Adjusting Period

July 27, 2009 at 7:13 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

On July 24th, we went in to have my sweet baby girl, Elena, put down. I hadn’t seen her since we’d brought her in on Wednesday morning. It was heart-breaking. The second she saw me, she started crying and whimpering. Her eyes had that slightly drugged-out glaze you get when you are constantly on pain killers so your existence becomes bearable. Her customary greeting dance made her even more frustrated because her body was not doing what she wanted it to.

The only reason she was sitting at all was because the vet staff had propped her up against a wall. She nearly fell over in her desperate attempt to reach me when I entered the room and settled down in her cage. All she knew was that she wanted to leave and go home, that her body was not working. Her hind legs and tail were limp, her stomach swollen from all the air she’d swallowed with her frenetic panting and the fact her bowels were not expelling anything without help from the vet technicians. It took a while for me to settle her down enough so I could prop her up onto my lap. She struggled. She thought we were going home.

She cried for the entire time I held her. Multiple times she attempted to get up and leave on her own. I managed to keep it together for most part with some brief lapses into crying. I’d tried avoiding that. I didn’t want to upset her any more than I had to. At some point, my mother joined us and took pictures because my brother had requested them. She only left for five minutes to take care of arrangements; a private cremation, paying the bill, checking to see if the vet had cleared out the waiting room yet.

The vet and the technician settled her out onto the floor. He held this absolutely gigantic syringe full of medication – my mother later told me he’d used a third more than he really needed to in order to ensure Lena’s end would be quick and absolutely pain-free. The consultation was brief. I was basically prepared. I did not, however, know how quick things went. I just watched in horror, Lena’s head in my lap, until my mom told me, “She’s going. Say good-bye now!” I ended up whispering, “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you” over and over even when I felt her just go . . . limp. My mother says the dog settled against me in her final seconds, contentment obvious, and just heaved a sigh of relief, which was to be her last breath.

I started sobbing pretty much immediately. The vet’s face looked a little drawn, he didn’t like putting animals down any more than any normal person would. “Why did you go out and do that, you stupid dog?” I stroked her face for a while the vet checked her pupils for signs of life. I then realized how downright obscene it felt to hold the mortal remains of my best friend, that it felt like holding a ragdoll, that it was just downright freaky how just every bit of tension had left her body. Even when dogs sleep, there’s a small amount of tension in their bodies that lets you know they’re still among the living. Lena was just completely still, her eyes open and staring lifelessly. I dropped her head like it was an intensely hot object and scrambled away, then ended up breaking down as my mother held and rocked my. The vet technician was clearly hurting, too – she asked if I wanted to spend a moment with her. I think I was so distraught I ended up half-shrieking that that was no longer my dog even as she handed me a few tissues. I was hysteric. A mess. Now I wish I had taken her up on the offer, but at the time, all I wanted was to get away from that thing, that disturbingly limp semblance of my best friend.

I wound up walking out of the back room in a half-catatonic state. The back room, where the vet technicians take turns answering phones, billing and whatnot, also houses their pets when they’re at work. Three very curious, friendly noses had already greeted me as I walked through to the kennels. I didn’t have the energy to fend them off on my way out. I sat on the floor and let Lotti, the tripod doxie mix, and Madison crawl all over me in their efforts to console me. I’m not sure I would have made it through the day had it not been for those two dogs.

The vet staff was incredible. They let me sit there for as long as I needed, talked to my mother and I and were generally supportive through that intensely traumatic experience. They cared. That was a blessing.

Now the house just seems too quiet. Wherever I look, there’s something to remind me of Lena. The food and water bowl are still in the kitchen, the latter filled sometime on Wednesday when I was still trying to convince myself Lena was going to come home. Her toys are strewn throughout the house. Her leash is on the floor of my bedroom. Her bed is tucked between the wall and my bed, there is dog hair all over the floors. Lena’s ashes will arrive in about two weeks, give or take. I am still unsure as what to do with them. Part of me wants me to stop being so obsessive about this dog and just bury it somewhere, but another part of me, the one that is still hurting and probably never will cease hurting, just wants to keep them in an urn and just take them wherever I go. I don’t even know how the hell I would take an urn full of ashes through an airport. With my luck, my suitcase would be selected for a random search and they would wind up tossing everything in the garbage.

It will take some time getting used to the silence and the hurt, and the void that is left in my heart. I do feel like a part of me was ripped out, trampled on and then left for dead. Every day is a struggle to go on. The days drag by and I somehow manage to keep my shit together during the day, but it all comes crashing down in the evenings, when dark creeps in on me and takes away any bit of rationality I may have left in me. Sleeping is an ordeal. I seem to hear Lena falling to the ground and screaming every time I close my eyes. Sometimes I just end up curled up in a fetal position, hands over my ears in a failed attempt to block out the memory. I can barely drag myself out of bed in the mornings.

