“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 wish, for so many reasons, that we were closer. It seems that all your life I’ve watched you hurting, and I’ve never been able to help you. Either it was out of my hands or you wouldn’t let me close enough to be any good.
I know I’m a disappointment to you, and that there are times you wish we didn’t share a name. I’m sorry. As difficult as our relationship has been, I have always been proud to call you my sister.
When you were five and our parents were divorcing, I should have been more sensitive. I should have seen the Little Sister who needed reassurance. Looking back, I don’t know why I minded it when you followed me around – you were so darn cute!
When you were playing softball, I wish I hadn’t been so wrapped up in my teenage-self. I wish I’d praised you for all your hard work, told you how great you were. Had I praised you, would you have felt shadowed by our middle sister’s spotlight? Would you still have given up sports?
Maybe it would have changed your future to hear how proud I was of you.
When you were experiencing your own teen depression, I wish I hadn’t been thousands of miles away. I’d have held you as you cried. Maybe then you wouldn’t have tried to overdose. If I’d been there to listen, would you have started cutting?
When you enlisted in the military, did I tell you how my heart swelled with pride? When you came back from your basic training and tech school, I was, once again, wrapped up in my own stuff. Did I tell you that I loved you? Did I tell you that I missed you each day you were gone?
And now, when you’re hurting – when your life is spinning – the distance between us is more than the five-hour drive. I want to call you and listen to your tears. I want to tell you that broken hearts hurt worse than childbirth, but that you’ll heal and be stronger.
I want to comfort you and give you the compassion and support that I know you won’t get from our mother or our middle sister.
It’s silly, really. We’re so much alike, you’d think we’d be closer. But, as I look back, I can see all the wedges I drove between us.
And so, I’ll write this letter to you, a letter you’ll never see. I’ll keep you in my thoughts as I wait to hear news of you. And I’ll pray that this isn’t the thing that causes you to hurt yourself again.
You are such a beautiful person.
You give so much of yourself to everyone. You, who never wanted children, are my son’s favorite aunt. He glows when he talks of his time with you and he tells anyone who will listen that he wants to join the military, just like his heroes. Do you know you’re one of his heroes?
Do you know you’re one of mine?
I love you to the depths of my soul. And no matter what, you will always be a part of me.
By the time my first baby was born, I had been in therapy for about a year and a half. When I started therapy, I had reached a point where I knew I needed help, and the risk of reaching out for help was outweighed by the burden of sitting alone with the darkness I felt any longer. Therapy helped me a ton and I was in a much better spot when I became pregnant. My husband and I had been married for two years, and though the pregnancy was unplanned, I desperately wanted a baby.
Pregnancy was a roller coaster of emotions, with lots of vomiting. The last couple of months were good, and I felt strong and ready for childbirth, but still unsure of motherhood. My labor was not typical and there were a stressful three days and 20ish hours of active labor that led up to the birth of my daughter. By the time she was born, I was exhausted. The first thought I remember having when my husband placed my baby on my chest was “I don’t know how to do this,” followed by apologizing that she was crying and that I had been too loud during labor. I felt ashamed, like I somehow didn’t do it right. Then I felt doubly ashamed for commenting about the baby crying, because obviously babies are supposed to cry. And what kind of mother would think there is something wrong with her baby crying right after she’s born? No one was putting this on me or making me feel this way. There was also joy and a deep cozy feeling when cuddling my new babe but, mostly, I was scared, tired, and feeling completely unqualified.
The nurse let me “rest” for a few hours after the birth, during which my husband and baby took a nap, and I ate and took a shower. Then the nurse came back in to give me a bunch of instructions on baby care before sending me home with an hours-old extremely delicate creature who completely depended on me for survival. I told the nurse that I was too tired to remember anything and I wasn’t sure I was qualified to care for a newborn. She told me that newborns were made for new parents (which was oddly reassuring) and to set an alarm to go off every two hours all night long, so that I could wake up to feed the baby. She emphasized how important it was that I feed the baby every two hours and wake her up to feed if she was sleeping.
The first night was hard. I remember my husband waking me up because I didn’t hear the alarm going off under my pillow. I don’t remember if the baby was awake, too, in the cosleeper beside our bed, but I do remember that every time I tried to nurse her, she would fall right back to sleep. The next day, I called the nursing support line and they told me she was a “sleepy nurser,” and gave me some tips on how to wake her up to nurse. My mom stayed with us for about three days to help out and my grandparents came to meet the new baby. After about five days, my husband went back to work and I was very much alone at home.
