“My dog does this amazing thing where he just exists and makes my whole life better because of it.”
Chihuahua. So not a breed of dog that I would ever have thought I would ever own. I’ve always been more into the working breeds, (ie: GSD, Dobermans, Boxers, Rotties, etc.) But way back in 2004, my ex (who wasn’t an ex at the time) and I stopped at a pet store. (Ok, please don’t yell at me about buying a pet store dog. I now know all about puppy mills and stuff. I know, I know. But back then I didn’t really know, or didn’t think about it, or whatever. If I ever get another dog it will be a rescue. Please don’t yell at me.)
Honestly we were just out enjoying the day when we decided to go in and look around. It was something to do.
I said “No dogs”, but somehow we walked out with a dog, who we ended up naming Jack. This dog went across country with us a few times; he was a great traveling companion. But I always told people he wasn’t MY dog. I mean my ex was the one that talked me into getting him. And they seemed pretty attached to each other.
Fast forward to 2013.
We had moved from Florida to Minnesota in 2010 to be closer to her family after I got laid off work. Then in March of 2013, My ex and I split. I was devastated. Don’t get me wrong, there were things wrong on both sides. I take my fair share of the blame there. But when she was preparing to move out, I was informed that I got to take the dog, she was taking the cat. (Um, what? He’s not my dog, but ok.)
I was now keeping the dog.
It’s probably a good thing I got him. You see I have PTSD, it’s probably actually CPTSD but that’s just now becoming a thing. And along with PTSD, I get a side of anxiety (with panic attacks) and depression.
Woohoo….I have a trifecta of mental crap! Yay! Go team me! /end sarcasm.
But the one living being who helped me through all of the break up and mental stuff was Jack, my little chi.
He was there when no one else was.
He laid next to me when I cried.
Back when I was in therapy, I’d come home and talk to him about it. Jack was the one I celebrated with when I got my first degree black belt. He celebrated birthdays with me, and helped me when I was down.
Because no matter how much I wanted to just hide from everyone and not get out of bed, I had to get up.
Jack needed me, to go out, or to be fed, or whatever. I could not neglect him just because I was a mess.
I had to keep going because this little sweet soul needed me. Even when I felt like no one really needed me for anything, Jack did. He depended on me for food, shelter and companionship.
As much as he needed me, I ended up needing him as well. I needed someone to get excited to see me. I’d come home from work and he was so glad I was home. Jack was the one thing in my life who wanted me there.
It was he and I against the world.
I took him to parks, we went on drives together. He heard me rant about stuff and listened to all my stories. If I was anxious he came and sat in my lap so I would pet him. We were best buds.
Late last year I was beginning to suspect that something was going on with him. There was nothing I could pinpoint and say, that’s it.
So I just kept an eye on him.
He was still the same loving dog he was just slowing down a bit; he WAS 14 years old, not a young kid anymore.
So I just kept an eye on him.
Then in January of this year, he took a turn.
I’m not going into it all but I did get him to the vet. They did blood work to start because we didn’t know what was going on. This was a place to start trying to figure it out. His blood work came back all normal. She said according to his blood work he was healthy.
The vet said the next step was getting some imagining done to see if there was tumors or something else.
He might not have been a trained emotional support dog, but that’s the job he fell into, he was there for me through some dark times. I’ve cried more over the death of this dog then I have over anyone else, human or animal.
I don’t even feel like I’m putting into the proper words what this dog meant to me.
I’m still not over his death and I’m not sure I ever will be. I’m still grieving seven months later.
I still talk to his ashes and tell him mamma loves him.
When I make popcorn I still put a piece or two by his ashes. He loved popcorn.
I have a couple of wonderful friends who had a book made for me, one of those Shutterfly ones.
One of my friends works in marketing (she’s a graphic designer) so she swiped the photos from my Facebook. My other friend, who is my TKD instructor, found the quotes.
So they made me a book of my Jack.
It’s probably the greatest gift I’ve been given. I have a shelf with a couple of photos of him and one of our other dog Abbie. The book is there too.
