Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey


November 2014

Labyrinth Of Hope


Saturday at Homewood U is actually pretty nice. As it’s only mandatory for us ‘freshmans’ to stay here until at least next weekend, it’s pretty quiet; hence I got a computer. So without all the normal hustle and bustle, I found the day perfect for working on my homework to find this all important spiritual connection. Whatever that is. OK where do I start?

The teachers here, (I will call all of the staff teachers for ease of writing), tell us how essential it is to realize that we are powerless against our disease. And in order to truly heal, we need to find a higher power that we can put our faith in. This isn’t an easy task for many of us! So you can probably imagine some of the comments people have made about this necessary component. “I don’t believe in God”, “I feel weird all of a sudden becoming a spiritual person”, and on and on. And I get it! Even though I DO believe in God, its not an easy task to remind yourself to be spiritual every day when you haven’t most of your life. People who don’t believe in God are equally encouraged to find some higher power in their life to surrender our disease to. Regardless of what we choose to believe in, spirituality is an integral part of our recovery…so I have to figure this out.

ALL of us at Homewood U have experienced great atrocities. And our outlook on any positive or hopeful part of life on this earth is SO buried under the darkness we live with every day. We are accustom to focusing on the heartache and misery which innocent people suffer; and we just keep asking WHY? Why would a God or higher power let these things happen? How do we get past looking at the anguish, and see happiness in this messed-up world?…Can you see our dilemma? Our minds have used the world’s atrocities as our perfect excuse to numb the pain with addiction. It’s all we know! And because everyone of us here has been blessed (sarcasm) with the genetic addiction switch in our brain’s limbic system (where the evil lies) causing our disease, we can’t allow the rational part of our brain (the frontal cortex) to tell the limbic system to shut the hell up!  We think and talk about our tormented past like others think and talk about the weather.

So with my spiritual homework in mind, I went for a walk on the beautiful HU grounds (they are truly spectacular). Not long into my walk, I came upon a huge labyrinth made of stones near the gardens. The sign near it says (in a roundabout way), that it was there to help us clear our minds and represented the path we are going down to a new healthier life. When we got to the middle of it there was a large stone we could sit on and concentrate on whatever we would like to. Alright. Let’s give this a whirl!

So I started to walk, (and got a bit dizzy). And while I weaved my way through the twisting pathway I realized I was actually letting all of my negative thoughts at that moment go. I was so concentrated on when I would get to the end and on staying on the path, that my mind cleared and I felt really peaceful. I felt calm and relaxed without wine; it was really awesome. That’s my spiritual word for the day…awesome! 😉

When I arrived at the middle (about 10 minutes later) I sat on the thinking rock and noticed how peaceful and silent it was. OK this is a good time to practice my meditation I suppose. I closed my eyes and noticed all of the small noises around me. The wind blowing through the trees. The squirrel running over the damp leaves. Walter would be all over that. Focus Natalie! And the birds chirping in the air. I also felt the cold wind rush over my face from left to right, making my nose run. I never said this spiritual time would be perfect. And the sun shining strait ahead as it was setting for its rest for the night. It was so peaceful. It was the quiet my mind always craves, and time that allowed me to feel some sort of happiness in this mad world…and it was awesome 😉

I think I did a pretty good job with my spirituality homework. My ‘save my life school’ teacher ‘nurture your spirit’ would have been proud of me. I feel a sense of accomplishment today, and I may even do it tomorrow.

Inevitable Pain Is Balls! *Rant WARNING*


I’m on the verge of pulling my hair out and I’m going to go on a bit of a rant. I want to remind everyone that these are MY thoughts alone, and not intended to make Homewood U look bad…because it’s amazing. What’s bad is my disease and what it makes me think!

I was already feeling tense and frustrated today because I got the cold that’s going around here. But then my ‘connectedness’ class put me over the edge! First of all, I’m not comfortable with a student addiction councilor who is probably all of 25 years old running our groups, and I may have inadvertently said so…to her…and the whole class…and the doctor…and the other councilors. Ya ya ya…I can hear some of you saying, “But Natalie, you are a teacher. How could you think that?” An atrocity!  And yes I believe whole heartedly that students need experience and the best way to learn is to do. But I already feel SO vulnerable, and confessing details about my demon filled world to someone who is basically old enough to be my daughter is SO uncomfortable. To participate at all, I had to imagine that she was an addict too, that she ‘got it’, and I was just being judgy-old Nat. Not an easy task when my brain is already overflowing. Needless to say, I didn’t feel too ‘connected’.

I may have also told the whole group that I was bored and didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. And I may have said that the class made me look at the clock every 2 minutes and wish for a drink! And I may have said in a super pissed off tone that I thought the 12 steps were balls! I may have done that.

But I AM pissed off at the program so far and what it’s making me feel! I’m frustrated with being told to do one thing one second, and another the next! “Make sure you take time to journal. It’s so important”. Then, “Make sure you don’t isolate. Stick with the crowd.” Huh? “Live in the moment and ground yourself”. Then “Play the tape to the end and always think ahead about possible consequences”. What? Frustrating as hell!

And you know what’s the MOST FRUSTRATING thing of all??? It’s my disease talking 😦  If my brain were healthy I would have been able to accept the support and understand the concepts. 😦 It’s just so exhausting…

57 days. I have 57 DAYS to understand all of this and more…and 4 are already gone wrapped in bitterness and confusion. Please dear God, I hope this starts to make sense soon. I hope I get to experience this  ‘spiritual awakening’ everyone is so confidently talking about.

