Tag Archive | loss

I’m in a funk

Today’s my dad’s birthday. He would have been 74 today. Except he’s not because he got cancer and died almost six years ago, and that sucks a lot. Usually on days like this I’d write a thoughtful post about what a great person he was, and maybe something about how I’m processing the grief. But I don’t want to. I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like going down that rabbit hole because I know it’ll freshen the pain that has softened and dulled. I don’t want to feel it fresh and sharp again. Maybe that’s one more step in the process. I don’t know. I don’t really want to examine it that fully. I’ll just say that I miss him, some days more than others, but at least I know it gets easier to bear as time goes on.

I’m in a funk today anyway, and I’m not sure if it’s the date or what. The dogs have this new thing where they wake up super early, like 4:30. We think it might be Grace needing to pee because of her steroids. We were able to halve the dose a couple of days ago so maybe that will get better. But still, this morning I got up with them, let them out, and then curled up on the couch to doze for another couple of hours. Better than nothing, but not as good as real sleep in a bed. And I have a sinus headache. And I have all the social obligations this weekend, instead of two whole days to knit.

So yes. I’m clearly in a funk and need to find a way out. Maybe I’ll spend some time with my socks this morning before I have to do all the things. I finished one sock last night, one for the girl, and it’s good. I like it.

IMG_5757You can’t see the sparkle, can you? But know that it’s there, a twinkly little strand of stellina. It’s in my Wonder Woman sock, too, which is quite fun to knit.IMG_5758

With any luck, some sock knitting and extra tea will brighten my morning and make the rest of the day go smoothly. And even though the dogs are buttheads sometimes, being around them is usually a treat too. They’re good. I like them.

Grief Redux

Grief is a tricky thing, isn’t it? You think you’re making progress, and really, you probably are, and then something comes along and takes you by surprise and kicks you in the gut. And when that happens, it can feel as hard and as fresh as when the grief was new.

I lost my dad a little over five years ago. No. No more euphemisms. I didn’t lose him. My dad died in April of 2012. I’ve been able to say that, in my head and out loud, for quite a while now, without needing to cry or feeling the sharp twinge in my heart. I felt like that was progress. Still do, actually. It took a long time to move past the vague euphemisms, and when I did, it often made me tear up just to say it.

So, yeah. I’ve been making progress, doing well. I’m happy. My life is full and rich, with as many up as downs. I still think of my dad every day but not with the sharp pain, more like a faint ache that I know will always be there. Some days it’s stronger than others, but it’s not crippling. It’s just…a brief sadness.

I’ve recently gotten back to my pen hobby. For years, I’ve collected pens. At first it was any fun pen, but it’s gotten more refined, and now I think it’s fair to say I’m a pen snob. I love beautiful, high-quality pens. I love gorgeous fountain pens. And when I was cleaning out my collection, culling some I no longer wanted, I started poking through all the pen boxes I’ve got, and I found the box for my MontBlanc. Inside, I found a letter from my dad, from when he gave me the pen for Christmas one year. It was a company gift and he’d used it for years, until passing it on to me.

That letter ripped off the scab a bit, and it hurts. I miss my dad. He was a wonderful man, a kind and gentle person who gave everything to make his family happy.  There’s so much I wish I could share with him now. And I can’t, and that sucks so much. I’d gotten to a point where I didn’t remember how much it sucked, and being reminded is…not fun.

But I’m grateful to have the letter, which I’ve tucked back inside the box to discover again in a few years. And until then, I’ll write with his pen and remind myself how lucky I was to have him as long as I did.

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Better Living Through Drugs

“I tried so hard to do it without medication.” “Don’t let them put you on those crazy pills!” “Antidepressants are just the easy way out.” And just today, “Antidepressants are causing an epidemic of violence.”

I’ve seen or heard all of those, and today I want to call Bullsh*t.

