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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey

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March 2017

To Clara, With Love

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January 28, 2014 – Bell Let’s Talk Day. I was sitting in my living room watching TV with family members when Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes came onto the screen. I had definitely seen her before. I remember literally sitting on the edge of my seat cheering her on as she won medal after medal in both the winter and summer games. She represented so much strength and courage. She was OUR Canadian athlete! – And she had made us so proud! I wasn’t sure right away why she was on the news that night, but it was no coincidence that I was watching, because as she began to talk and share about her mental health struggles, I felt a sudden, incredible feeling of validation and rare happiness. Olympian Clara Hughes had been battling a dark road of depression, as I had been, and suddenly after hearing her speak, I knew that one day I would share my story too.

Oct 6, 2014 – The the first time I ever shared anything publicly about my dark world. I started a blog, and this is what I wrote.

Hi Everyone,

This is a big deal for me. This first blog will be short; but to me its HUGE. I’ve been battling a mental health illness and I feel it’s time to talk about it; but it’s not easy. Let me start by saying, today is the first day of my partial hospitalization mental health program. I have a long road ahead of me, which started years ago. I want to share it with you and possibly help anyone who has been battling a mental health illness with a stigma so big it often keeps our minds closed to the pain these illnesses cause.

Stay tuned if you would like. I will be posting often.

~MedicNat

Fast forward to today, March 28, 2017, and I have developed a friendship with that same amazing Canadian Olympian, Clara Hughes. She has written the foreword to my book Save-My-Life School, and after she sent me this (among many) shout-out, this is what I replied.

Dear Clara, ❤

I can say without a doubt that this book would never have even be even a figment of my imagination if I had not seen you on TV a few years back honestly sharing about your mental health journey!

YOU made vulnerability something beautiful to me!

YOU showed me that I didn’t need to hide anymore, and that every time I shared my own journey, stigma would melt away from me – and it did.

YOU encouraged me through messages and emails when I was battling the darkness that still grabs a hold of me sometimes.

YOU told me to never stop – and I won’t.

Over time my posts may lessen and my voice may not be as loud, but by inspiring me to have the courage to put my heart and soul into Save-My-Life School, my message will never be gone.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You are such a wonderful friend ❤

Sending you SO MUCH LOVE.

~Nat xo

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Here’s to many more years of friendship! Love you dearly Clara! XO

Toronto Eaton Centre Book Signing

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Former Simcoe County and Peel Region paramedic turned author, Natalie Harris, pens raw and honest memoir about her battle with PTSD, depression, addiction and suicide titled Save-My-Life School, ISBN 978-1-894813-91-4.

In 2012, Harris attended a grizzly double murder that caused her to spiral into a challenging battle with mental illness. As part of her recovery, she started a blog that has since had almost 200,000 hits and grabbed the attention of Canada’s favourite Olympian and mental health advocate, Clara Hughes who wrote the Foreword for this title.

Clara Hughes writes, “There is no one audience for Natalie’s writings; I truly feel she writes for us all.”

Harris’s book, Save-My-Life School expands on her recovery process, giving a real-life glimpse into the mind and thoughts of someone suffering with mental illness. In the second week after its release this January, the book reached the #2 spot on the Amazon.ca Kindle Store’s “Hot New Memoir List,” one spot ahead of Anderson Cooper’s The Rainbow Comes.

Harris will be at the Eaton Centre Indigo, April 3rd for a book signing from 6 – 8 p.m.

For more information or to book media appearances, please contact:
Heather Down (PR Manager)
Heather.down@live.com

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That Tunnel 

You know that tunnel? The one with the light at the end of it? I hate that tunnel. No matter how hard I try to stay in the light, because the light IS wonderful, I find even the smallest thing pull me back into the cold, damp, tiring tunnel. Sometimes the gratitude I feel when I’m in the light is so strong that it seems like it will never go away. I at times feel like I’ve baracaded the tunnel. But I’m always afraid to look back to check if the barricade is falling down.  I’m seeing that it falls down on a regular basis – for everyone, every creature, every living being, and that makes me sad. 