The only reason why I’m not in my room bawling my eyes out after my angry behaviour, is because I know it needs to happen. My doctor says it’s good. So I’ll roll with that.

Anticipating inevitable pain is exhausting, and I wish the travel mug sitting beside this computer was filled with a nice Argentinian Malbec. Don’t worry…it’s not!

HELLO! I have a bit of time to catch up :)


HI Everyone,

It’s me Nat! I have an hour of down time so I wanted to say hello and give you a bit of an update as to what Homewood life is like…or ‘Homewood U’ as AB has renamed it 😉

The first couple of days have been a roller coaster beyond all other roller coasters! When AB, Caroline and I got here on Tuesday I was a ball of nerves. I just kept telling myself that that had to be normal, but that didn’t help ease my anxiety. It was literally like I was back in college (so the name fits well AB). I was shown to my room and given a schedule filled with locations I had no clue how to find, and classes rammed into all hours of the day. It was my first glimpse that this was going to be intense!

The staff are lovely. They are truly invested in my health and recovery and my doctor is AWESOME! I had a full day of assessments, both psychological and physical. “Get ready to pee in a cup a lot!” one of the patients told me right away. Right! I’m at an addiction treatment centre…reality check number 1! I can announce after thorough assessments I was officially diagnosed with PTSD. I knew I had it…but hearing the words come out of the doctors mouth!…well that was reality check number 2. God, I had a lot of work to do.

After getting through an initial orientation with the fire alarm ringing every few seconds, (a total test for my anxiety!.. insert me wagging my finger at the sky),  I had to say good bye to AB and C. I had been DREADING that part! We shared tears through a sense of swiftness as we all knew lingering would inevitably increase our crying. And with a kiss and hug and a last look down the hall, I was left to my own devices, a freshman at Homewood U…and all I wanted to do was go home already.

I felt very out of sorts not knowing anyone, and soon learned that the standard introduction line is, “Hey are you new? Don’t worry you will get use to it here. What’s your drug of choice?” BAM! just like that! No smoke and mirrors here! You are encouraged to be who you are and TALK ABOUT IT. I had to announce in my first ’rounds’ that I was an alcoholic and my dry date is Sept 23rd. YIKES. Talk about surreal listening to those words come out of my mouth! I’m still struggling with accepting that this is the truth. People are actually hopeful and confident in the program, but my skepticism is cemented in my brain. I still can’t fully see how leaving Homewood after 57 days can lead to this dramatic healing and spiritual awakening everyone talks about. But rest assured they are teaching me how to be present in the moment, and not worry about the future or the past and that my skeptical/angry stage is  ‘normal’…I’m not so sure, and very mad about that 😉

Listening to everyone’s story makes me want to drink so badly! I literally imagine myself smelling the red wine that could be right in front of my nose and mouth if I left and found a bar. I know I wouldn’t do that…but the cravings are so intense! I now understand why we are told that recovery is the hardest part of addiction. Screw withdrawal and the alcoholism itself! Relapse prevention is WAY SHITTIER!

Generally speaking I hate making small talk, but I’m learning that everyone has SO MUCH in common that small talk isn’t even required! Talking about our past experiences and struggles is usually the topic 1 minute into the cafeteria line. People just get it here. Everyone GETS IT! If I still can’t get past my skepticism …at least I can take solace in the natural comfort everyone has around each other. Heck, I did a horticulture class today filled with guys covered in tattoos. They placed delicate leaves into a pot with tweezers…and they ALL seemed so comfortable because they all just get it. I know they had never taken a horticulture class before (because they said so), and watching them create their own ecosystem, with zen music playing in the background, and ZERO mocking or judgement being thrown at them, was probably one of the best things I’ve ever experienced!!! It was such a pure example of vulnerability and acceptance…pretty amazing!

When I called home the first night, Caroline and Adam seemed very content and that made me feel great! I know they are both being taken care of so wonderfully that I am able to actually focus on my healing. In fact, on the topic of healing, one of the rules here is that we can’t help anyone unless the person asks for help. It distracts us from our OWN recovery and all of the staff are SO big on focusing on yourself. So I thank EVERYONE at home again for taking care of my family while I’m here so that I can truly heal! It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given. XO

I went to my first 12 step meeting. Gasp! Pun alert! was sobering. Groan 😉 A lecture hall FILLED with addicts from all walks of life provided my first introduction to the ‘Big Book’ (some people out there will know what that means. 😉 ) I really enjoyed it, and even got my first commemorative chip. I had to walk up in front of the crowd to accept this gift of welcoming sobriety into my life, and I felt like I was outside of my body looking in. Great, the “How did I get here?” dissociative thoughts are back again. Breathe! Regardless of how nerve-racking it was, I was grateful to be there and part of an amazing group of such STRONG individuals. P.S, We go to a meeting EVERY DAY!

