

It’s all perspective I suppose.¬†I didn’t need to feel bad for saying that I wanted to complete my Masters in four years, because that’s who I saw in the mirror¬†today. (I may not have seen it three weeks ago; not crying each night was a good goal back then.) And the new student saw going outside and facing her anxiety as her goal in her¬†mirror today.¬†Both the new student and I gave correct answers to the teacher’s question about goals. And¬†I think BOTH goals and their equally evolving perspectives were home runs!

True side note: My fortune cookie tonight read,” Vision is not seeing things as they are, but as they will be”.

To Teach or Not to Teach?

Appropriate Goals

Well you all know by now that I have experienced some huge highs and lows during my journey. But through talking to friends, classmates and my teachers, I’ve come to realize that that’s just what recovery is all about. When I returned to class on Thursday after my overdose, my classmates¬†were happy to see me…but not surprised I had relapsed.¬†My teachers were so supportive, but they didn’t gasp when I told them. They simply¬†said that it was part of many people’s journey, and that they were happy I was back. Their reaction made me think about a point that was made in ‘co-dependency class’, “Set higher standards for yourself, and more appropriate goals.” I feel it speaks to my¬†perfectionist past (and present…let’s not kid ourselves here…I¬†was bummed when my tree pose at yoga looked more like a soggy noodle), and reminds me that I’m allowed to have high expectations of myself, but they need to be¬†reasonable.¬†Relapsing and overdosing again shattered my confidence and made me feel like a failure…again. But I’m human; it wasn’t realistic to think that overnight healing would be an appropriate goal. Now, I do wish that if relapse is part of recovery that it took the form of me skipping class secretly, and not in almost taking my own life. But it happened…there is¬†nothing I can do about it. I need to keep my recovery standards high, but appropriate.

To Teach or Not to Teach? That is the Question

I went to church today with a close friend; it was a mission I needed to accomplish as per AB’s loving direction. AB knows that I am a spiritual person, but not an avid church-goer, and figured I would be able to take something home from being in that spiritual setting again.¬†I must admit, while growing up I¬†often¬†found that the sermon given each time resonated with respect to some current contention in my life…and today was no exception. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”, was the theme of the day.¬†Interesting…and tricky! I promise I am the first ‘neighbour’ to not love any ‘neighbour’ who stands too close to me in a line-up. Anywhoo…the theme¬†instantly reminded me of the few nay-sayers of my blog. To be fair, most of theses ‘devil’s advocate’s’ concern (pun intended),¬†revolved around the possibility of the blog¬†distracting¬†me from¬†completely focusing on my own recovery. Interesting thought neighbours…but allow me to¬†share my own view on this topic. (Co-dependency class 101; Have an opinion. Don’t be passive…I got this!) If I¬†am to love you as I love myself, why wouldn’t I share my journey in hopes of helping even one stigmatized mental health illness sufferer? What an amazing¬†thing to be able to do! Document my own turbulent journey, allowing me to heal as I write (which I love to do), AND help someone who is going through the same or similar experiences? I’m pretty much loving neighbours everywhere by loving myself! So I would like to thank the handful of people who have expressed their concern that my blog is taking up my healing time… and remind them that this blog has allowed me to breathe again, rather than¬†suffocate in darkness and stigma…and If by chance some neighbours get to breathe along with me….well AMEN!

Day 10 – Compliments

Friday’s class at ‘save my life school’ was actually pretty fun. Prior to acupuncture and relaxation class, (which I totally love! ),¬†we all sat around the table and learned how to take a compliment… Sounds easy, right? Well for people who have ‘negative self-talk’ on a regular basis, it’s not easy at all. Some of the mental health illnesses we have cause our brain’s to convince us that we are not as valuable as we are. The chatter that happens in our minds tells¬†us that we aren’t worth loving, or that people are better off without us, etc… And when someone tries to pay us a compliment we think they are being sarcastic, or that there is a secret message behind the positive words; when in actual fact…they simply mean what they say.

The teacher gave everyone a blank piece of paper and asked us to write our names on the top. Then he told us to start passing the papers to our right and everyone had to write a compliment about the person who’s name was on the paper.¬†This might be fun.¬†Not everyone in the class had met before, so it was difficult complimenting personality traits, but no matter what, it wasn’t difficult to compliment something. Some of my compliments included, “I like the way you express yourself”. That’s very nice. I¬†always thought I was horrible at telling¬†stories, and¬†me telling a joke is usually a disaster..lol. “You have an amazing tattoo and it suits your personality, so does your hair”.¬†Once again a very nice compliment. I love my tattoo and hair as well, but I didn’t know that people liked it that much.¬†“Natalie is a strong person who is kind and caring towards others”.¬†I loved this one. It made me smile. “I enjoy your insight on addiction and it’s refreshing to know there are others who struggle with it like I do!”¬†Wow, I¬†think the same about everyone else in the room. We all have so much in common. They are like my new family¬†members!¬†The exercise was definitely a success.

