13 reasons why you should read Save-My-Life School

H.A. Fraser
September 08, 2017
By H.A. Fraser
Canadian first responder Natalie Harris has penned a raw and honest memoir of her mental health journey. And unlike the Netflix sensation “13 Reasons Why,” Save-My-Life School is anything but the romanticized fictional series.

The book is based on Natalie’s blog, which she started writing her first day of treatment in a day-program at a local hospital. Natalie overcame many challenges in her youth to climb the ladder to Advanced Care Paramedic, only to suffer from a variety of mental illnesses that took her off the road.

Here are my 13 reasons why you should read Save-My-Life School:

1.    Although the book is an easy read of 200-odd pages, it isn’t always easy to read. The emotion is so real and unfiltered that sometimes a little break is necessary. Having said that, this book is also laugh-out-loud funny at times. In many ways, it is the marriage of Waiting for First Light and Brigitte Jones’ Diary.

2.     This book is written from more than one perspective, which adds a little “Je ne sais quoi.” Six-time Olympian Clara Hughes writes the short foreword and a couple of Natalie’s friends as well as her daughter and son all contribute small excerpts. This adds a unique 360-degree aspect to many events.

3.    If you are a first responder of any type, you need to read this book. However, its reach is much larger than just the EMS community. If you experience mental illness, care for someone with mental illness — or if you just want a better understanding — this book is invaluable.

4.     The majority of this book is written from the first-person perspective, which allows the reader to identify strongly with the author. Unlike several Canadian mental health memoirs currently on the market, this book does a better job of transporting the reader inside of the writer’s head.

5.     Save-My-Life School isn’t linear. Although the book jumps from present to past and back again, it somehow works, adding interest and complexity to the plot.

6.     Save-My-Life School is organized nicely into three large chapters: Save-My-Life School, Save-My-Life Boarding School and Save-My-Life Grad School. These chapters allow the reader to follow Natalie’s outpatient program, her inpatient rehab and her life back in the real world.

7.     It isn’t self-help — but it is. It’s a story, but since Natalie shares her insights as she begins to cope, the reader inadvertently learns simple and more complex everyday techniques to improve mental health.

8.     You feel the highs and lows all the way to the end and beyond. Since this is based on her blog over a two-year period, Natalie did not have an overview of the events of the book as a whole as she wrote each entry. This gives the book a rather unique, in-the-moment flavour that would probably be missing if she had sat down and written this book a year after the events.

9.    If you are looking for a well written, neatly packaged literary non-fiction read, this is definitely not for you. If you can handle colloquialisms such as “dingle dork” and “sidebar” and the occasional joke about human flatulence, then this is probably right up your alley.

10.    The afterword section gives a fantastic update to PTSI (post-traumatic stress injury) and Canadian legislation.

11.    The book also addresses a topic that is seldom ever explored in literature — what happens when you are no longer able to do the one career that gives you a strong sense of purpose? The book hits on the elements of self-identity being so ingrained in one’s profession. It also reveals interesting elements relating to the EMS culture.

12.    When it comes to mental health, self-stigmatization is also very prevalent. Sometimes one’s biggest critic is oneself. I like the way this book subtly shares this.

13.    And finally, you should read Save-My-Life School because the physical book itself is beautiful! From the selfie-cover to the torn-edged paper to the textured finish, everything just screams messy. And that is sometimes the reality of staying mentally healthy.

To learn more, visit www.facebook.comsavemylifeschool.

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