Jack’s ashes are there along with a clay heart with Jack’s paw prints. I call it my shrine.
I miss him…
I fell back into my depression and my anxiety has been worse. It’s been a rough year.
But I’m slowly trying to pull myself out of it. I’ve been trying to make myself get out of the apartment more. I’ve been trying to take walks in the park near here.
It’s the one Jack and I went to the most in his last 6 months before he passed. It took me several months to even drive back into that park. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to clean the inside of the windows in my van, his nose prints are still on them.
But I’m trying to do more, to get out.
But it’s hard. So very hard.
Jack’s ashes are in a small box inside of a velvet bag with embroidery. It says, “Until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge.”
I hear that all the time. There is no simple answer. But answering it is the focus of my daily life. Every day. The real answer is Gabriel’s not OK. Gabriel is Bipolar. His moods shift. Daily. Weekly. Yearly. He is never OK. I spend my days like a detective trying to sniff out any small clue of a mood change, charting, taking notes, observing him. Worrying about him.
He spent 10 months of the last 12 (literally, not figuratively) suicidal, dangerous, aggressive, and explosive. His meds are controlling that a little, but he is manic right now. Which is dangerous in other ways. And his meds aren’t holding that in. They aren’t ‘stabilizing’ him like they are supposed to. And without going into a tirade about doctors, I don’t have a ‘handle’ on this the way I PROMISED myself I would last October. And last May. And last July. You get the point.
The fact that mania seeps out now means that Gabriel is hyper (he isn’t normally at all), he is giddy, inappropriate (laughing, jokes, rude comments, butt jokes, pulling his pants down in front of a friend during a play date, etc), and more likely to jump off the roof (or trick his brothers into doing it) than anything else. Which is, in some ways, better than the dangerous depressive side. However, as October comes to a close, so will the mania, and the bipolar depression will replace my giddy-inappropriate child with one who hates the world. Who hates me. Who hates his brothers. One who is so negative and dangerous that he threatens to take knives to school and kill people. That kid is hard to live with. That kid is hard to keep safe. That kid threatens my sanity and the safety of my other two children.
We have to put him on another medication. A stronger medication. And although our ‘nurse practitioner’ is willing to give him a new medicine now, (they want to put him on Lamictal), my next appointment with his actual doctor, a real psychiatrist, isn’t until November 24.
Yes, the day before Thanksgiving.
Why wait? Because Lamictal has a 1 in 1000 chance of a deadly side effect. A deadly rash that may just start itself in the depth of my son’s mouth where I am less likely to see it. Less likely to be able to get him the immediate medical attention required. That scares me.
And scares my husband. So much so, that he refuses to give our son this drug until we see our psychiatrist. Who we can see the day before Thanksgiving.
So, I will bake pies early this year. And spend the that glorious Wednesday afternoon admiring the artwork on the walls of Children’s Hospital, nervously wondering if I will be rushing Gabriel to the ER with a rash on Thanksgiving day, and trying to hold down all those bites of pie I shoved in my throat in the anticipation of this moment where we are forced to make, yet another, hard decision about our son’s care.
But I have no choice. So we wait.
But the cycling won’t wait.
Depression is nipping at his heels and I am not sure we can out run it.
The veil of loneliness can taint us all, leaving us gasping for breath and wondering how to survive.
This is her story:
I’ve never admitted aloud how lonely I actually am. Of course, that has a lot to do with the fact that there’s no one to admit it to.
A few months ago, my therapist told me that I was in denial about being almost completely socially isolated without any friends. At the time, I thought he was full of shit. I didn’t feel lonely because I wasn’t lonely in the first place. I preferred to be by myself – it was comfortable.
Of course, he chalked this up to my preexisting depressive and anxiety disorders. Typically, I argued that I wasn’t depressed and that my social anxiety had nothing to do with my isolation. (See: Denial.)
Turns out, he was right.