I’ve learned by day 2 that I still have no clue how to love myself. I’ve learned that I’m still not completely honest with myself. And I’ve learned that staying this way is a welcoming mat for my depression. Self-pity is such a huge demon in the early stages of recovery. ‘Why me? What’s the point? Is it even worth it?’ are phrases that ruminate in my head all day. I’m unraveling the biggest knot being my life, and hopelessness keeps tying me up. My anxiety-ridden pity-party mind caused me to bawl my eyes out yesterday…HUGE. In a hall filled with strangers I crumbled to pieces. I could barely breathe and nothing could stop the confused tears flowing out of my eyes! I had no idea which way to turn (partially because I was lost) and all I wanted to do was cry, scream and complain! But then my doctor and nurse just stood with me, while my anxiety wanted to scratch all the skin off of my body, and reminded me that not knowing what to do was ok. And that THEY would guide me. I finally realized (a bit) that I just had to trust the process. I had to believe that they knew what they were doing and my only responsibility was to try. Slowing but surely (apparently) it gets better.

That’s all for now. I have to go. I will try to blog again soon. We are encouraged to journal a lot…and like usual, I’m willing to let you read it 😉


Homewood – Day 1: Exhausted, but not defeated!

Hi Everyone,

It’s AB, Natalie asked me to post a blog to let you all know about Day 1 at Homewood.

Our day started early!  I was working nights and had Natalie and her daughter meet me at work at 06:00 so we could get on the road right away.  (thank you Kelly for coming in an hour early for me so we could leave on time!!)  We wanted to leave lots of time incase there was traffic, bad weather or … we got lost.  I know, I know … a medic AND a dispatcher getting lost is unacceptable – I’m embarrassed to admit – we did.  On the way down, we did hit some traffic .. Natalie and Caroline wouldn’t know that cause they were so exhausted from sleeping all night that they needed to nap!  lol.  We made it to Guelph in the hour of 8 which was perfect … it gave us time to stop for a quick bite to eat.  Natalie was doing okay … but C and I could tell she was nervous and antsy.  She wanted to sit and eat her breakfast, and then clean up and leave all at the same time.  She wanted to talk and stay quiet with her thoughts, all at the same time.  I was nervous and it wasn’t even about me.  I think it was just the ‘unknown’ and the idea of this new chapter finally starting.  We made it to Homewood around 08:30 …  we found parking, she made some last minute phone calls, and then we made our way to the admissions area.  It was surreal sitting in the waiting room … other patients/families waiting to fill out their paperwork … no one really making eye contact.  It was almost like everyone wanted to be respectful of each others privacy and anxiousness.  The staff worked swiftly …. you can tell it’s like a well oiled machine in there!!  Natalie got her hospital bracelet and asked if we could come and see her room.  The lady happily announced, ‘OH YES, WE LOVE TO HAVE FAMILY HERE’.  It was kind of funny, as we navigated our way thru the hallways the volunteer would randomly declare to other staff ‘we have family here’, ‘this is her family’ … picture it in the voice of a train conductor saying ‘ALL ABOARD’.  I started to wonder if it was some sort of secret code cause it was just too funny.  We finally made it to Natalie’s floor and we were instantly met by welcoming staff.  They gave the volunteer Natalie’s room assignment, and away we went.  Nat was still quiet, and you could definitely tell she was on overload!  She looked timid and nervous.  After the volunteer went over the house rules she left us alone to unpack and settle in.  We put a few of Nat’s things away, but she had more paperwork to fill out and then she wanted to lay down.  Nurses and staff would pop in to do their own admissions assessment and they wanted Caroline and I to meet with a social worker.  C and I left Natalie in her room for a little while to go to another area where the social worker would later meet up with us.

The social worker was very kind … she was very concerned about making sure all the family had access to support and resources to help in their healing as well.  She reassured Caroline that Natalie’s illness was not her fault and that Caroline never did anything wrong to make Natalie do the things she did.  The social worker explained to C that treatment wasn’t about making a bad person, good.  It was about helping a sick person get healthy.  I was so proud of Caroline.  She spoke candidly and with such wisdom.  She loves her Mom so much and desperately wants her to get well.  When our meeting was over, the social worker took us back to Natalie’s floor where we were told it was time to say our goodbyes; Natalie had a big day ahead of her and it was time to dive in.  With a soft knock on Natalie’s door .. we found her sitting on her bed doing another intake assessment with another nurse.  We told her it was time to say good bye, and the sadness on her face was heartbreaking.  After a few hugs, a few reassuring words … Caroline and I left.  It was time to let Homewood ‘do their thing’, and it was time for Natalie to start this part of  her journey.

She called me last night … I’m happy to report she’s learning the ropes quickly, and has already made some friends.  She sounded exhausted, but not defeated.  She met with one of her doctors and loves them … I believe her exact words were, “she’s so cool and she even has tattoos” .. lol.

I’m also happy to report I finally got to sleep!  After being awake for 27 hours, and having the peace of mind that she’s at Homewood … I slept, and slept, and slept some more 🙂

Stay tuned .. more Homewood updates to come!!

Dear AB,

imageI don’t know where this blog went last night …but, I’m posting it again …cause AB needs to have it to read whenever she wants! xo

Dear AB,

Get a kleenex, this one’s going to be a doozie! 😉 WHAT A JOURNEY! Before ‘all of this’, I knew we were best friends, I knew we loved each other to the ends of the earth, and I knew we would do anything for each other…but the level of love and friendship you have shown me over the past few months is simply nothing short of amazing!