It hurts me so much to see my kids sad or worried or afraid. When that happens I get angry inside immediately. Not at them, but at the world. I get mad that they need feel that way. I get mad that an innocent creature like my dog Walter has to get an eye infection and not understand why, and have to deal with me putting medicine into his eyes. I get mad that my cat is developing theses twitches that apparently cause her to hallucinate and be uncomfortable, and that there is no cure or explanation as to why. I get mad that anyone could abandon a kitten- just leave it behind when they move! You may be saying to yourselves that my examples aren’t that bad – that there are much greater atrocities in this world. Well that just further reiterates my point. I get mad that this shitty tunnel needs to exist so that we can eventually ‘see the light’. 

As I sit awake in bed, with Walter fast asleep on my leg, my kids comfy and warm in their beds and my cat drinking out of the cup of water on my side table, I try to get out of the tunnel. I try to convince myself that it’s really not that bad. But I can’t seem to convince myself tonight. 

This world still must be hell. I’m still determined to change that somehow. But how? For whatever reason the positive self talk isn’t working today. I want my kids to be happy, to love their lives and to not worry about all the enormous stresses of school and life and love. I want my pets to be happy and healthy – they are so innocent. 

I’ve heard somewhere that the tunnel is an illusion; I understand that concept. But the illusion is still FELT, and experienced and still causes pain. I want to know why there can’t always be light. 

Coffee Talk with WSIB

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I am about to broach a sensitive subject. Retired paramedic Mindy Piva and I had the opportunity to have coffee with the Vice President and Executive Director of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) today. The informal meeting was extremely positive and productive – this is where I’m am expecting the ‘sensitivity’ of this subject to emerge. Today I am going to share a story of progress, and by doing so Mindy and I want to be very clear that this is not to ignore the pain and hardships of the past. We want want to encourage hope, and share how change is happening, but while always acknowledging the losses so many families have, and still continue to face. We also want to share our gratitude for all the other voices on this mission with us!

For many years the letters ‘WSIB’ and the words ‘positive’ and ‘productive’ have rarely crossed paths in the same sentence. After personally reading dozens of impact statements and hearing hundreds of stories about the losses so many of our first responder family members have experienced after battling to have a psychological injury claim approved, (some which I myself have experienced) I have extreme empathy with regards to all aspects of this subject. With that being said, Mindy and I are going to do our best to move forward with a positive voice, and be extremely grateful for the opportunity provided to us today.

Bill 163- Ontario’s First Responder’s Bill, has opened the doors to obtaining the help so many first responders need. In my opinion, one of the most important things this Bill has done is prompt necessary discussion about the reality of psychological injuries. Stigma is lessening, and awareness campaigns are in full swing. This is amazing! But now one year later there is definitely lots more work to do.

Today, Mindy and I shared the following suggestions and information:

  • We recommended Mental Health First Aid training for every case manager in order to improve sympathetic communication skills with often vulnerable, acutely injured  first responders.
  • We recommended the implementation of first responders as consultants to aid in the translation of cultural lingo and language in order to lessen the number of potential anxiety-producing phone calls in the early stages of a claim.
  • We recommended the provision of peer-support contact information (external from the first responder’s employer/service) as soon as a claim has been made.
  • We shared detailed information about triggers and symptoms in which someone without a psychological injury would not be able to fully comprehend.
  • We shared that specialized earplugs should be a compensateable expense.
  • We discussed the possibility of receiving funding to initiate a peer support evidence-based study. (And provided contact information of professionals who we feel could implement this).
  • We discussed the importance of providing structured peer-support to the WSIB case managers themselves.
  • We discussed MP Todd Doherty’s Federal PTSD Bill C-211, and how we felt that it was necessary to implement our suggestions in order to lead the way with respect to modelling a comprehensive and successful provincial psychological claims process.
  • We discussed the development of a formal committee to allow for other first responder’s and services to share their progressive suggestions.

I am firm believer in the quote by Martin Luther King Jr.,”Love is the only force capable of changing an enemy into a friend”. And on the eve of the presentation of Canada’s PTSD Framework Bill, Mindy and I are happy to go to sleep knowing that friend’s were made today, and that even though it many not be easy sometimes, positive change is always possible.

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