I wanted to write a story about how the Toronto Maple Leafs™ saved my life, I’m not sure if I have permission to use their name or not but let me tell you a story:
I was a paramedic right here in Ontario. Being a paramedic was the most fulfilling experience of my life and, as it turns out the most tragic too. If someone were to ask me if I could have done things differently, would I? I’d have to answer yes, except the being a paramedic part because despite the years of tragedy I faced, the pain and the suffering I witnessed, I gave those people a piece of me that carried them through their time of trial. I could never take that away from them. What I would change is One Day – yep, on that One Day, I maybe would have called in sick.
Perhaps I was meant to be a medic, I don’t know. My Dad was a war vet and a civilian cop, so I guess it was just in my blood to serve the public. I started out as a volunteer firefighter in 1994, young, poorly trained and not only responding to mostly brush fires but also responding to medical calls, some of which were not so pretty. I knew there had to be more to it, so off I went to school graduating in 1996 as a paramedic and starting in my career not three days later. I’d worked ever since then; I came to the “big city” and began a more permanent career in 1997.
In 2009, my career ended.
I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a particularly tragic obstetrics call in March 2008. I struggled to remain on the road. In January of 2009, while responding to a call with very similar circumstances to my “trauma event”, I could no longer function. I could no longer breathe. My mind, as it always did since the previous March, flashed me back into that building on that One Day and it did so with overwhelming consequences. My husband took me home and my therapist took me off the road.
Flash forward, I was two years into therapy, I was getting “better” or so I was convincing everyone. My motivation was to get back to the job I loved so much and so I learned to hide everything but the symptoms that were impossible to hide. I did what everyone expected me to do, I “Bucked Up” and I went back to work in an office doing light duty. I wasn’t better the day I returned to work. When they introduced me to my supervisor who was obviously in a motherly way, I swallowed hard against the tears, I fought in my mind for control over the emotions and I simply silenced them…my forehead was numb. I pretended I was okay. When I saw the uniforms, when I saw the ambulances, when an employee thinking I was on maternity leave patted me on the tummy, I simply went away in my mind. I don’t remember the rest of that day.
I do know that my return to work lasted a total of three days, over which there were several trauma reminders that I struggled to cope with. I came home collapsed into bed and was overcome by wave after wave of disturbing images, hyperventilation, screaming and crying. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I could barely lift my head from the bed. On Monday morning I managed the strength to call in sick and made an emergency call to my therapist to tell her what was happening. My mind was stuck in the loop again as if I’d just experienced my trauma. It turns out how I functioned at work is a thing called “dissociation” and it is a consequence of PTSD. It also turns out the response I was experiencing was called a “re-traumatization” and can be more commonly understood as a relapse.
I struggled anew with the help of therapy to put some distance between me and the images but life in those next few months was a living hell. At one point, I went to my basement, crying because I did not want to hurt my husband, all I wanted was for the disturbing memory loop in my mind to stop. I placed a cord around my neck, attached it to the door knob and leaned forward until I began to get dizzy. All that I kept thinking was that it would finally be over. Finally stop.
I couldn’t do it. The greatest part of me, the part that was still “Me”, did not want to die. The scariest thing about this incident is that it wasn’t until years later that I finally admitted it to both my therapist and my husband. Neither of them would have seen it coming. All I wanted was for my mind to stop showing me that One Day.
I wanted to give up. In some ways, I already had.
I took to lying on the couch watching television, biding my time in the house until husband returned from work each night. As I’d previously been a hockey fan, I began watching the hockey games each evening figuring that they could help me reconnect to the person I used to be. The person that I’d lost to PTSD. As I watched each evening, my favourite team, the Toronto Maple Leafs™, lost game after game; it struck me how each night there was no evidence of the defeat of the night prior. The players took to the ice with the same vigour, the same determination, the same heart that they had the night before, despite being defeated. They grabbed my attention.
I watched and noticed and said to myself, “Aha!” This was the model I needed. Night after night they came out with no evidence to suggest they’d ever been beat. This struck a chord with me. I’d been living my life as if I’d been beat. I wasn’t getting up again and going back out to play, I was simply allowing myself to live in defeat. There had to be a greater lesson in this game of hockey, and so I began to pay more attention. The more attention I paid, the more I understood the psychology of this little hometown team, these underdogs; the team that many scoffed at if you walked around wearing their colours. I sat watching one particular night as my team raced around the ice, out-skated and out-shot. I formed a sentence in my mind, “Each night is new, untarnished and unaffected by any other night.” Each game was a new game, a new entity unto itself and using a more eastern philosophical viewpoint, no other games existed, other than this one. I got it. This was my moment of clarity. This was the moment that ultimately saved my life.
My motto became, Each Day is Fresh, New and Full of Possibility. The Past does not exist.
I began to move forward. I bought a Leafs™ jersey to hold myself to my new path and remind me of why I needed to keep moving forward. I took their attitude and applied it to my trauma-filled days. Each day was an entity unto itself. It was not a day based on the day before it was a new day, a fresh day. I took that one step further; each moment was an entity unto itself. I learned to accept each moment as it came to me. I learned that each day had hope and possibility. I lived each moment as it was, whether it was a peaceful moment sipping tea or an intrusive image of my trauma, each moment was as it was without any influence over my further moments. You see, because I trigger today, does not mean I will necessarily trigger tomorrow….and because the Leafs™ lost tonight, does not mean that they will lose tomorrow.
A hockey team!
A hockey team got me on the path toward recovering from PTSD. Although, it’s coming up on 6 years, and I may not be totally healed yet, I still watch fervently each night as my team steps on that ice, fresh, new and full of possibility. I scream when they score, I cry when they win. I give them everything I have because they showed me how to live past my trauma. I still strive to greet each day in this manner, no past, no future, just this moment.
Each game night, I step on that ice with them, fresh and new, having never lost a game.
I owe my life to the Toronto Maple Leafs™ and I always will; here’s to holding on and ever moving forward.