The compliments¬†put a smile on everyone’s face! It took all of 20 minutes to complete, and we felt so great about ourselves afterwards. So why couldn’t we keep our heads held high and accept compliments every time they are given? We all deserved to be loved and respected, but sadly the mental health stigma had taken away our ability to believe we were worth it. Our illnesses made us think that we looked weak in other people’s eyes, and that compliments had ‘a catch’. But they didn’t…we just needed to learn how to accept them.

The class¬†got me thinking about not only receiving a compliment, but also receiving and accepting support and help. Before this journey began, I was the worst at asking for help. I felt I was putting the person out. Everyone has such busy lives. They don’t really have time to help me.¬†AB and Ian were two people who ALWAYS told me to ask for help when I needed it. And it took them a very long time to convince me that that was ok. “Natalie, you just need to open your eyes. People WANT to help you”, AB would say. “Nut, (my no-pun-intented nickname) you don’t have to be everything for everyone. You can say no sometimes”, Ian would remind me often. Well,¬†I’m happy to announce¬†that I am slowly starting to see that they are right.¬†I can picture AB and Ian¬†high-fiving right now!¬†The love and support I’ve received over the past few weeks has been unbelievable! While I was in the hospital I had a coworker close my pool and fix the fence that needed to be kicked down to get into my house on the day I overdosed. No charge…just from their heart (THANK YOU!) People are offering to make meals, help with daycare, and most recently help ‘watch’ me until I go to Homewood. (AB and Ian have me abiding by some strict rules…but I agree it is for the best.) I am willing to accept the help I need…that’s a big step for me. I feel like I’m FINALLY on the right track. I have a long road ahead of me, but with all of you beside me I don’t feel alone. I know you love me and I can’t thank you enough….Please accept my compliment ūüôā

Please Tell Me This Is A Nightmare

My room in the mental health ICU is made up of four bare walls, a window with the blind permanently closed, a bed, a blanket, a pillow…and me. If I want to use the landline phone I must do so under the watchful eye of a nurse, and only during the times allotted. Dinner is served on styrofoam plates with only a plastic spoon and fork to cut my meal with…Give that a try sometime! It’s not a pretty sight.¬†The powdered coffee is luke warm; I’m guessing to make sure no one can burn themselves. I eat when I’m told it’s time to, because none of the rooms¬†have a clock. I shower in an unlocked shower room with a handful of generic body wash, and I’m not¬†allowed to wear street clothes or socks; only the scrubs and blue slippers they provide. The mirror in the unlocked washroom is a sheet of metal screwed to the wall, and impossible to break. While I lay awake in my room, I hear patents being restrained down the hall. They are a threat to themselves I suppose… as I was. I plug my ears to block out the crying and yelling, while feeling¬†relieved that I cooperated…or I would have been restrained as well. If I want a pencil and paper I need to sign the pencil out, and one sheet of paper is what I’m handed. A camera is on me at all times, and for some odd reason I’m not allowed to sit on the floor. When I want my light turned off, I need to ask the nurse to do so, as my room doesn’t even contain the switch. It’s lonely and sterile, but I’m there for my safety, and it’s been my home away from home… three times now.

How did I get here again? What was I thinking? How could I hurt the people I love so much? How could I have been so foolish? How did my brain not think of¬†the¬†consequences?-¬†Are all questions which have been swirling in¬†my mind like a tornado for the past few days. The level of guilt I feel after hurting my family, my friends, and myself is nauseating. I wish SO MUCH that it was all a bad dream! I want so desperately to wake up from the nightmare and see that it actually didn’t happen.¬†I feel suffocated by relentless distorted thinking…Everyone is better off without me! They will never forgive me! They¬†will never truly understand what the depths of my depression feels like! They¬†won’t understand that¬†I’m not rational when I’m in that darkness, and barely ‘feeling’ anything at all.¬†It takes an army to convince¬†me that my thinking is wrong, and days…weeks…MONTHS…to ever begin to forgive myself.

I want the cycle to end so badly. I can’t hurt the people I love anymore. I can’t hurt myself anymore.

So tomorrow is another day…and a blessing. No catchy ending to this blog…this is all I have in me tonight.

“Never bend your head. Hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.” ~Helen Keller

It’s Me Nat XO

I’ve sat in front of my computer for over two hours trying to find the right words to put into this blog. “Natalie, you’re overthinking this again.” AB tells me from the edge of my bed. I know she’s right… but how do I express the spectrum of emotions I’ve felt over the last 4 days? Are there words in the english language that exist to accomplish such a feat? Well, I’ve decided that for tonight, in my still foggy state that the best thing I can say is simple and sweet…THANK YOU.

For the love and support you have all given to me and my family…THANK YOU

For your compassion and understanding in my time of remorse…THANK YOU

For sharing your time and attention during your busy days…THANK YOU

For every single text, message, phone call and prayer… THANK YOU

For believing in me…THANK YOU

I love you all! Every single one of you. XO

~Nat

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