I think therapists tend to be correct about these sorts of things the majority of the time, anyway.
Since May of this year, the dark cloud of apathy and despair that has permeated my entire life has gradually dissipated. As a result, I find myself wanting to do some of the things that before held no interest or pleasure: reading, watching movies, even exercising when I can muster up the energy. The more the veil lifts, the more acutely aware I become regarding my situation and my life. The loneliness, ironically postponed by my depression, has finally hit. And it is more painful than I could have ever imagined.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not completely socially isolated. I always have my mom to discuss our favorite books and watch TV shows with. When my sister has friends over that I’m comfortable with (usually ones that I’ve known my entire life), I can count on some decent conversation. Oh, and I run a blog. Not like anyone views it, but it makes me feel some sense of connection to the waking world.
Granted, none of these things are typical for a seventeen-year-old girl, although I’m only now realizing that. The more I type, the more I feel it’s as though I’m defending some sort of losing argument.
In many ways, I suppose that I am. It’s like starting off a sentence with, “Yes Officer, I was speeding, but…” I’m just digging myself into a deeper hole.
A huge part of the problem is that I don’t have any confidence when it comes to talking to people my age. I have a hard time connecting with others. Even as a child, I was somewhat of a loner. In elementary school, I got by with a small group of friends that I had known (get this) most of my life – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but when middle school started and everyone got sent off to different districts, I was up the creek.
Never having developed the same social abilities as everyone else, I spent 2/3 grades struggling to swim. I had/have several nervous habits, such as picking at the skin on my lips and fidgeting when I talked to someone; couldn’t hold eye contact with others. People pointed this out to me on multiple occasions, and I’m still consciously aware of them to this day.
Basically, communicating with others has never come easily to me. There’s always been a definite block there. Eventually, I learned to make friends, and have had a couple of good ones over the years, but when my depression hit for the first time when I was fourteen, certain aspects of my life got markedly worse – such as my anxiety, which has been prevalent for as long as I can remember.
Both took a serious turn for the worse my junior year, resulting in the social isolation I’m experiencing today. I alienated every single one of my friends, and when I was hospitalized six months ago, I was pulled out for the remainder of the year. When my senior year starts in September, I’ll be finishing up high school online. It’ll be better for my anxiety and depression, but it’ll lay absolutely nothing on my loneliness.
The boredom might be the worst part. I have nothing to look forward to during the day, so thus I spend a lot of time sleeping as much and as long as I can, just so I don’t have to deal with the tedium of being awake. My schedule is achingly dull: I wake up. I blog. I fill the empty hours with television shows and video games. If I can concentrate, I might read a book. Otherwise, it rarely deviates.
The loneliness itself is potentially the only thing worse than the boredom. I find myself wondering about the few people who were once in my life, and how they’re doing. Sometimes, I hopefully check my phone (I keep it turned off for precisely this reason) for messages, expecting none. After months and months of alienation, everyone has written me off. I don’t blame them for not wanting to deal with me – I don’t even want to deal with me.
Every couple of months or so, I have a conversation with an estranged friend, although they’re usually brief and unfulfilling. Despite how starved I am for company, I have walls that are made of concrete and insurmountably high. I push everyone away; I keep everything to myself. If I’m suffering, I don’t say a word about it. Even when I did have friends, I very rarely came across a person that I could open up to.
I know that I should reach out. Complaining about my situation isn’t going to fix it, and I fully acknowledge my role in perpetuating the problem. But on top of being closed off and introverted, I’m socially anxious, complete with debilitating physical symptoms and the occasional situational-bound panic attack.
I’m too scared to attempt to cultivate any relationships with others. When I interact with anyone outside my family, I spend hours, sometimes days afterwards ruminating over potential error and how I humiliated myself in conversation. Isolation has only made this worse, of course.
About a month ago, I hung out with someone for the first time in over eight months, and he hasn’t contacted me since. I’ve taken this as a slight, and I’m still going through what I might have done wrong over in my head. Which is pretty sad, because to feel slighted requires some sort of expectation. I had none.