We have the kind of friendship that is completely grounded by trust. And for me and my huge trust issues, I’ve always needed it that way! You tell me what you feel in your heart, whether I like it or not, because you know I need to hear it. For example, when I asked, “AB, can I use some of my savings to get my tattoo done?” when the only real money I had was $1.20 in a paper napkin, you would give me the, “are you sure that’s a good choice?” look, and I would get over my disappointment quickly because you somehow always know what’s best. Damn it. You see through me like glass! When I say, ‘Oh yes of course I washed the dishes with dish soap rather than hand soap”, I know I’m not fooling you. 😉

Thank you for sharing your home with me! I already miss so many things. Sigh… I miss yelling good night to each other multiple times down the hall. I noticed you always needed the last one! I was on to your games 😉  I miss Maygver’s face, and how he slept in his ‘nest’ beside me. I miss how you never cared if I used a placemat, and that you learned to deal with the water glass I always left beside the tap. I miss our hours of chats and our ‘Once Upon a Time’. I miss me doing your psychic readings, and teaching you what a macaroon is. I miss borrowing your hairdryer every morning, and showing you what the broiler in your oven does. I miss sitting at the table eating ‘luck charms’ and laughing about boys until our stomachs hurt. I miss begging for Imovane, and how you were always so excited to read my blog. I miss yelling at your douche-ball neighbour and your genuine concern as to whether or not I was constipated. I miss washing your dishes with hand soap (even though it drove you crazy) and driving to ‘save my life school’ almost every morning. I miss having to move your cream soda out of the way to get the milk and learning that I fit into your bras. God, I was excited about that! LOL. I miss my bag of clothes on the spare room floor and most of all I miss you yelling at me to put pants on!  ❤ And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You saved my life AB. How is anyone suppose to put that amount of gratitude into words? You put your comfort ahead of mine while I’m sure silently cursing my quirks while I lived with you. We have big plans you and I….and you just wait, we will achieve them! Birchwood bliss 🙂

If I could scream THANK YOU at the top of a mountain I would! I love you from the bottom of my heart!!!!!!!!! And I would do ANYTHING for you too! ❤ This blog just isn’t enough!…I hope by the time we are 80 years old and arguing over who’s petunias are better, I would have hopefully come close to showing you. And I especially hope by then that you will start using placemats XO


PS I will see you at 06:30 tomorrow!

Happy Homewood Eve!


What a day its been! If I was at Wonderland, I would shut down this roller coaster! That was dumb…oh well 😉 Here is the good the bad and the ugly about today:

The Good: I got to say good-bye to all of my ‘save my life school’ teachers and friends. I respect them all so very much and will miss them…I already do. I wore my ‘I Have Depression’ shirt today and it was a hit! Not only did my classmates say that they wanted one, strangers in the hospital atrium started conversations with me about their mental health and medications. That’s something I had NEVER imagined myself doing before! I’ve received SO MANY messages on FB and Twitter cheering me on and supporting my journey’s new chapter. And I made a necklace for Caroline like the one Adam made me, and I will wear both of them every day and hold it when I’m sad.


Then my good friend Laurie G. (used with permission) announced that she was finally ready to open up about her mental health. How amazing! She trusted that talking about it would help her heal and lift the heavy weight of stigma off of her shoulders. Everyone’s bravery in my class has never ceased to amaze me, but Laurie’s act of courage was icing on my last day cake! SO PROUD OF YOU!


PS. Note the sign behind us on the mental health inpatient entrance. I’m aloud to giggle…its been my home 3 times now.

I got to hug and reassure my kids that I will be ok when I’m away and that they have SO MUCH support here. I reminded them that I will talk to them every day, and that they will NEVER be alone! ❤

The Bad: I was so sad today; to be expected I suppose. So much more change is on the horizon for me, and there’s no going back now…nor would I want to. A few days ago I was so excited to finally get into Homewood. But now that it’s here, it’s very nerve-racking. I keep asking myself questions like, ‘will I be able to manage how open they will need me to be?’, ‘will everyone be nice?’, ‘will the group dynamic be as good as save my life school’s dynamic?’, ‘ how many times will I cry?’…and more. I guess we will just have to see.

The Ugly: I will have to take weekly breaks from blogging 😦 I am not allowed to bring my laptop, and my phone will be locked away all week. So blogging-time will be limited to when and if I can access the few computers Homewood’s library has. Being without blogging make me a bit nervous. This medium has allowed me to open my heart and mind fully to the benefits of speaking up about mental health, and I will never take that for granted. It has also allowed other people a way to see that they are not alone and that anyone can open up about their struggles. I always loved to write, but hadn’t for a long time, and blogging brought that love back for me 10-fold.

So it’s time for me to get some sleep. Hopefully nightmare free. I love all of you! And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your endless support! I promise I will work my butt off at Homewood and I also promise to continue to raise mental health awareness when I return! LOVE YOU GUYS!! Chat soon, ~Nat


Big Changes Already Headed My Way


I’m home tonight, and it’s almost Homewood Eve. I have Walter snuggled beside me while I type, and the Christmas decorations are up. Earlier, Caroline, Adam and I made ornaments while we laughed about nonsense; it was wonderful. Then I watched Adam play outside with the neighbours in the snow and chatted with Caroline about her new boyfriend…a perfect day. But no matter what, the time I spent with them felt sad. I kept thinking about how I won’t be here to enjoy the decorations and we will all be separated over the holidays; I’m not even sure when or if I come home. And I miss Ian. 😦

I’ve been SO emotional. I cry at the slightest sad thing. Adam made me a necklace…I bawled. Caroline hugged me…I sobbed like a baby. Walter let me cuddle him like usual when I saw him for the first time in days…nothing could make me hold back my tears. I packed up at AB’s house and made the bed FOR REAL…tears…lots of them. Jon told me I’m a good mom…cried uncontrollably. It’s all so bittersweet. I’m SO grateful to be going to Homewood on Tuesday, but I miss my life. Yes that’s ME saying I miss my life…the one who tried to die 3 times. But it’s true, and the emotions I feel as of late are raw and gut wrenching.

