I am honoured to have been recently asked by the international, non-profit organization Stigma Fighters to share my mental health story with them and their followers. The only requirement being that it be told in 1000 words or less…gulp…I’m always up for a challenge! I hope that by sharing my story with fellow mental illness sufferers and their families, I can inspire hope and courage, and fight the stigma of mental illness one word at a time.
My mental health symptoms started very young. I remember being in grade school telling my mom that I felt ‘weird’, and I would tear my room apart in anger and frustration when the only response I would get as to why I was having these feelings was, ‘it’s your hormones’. I felt lost and like an alien in my own body. Looking back now I can link these exact feelings to my adult depression and dissociation, but it took many long, painful, and very lonely years to even come close to understanding the emotions which made me feel like I didn’t belong on this planet.
I remember seeing doctors in my teen years, and they would prescribe an anti-depressant or two, but I never felt better, and I desperately craved intensive help. I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t find the answer to how to recover from my relentless sadness by reading a book, or seeing a doctor every once in a while. And because there seemed to be no further help available at that time, I carried on with life as a single mom and eventually a paramedic, wondering if my alien feelings were normal, and if they would ever go away.
I soon learned that by filling my time, I also filled my mind with thoughts other than my confusing mental health self-analysis. So over the years I’ve had various relationships (which always failed), went back to school and earned my degree, and became an advanced care paramedic. But if that weren’t enough, I also became a teacher for the paramedic college program and a peer educator. I was tired on a regular basis, and the feeling of exhaustion became my new normal. But no matter how hard I tried to keep busy, the roller-coaster of emotions and darkness I experienced would inevitably return, and I became quite hopeless that I would ever feel truly happy.
Then in May of 2012, I was a paramedic at a double-murder call at a hotel in my city. The details of the call are gruesome, and include satanic-cult rituals and the almost complete decapitation of two women by a man who also attempted to kill himself. That man, the murderer, was my patient. I did my best to block the call from my mind, but had endless difficulty coping with the fact that there was such evil in the world. I had lost all faith in humanity and began to drink alcohol quite heavily to numb the demons in my mind.
I carried on ‘existing’ for two more years until I had to go to trial as a main witness for the double-murder call. When I took the stand I did my best to not look at the man sitting behind a bullet-proof glass wall who had so often entered my dreams and turned them into nightmares. But at one point I had to make eye contact with him, and when I did, every painful, dark emotion I had stuffed away since May 2012 rushed back to me, and triggered the emergence of my post traumatic stress disorder.
The relentless pain of my PTSD and depression caused me to overdose twice, landed me in the mental health department of the hospital many times, and forced the Children’s Aid Society to restrict my contact with my son. I was completely broken! But luckily after I was hospitalized, I began daily classes in a partial hospitalization program and learned about so many amazing coping tools for my illnesses. I learned about things such as, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, positive self-talk, healthy boundaries, avoiding co-dependency, improving my spirituality and addiction education. It was the long-term education I had been craving for years! And as my journey progressed through this program, it was eventually appropriately renamed by a friend, ‘save my life school’.
Six weeks into school, and after a serious suicide attempt, I was finally accepted into the world renowned rehabilitation hospital Homewood, in Guelph, Ontario. During my stay there my personal relationship with the love of my life fell apart and I discovered that I was without a doubt an alcoholic. Through each excruciating day, I participated in intense group sessions for my PTSD, and went to 12-step meetings every day. I was very resistant to any help at first, as my hopelessness had hit an all time low, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. But after a near-tradgedy occurred at home with one of my children, I finally shook off my self-pity and dug in deep to heal my mind, heart and soul.
Once I truly decided to listen to the experts and follow their guidance, there was no turning back! I was on the road to recovery and it felt amazing! Slowly my family began to trust me again, and my relationship with my children became one filled with security and peace. I have been sober 10 months now and no longer have the obsession for alcohol. I have a sponsor and three 12-step home groups who support me and have taught me how important it is to my recovery to have a Higher Power in my life, and to rely on His guidance rather than my delusions.
Life is good! And I never thought that was possible! I finally look forward to waking up in the morning and living, not just existing. I have documented my recovery in a blog entitled: https://paramedicnatsmentalhealthjourney.wordpress.com and have had the privilege of helping fight the stigma of mental illness all over the world with every post. I am not ashamed to speak about my experiences anymore, and can attest 100% to the healing power of talk. If you are suffering, you don’t have to do it alone. I know it may seem difficult, but recovery IS possible. But in order to GET help, you need to ASK for it.
Sending love to the souls we have lost to this fight, and to those who are battling everyday.
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Natalie Harris is a mom, an advanced care paramedic and teacher in Ontario, Canada. After being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder from a double-murder call, where the murderer was her patient, she began a vicious life or death battle with overdoses, alcoholism and suicide attempts. Luckily she was able to recover after many hospitalizations, including a 7-week admission to the rehabilitation hospital, Homewood, in Guelph, Ontario. She shares candid and raw experiences about her mental health illnesses and recovery in her blog paramedicnatsmentalhealthjourney.wordpress.com and has had the privilege of supporting, and providing recovery resources to mental illness sufferers all over the world.
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