I remember worrying about a lot of things and wanting to do everything right. I remember her gazing into my face as I rocked and nursed her, looking into her big dark eyes and feeling like I was falling down a very deep tunnel. Then weird thoughts would flash through my mind: “What if she can’t breathe while she is nursing, what if she knows I have no idea what I am doing, what if she is a demon? I am not emotionally stable enough to be a mother; what if someone finds out and takes her away from me?” This scared me to the point that I avoided looking into her eyes. I never wanted to hurt my child, but I was afraid of the things going through my mind.
I was especially scared of trimming her fingernails. They were so tiny and her fingers were so precious. I worried that I would snip them with the trimmers by accident. Several people suggested that it was easier to chew baby nails than to trim them, but every time I thought of this, a picture would flash into my mind of my sweet baby’s finger chewed to a bloody nub. Sometimes those flashes would come when I was trimming her nails and I started trimming them only when I was feeling well rested, for fear of having one of those thoughts and freaking out.
There were other things that I knew I weren’t right too. Anytime I saw one of those child safety tags they put on every piece of baby gear, I would visualize whatever horror they warned about happening to my baby. I would lay her in the Pack-n-Play, catch a glimpse of the warning label and have a flash of finding her suffocated. Same with the baby carrier, the stroller, and the baby bathtub. She would cry when my husband tried to put her to sleep at night and I remember worrying that my husband was sexually abusing her, and wrestling with that being a totally crazy thought, but still feeling that I needed to protect her from him. (Please note my husband has never and would never do this. I think this just came up in my mind because my mother had been sexually abused by her father when she was a kid and I was just having really bizarre thoughts). Instead of resting, I would stay awake listening to them on the baby monitor, crying and worrying until she went to sleep. Once she was asleep, I would lay awake in bed thinking about all the horrible crap that could happen, plus my to-do list, and what a fucked-up person I was.
These thoughts were scary to me, but they weren’t entirely new. During the deepest part of my depression a few years earlier, I had similar gruesome flashes any time I saw my husband’s X-Acto knife. That gruesome image was always of the knife slicing my wrists, which is why I finally went into therapy, though I never told my therapist of my concerns about the knife. I was afraid that if I told her, she would have me committed or the have the baby taken away. I was not suicidal, did not use self harm, and absolutely did not want to kill myself.
When my maternity leave ended, I went back to work. I was incredibly sleep deprived because my baby would not take a bottle while I was gone and would nurse every two hours all night long. Her weight percentage had gone down and the doctor was concerned about her getting enough milk and gaining weight. I kept up the night feedings, tried different things to get her weight up and worried about everything. The gruesome images and thoughts kept up for a while, too. I can’t remember exactly when I stopped having them, but I remember having them when some friends came to visit when my baby was about six months old.
Around that time I attempted to handle my anxiety by smoking pot or drinking after I put the baby to bed at night. This helped me numb out a little but, ultimately, it added to my anxiety. Before becoming pregnant, I drank and smoked a lot, and it was too easy to fall back on those unhealthy coping mechanisms. I stayed in therapy for another year and a half for post-partum depression, and my therapist helped me “fact check” some of my irrational fears, like that my baby was going to starve to death or that my husband couldn’t adequately care for her while I was at work. She also helped me figure out what self care was, and generally made me feel loved and supported. Even though I never disclosed everything that I was experiencing, having her support was extremely helpful. I will forever be grateful for how kind she was to me and how much she helped me during this time.
Eventually, my husband and I decided that we were both worn too thin with our work schedules, and figured out how I could leave my job and stay home. When I left my job, I also lost the mental health care coverage I had through my insurance. My therapist and I made a self care and emergency plan in case the depression came back. When I ended therapy, I decided to stop smoking pot entirely. Facing shit without an easy numb-out was harder than I thought it would, and the first three days, everything felt very intense. Even though I didn’t smoke “that much,” I knew it was important for me to quit and develop some healthier ways of being in the world. I also joined a support group, took an online self care class for moms, started exercising, and found a really cool mental health video game that taught me about different aspects of self care.
