Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey


April 2015



Do you have any ‘jerks’ in your life? You know, those people who get under your skin, who you’re convinced are in your life to make you miserable? That guy or girl whose voice you compare to nails down a chalkboard! That person who just keeps testing your desire to punch them in the jugular! If you say ‘no’, I call bull-$h!+. Heck, I bet you can name 5 just off the top of your head! (I know you’re doing it right now). Now, what if I told you that everything you believe to be annoying and unbearable about that person is actually an illusion? What if I told you that every person, place or thing we encounter is a projection of our mind, and often a cocktail of delusions? Futhermore, what if I told you that that jerk is actually not even separate from you? That YOU are in essence that jerk yourself! Mind blown? …well maybe more like mind puzzled. Allow me to explain further. Enter the Buddhist teaching my sister-in-law participated in this month.

First let me preface this blog with the clear message that I am in no way even close to being a Buddhist teacher! (Ha, ha…that even made me laugh!) I am simply a girl who enjoys writing about topics which are fascinating to me, and a girl who likes to now challenge ‘the mind’ (mine and yours) because I am on an exciting healthy mind exploration of sortsAfter being trapped like a prisoner in a mind that fooled me into thinking that any enlightenment was purely out of my reach, I now can’t get enough of this ‘mind-medicine’! And all I want to do is share it with anyone who will listen.

Alright, so…the Natalie version/translation of this month’s teaching goes like this: To put it simply, most of our focus in life is fu@k3d up! (Shout-out to my sister-in-law for that line!). We perceive ourselves as unique and completely independent people, with our unique and for the most part, automatic, perceptions of the world and people around us…but we’re not. When that ‘jerk’ cuts us off on the highway, we don’t see ourselves as a reflection of him at all, so we give him the finger and let anger out which we feel is totally justified, only to go about the rest of our morning annoyed, and possibly even furious. How dare HE ruin your day? Right?…

Well, here’s what I’ve learned this month about how perceiving that jerk as separate from you or I, is very much an illusion. That ‘jerk’ is actually an interdependent being on this planet … in short- we actually aren’t separate at all. The Buddhist teacher explained this idea deeper by challenging us to find something, anything, that does not come from another being on this planet. Everything from my clothes, to my body, is the result of other beings. My car, my house, my dog, are ALL in my life as a result of other being’s efforts and thoughts. Without other beings, you and I wouldn’t exist! We are actually all one. Therefore, when I hurt you, I am also hurting myself. But equally as so, when I love you, I am also loving myself. In the most simplest of terms, we are all interdependent with one another. So that jerk isn’t so separate from you after all.

The teaching also goes on to explain that the negative feelings you or I project on this jerk, are actually an illusion, and controlled by what Budda calls our mind’s ‘delusions’. Every feeling we have is created by our mind. Without thinking that that person is a jerk, they aren’t a jerk at all. Budda says that all negative feelings are delusions, and in being such, can be removed from our repertoire of feelings, leaving only loving ones remaining. TOTALLY easier said that done! Why? Well we as a society have made living with delusions the norm. Media, government and almost all aspects of human-nature, have made negative delusions common-place. We’ve been taught that we must fight at other people’s expense for status, material things and ironically, happiness. But if we were only able to see that fighting with others is actually fighting with ourselves, there would no longer be any pain in the world. (Are you still with me?) Furthermore, if we were able to see that the jerk is actually a spiritual teacher for us, illuminating which negative delusions we need to work on absolving, rather than looking at him like a retched nuisance in our day, we may not feel the need to get angry at the next person who cuts us off (because you know it will happen again), hence making any future mornings anything but miserable at all.

Sigh…ok, that’s a lot of heavy stuff to even try to absorb! But how about we play a game? Call it your ‘halt-illusions homework’. Try to be mindful of the ‘jerks’ who push your buttons tomorrow. For example, the guy who orders 5 bagels, 6 sandwiches and 13 coffees in front of you at the drive-thru window, or the girl who is popping her gum loudly behind you at the check-out line, or, heaven forbid!…the person who leaves their shopping-cart in the middle of the aisle like they have valet parking privileges, and TRY not to look at them as jerks, but as opportunities for your happiness to grow by tossing the negative delusion from your mind, and replacing it with a grateful thought of your choice. The key to being able to do this homework is to be mindful of when the jerks appear. It’s not going to be easy, and I know several of you who are laughing at this idea (you know who you are!) knowing full well that I usually had more jerks in a day than anyone else! This is true…so if I can do it, so can anybody else. This busy life is filled with so many negative emotions, removing even one of them may be the medicine we need.