My mother tells me I am at that point where I am processing, solely missing. But I don’t think it’s true. I just feel numb. I keep hoping I’ll wake up and it will all turn out to be an awful, elaborate nightmare. And I’ll look down, and there she’ll be, splayed out on her side, nose and paws twitching, snoring and snorfling in her sleep. It’s hard. I wish it had never come to this.

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RIP

July 24, 2009 at 7:05 pm (Life) (, , , , )

Elena

Nov. 21st, 2001 – July 24th, 2009

I love you. This was not what I wanted for you.

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A Heavy Heart

July 23, 2009 at 7:31 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

There has been a lot of silence on my part lately; partly because my life is just not that exciting, and partly because a lot of emotionally draining events have taken place. The one I am most concerned with occurred yesterday.

My dog, while chasing a deer, jerked something around in her back, keeled over and started screaming like there was no tomorrow. Her hind legs and tail are completely paralyzed. After wailing and twisting in agony for a few seconds while I stared in horror, she managed to throw herself onto her stomach and somehow managed to drag herself through half the yard on two legs, towards me. It was like watching war footage in which a soldier has lost his legs to a mine. I ended up screaming my head off for my mom to come downstairs while I raced to the dog, made her lay down and tried to calm her down.

It turns out even my mother heard the dog scream in pain – while she was on the second floor of our house, in the shower. Our house is a solid brick building and pretty good at naturally dampening down noises. My mom managed to fly downstairs, onto the lawn. I called the vet. I managed to barely keep it together. I don’t even want to get it into Lena’s panicked struggling when she realized we were going to move her, she was definitely going into shock and so was I.

We left her at the vets. They took x-rays. One of her discs has been compressing her spinal cord because she has an arthritic vertebra. When she ran, she must have jostled something and thus cut off feeling. The dog is high as a kite on pain killers from what I know, they’re treating her with steroids in hopes of the swelling going down. She has a 50-60% chance of recovery. If she doesn’t, we’ll have to put her down.

This is the most traumatic, awful thing that has ever happened to me. I just can’t forget how she screamed and fell. I’d like to express my thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive and willing to listen to my obsessive ramblings about the state of my dog. I am not ready to lose her yet. I want for her to live and chase stuff until she is eleven, twelve, thirteen, then pass away in her sleep the way she deserves. Yes, she may have injured herself doing something she loves and because she leads a high quality life, but she is still in pain right now, in a cage in a strange place and not home.

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Braincrazy

June 18, 2009 at 1:37 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

Mental illness is a recurring theme here. My family has a history of it in various forms. I am severely unstable when not medicated and, while it makes me a little sad, I realize that this is in no way my fault. My body has a faulty configuration. I have no influence over how much or how little serotonin it produces – my medication patches up a hole in my body’s programming. I will not find out for quite some time how effective this medication is or will be in the long run; I have had too many breakdowns – episodes of major depression, if you will – that went untreated  to say how long I will be on medication.

I was told two years for one or more major depressive episodes. More than that, and a patient is never taken off the medication.

I sometimes forget how fortunate I am to have grown up in a family where, for most part, it was understood that I had little to no influence over my irrational, sometimes violent, behavior, my self-injury, my low self-esteem and my anger. It was understood that it was a matter of genetics. It was never something I had much control over – gaining even a modicum of control takes years of cognitive therapy. I have no ability to put that much trust in one person nor the strength to start over each time as I physically move away and have to find a new therapist. I am not seeing anyone right now and I am quite comfortable with this.

It’s outside of my family that the misunderstanding and the queer looks started. People do not know how to separate the symptoms of the invisible illness from the personality of the person fighting it. In the minds of the unafflicted, they merge and you, I, we become the disorder. Suddenly a nameless, looming, silent evil part of the psyche has a face. Suddenly they do not know how to treat you anymore or describe you.

And thus, we remain silent to save face. We become bearers of a stigma and feel as though we carry the plague into the unwitting masses. We are taught by others that our illness could be contagious, even when we rationally know it is not. When we are found out, we are shunned as lepers for something beyond our control.