Antidepressants are NOT the enemy. Antidepressants are nothing to be scared of or ashamed of. There is a hashtag going around right now, #MedicatedandMighty, that was started to combat the shame associated with treating mental health issues with medication. If you want to read how it started, click here.

But at the same time, there are articles like this one that claim antidepressants cause violence, despite counterarguments like this one. Are crimes committed by people struggling with mental illness? Hell yes! The fact that some of them are on or have been on meds does not mean the antidepressants are causing the violence. It’s more likely that the mental illness is causing the violence. It’s more likely that either the meds weren’t the right ones for them, and thus weren’t working properly, or that they stopped taking the meds against medical advice.

ALL drugs can have side effects, and that’s why they should all be taken under the supervision of a medical professional.

Medication is not the right avenue for everyone. But it does help a vast majority of people, help they couldn’t get otherwise. And that’s why it’s dangerous to proclaim that “antidepressants are bad, they’re the enemy”, shaming people into thinking they’re not an acceptable solution.

Does proper diet and exercise help your mental health? Absolutely. Do people suffering through clinical depression have the ability to fight the depression enough to eat the right foods and force themselves onto the treadmill? In my experience, nope, not at all. Sure, that’s the easy answer: “Oh, just exercise more, then you’ll feel better!” I confess, I have been guilty of that thought in that past. But then I went through it myself and it made me realize how stupid that can be. Now, I can’t help but wonder if anyone who says that has any idea what kind of hold clinical depression can have on your motivation, your self-esteem, your ability to do ANYTHING. I certainly didn’t, until I was smack-dab in the middle of it. I had to find a way to get through that dark cloud before I could even see the benefit of exercise.

I have been on an anti-depressant for two years, and should have been on it for longer. I was a mother working full-time in a stressful job (is there any other kind, really?), I’d recently switched locations at work so I’d left all my friends and was working with new people. My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, my FIL was diagnosed with congestive heart disease. My FIL died suddenly. I decided to quit my job to spend more time with my family, but before I could even give notice, my father died. Three weeks later, I left my job and became a stay-at-home mom. And for the summer, it was great. My kids kept me busy, taking care of my dad’s dog kept me busy, doing all the “running a home” stuff kept me busy.

Then the kids went back to school. Suddenly I was alone all day, with nothing to distract my brain from the stress and grief. I cried. A lot. I was short-tempered and snappish with my kids and husband. I had no desire to do ANYTHING. For quite a while, I thought it was normal, and it probably was. I’d been through a lot, was still dealing with the losses as well as being a part-time caregiver for my non-driving mom. And then there was the big question of “What now? Who am I now that I’m not a full-time retail manager?” And I didn’t have an answer.

Time didn’t heal me. It didn’t get any better. I spent many months on the couch endlessly watching Grey’s Anatomy, pretending I was crying because the story lines were sad or moving. They were, they are, but not to that extent. I cried at everything, at the drop of the hat. I was constantly on the verge of tears. And I was defensive about it, arguing with my husband when he started suggesting I go see a therapist. I fought hard to put up a good front around other people, but it was exhausting. I slept hard and long, and still felt tired all day long. I ate like crap because I wanted *something* that brought me pleasure, and I love junk food. Exercise was hard, too hard. I couldn’t get my brain to take the thought that “exercise might help”–which I totally knew–and force my body to take action. And something new for me: social anxiety. I’m an introvert, always have been, but I had always enjoyed going out with friends. Until I didn’t. I obsessed about it ahead of time, wishing I could just stay home where it was quiet and safe. It made my stomach hurt to think about having to socialize and talk to people and pretend to be happy.

That was the breaking point actually. I had dinner plans with a couple of old friends, and all day I was literally sobbing at the thought of it. I cried ALL DAY LONG. I was a knot of anxiety. I texted my friend, explained the situation and apologized but said I couldn’t go. I just couldn’t do it. She was great, very understanding and supportive. Then, still sitting on the stairs, hunched over, I texted my husband and said I was ready, I needed help. I called the therapist the same day and made an appointment. Those few small steps were a huge release for me. For the first time in many months, I felt the tiniest sliver of hope.