Sooooo…Last night AB gave me my phone, my wallet, my passwords and a bag of my medications that have been locked away for a month. Gasp! When they were in my hands I stood there holding them, frozen in time, like a kid caught red-handed stealing a chocolate bar. What now? I asked AB. “You go and keep getting better! It’s up to you now.” I still couldn’t move. Finally I carried the bag of meds to my room on my finger like a bag of dirty diapers headed to the trash. This is just so weird. When I got to my room with my kryptonite swinging in a bag like a pendulum, I turned around in a slow circle looking for a home for ‘them’. I had permission to have the ‘substances’ that almost killed me in my possession. I was about to sleep fully trusted with them only feet away! I dropped them on the floor and forgot about them…the best I could do.

Earlier that day AB asked me why I thought I was so emotional. She was sure my ‘Yay I got a bed at Homewood’ high would carry me into Tuesday. Secretly, I knew it wouldn’t. The change would not be easy for me. I had settled into my new routine and I knew that uprooting again would stir my dark world for sure. My answer to her question was that I felt similar to the way I felt when I came home from the hospital a month ago. Worried about my family and friends, filled with guilt that I couldn’t take care of myself, and sad that my life was upside down. These feelings didn’t in anyway discount my gratefulness…they were there for a reason I’m sure. And I needed to feel them and let them be so that I could carry forward with what ‘save my life school’ had taught me. Distress will pass…have faith in that Natalie. Still not easy!

Monday is my last day of ‘save my life school’…sigh. Now I’m crying again! I love every single person I met there! I felt this unexplainable connection because of our similar struggles and pain. Thank you everyone for opening your hearts completely, through stories, tears and talks. You all taught me how to be vulnerable enough to heal, and strong enough to trust. Complete strangers became my extended family…and I couldn’t have picked a better bunch if I tried. This 100% includes my teachers! ‘Lou Diamond Philips’, you are truly amazing! Your ability to even convince me to give the program a chance took one special person 😉 I trusted you and you never let me down. You made me laugh (you make all of us laugh) and I felt so safe telling you anything. The program would never be the same without you! XO. ‘Colourful Glasses’, I learned SO MUCH in your class! Without a handout (99% of the time 😉 ) I still walked away a better person because of the knowledge you shared. You got me to break out of my shell and that’s not an easy task. Keep rocking those colours! And thank you for everything. ‘Nurture Your Spirit’, you helped me navigate my confused and cluttered heart. You always did a great job keeping us on track, and had the most wonderful advice. Thank you for listening to us so closely and never rushing our words; you’re a beautiful person. ‘Anxiety Magician’, I didn’t give you enough credit at the beginning of my school journey. Anxiety class gave me anxiety..but you taught me how to change that! (A MAJOR feat, trust me!) Your knowledge of every subject you taught always left me in awe. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and patience (I know I questioned a lot of things at first). You’re an amazing teacher. ‘Smiles and Patience’ (I know you’re laughing that I called you that…but that’s how I felt about you 😉 ) You rock. I loved having you as a teacher because you facilitated the best conversations. You somehow were always able to make silence turn into productivity! So impressive! I will be keeping my emotion tree on the fridge for everyone to see. You are a great guy!  “Save my life school’ was a success because of ALL of you! I will miss you!

That’s all for tonight…I have a busy day ahead of me. And I’m exhausted from crying. Night XO


When Am I ‘Recovered’?

“You can make a plan…just don’t plan the outcome.” This awesome quote was recently shared by a new student in ‘addictions’ class.  With Homewood on the horizon, I think everyone involved in my journey should deeply ponder it…especially myself. I know that Homewood will be the key that continues to unlock the hidden broken pieces of my mental health beyond ‘save my life school’, but where it will lead, no one knows. Everyone’s treatment outcome is an honest mystery. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say that my future goals don’t include being healthy for the rest of my life. Or that I am anticipating relapsing again…hell no! It just means that putting a perfection stamp on my near future is actually the opposite of healthy…it’s possibly a recipe for disaster.

Lately I’ve been contemplating what would constitute me being able to say that I’m ‘recovered’ one day? Would it be after my hard work at Homewood? Would it be a year later? Am I recovered now? I just don’t know. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not like I had a broken leg that I will ‘recover’ from in 4-6 weeks. Nope, every angle of mental health recovery is much more complicated. There are no black and white answers, and what ‘recovered’ means to one person is often up for debate by another.

Take being an addict for example. One day they may announce that they are a ‘recovered’ addict, but that is not to say they don’t fight the demons inside their head telling them it’s ok to use EVERY DAY. Even a self-proclaimed recovered addict needs to continue going to support groups and/or ask for help when required; in short, they need to recover every day! Daunting. So when I return from Homewood, yes I will have many more tools in my toolbox available to help me stay on the right track to health and well being. But I won’t be leaving with a certificate from my doctor saying ‘HALLELUJAH YOU’RE HEALED’ when the doors close behind me. (Which sucks, because I do love a good certificate) 😉 On the contrary…I will have a life-long…let’s say ‘journey’, ahead of me.

