Posted in Mindfulness Matters, Personal Perspective

Grief Reflects Love

Last week my therapist said that as painful as grief is, it’s reflective of how much you loved someone.


My optimism about Tubs’ ability to recover from his illness didn’t keep him alive. He passed away at home, in my arms, while I was feeding him. It was traumatic. I was wracked with guilt. I felt like I’d killed him. I played all those terrible grief games we’re prone to. I examined the weeks before his death with ruthless scrutiny. My mind looped phrases that began with what if, if only, or I should have, wishing for a time machine to give me another chance to get it right.

Tubs’ littermate, Skinny, stuck to me like glue for the whole week that followed. Wherever I went was where he wanted to be. I was worried he might be depressed about losing his counterpart, but he was still eating, drinking, and using the litter box so I tried to relax. On Sunday, I moved into a new apartment. When the move was finished I picked up Skinny and ordered pizza for those that helped.

I noticed something strange on the ride over to our new home. Anytime Skinny had ever been in a car he screamed bloody murder for the whole trip, even when he was diabetic. This time, he was silent aside from a meow here or there. When we let him out in the new place he would pace around a few steps before laying down. He was meowing, but a strange meow I’d never heard before. It looked like it was hard for him to move around, although he still found a way to jump on my lap. Then he started licking his lips a lot and foaming at the mouth and there was no disputing that something was seriously wrong with him.

My sister and brother-in-law drove us to the emergency vet, hoping maybe he was just dehydrated from the heat. On the ride he lay completely limp in my lap, the full weight of his head in my hand. I wasn’t expecting good news. As much as I wanted to be proven wrong, I was right. The vet’s initial assessment was eerily similar to Tubs’. We were devastated. I didn’t have the money or the emotional capability to go through that process again, so we had to say goodbye.

As heartbroken as I was, a part of me was relieved that they were together. They’d spent their entire lives with one another and something didn’t feel right about their separation. I’m still struggling with intrusive thoughts trying to convince me that it’s all my fault. Luckily, they aren’t as overwhelming as they first were and it’s slowly becoming easier to ignore my inner bully. The hardest part is how lonely I am at home, but my friends have kept me busy and I take comfort in knowing that my cats were happy, healthy, and loved for the majority of their decade on this planet.

Even without my boys, I’m still a crazy cat lady. I’m sure it won’t be too long before I bring home a furry friend to help me navigate the next chapter of my life. After all, they’re great for your health, at least according to an article Greater Good Science Center posted for International Cat Day that goes over research on the health benefits of cat ownership.

 

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Posted in Life Lessons, Mindfulness Matters, Personal Perspective, Uncategorized

Crisis Management

My cat, Tubs, wasn’t acting like himself last week. He was laying under the bed, trying to get in the bathroom door that’s always closed, not eating as much, not moving around as much. I got him to the vet as soon as I realized it wasn’t just a weird phase (because sometimes he does start laying somewhere new or boycott food he suddenly decided he doesn’t like).

His liver was enlarged, so was his pancreas, and they couldn’t be sure what it was. I felt so guilty. I should have gotten him in sooner. I started crying because it was clear his situation at the moment was rather grim. The vet, Dr. Scherman at Roscoe Village Animal Hospital, asked me what I was feeling. I told her about the guilt and she was so reassuring about how cats hide it when they aren’t feeling well and how long it can take to notice minor changes. He needed an ultrasound to figure it out and he couldn’t wait long. She was clear that this wouldn’t be an easy fix and laid out some possibilities. We left with uncertainty and a referral for an ultrasound.

I took him home (thanks for the ride Sam and Alex) for the night to save those overnight fees and brought him to the emergency vet first thing in the morning (thanks for the ride Thom). He was there most of the day. The doctor called. It could be an infection, fatty liver disease, or lymphoma and there’s no real well to tell until we start eliminating things through treatment. She spoke with my regular vet. Instead of staying for observation with a feeding tube I brought him home for the night (cost effective). The next morning I took him back. Dr. Scherman put in a feeding tube and they observed him for a few hours after the procedure. One of the vet techs told me that he sat in on their staff meeting, recovering in a towel in a cat bed and charming everyone. I know everyone thinks their pet is the favorite at the vet’s office, but mine really was 😂.

I watched a few videos on feeding tube training. It’s really nice to have something to refer to. The vet tech and Dr. Scherman both made sure I knew what I was doing, how much to give and how challenging it would be. It has been. Every 3-4 hours I put a large syringe cocktail of wet food, water, medicine into a bowl of warm water to get it the right temperature. I pull Tubs from his hiding spot as gently as I can. I flush with water, follow our feeding chart, and flush again. I observe his reactions to see if I can give him a bit more or if I should ease off. Sometimes the tube clogs. I have to use some water to sort of ‘plunger effect’ the tube. Not fun, but luckily I’m getting the consistency down so it should be smoother as we go. I have to log everything. I decided if I bedazzled the log with sparkles and stickers it would be less sterile, scary, and more enthusiastic, recovery emphasized.

It’s 8AM Sunday morning as I’m writing this. We just had our first feeding of the morning and it went really well. He was a bit more alert today which is encouraging. The hardest part about this gig is going to be cleaning the insertion point. It’s stitched up well and I know what to do, but I can’t get the vet’s wrap back on the same way.