In short, the Buddhist teacher taught us that WE are the masters of our own minds. WE choose what we see and how we react to it. WE are responsible for allowing someone to upset us, or for allowing someone to love us. And WE are here on earth as ONE spectacular, ever changing and growing being.

Cultivating ‘Positivity Habits’


As weird as this may sound, it’s not easy for me to talk about happiness. When I do I feel like, who am I to share about happiness when Ive only just started to experience it? But I know it’s only my mind telling me that it’s not a topic I have enough knowledge in to be able to share about it. I suppose it’s realistic to think that there may be a lingering demon in my mind whispering, “how dare you suggest how anyone else can become happy?” But I sure am willing to kick the demon’s ass (again) and remind myself that I’m actually a pretty awesome testament to how it’s possible for anyone to achieve genuine happiness…and why wouldn’t I want to share that? So while my collection of blogs have been primarily filled with documents describing my darkness and pain, now that I don’t experience that dark world very often anymore, I can’t help but share how this rookie happiness-experiencer, experiences her happiness.

Over the last seven months I have become quite educated on the science and implications of my addiction. I know how my drinking became a habit, that I drank easily, I perceived value in it, I criticized myself for doing it, and was persistent regardless of the outcomes. (These criteria came from a hand-out in Save My Life Grad School, but I can not locate the author’s name). My addiction was so strong that I had to be hospitalized and go to a Treatment Centre to basically reprogram my mind, because over the past 38 years my mind was made up of negative habits so engrained in me, that I could not see a way of changing them on my own. I constantly wondered how I of all people could ever be truly happy when even all the love in the world from my family and friends couldn’t change me? But throughout this doubt, in the back of my mind, I always thought that IF I ever did learn how to experience happiness, I would never let it go! I would do just as much work to keep my smile as it took to find it.

Enter Save my Life School, Homewood and Save My life Grad School. During the first days I spent at these ‘schools’, I was overflowing with hopelessness and fear. I had zero belief that anyone could change my negative habits. I was so convinced that I knew myself best and that there was no way to teach me how to be happy! Luckily I would eventually see how much of a stranger I was to myself, learn to surrender, and choose to accept the lessons teaching me how to be aware of my actions and change my mind. When I did that, hopelessness turned into joy, and fear turned into love. I saw how important it was to view my thoughts in an opposite way to that which I had been habitually viewing them before. My addiction finally released its grip on me when I chose to practice a new life.

Every step of my recovery takes practice… and it always will. If I turn my back and let my mind wander from my conscious contact with God and from my efforts to stay sober and healthy every day, alcoholism could snatch me back in a second. Old habits are hard to break, but here’s the exciting news, through my recovery studies I have learned that if I could change my negative habits (thoughts and actions) and recover from a bad addiction, I could quite possibly now practice positive habits and have a positive addiction; an addiction to love and happiness. Yes, you may be saying, Whoa Natalie…how about you stay away from ALL addictions…but hear me out.

What would it take to have a positive addiction? Well, it would take most of the steps I mentioned in the second paragraph…but with a different spin on them. I could make happiness a habit, definitely perceive value in it, rather than criticize myself for it I could be proud of myself. And like all learned things, I would need to be persistent regardless of the outcomes. American psychiatrist William Glasser wrote that, “positive addiction is something anyone can try for. There is no risk. Since all positive addictions are simple activities that can be easily accomplished, there is no possibility of failure in what you attempt to do. What is hard is to do them long enough to become addicted, but if you quit you are no worse off”. Ok, ok…how about we replace the word addiction…for ease of reading. I’m going to rename positive addiction, ‘positivity habits’…better? Ok? Good.

My alcoholism produced negative habits which inadvertently tested me, and taught me many lessons… but there is no need to learn from pain! We end up hiding painful lessons anyhow, making them a blur at best. So why not implement positivity habits into our lives and see what lessons we could learn then? And when we learn from joyous experiences, those lessons often remain crystal clear in our mind, making recollection not such a tedious task.

When circumstances become unbearable, we are motivated to change…but why wait until that moment? I think, from experience, that people sleep-walk through life. We are rarely mindful of the occasions in which we could choose positivity over anger or fear. If we ‘wake up’, we could make positivity the best habit we ever had! Practicing this doesn’t have to be difficult, but recognizing the opportunities can be easily lost in our dream-filled day. In order to find opportunities to practice, we must be mindful of our day, i.e.: notice when we feel frustrated or annoyed and try to see the lesson in which that emotion is teaching us, then let it float away. Don’t hold onto it, even if you think it’s just a minor negative emotion. I once read that annoyance is a veil drawn over fury…and I agree. We tend to lessen or ignore negative emotions as they come our way (because they suck) rather than mindfully recognizing them and moving through them with positive thoughts and actions. If you’re like me, you will have MANY opportunities to practice being aware of negative emotions every day. And I’m happy to say that even through my rookie experience, using positivity habits has become, well…quite a habit already…making my negative emotions now few and far between. (Even in a Costco parking lot!)