My aunt’s friend has a severely ill daughter who was recently hospitalized for her mental issues. This friend, let us call her Joanne, had never let on how sick her daughter – henceforth Hanna – truly was. Hanna spent her first night in the high security ward under suicide watch and remained in the institution for a week. She was released on a combination of three medications, mood stabilizer, anti-depressant, anti-psychotic. I had assumed Hanna was severely depressed and had equally awful body dysmorphia. What I did not know was how she would sneak up on her mother when Joanne was brushing her teeth until she was inches from Joanne’s face, only to start screaming incoherently. What I did not know was that Hanna randomly threatened to kill herself in order to pressure her parents into pitying her. What I did not know was that Hanna’s therapist was somehow unaware of his client’s behavior and the true extent of her mental illness.

I am sad that Joanne did not feel as though she could turn to either my aunt or someone else she trusted. I know Hanna was sick; sometimes, in those rare instances when Joanne and I had a spare moment together, I would reach out. I told her my parents had almost institutionalized me at one point. I told her I, too, was ill, much like her daughter, and that it would pass if they all pulled their share. I told her Hanna would have to be ready to make changes because her parents were currently doing all the work. Medication and treatment would make Hanna better, I promised, and if there was anything I could do, I would do it. I offered to reach out to Hanna once she was ready.

My own experiences make me capable of empathy, but I also find it almost too easy to be judgmental. Hanna is deeply entrenched in her illness at this point in time. She does not see that she is acting immaturely, that her hostility will eventually wear even her sweet parents’ patience thin. I do not expect her to make sudden changes and see the light of how stupid she was acting, but I still find myself wanting to be angry about how she treats others.

I did this. I should know better.

I hope I did the right thing in opening myself up to Joanne that way. I wanted to let her know that her experience was not out of ordinary, that it happened to other families as well. I wanted her to see that, with the right help, her daughter would be alright. Most of all, I wanted to comfort someone who needed it.

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It was . . .

May 21, 2009 at 6:16 pm (Life) (, , , , )

a dark and windy night in Southern Germany when she decided to update her blog again.

My mother flew in from England. I am happy to see her, but somehow, I feel things have changed over the five months since I last saw her. I am loathe to say I have grown up because I pretty much feel the same as I always did. I never sense that I have changed. It is others who remark upon such things happening. I never notice it. I don’t feel different, I don’t want to feel different. While I had my flaws, I kind of liked who I was five months ago, even almost a year ago when I graduated.

It is late where I am right now. I think I’ll be able to focus my thoughts better tomorrow morning. I also have an appointment to get my hair cut tomorrow, so I will post before and after pictures and whatnot. I will also be hunting for shoes for the wedding (one more day until I can forget all about my sister’s gosh-I’m-so-pretty party!) and buying a new curling iron.

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Mother’s Day

May 10, 2009 at 12:52 pm (Life) (, , , , )

Since it is that day a year again, a stereotypical post about the appreciation for my mother is in order.

I would be lying if I said my mother were an easy person. She’s not. She can be brusque, she is honest to a point where tact is not even a remote option. She will roll her eyes at some flights of fancy. She’s never done things the easy way and she is independent and self-reliant; offering help will sometimes result in getting yelled at. She doesn’t quite understand the concept of being a sympathetic listener, instead she tries to come up with pragmatic solutions and is then flabbergasted why she is not someone’s first pick of listener. Her sense of fashion is non-existent and her penchant for wearing loud-colored self-knit socks with sandals has embarrassed me plenty of times.

But she is a wonderful person nevertheless, one who has faith in me when I am rather sure no one else does. Her honesty keeps me grounded. This crazy lady truly believes I am a beautiful, talented, smart, sophisticated young woman. She raised me to know I am worth a whole lot more than the world will offer me at times. Her primary concern is always, always my well-being and living up to my potential. She was willing to give me another chance after I messed up horrible when I was younger; she was willing to give me another pet to help me cope with my failure and my anxiety. Throughout every mistake I made, she trusted in my ability to make the right decisions for myself. My decisions may not always coincide with what she believes is right for me, but she will try and accept it after some initial bitching.

If I have a best friend, it is probably my mother. Distance – her being stationed on a completely different continent for some parts of my life – did sometimes put fissures in our relationship, but we were brave enough to put the pieces back together again and work around those cracks.

My mother is a crazy, wool-obsessed fiber artist with no tolerance for idiocy and the ability to forge her way through anything if she sets her mind to it. It was hard to realize, over the years, that she, too, is a human being and as prone to failure as I am. I still don’t think I could imagine a more perfect mother for myself.

