Save-My-Life School: A first responder’s mental health journey by bestselling author Natalie Harris. ISBN 978-1894813914 published in Canada by Wintertickle Press.

I must begin by telling you that Natalie Harris is a personal friend of mine, but she had no idea that I would be reviewing her new book. I did not want to wait to get a print version delivered, the first print run sold out almost instantly, so I downloaded it from the iBooks store.

Save-My-Life School will take you on a journey with Natalie and those closest to her as she battles daily with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, caused by her 12 years on the job as a Paramedic. This is a deeply personal inside look at her struggle with mental health issues, but also the persistent stigma that still exists in our society today, and will show you the personal redemption of the author.

The first part of her book, Save-My-Life School details the roller coaster ride of being her own warrior and fighting for her life against mental illness that has taken over her existence. You will read through her blog entries, hear from her closest friends and family as they try their best to keep her alive. Fighting back from suicide attempts, dealing with the stigma and fear of being found out when admitted to hospital, you are going to be there in the moment as every step is fought while attaining a new level in her personal battle.

The second part, Save-My-Life Boarding School, describes her 7-week inpatient program, reliving traumas to deal with them, one after another, learning ways to deal with the unfair fight that PTSD puts up, finding new ways to handle associated issues, and rediscovering her actual loving self again.

And the third part of her book, Save-My-Life Grad School, will take you on her journey to maintain her newly found sense of self, being able to breathe again, to take the time, space, and energy needed to survive each moment of each day. Rebuilding relationships with her children, and being able to find the strength to reach out when her battle becomes too hard to wage.

Trying for a return to her previous career as a senior Paramedic is bumpy at best, and she attempts to move into the training and education part of her service. The toughest realization is that it just isn’t possible any longer.

Ultimately, we follow Natalie from her own depths of despair to her own redemption, where she can take what she has learned to make a difference. Founding a peer support group for first responders in her city (which is now opening up chapters in other cities across Canada), being a big part of the fight to get PTSD coverage for first responders through a private member’s bill in Ontario (which had never been available before), and she is now helping to make it happen across Canada with the current bill C-211 in the Canadian House of Commons. Her drive to make a difference for all will amaze you.

But, most of all, her endless bravery to be open about her battle with mental health issues, her courage to speak to others about it publicly, her drive to end the stigma around mental health and mental illness, and becoming the huge inspiration that she is to every person she meets will have you right there with her in each moment, celebrating each subsequent success.

You will see what it takes for Natalie to wage this personal war every single day, how she handles the side effects that come with PTSD, like Misophonia (a high sensitivity to sounds, thus her custom earplugs to deaden the extreme noise at points during the day). Her daily roller coaster ride with anxiety and depression. Those times when she seemed trapped in a dark place and reached out for help to find her light again.

This book is a very compelling read, and you will find yourself on the edge of your seat urging Natalie on so that she can reach that next step, ensuring her survival and ability to thrive.

If you cannot understand what it takes to live with mental illness personally, it is hard to know what it takes to get out of bed some days and just put one foot in front of the other. If you can understand, then this book is also for you because it will give you the knowledge and the peace in knowing that you are not alone.

My advice to you is this:

RUN, do not walk, to your nearest bookstore and get yourself a copy of Natalie’s book. You can find it on Amazon, Chapters/Indigo, it is available for Kindle, Kobo, and from iBooks for Apple devices, plus in many bricks and mortar bookstores.

Read this book, devour it, experience it, feel every moment as you follow Natalie’s journey back from the precipice. And when you have finished it, read it again in case you missed anything the first time. You will be glad you did, and you will acquire a new understanding that will guide you in eliminating the stigma that we all have around mental illness.

Finally, a personal note, my “coming out” to you.

I have never discussed this in my public columns before, it was never germane to what I was writing about. You see, I too, am a mental health warrior. During my first read of Natalie’s book, we were discussing what I thought of her work to the point I had reached. I told her that the first section of her book, she was literally telling my story too, all of it, right down to the drinking, overdoses, hospitalizations, and more. If you must know, my battle is with Anxiety, Depression, Complex PTSD and PTSD. And I’m still standing!!

It will be my great honor to share a lecture hall with Natalie this spring as she joins myself and my lecture partner Danielle Bottineau, Toronto Police Service LGBTQ Liaison Officer, as we deliver the second guest lecture in our Spring Lecture Series at Ryerson University in Toronto. Natalie and I have never met in person, we have only communicated electronically, so I will finally get to meet one of my personal heroes.  I owe her plenty of hugs too!

Now go buy her book!