This unclear reality can feel SO overwhelming to someone with mental health illnesses such as myself. Even after Homewood, I need to face the reality that it won’t be a matter of if my depression will strike again, but when.  Of course I wish after doing all of this work that I could wake up every day to the comfort of peace and serenity. But alas, depression will eventually descend with the darkness I am all too familiar with. But when it does it will be my job to battle it swiftly and capably.

The bottom-line for ME is that, I will never be ‘recovered’….sigh. I will always be in recovery. (Get ready for analogy-Nat) For what ever reason, I’ve been dealt the hand of mental health illnesses complete with its clubs of stigma, hearts of sorrow, spades of confusion and diamonds of pain…and I have to play it to the best of my ability. It’s a shitty hand. No royal flush here! I was certainly use to bluffing my way through the game over the past 37 years…but now I’m folding in that option. My cards are on the table for everyone to see, and I will still need a cheat-sheet to remember how to play from time to time. But even though my poker-face has been washed away, I’ve been known to win the whole pot at times. 😉 I’m ALL IN!

Your Amazing Voice :)

Hi Everyone!

So tonight it’s time to share some of YOUR messages and thoughts about mental health. First of all I wanted to say that your willingness to share is truly amazing! Every email I received was heartfelt and so moving! I know with 100% certainty that your voice will help others. And I hope with all of my heart that sharing your stories will help you as well. We need to stop this unacceptable mental health stigma, and you have taken a giant brave leap to help! I’m proud of you guys XO

So I have posted some of the emails below, and in order to be sure that I have not broken any confidentiality, I have left them anonymous until the author claims which number post is theirs in the blog comment window. If no one claims a certain post, that’s completely ok!…Your words will be heard and appreciated so much anyway 🙂

Thank you again everyone! You all get an A+ on your assignment! 😉

1. Hey Nat!

Hope I am not too late with my story of mental illness!!
Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety!!! I have been wanting to write this for awhile, but always found an excuse not too.

In May 2010, I woke up one morning at 540am with a racing heart! It felt like it was jumping out of my chest. My automatic thought was SVT! I got **** and **** up and we raced to the hospital…me thinking the worst of course, because I work in the medical profession. Picture it…us driving down the road and me telling (them) that if something happens to me, I love them very much! Funny how treating someone, it is no big deal, but when it happens to you, it is the worst thing ever!!!!

Anyway we got to the ER (where I work of course) and my heart rate is 118…far cry from SVT. But i was convinced it had resolved itself. They did every test they could and everything came back normal. The cardiologist heard something though and decided i should have an echo in the future.

That night at home i felt the same way and was so worried it would happen again. I seemed to be fine. Then a month later I was at work, i was just getting ready to start my shift and my heart started racing again. It was 140…or so I thought. they hooked me up the monitor and it was 120, i kept feeling like it was racing. Again i had a bunch of test, and nothing. They gave me an ativan and sent me home. That night it happened again.

For the next 6 months I kept having these episodes. I wore a halter monitor and went to many…I mean many ER’s i was so worried about what was going on. Anywhere we went, I ended up in an ER with a racing heart and tons of tests. I was so worried and stressed about it…i literally felt like i was losing my mind. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t focus, i was worried about everything. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Nothing felt right. I didn’t even know what happy was because I was so worried about this racing heart. I literally felt crazy!!!!! I didn’t know what was going on with me.

At the same time, we were going through courts with ****’s house and his ex and I was pregnant and just had a miscarriage. I was a total mess. One day…i don ‘t know why, i just decided to try taking some deep breaths and relaxing when my heart raced and imagine this…it started to slow down. It took a couple of months of just calming down and realizing, this was anxiety. I was having anxiety attacks. Once I figured out how to manage them, my anxiety went way down and my racing heart stopped.

I am not exactly sure why they started but i think it was the stress of the courts and house. And once i had one attack, i just couldn’t stop or feel better until at I realized what was going on and I can control it. And you know through all of this, I talked to no one about it because i was scared of what they would think of me…even ****! My sister now has anxiety and we talk about it, which makes things better.

anyway, just thought I would share that with you…late or not too late!!

I am so so so happy to hear you got in to homewood!! you are doing so awesome and are so amazing….one of the most amazing and special people i have ever met! I knew that from the first day I saw you in class 🙂

big hugs and keep working hard

2. Nat

Just wanted to say your heading to an amazing place in Homewood. I took my 22 year old son there for addiction over a year ago for a 35 day program and I was blown away by the place and his personal results. They also worked with him on his depression which was an underlying issue he battles with.

I wish you all the best and admire your strength and open attitude during these times. Your an inspiration to many others to get help and realize mental health is OK to talk about

Thank you for all you do 🙂

Take care

3.  Hey Nat,

Congrats on getting into Homewood!! Amazing news!!! Are you still going to be able to blog when you are there??

I am a first responder suffering from PTSD. I am hoping to get back to work and go on modified duties soon, but I am still suffering. I have never felt more alone on my journey with PTSD, than I have in the past few weeks. The support that I had at the beginning has mostly disappeared. Besides having a few close friends that I can rely on, I am otherwise alone. Even the professional help that was once so active for me, has been considerably cut back. I am doing what I can to help myself, but let me tell you it is very difficult.