Practicing positivity habits increases our positive energy in general. And the more we feel good, the more we crave that feeling and inadvertently share it with the world. Living a Course in Miracles teaches to “repeatedly choose peace and peace will come”. Easier said than done?…possibly. But no matter how high your pain tolerance is, it’s not without limit. Eventually everyone begins to recognize that there must be a better way to live. It sure took me a lot of punches to recognize that I needed to live a more positive life, and luckily as I discovered this, it became a turning point for me.

We were all born to add value to the world…every single one of us. And positivity habits can be one of the best values we can share. Cultivating happiness doesn’t happen over night, just like a seed in the garden it takes time to grow. But that seed knows to grow…by habit. So for today, try nurturing that seed, and I promise it will positively grow into something beautiful!

A Miracle a Day Keeps the Darkness Away


I haven’t blogged in a while because with my recovery in the driver’s seat, I’ve been racing the days away. Well, more precisely, God is in the driver’s seat…and I like it that way. I have barely had a flicker of depression, anxiety or PTSD symptoms ever since I let Him take the wheel. The demons in my past use to drive me off the road and literally wanted to kill me, but they are no match for the spirituality I have gained through my 12 step programs, rehab and the fellowships I belong to. Now before you close this page because you are worried I am about to go on a religion rant…don’t worry, I’m not. Surrendering to a higher power of my understanding has nothing to do with religion at all. But it has everything to do with faith and love and a way to live my life without regret, resentment, anger and guilt…not a bad deal if you ask me! Living and loving life, one busy day at a time, involves faith as the required ingredient.

I have been reading a lot of books in my down-time. After either a meeting, the Buddhist Centre, a book study group, or meeting my sponsor, I have devoured some delicious books such as, A Return to Love: By Marianne Williamson, Living a Course in Miracles: By Jon Mundy and Drop the Rock: By Bill P, Todd W, and Sara S. They have taught me lessons such as, “I’m the only one who can change my mind”, “Guilt is a projection within my own mind; it is also something I can change”, “No matter how justified my attack thoughts may be, I can give them up”, and “In order to be free of guilt, there must be no judgement either of another or myself. If there is no judgement, guilt is gone”.

As you can see, the main topic of the lessons I seem to still focus on is guilt. After working through my resentments and making amends where they needed to be made, guilt still seems to be the tangled chain holding me back from complete peace. Forgiving myself for putting my family and friends through an attempted suicide isn’t an over-night process…But I’m learning that there is no future in the past! I will always carry the lessons of my past experiences in a pocket close to my heart, but they don’t have to drag me down and slow my progress forward. I’m also learning that as I extend forgiveness, I am able to forgive myself. Living a Course in Miracles teaches me that forgiveness has only one form. It does not ask for proof of innocence of any kind. It does not dispute. It does not evaluate the errors to be forgiven. It also teaches that we demonstrate peace of mind by showing others that their transgressions against us do not have an effect. Is this easier said than done when it comes to forgiving myself? Yes! But forgiveness is a two-way street, and not in the way you may be thinking. Whether someone forgives me is completely out of my control. But I can’t forgive others and not forgive myself. Luckily, ALL forgiveness is self-forgiveness, and inner peace is the prized reward.

I have been doing a lot of serious contemplation about when I should return to work. Yes, that’s right I said whenI have decide that I’m not finished being a paramedic. I’m not finished helping people and I’m not finished working along side of my colleagues. I still need to complete the groups and courses I am in now before being completely ready to tie up my black steel-toed boots again…but putting on my uniform doesn’t seem so scary anymore. I have been blessed with the amount of knowledge I have gained over the past 7 months; knowledge I craved for 38 years, and I’m ready to put it into action with my patients and peers.

It’s still one day at a time…don’t worry, I’m not rushing things that still need work. But I think that one day being able to continue to do the job I love so dearly will be the final step towards forgiving myself. I need to help people who live in darkness like I had. What a blessing it would be to shine more light on mental health by being a true example of hope myself as a paramedic again…but a healthy one.

I have forgiven Mark Dobson, the Travelodge murderer, for the illness and pain he caused me. He hasn’t haunted my dreams for more nights than I can count now. And if I can do that, I can definitely learn to forgive myself. THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE!

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