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A Piece of My Heart

May 6, 2009 at 8:53 pm (Life) (, , , , )

I called my mother on Monday to – apparently – reassure her that I was still alive. For Mother’s Day, I sent her a package. It contained sock yarn, curry, books, an Arvel Bird CD I had purchased when he, along with other Native American heritage composers, performed at my college. I also included a couple of CDs from my voice lessons because my mother had been complaining about not getting to hear me. Personally, I think she was wondering if she was getting her money’s worth, but never mind that.

She told me that she put a CD in. My dog is usually very lethargic in the evening, but Lena perked up immediately and then went on to search the entire house for me. She’s always been fairly musically inclined for an animal. Right around the time we got her, when I was thirteen, I started singing a lot more frequently. She seemed to enjoy being sung to, especially in the evenings – I believe it may have assuaged the loneliness she felt at no longer sleeping with her litter mates and family.

Back when I still took piano lessons, she would attempt to wedge herself between my feet and the Yamaha electric piano in our living room. She quickly learned this was not particularly comfortable because I needed to tread pedals on occasion. She then settled for sitting next to me, her tail thumping in time with the metronome. When I took up singing on a slightly more professional basis, she would always make sure to be nearby when I practiced. She would become very excited and, sometimes, she would join in.

Ever since leaving her back with my mother in England, it feels like a part of me was ripped from my chest. When I am home, Lena and I are pretty much attached to each other at the hip. Where I go, she goes. I admit to somewhat obsessively planning my schedule around hers, making sure I am not away from home too long, planning walks and preferring my interactions with people to be capable of involving her somehow. That’s just how the two of us work. When errands need to be run, I try to make sure I can get there by foot or by bicycle or, if it’s not too long, by public transportation. I feel lonely without her.

img_5208This sort of brings me to today’s dilemma. When my sort-of-adopted-aunt came home, we went about making salad for dinner. As I was washing the portion of baby portabella mushrooms to get rid of the massive amount of dirt, she pretty much dropped a bomb on me.

“You know,” she said as she sliced some sweet pepper, “if your parents can’t afford to have you go back to Germany this summer, I’ll send you. You need to see your dog.”

I wanted to choke up for a moment, so I concentrated on wiping some particularly stubborn clump of dirt stuck on a mushroom. “It’s up to Mom and Dad, I guess.” Studiously avoiding facing someone else when talking about an uncomfortable subject is a specialty of mine.

“If it’s possible, you know she could come live here, right? We could somehow work it out.” I protested a little feebly, pointing out that Odin – her 11-year-old mean cat – would probably not take too kindly to a large dog invading his territory. “Well, he gets cranky, but he usually adjusts. We’ve had a Rottweiler over before. For a few days. But they sort of worked something out.”

There is nothing I would love more than to have her here. So my first, rather irrational, response was to wait until she’d left for the Neighborhood Association meeting so I could let the tears flow as I looked up airline regulations on pet travel. At the same time, I knew it was stupid. My mother had – off-handedly, jokingly – remarked that she would love to send the dog with me. I have no doubt she would love to finally be able to rightfully hand over the responsibility for my dog to the person she actually belongs to. But Lena’s not exactly young anymore at seven-and-a-half. Our old dog, Whisper, nearly died when she flew from the US to Germany back in the early 90s.

I realize that airlines must be much better about pets traveling these days, what with the involvement of animal rights agencies and so forth. I am still loathe to think of putting my poor, sweet dog in the cargo hold of a noisy airplane. If I could take her into the cabin with me, as people with small dogs or cats are allowed to, I would do it in a heartbeat. Alas, Lena weighs a great deal more than 17.5 lbs.

I feel a bit like a recently divorced parent with extremely limited visitation rights to their child. I don’t even know if I should attempt to broach the subject with my mother. I would love it, but on the other hand, it is my responsibility to ensure my companion animal’s well-being. I somehow don’t see an airplane fitting into the equation because I am a doting mother hen.

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A Royal Pain

April 14, 2009 at 6:51 pm (News) (, , , , , , , , )

bo obamaAs we welcome our newest member of the Obama family into the White House, there has been unprecedented nastiness pervading the nation. People are all up in arms about the fact that Bo, seen on the left, is a purebred Portuguese Water Dog. Many are complaining that the Obamas should have picked a shelter dog! Why did they not pick a mutt! Wah wah wah!

My dears, let me clarify: Malia Obama has severe allergies to dog dander. No matter how good your intentions, it is best to pick a purebred dog that will not set off her allergies. There is no such guarantee with mutts. When you buy a purebred, you know exactly what you are in for; there are no unexpected signs of aggression, no mysterious illness, nothing. Purebreds are predictable in temperament and this is precisely what anyone who has never owned a dog before needs.