At my first appointment, I cried through my whole story, answering all her questions about my feelings and behavior. And at the end, she said, “I really think you’re suffering from clinical depression, my friend. I want to keep seeing you. But how do you feel about maybe trying some medication?”

Yes, please. I needed help, and I knew it. I knew people who had been on meds, had seen how it helped them, and I was more than willing to try. Something had to help because I couldn’t do it alone. And as loving and supportive as my husband had been, that wasn’t fixing it either.

I started a low dose and it helped almost immediately. Like my therapist said, the meds ideally should still let you feel the emotions without letting them cripple you, and that’s what they did for me. I was still grieving, but I could feel joy again too. I felt so much better, it was astounding. I wish I’d done it ages ago.

And guess what? I started exercising and eating better. And yep, that felt good. But would it be enough to keep me going?

Winter came. My husband’s grandfather, who we all loved dearly, passed away. Then my dad’s dog died. And for some reason, that was the thing that knocked my feet out from under me again. I was devastated. And I knew it wasn’t about the dog as much as it was about him being a link to my dad, but I just couldn’t seem to get past it. My days were dark again. It was horrible, especially since I had so recently been reminded of what happy was like, and I couldn’t find my way back there. I was back to crying, sad TV, and skipping my workouts.

I went back to my therapist for several more sessions. They helped some, but not enough. She suggesting upping my dose, which meant an appointment with my doctor for approval. My crying, my fatigue, my helplessness, all of those things were preventing me from living a full life. It could be better. *I* could be better, and with the increased dose, I started to get there.

A few months later, at a checkup, my doctor ordered bloodwork. It revealed hypothyroidism, or low thyroid levels. I would need medication to even that out, and here’s the kicker: hypothyroidism can cause depression and fatigue. Now, does that mean this was my problem all along? There’s no way to know for sure, but I doubt it. Certainly not that first bout with depression that hit me like a ton of bricks, when bad things were happening left and right. My brain had struggled to cope for so long that finally it was like, “Dude. Stop. I can’t even.” But the second round, after my dog died and I was still struggling months later? I think it’s possible, because once we got the dose adjusted and my thyroid levels were normal again, I felt like a new person.

I FEEL like a new person. My brain isn’t foggy anymore. The world is clear and bright again. I find joy in little things. I am content in my small, quiet everyday life. I still don’t have an answer to the question of “Who am I, and what will I do with my life?” but it doesn’t cripple me anymore. It’s a big question mark that I get to explore and discover.

I am still on my antidepressants. At my last therapy session, my therapist recommended I try going off the meds in the spring. Knowing that winter months are hard for me (as they are for most people), she didn’t want me to stop then. But come next spring, I’ll be cutting back. It’s scary, because I don’t want to go back to how I felt before. But I also don’t want to keep taking them just because of fear. My meds did their job: they helped me, held me up while I was healing.

So here’s the bottom line, what I hope you take from my story: antidepressants were a tool for me, one tool in my fight against depression. They weren’t the only thing, but they were absolutely a key ingredient. I was lucky that the first med we tried worked for me. Sometimes you have to try several to get the right med at the right dose. And yes, absolutely talk to your primary care physician. Get yourself checked out, do that bloodwork if s/he orders it, because there might be something else going on.

But if that’s all clear and meds are recommended, don’t be afraid of them. And PLEASE, don’t be ashamed of them. It is so hard to ask for help; believe me, I know. I suffered for many long months because I wouldn’t ask for help. But I am living a new life since I did. I suffered no adverse side effects from my med, and I know many people with the same experience. You want your life to be happy, right? Why would you deny yourself something that might help? If it doesn’t work, fine, quit them. If you want to try diet and exercise, go for it, and if it works, wonderful! That’s the goal. But don’t assume that there is one answer for everyone, and don’t judge someone for taking a different road than you. Antidepressants have helped many, many people live a happy life. And there is nothing shameful in that.