It is not easy for a first responder to “ask for help”. If everyone out there supports the truly wonderful causes of TEMA and Ivegotyourback911, like they say they do, I have one thing to say them…..PROVE IT. Reach out. Please don’t forget about the people you no longer see at work on a daily basis. The “out of sight, out of mind” principle takes effect eventually, but try to fight against it. You never know how one short text, email, or call to someone suffering, can make the difference between them going further down that dark path or fighting for their future.

Nat you are doing amazing! Keep up the wonderful work! All the best at Homewood!!! Talk soon.

Big hugs your way

4. Hey *** 😉

Sorry the email is late but still wanted to share. I appreciate your blog every day. It has opened my eyes to see my depression first hand (that I have been pretending doesn’t happen for years and years) it’s opened my eyes to so much that I keep bottled inside.
I’m still a bit afraid to ask for any help , but I do love to read your thoughts and it kinda brings me back to realize that my feelings and thoughts are eating me alive. Thank you for that ! It really does help.

I love you and am soooo very proud of you. All of your strength and your courage. Keep writing 😉

Love YA lots

5. Hi
I am a medic who has had problems with anxiety over the past 6 years. I am an alcoholic and an addict and have been sober 16 months. I binged to shut my head off for 4 hrs so I thought I was happy but in fact I was getting deeper into depression‎. My favorite saying was there was nothing like a beer buzz in the morning. I was getting more anxious going into work that I had no confidence in my skills and was always waiting for something bad to happen. The past two years I suspected my wife was screwing my daughter’s hockey coach. We are getting a divorce and realized how much she brought me down. I went to homewood but when I left I had no coping skills for my regular routines without the drinking. I was to a couple of therapist until I got referred to a trauma therapist. She has changed my life and understands our job and has answers for me about my feelings. We have talked about shame, guilt, vulnerability etc. and family issues. I would recommend anyone to view Brene Brown on you tube and her TED talks. She explains a lot about these feelings and have helped me cope. I have learned to shut down my head right away when the thoughts start and I am getting better control. I have been depressed for a long time and realized it is going to take a long time to fully heal. I do feel improvement on a weekly basis, I will allow myself to get sad but it is only brief and then I move on. My thoughts on recovery is listen to body and your mind. See a Trauma therapist and this is very important. I have also put some of my major problems in a higher place. I use my dad who died 35 years ago, this has relieved allot off my solders and I have a different view when I get back to the problem. Some problems solve themselves. I am in the process of starting a support group in my area so we can get people out talking and get help for medics that are in crisis. There are some good physicians that are experienced in our field. Dr Lori Gray and Dr Laidlaw in Burlington. My trauma Counselor is on board and will help with this process. I would like to treat my meeting like AA meeting where people share their feelings. Some of us may not have the exposure like other people but it is important that they learn and develop tools to prevent these feelings and for some alcohol and substance abuse to numb themselves. I also go to yoga and meditate that helps calm my mind. I feel I am managing my PTSD but do feel the pull at times to the dark side again. I don’t quite know what that is about and know I will constantly have to listen to my feelings. I have more to say but I will leave it there. I do have your back!!!! If I could be any help for someone that needs an ear or some help. My e-mail is ***** We need to join together and help one another. We can’t show emotions as medics as we have been taught. We need to change some of those thoughts.

6.   *** and I read your blog every day and we are learning lots about mental health. I feel that what has happened in our paramedic family over the past few months has changed me. It’s been tough and I will never be the same person. I have more knowledge about depression, suicide, and PTSD. I view my coworkers differently and I am able to assess and speak with my mental health patients in a new way and with more understanding. I’ve seen other paramedics now be more empathetic with MH patients where they once would have been dismissed as “crazy” or “attention seeking” before. It seems to me this fall more than ever I am doing a lot of metal health calls as well.

Mental Health is now a hot topic for me and I carry a lot of emotion with that. After ****’s death, I was pretty low and emotional and did a lot of hard drinking and would cry unexpectedly in public. This is very out of character for me, but I needed to release my pain. I spoke with **** and friends lots and having **** as a partner and friend has been great. I am lucky enough to not be susceptible to depression, but even so, it is the human condition to feel alone.
I now become even more frustrated with hospital staff that are displeased when we bring these patient’s to them. I recently picked up an OD patient from the bus station who had no where to go and did not feel safe at a shelter. He had felt suicidal and was recently released from ****. He was sent on his way with no plan and the bag of medication he came in with and subsequently overdosed on. I was infuriated. So much so that I said out loud on the call “This is fucking bullshit”. The patient thought I was mad at him and I had to explain my anger.
This disease is debilitaing and is ruining lives. Help seems so out of reach for so many. I have another close friend struggling with alcoholism and PTSD who is a police officer. She’s currently at detox then off to **** we hope. How can there not be more in place for someone whose job it is to be a homicide detective and live terrible tragedy every day!? It’s nuts. It just blows my mind and seem unfathomeable. There are so many factors that go into getting help and just not enough resources for each person. Even people like yourself, with family who loves you, an education, amazing friends and coworkers and is financially secure STILL struggles.
I really do think things will change down the road, but for now, it’s up to us individuals to look out for each other and be there for support. Ultimately, (I feel) our government, health care system and our employer are not on our side. They have failed many and there are many more to come. The most frightening part for me is that I know that **** won’t be the last EMS friend I loose to suicide. And that is where I’d like to see action. Suicide prevention programs are in place for police officers and social workers but not us? I feel confident to say that 85% of ambulance calls are mental health related and what do we as paramedics really know about it? What training to do have? We could be doing a lot more I think.
This is a disease that no one chooses and getting better means a lot of hard work. I know you are on your way feeling peace and joy again. There are great things in store for you ahead and always know you are loved.