Secondly, Bo IS a rescue dog of sorts. His previous owners returned him to the breeder. He was homeless. He needed a family. He seems like a sweet, even-tempered dog, which is ideal for first-time dog owners and especially owners in such high-level stress situations. They need a dog that will not piss itself with excitement every time a helicopter lands on the White House lawn or a foreign dignitary comes to pet him.

Bo’s breeders are respectable, registered, humane breeders who had the good sense to take a dog they had sold back when said dog could no longer live with his family. Humane breeders will always, always take a dog back, no matter what the circumstances. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the humane breeders who are contributing to the homeless pet population and influx of sickly purebred animals. It is backyard breeders, puppy mills and idiots who do not get their pets neutered. People also seem to forget that the First Family is not their personal Sims computer game; we have no right whatsoever to interfere with their choice of school for their children, their choice of designers – or not – to wear or which dog they adopt. There was no such outrage when Clinton adopted Buddy, a purebred chocolate lab; or when Bush brought his two Scottish Terriers to the White House. Why now?

I, too, am the owner of a purebred dog. Lena joined my family when she was thirteen weeks old, after she had been returned to her breeder by her previous owners. Lena earsMy parents had previously taken in dogs that had been abused by their owners, a cocker spaniel and a mutt, and had bad experiences with both of those dogs. When we purchased our first Golden Retriever – after much research into what breed would be compatible with a family with small children – we knew exactly what to expect. Whisper was the sweetest, dearest dog you could ever imagine.

Lena, my current dog, is a sweetheart. She’ll let you do anything to her (as evidenced by my younger sister torturing sad puppyface on the kitchen floor). If she’s had enough, she will get up and leave, preferably seeking shelter with me. She has not been around young children much, yet instinctively knows that she is not to play rough with them, has never snapped at one or made any threatening move. Much as I like mutts, I have had better experiences with purebreds simply because I knew what behavior to expect when. Besides – mutts wouldn’t be around were it not for the purebred dogs mingling, no? People pick what is right for them and their circumstances, and in the Obamas’ case, it was a purebred dog that would be of even temper, would not set off allergies and would be compliant to training.

To the whiners, I say: Shut the fuck up. It is not your decision to make which dog enters the White House, just as it was never your decision to yammer about which school Malia and Sasha Obama would attend.

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Dog Days

March 24, 2009 at 8:59 pm (Life) (, , , )

As I stood in the shower yesterday, still recuperating from a strenuous weekend in Pennsylvania and Ohio, I looked out the window. I can see into several yards through the bathroom window if I stand on my tip-toes, a dangerous endeavor in the shower, but I do it anyway. A few yards down lives a dog. I have never seen this dog personally, but C. told me about him or her after a day she spent gardening.

Every day I spend in this house with a resentful, ill-tempered cat makes me miss my sweet Lena more. Thinking about some lucky neighbor actually having a dog to come home to upsets me more than is probably rational. I really don’t know how to be without pets, but I know how to be without dogs even less – to the point where I have pretty much entirely blocked out the eight months we were dogless because it was just traumatic and sad for me.

puppy I am naturally more inclined to having dogs. I am horribly allergic to cats and most of the cats I have encountered in my time were not particularly nice to me. Avoidant at best, downright vicious at worst. Cats are independent and ungrateful around me; I am not attempting to start a debate on which pet is superior to another here. I am of the firm conviction that dogs, Golden Retrievers in particular, are the best choice for me. They are smart dogs that love to please and be around people, that are naturally goofy. They’re ecstatic for you to be home. They’re dogs that never, ever bite, but are large enough to have a big scary bark that will ward off intruders. They are willing and able to learn whatever you have to teach them.

Normally, I think they are more open towards strangers, but Lena has always seemed very fixated on me. I don’t mind this. It reinforces the fact that she is truly MY DOG, not the family’s dog. Yes, she lives with our family, as do I most of the time, but I am the center of her universe. She is not inclined to taking treats from strangers, she will start and jerk away when strangers approach, bark when we’re walking. She was not abused in any way. She is fine when people enter her home, but she’s just not a personable dog when not on her home turf.

It’s a nice feeling, knowing that there is someone who does love you unconditionally and likes having you around, no matter how awful a person you may be. My dog loves me for who I am, despite everything. I miss her every day and it’s currently becoming more and more uncertain when I will actually see her again. We used to be inseparable. Now I keep having this irrational fear that I have been replaced in her heart or that she has forgotten me. goofinessI KNOW this is ridiculous, dogs have good memories for their owners. That doesn’t mean I don’t get to be a weepy, clingy dog mom about it.

I really, really miss my snugglebug.

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