Samson: A Special Dog

Many moons ago (in 2001) my parents moved from Missouri, where I live, to Arizona. A couple of years after they moved there, they found a dog running around and managed to catch him. They were able to contact the owner and somehow it was agreed that my parents would keep him. He was a big, beautiful brown-red husky mix that looked rather wolf-like, and he and my dad became best buddies. My mom loved the dog too, but she’s more of a cat person, and plus the dog was just…Dad’s dog. His name was Samson.img293The vet estimated he was around 2 or 3, and he was extremely well-behaved. My dad did a training class with him but didn’t need to work hard. Samson somehow knew what Dad wanted him to do and then did it. His one fault was that he loved to run, and would escape in a flash given the opportunity. I’ve since learned that’s very common with huskies. It made for a few traumatic experiences, but somehow Dad and Samson always got reunited.img215Several years later, in 2011, Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. He went through several months of chemo and radiation and we were all optimistic for a while. But by early 2012, it was clear that he wasn’t going to get better. It took all his energy to get through each day, and he had nothing left for Samson. My mom was the same: she wanted and needed to focus on Dad, and she loved Samson enough that she wanted him to have a happy home and get some loving attention again. I didn’t want a dog really, but neither of my siblings could take him, and I couldn’t bear the thought of Dad’s dog going to strangers. And I think there was a tiny part of me that wanted the dog as a part of Dad. I knew I’d be losing him soon and at least I could hang on to Samson.

He traveled well on the two-day road trip back to Missouri, curled up in his bed in the back of the minivan. He wasn’t eager to leave Dad, but wasn’t opposed either. The worst part was when he got home and Samson wouldn’t eat. I tried dry food and moist food. I tried people food I knew he liked. He just didn’t want to eat. He never had a huge appetite, but it worried me. After two long days, he finally started eating again, and seemed to start settling in to the family.IMG_0841I think he was happy with us. He loved the back yard where he could run around freely. He loved the big tree with all the squirrels. He loved the patches of dirt where he could dig big nests to lie in. Within a few months, he was acting much younger. He’d play outside, running after a ball or playing tug with a toy. When we went on walks, he’d get so excited, jumping and bouncing like I’d never seen before, and he pulled on the leash like he never had with Dad. I know part of it was that I wasn’t truly his person, his boss, but I think part of it was that he knew he could let loose now. He was careful and sedate with Dad because he sensed the fragility in Dad, especially toward the end. Instinctively, he knew we could handle more from him.IMG_0994 IMG_9509The kids adored him, and he loved them too. He was so patient with them, letting them do whatever they wanted to him. I sent happy updates to my parents so they’d know Samson was doing well, and I like to think it brought my dad a little bit of peace. And when Dad died in April of 2012, I was grateful to have Samson there to hug. I couldn’t take care of Dad, but I could take care of his dog.IMG_8433IMG_8503One of my favorite things was to watch Samson in the snow. Being from Arizona, he wasn’t familiar with snow, and the first time we got a big snowfall he didn’t even want to go outside. We lured him out on his leash and within moments he was bounding around the yard joyfully. It was wonderful to see. He was in his element and he was beautiful.IMG_9520Last year we got a big snow, and my daughter took him out for a long walk on Christmas Eve. He loved it, but the next day he seemed extremely tired. He slept a lot, moved slowly and with discomfort, and just seemed…not right. We chalked it up to him being an older dog, almost 11, and worn out and sore from the extra exertion. Within a day or so, he’d mostly recovered, though he still seemed to tire easily.