Your Friend,

7.  I’d like to express another point that I’m learning that what seems to be a large contributor to the immense increase in depression in North America is more than just genetics. Our cultural values, our society and even what we eat are all factors leading to an epidemic of unhappiness.

8.  Hi Natalie

Wow, very clever turning the tables here onto us. Well I guess it’s only fair. Been following your progress along the way and it’s been a real eye opener. Most of us are totally in the dark when it comes to Mental Health Issues. You said to be candid and honest so here I go. In our line of work we go to these types of calls for people having a breakdown or attempting suicide or just for lack of a better term, just out in left field. We all know how we as first responders handle these by making comments to each other while trying to somehow change the atmosphere of the situation. Got to be honest and after 30 years responding to calls it’s an automatic defense mechanism. Until know, I’ve never felt that I had a personal connection ( I hope I can say that) to someone who is dealing with such issues. I will surely have a different outlook or opinion Thanks to You and your courage, strength and willingness to share your most inner personal struggles with every day life. You have kept it well hidden (I was dumbfounded when I heard) for so long and dealing with it alone. Now it’s out there and you are dealing with it head on with the help of friends and family. Unfortunately in our line of work we deal with traumatic issues on a regular basis.This only makes it harder for You as you Love being a Paramedic. Kind of a Catch 22. Myself, growing up in **** and working in **** has good points and bad points. Great to help my hometown community but every call I am wondering if I not only know the patient or quite possibly, am related to them. (just ask **** or ****, to whom I am related) Can’t tell you the number of times I have arrived on a scene only to find that the patient is a relative, a friend, a old school mates parent or a next door neighbor with the outcome not being pleasant. We all have those bad memories that haunt us and we have to learn that we are not “made of stone” or “invincible” and that we have compassion and feelings for others which is a great virtue to have but can also be a glitch in our line of work. So let’s not keep our emotions bottled up until they have a negative affect on us and the people around us. You have made that huge first step and together we can all help each other. And let’s face it, as first responders that’s what we do best.

Okay, I think I’ve Rambled On long enough to give challenge to one of your blogs. ba-doom-bing, lol

It’s great to follow your progress Nat and I’m wishing you well and looking forward to working with you again. Although it will have to be via a stand by coverage as you are a big city girl now and I’m still just a small (no pun intended) town ****onian.

All the best Nat

9. Brave, bold and courageous! These are the qualities I feel when I read your blog.

10. Hey Natalie,

It’s your cousin ****, I don’t know if it’s what you’re looking for, but here it goes.
Before you started blogging I just simply didn’t understand depression at all. I get that sometimes people get in moods and sometimes they are hard to shake, but I never grasped just how deep and firm of a hold it has over you. And you spelled it out in such a great way that I feel I understand so much more. You made it very easy for someone who doesn’t understand to at least have an idea of what you’re going through. And I am sorry thankful to you for that, I feel like I’ve maybe grown as a person reading your blog. Does that make sense?
Anyways it’s been very eye opening and I’m sure it’s done alot of good for alot of people!

Keep up all the great work, I’m so proud of you!

11. I read your blogs everyday and every time I read one I sit here and say “Wow”. Some of them are so powerful and overwhelming and I am sadden but then I continue on and I can see the little bits of healing here and there and that is good. I have cried over some for you as well as Ian and was also sadden that the two of you are not together but I understand why.

I can relate (on a very small scale) to some of your issues as I have them as well but not anywhere near what you are battling. I am a strong proponent of mental illness. I always fine it sad that we have to hide this. If you had something else you would be telling whoever!

I also read the responses and I can see that so many are finding strength through you just by reading what you have to say.

As I said, it takes baby steps but I have every faith in the world that you will do it!!!

Take Care xxxooo

12. Well good evening lol

First, thank you for writing this blog. Secondly, thank you for allowing us to speak 🙂

My apologies for not having commented more in the last while. My nephew lost his wife to cancer … breast cancer that she beat the hell out of – twice! But the last time was to her lung … and it was determined to have its way. So as a result, I’ve been spending more family time prior to my coming back north.

In the short time I’ve been reading, I can’t say as I’ve ever learned more as I have here. It’s not the medical, anatomical or pathophysiological knowledge … it’s the “face” you’ve put on it. Nearly answers to the inevitable question of, ‘how could you?’

I can’t say that it was exactly the same … but there was a time that for days to weeks, I contemplated steering into an oncoming tractor trailer unit. For days, nothing came … not a single truck. And on the day one finally did, something pulled me back and made me stop.

It’s because of that period of time, this issue means a lot to me. It’s not any of the myriad of derogatory terms … it’s real, it’s palpable and while it wasn’t long for me, it gave me a glimpse into how easily someone can get to so dark and heavy a place. No one should deal with that alone, and no one should be ashamed of it.

Thank you Nat, and thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do. I’m proud to call you a friend and a colleague, but mostly genuine and human 🙂

As always, gentle on that soul and spirit 🙂
Best always,

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