It’s going to be a long road to recovery, but there’s plenty of hope. Thankfully, there’s Care Credit to help me cover the costs. I cannot even begin to convey how wonderful the vets and staff are at Roscoe Village Animal Hospital. They were patient, caring, honest and optimistic. We made small talk (and sang along) to Mamma Mia and talked about their office cats, one of which was comically splayed against the window. Regardless of how tired and worried I was, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh when I saw her face smushed against the glass as I walked in.

As much as I’ve been overwhelmed this week, I have been equally overwhelmed with gratitude. I’ve received so much love and support from those closest to me. Family, friends, even coworkers checking in on him and me. Offering to help where they can. Talking to me over the phone to distract me while I waited for more results. Driving me to and from the vet whenever they were free, taking me with on errands, pulling through a drive through on our way home so I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner. Even a quick text asking how he’s doing or wishing him well made a difference.

Tubs has been my best friend for more than a decade. I can’t say goodbye without giving him a fair shot at recovery.

It’s been interesting to see my personal progress throughout this. I used to struggle with asking for help. I used to struggle with being in doctor’s offices. I used to get angry. I used to break down. I used to dwell in ‘I can’t do it.’ This time, that was never an option. I put one foot in front of the other and relied on my support system. I used a variety of skills I’ve been learning in therapy. Anytime I was tempted to fortune tell or catastrophize I turned my mind. Instead of saying ‘what if’ I said ‘let’s see.’ In the waiting room, I practiced ‘half-smiling and willing hands’ (to do this you open your palms up and half-smile, it feels a bit ridiculous, but it works). I balanced emotion with reason whenever I could. I avoided any all or nothing thinking. I saught distractions like a book, a video game, a TV show.

Yesterday, I finally left the house after a feeding to go to sushi with friends. It was exactly what I needed (not just the food, the laughter, the company). It was fun, but occasionally my thoughts drifted to the ‘what ifs’ that could be happening while I was gone. My friends understood and luckily, he seemed stable when I got back.

Tubs is hiding under the bed right now resting. It’s his chosen place of comfort during this time and I’m trying to respect it, though, sometimes if he’s alert I’ll gently place him on the bed so I can pet him and talk to him for a while. He starts kneading the towel and leaning against me and my heart melts.

In a few hours, I’ll give him his next feeding and then again a few hours after that and a few hours after that and so on. I’m drafting an email for work to see how we can proceed because I can’t exactly be in the office right now. The feeding process only takes 5-10 minutes and since I’m a writer I’m hopeful they’ll let me work from home while he recovers. My coworkers and bosses have been so understanding thus far, so I’m sure there won’t be an issue.

I’m writing this because it helps me process. I’m also writing it so everyone knows what’s going on, but as more of a story and less of a ‘my cat is sick please send positive vibes’ (although those are more than welcome). Thank you for reading .

Posted in Mindfulness Matters, Personal Perspective, Topical Time

Suicide in the 21st Century

The first week of June was filled with devastation and despair. First, Kate Spade, a celebrated handbag designer, committed suicide at the age of 55. Then, Anthony Bourdain, acclaimed chef and storyteller on his show Parts Unknown, committed suicide at the age of 61. Lastly, a comprehensive study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found a 30 percent increase in suicides in more than half of the states over the last two decades.

If reading that last paragraph made you feel hopeless, you aren’t alone. Mid-June I was going to work, going to class, meeting with friends, but I was numb.

I was reading Malcolm Harris’ Kids These Days at the time. His chapter on “Behavior Modification” illuminated more troubling information about mental illness in America. Despite tremendous growth in pharmaceutical treatment for mental illness, Harris notes there hasn’t been a decline in suicides. In fact, along with the rise of suicide, there’s been a 500 percent increase in depression since the 1980s.

I know medication can save lives. It’s critical in some situations. I would never suggest someone refuse medication or suddenly stop taking medication. However, I’ve tried over a dozen antidepressants in the past 15 years. In my opinion, medication on its own isn’t enough. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) can help people gain a greater understanding of mental illness and learn different skills that can lower distress. The American Psychiatric Association acknowledges that medication and talk therapy have similar effects on the brain. Therapy’s saved my life, more than once, and conversations I’ve had with others make me well aware that I’m not the only one.

On a national level, there’s been recognition of the power of communication when it comes to extreme distress and suicidal urges. Signs like these have been going up all around the city urging those who need help to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

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Talking is the last resort. If it’s the last resort, it should also be the first. Unfortunately, as is the issue with most treatments for mental illness, there are so many barriers to talk therapy like access, affordability, and stigma that people who recognize they need help often can’t get it.

So, where does all this leave us?

The events of early June made it abundantly clear that suicide can touch anyone regardless of how much or how little they have. I think it’s important that we remember that and make an effort to check in on one another more often, especially if on the outside it looks like everything is fine. It’s not going to be easy with all the distractions of our digitized lives, but when we start the conversation we stop the stigma. That’s power.

We also need to push our elected officials to put more funding into mental health. Despite the 30 percent rise in suicides, our current president seeks to cut funding to the National Institute of Mental Health by 30 percent in 2019 (among other things). On the state level, New York and Virginia passed laws mandating mental health education. I think this has the potential to be a step in the right direction, especially with reductions in federal funding. Kids can learn how to take care of their mental health and that there’s nothing wrong with them if they experience mental illness. I’ll keep an eye out to see how this new law is implemented because I’m skeptically optimistic.

In a seemingly hopeless situation, there is still hope for us to hold onto. It’s kind of like the routine flight attendants go over before the flight takes off in case the cabin loses oxygen. Put your oxygen mask on first, but then turn to those around you and help them breathe. Take care of your mental health, but then do what you can to help your community engage with theirs.