On the 30th, I let Samson outside and left to run a few errands. He often spent most of the day outside, happily curled up in his nest watching the squirrels, so when I got home and he wasn’t inside, I wasn’t too worried. But when I went outside and called him and got no response, I started to wonder. I called him again, going out further in the yard, and didn’t see him or hear him. I knew he liked the narrow alley between the garage and the fence so I walked back there and found him curled up. He looked up at me when I called his name again and slowly, carefully stood up. I coaxed him out to the yard, scared at how slowly he was walking. It was clearly a lot of effort for him, and I couldn’t figure out why the front of his paws kept getting folded up. I got him inside and called for my husband. We watched as Samson stood there, glassy-eyed and swaying, and agreed he needed to go to the vet. Stupidly, I said I could do it alone.

I got Sam to the car and struggled a bit to help him step inside. He was a big dog, probably at least 75 pounds, so I couldn’t carry him. By the time we got to the vet, he was lying on the seat and had no interest in getting out. I still don’t know how I got him out, but I did, and we made it inside. I signed in and sat down to wait, petting Samson and hoping against hope that he’d be all right. I kept thinking, “But this is my Dad’s dog. He has to be okay. This is my Dad’s dog.”

The vet called us back a few minutes later, but Samson was lying on the floor and nothing I did or said could coax him to stand. I looked at the vet, helpless, and she asked, “Is he sedated?” I shook my head and burst into tears. She came forward to help him stand, and suddenly one of my brother’s friends was there helping. Jake was there with his family and their dogs, and he had his wife hold their dogs so he could help me get Samson into the exam room. I’d always liked Jake and somehow it was comforting to have a familiar face there. He offered to stay with me, but I said I’d be okay, even though obviously I wasn’t.

The exam was quick. The vet noticed his paws immediately and said it was a sign of a stroke, that normally animals know exactly what their paws are doing at all times. He had a heart murmur, was anemic and had poor circulation. She took some fluid from his abdomen, and the blood that came out indicated cancer. By then, Samson was struggling to breathe. She offered surgery as an option, but we both knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.

I called Alex and sat on the floor with Samson while I waited for him to come up with the kids. We all sat around Sam, petting him and telling him we loved him, and then it was time. And even though I knew it was the right thing to do, I hated doing it.

The next day I got rid of every sign of him. It hurt too much to see the bowls, the leash, the food. I donated some of it and gave some of it to my brother for his animals. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting another dog. I hadn’t wanted a dog in the first place, I’d wanted Samson, and I’d lost him too soon. It was horrible. It was like losing my dad all over again, and I was lost in the grief yet again. I missed Samson terribly, so much more than I thought I would. I’d gotten so used to his easy company, his big body leaning against my legs. I regretted all the times I told him to get off the couch, and all the days I didn’t take him for walks. I wished I’d bought him more toys, more pig ears, more rawhides. I wondered if I loved him enough, and concluded that surely I hadn’t. But that’s always how it goes, isn’t it? You never know how much you love someone until they’re gone.

Within four months, I was ready for another dog. I knew we wouldn’t find one as good as Samson. He was smart, sensitive, playful, gentle, intuitive, loving. Samson was everything good and nothing bad, and there are so few dogs out there truly like that. But there are a lot of dogs out there that come awfully close, and I needed that special brand of puppy love again. By the end of June this year, we’d found our new baby, Captain Jack. He’s not perfect, but he’s close, and he’s getting better with every bit of love and training we give him. Jack is my dog in a way that Samson never was. I am his person, and I love that feeling. Thanks to Sam, I know the special joy that comes from loving a dog, and I imagine I’ll be a dog person forever now.

I’m so grateful that I was able to take care of Samson until he could join Dad. I think of them often, picturing them together in the great big dog park in the sky. I’m grateful that this year, I get to ring in a new year loving a dog instead of grieving a dog. When the clock turns midnight, I’ll kiss my husband…and then hug my puppy. And I’ll send a little mental hug out to Samson too, to thank him for being part of our family.IMG_9553