I know that things could be worse. Much worse. My life thankfully has not been a tragic one. I’ve had the good grace to know friendship and what it means to be loved. I have supportive parents who have stood by my side, albeit at a distance, throughout my struggle with mental illness. Loneliness by far is not the worst thing that I have experienced. But it’s still hard.
I am seventeen years old.
I am mentally ill.
I am graduating next year by the skin of my teeth.
I didn’t know if I wanted to write about this subject or not.
It’s a dark one.
One a lot of people don’t want to talk about. But I have been suffering with this for several months now and I need to talk. I need to get it all out.
You see, I am what they call “crazy.” I suffer from a wide range of issues. Social Anxiety Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, Severe Depression, Panic Disorder, PTSD, Agoraphobia, OCD. The list seems endless which makes me feel extra crazy. I also suffer from extreme pain in my feet, hands, knees and ankles. They doctors have no answers for that yet. I don’t know that they ever will. If blood tests can’t show it, I may never have answers. And my last issue is my stomach, I have awful pains in my stomach. My upper GI tract is where the pain is and the only answer they have is GERD but the medicines thus far aren’t helping. I always feel like I am about to throw up, I live in the bathroom and a lot of times I spend days and nights vomiting. It’s no fun. And now I have been afflicted with migraines and insomnia. I am sure the two walk hand-in-hand. I am not sure how much I can truly take. I want it all to end but I don’t know how. I have so much wrong with me. And so much people really don’t know, because I am afraid to talk about it or it’s to painful to talk about.
But my biggest problem is the medicines I’m taking. None of them seem to help. They only seem to make everything worse. And I just don’t know what to do. I know I need medicines. But what do you do when the medicine cause more problems than it solves?
I am afraid of being crazy forever. I am afraid I will end up in the loony bin. I am afraid I will snap and there will be no coming back. I am just afraid. The panic is the worst. I think the depression stems from the panic. And the pain and stomach issues cause more panic. So it’s a never-ending cycle.
But I have been doing some Google research and it seems Cymbalta, which I am on, can cause more harm than good in some people. And I started taking it because it had the least stomach side effects as well as sexual side effects. Well the sex thing is non-existent and is ruining my marriage. And my stomach obviously isn’t getting any better. So I just don’t know what to do. Do I stop the SNRI? Because all the others’ side effects are way worse.
Do I just focus on the Panic? What do I do? And for sleep what do I do? I haven’t slept in months it seems like. And I am losing my mind. I thought it was the anti-anxiety pills I was on, but I am now beginning to think that it’s the Cymbalta and it does not play well with others. I am at the end of my rope. I just don’t know what to do anymore.
I just want to feel normal again, and I am not even sure what normal is anymore.
Sometimes, the act of talking to someone and taking action is all we need to find hope.
This is her story of hope:
I went to see my doctor yesterday for major depressive disorder. He sat and listened. He took my problems seriously. He even asked me if I thought I should be hospitalized. He talked about what a loss my children would have if I was gone and how they would blame themselves. It made me stop and pause. I listened.
He added another SSRI to the two medicines I currently take.
I have hope now.
Hope that I will make it through this. Hope that the new medicine will help me cope with all the craziness in my life. And it feels good to have hope. It is something to hold on to.
I met with my counselor as well. She wants to see me more regularly to help me through this. It feels good to have someone want to help me fight through this fog of depression – to help me find the light. She helped me see that all this anxiety is in my head and when the anxiety and the depression get together, it’s not as bad as I make it out to be. I take other people’s actions too personally. My kids aren’t trying to escape me; they just want to spend some time with their dad. Even though it hurts me, it’s not personal.
That gives me hope that someday I will be able to differentiate between what is reality and what I am imagining or reading into the situation.
I don’t know if my marriage will make it, but I have a feeling that no matter what, I will be able to make it through to the other side. I will be okay. No matter what, I have my kids and I have my goals.
We all will be able to make it to the light and live to see another day.