When my second baby was born two years ago, I asked for more support from my family after the birth and I had a community of moms to talk with. I kept track of my two week timeline for depression and was more aware of how that looks in my own mind. Although there were things that I worried about and struggled with, I did not have any of the scary thoughts or gruesome flashes as the first time around. I did feel overwhelmingly joyful about gazing into his newborn eyes. It was a totally different and less scary experience. Having a completely different post-partum experience the second time has shown me how much of my experience was PPD and not just typical new motherhood.
I hope that my story will encourage other moms to get the support they need if they are experiencing PPD after the birth of a baby or depression years later. It can be hard to see the symptoms when you are in the fog of it, and it is worth seeking help if you aren’t sure about what you’re experiencing. Healing is worth it. You are worth it.
Guys, here’s the thing. I’m tired. Not like “I might grab a nap” tired. More like “I would like to lay down, and become one with the ground and let flowers sprout out of me” tired.
I have to admit that I’m a fighter. I’m a single female with a house, yard, full time job, two dogs, a cat, some fish, a couple hobbies, anxiety, depression, and an autoimmune disorder.
The bit that gets me is that part of my job is helping piece together information on death investigations. There is nothing more soul sucking than a steady stream of autopsy reports, except for maybe watching the slow demise of another human being. That’s eight hours of my day. I love my job. I feel committed to it, and we do good work. It’s just so hard.
When I come home, I have lovely beautiful friends who need me. They need me to support them, and have their backs. They have problems, and I feel like I should help, but I’m tapped out. I’m dry and crumbling. I want so badly to help, but my well is dry.
I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t have anyone to tell.
Yet, all of them have always been under my control. I just didnʻt know it.
All this time, I thought they had complete control of me, but the truth is, and has always been, that my demons for me, like yours for you, are ours to tame, name and obliterate (maim). Once they are tamed and named, they can no longer control you.
They can only be your bitches.
While this might seem very simple, I know it is anything but. I know that it is a demon son of a bitch to deal with the thoughts we think, and it is worse when the PTSD kicks in. I know, too, that people think you are pretending, but, I know that you cannot possibly pretend to be the thing that you have been fighting your whole life long – that thing that other people think and believe is your identity, or, sometimes, they think it is your mask.
It is the monster that no one thinks about becoming real in the lives of domestic violence survivors, and the irritating little mother fucker of a demon that likes to rear its head just when you thought you had the shitty little thing tamed. You find out quickly that these demons donʻt want to be tamed. They want to be what you want to be, which is free and wild. They want to be free to run wildly amok in the hallways of your memory, fucking with you until tears fall, and not only do others stop seeing the real you, even you stop seeing the person you always knew yourself to be.
My own demons like to play with me, they like to knock the fuck out of reality and truth, and they like to tell me that I’m not at all what others think me to be. My demons tell me all the time that I am not capable of doing things the right way, because I do things my way, and my demons like to remind me that I am not the prettiest, or the smartest, they tell me I am the most irritating person and that even the people who love me the most also and equally loathe me.
My own demons fight with me, argue the truth until there is nothing left of it, the proverbial pile of mindfuck particles left scattered around my psyche like some sort of diabolical confetti comprised of the memories that made me feel better, or made me feel awful, or made me think things that were not the truth, or made me believe that I was not ever in control of who I am…but that they were.
Then one day I figured out that those demons were askinʻ for it. They were literally, by right of their continuing to pop up in my life at the most inconvenient times, asking to be seen to, to be heard, to be told what to do and how to behave. They needed me to see to them, to stop feeding them the bullshit that, for so long, had made them sick and ugly and loathsome, and just completely miserable, and that kept me under their control.
Lots of times we do not see that we might be dealing with someone elseʻs demons, and ones that they show to us, and only us, for the purposes of healing them, through the power of love and truth all at one time.
Sometimes, the demons respond favorably, and other times, they fight back, wanting to live and be heard until they no longer have voice to scream at us with, or anger to flail through us with, or any other way of being or thinking that lives within us, because instead of letting them become like flying monkeys, we make them into the little fuckers who, no matter what, we have control of.
We canʻt see ourselves as anything but works in progress, and as such, sometimes we need to help those parts of who we are that are not that great. We need them to compare them to what we want to see, what is already there, and what just requires a little coaxing….