Dread

This is going to be a sad one, fair warning.

We are getting kittens this week and next year we are planning on potentially adding some human mini-Johanna-and-Nathans to the family. These are both perfectly normal things for a 31 year old newlywed to be doing. These are even things that I should be very excited and happy about. But somehow, I’m a wreck over both things. When I look at my life with Nathan and the dogs as it is now, I would trade every unknown kitten or hypothetical baby to capture this little slice of my life forever. We have had the best time, we truly have. On weekend mornings when I wake up next to Nathan and those little wriggling pups clamber on top of us and frantically kiss our faces with their sleepy puppy breath because they missed us so much for those hours that we were asleep… that is heaven. I can’t imagine ever being happier than those mornings, I couldn’t even contain that much happiness, I’d just burst or die.

I’ve been terrified of Nathan dying for a while. A blogger I’ve followed for almost a decade lost her husband a couple of months ago to pancreatic cancer – he was healthy and young, then felt sick one day and was dead in a matter of weeks. Another blogger I used to follow lost her husband to melanoma a few years before, and her unimaginable grief has turned her life into a horror show ever since. And even before that, an uncle of mine was struck down by a brain aneurysm in his forties. It feels unfathomable that those little moments of heaven I just mentioned could be a mere hour away from one of these things, or any other number of countless ways a person can be snatched away before their time.

The dread of losing the dogs is more pressing though. Not because I love Nathan less, but because I know that statistically, all these terrible things that could befall him are unlikely. But with the dogs, it’s not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. Posie is nine years old and Rupert just turned thirteen. I don’t even know how to describe what these little dogs mean to me and how fiercely I love them, but the knowledge that I only have a handful more years with them… I just can’t. I don’t know how I could survive losing them. They have both been so much more than I thought possible, I have loved them more than I ever dreamed I could love anybody or anything. They are so perfect and precious, and I wish more than anything I could just pause them and love them like this for the rest of my life.

I was so excited about these little kittens we are getting at first, but it feels like they are signalling this next phase of my life where at least two terrible losses are inevitable. I am trying so hard to look on the bright side and let myself be open to the possibility of more love, more joy… but again, I just keep coming back to my weekend mornings in bed with my three loves. Maybe the problem is the limits of my imagination. I just can’t conceive of anything better than that, and life feels like it would never be as bright or colourful ever again once these days are over. And one day will be the last day ever that we’ll have together as a Fab Four, and I won’t even know until it’s gone.

It’s just so stupid. I am looking at Posie and Rupert right now, snoozing away after a day of playing and treats on tap. They have such wonderful lives, and when they die, the grand sum of their existence was that they were happy, safe and loved infinitely. I read something online that makes me feel a little better – a little braver or nobler, I guess – in the midst of all this dread:

I think about it this way– it makes me much much sadder to think about myself dying before my dog (for altruistic reasons, not for “I don’t wanna die” reasons)…
I have the faculties to process the concept of death, at least more than my dog does. I know she will die, and that I will die, so we’ll someday be parted. If she were to get terminally ill, I would be able to prepare for that. To her, though… I would just be not there one day.
So I think of it as something I’m willing to do for my dog, and probably the dog after her and probably after that: I’m willing to live their respective lives — their entire lives — with them, and try to make them as happy as I can for as long as I can. After she’s gone, I’m willing to bear the burden of being sad so that she doesn’t have to. And life goes on and soon all I’ll be able to remember are the happy times. I don’t know that a dog is capable of getting over something like that, so I’m glad that it happens this way.

It’s a nice thought, to know that even if my heart breaks, at least it will be mine and not theirs.

So, about these kittens. I was excited to get them until they became a symbol of all my existential dread. It makes sense to get them. We are hoping they will be enriching for the dogs, friends for Posie when Rupert goes, and then they will be a comfort to us when we have no dogs. The cats will be lower maintenance and require less attention when we are in our busiest parenting years. They will be easier to make arrangements for when we travel. There are a lot of good reasons for bringing them into our family, but it just hurts to be kicking off this kind of succession planning, because it forces me to acknowledge what is coming next.

I’m trying to look on the bright side, I really am. I am trying to be like Posie and Rupert, and live wholeheartedly in the moment. But the dread remains, tainting all this love and joy with the possibility that it could be taken away at any moment. I’m reading the Rainbow Bridge poem over and over, trying to console myself that if there is a heaven, we’ll all be reunited and it will be those weekend mornings forever and ever. I’m thinking of Titanic where Rose ‘goes on and on’ and lives an amazing happy life, knowing that even eighty years is a relatively short time until she’ll be reunited with Jack in eternity. I’m really trying, and in the meantime, I feel like I’m so full of grief for the living that I won’t be able to enjoy the time that we do have together, or let myself love the kittens like they deserve.

Anybody out there have any tips, besides “try not to think about it”? If we have years left together as a pawsome foursome, or only a few weeks or months, I don’t want it to be poisoned by my sadness, because when I’m sad, Posie and Rupert are sad too. How can I just pull myself together for their sake?

I’m going to try harder tomorrow. I will take them for a walk. I will give them snacks and cuddles and rub their little bellies and tell them how precious and clever they are. I will take photos and videos of them so I can show my future children how lovely they were. I will read in bed after I wake up and before I go to sleep so that they can snooze curled up against me for a little longer. The time is short for me, but it’s everything for them, and I want it to be nothing but wonderful for them.

What Has Really Been Going On

I’ve talked at length about what a horrible year this has been, but I’ve been sketchy on the details the whole time. I usually don’t talk about hard stuff on the internet, but it seems fair for anybody reading to have the full picture, rather than the little breadcrumbs I’ve been dropping. So here they are:

I fell through my bathroom floor and injured my leg so badly that I needed 7+ months so far of rehabilitation and it is permanently disfigured (I call it the Zombie Leg because it’s usually grey, sometimes blackish purple). It’s still not 100% in terms of functionality and perhaps never will be again. I’ve been feeling incredibly down about it, and how it’s just another thing to add to the list of my scars and battle wounds and ways that my body is disfigured forever and ever.

In this time, we discovered that Nathan’s standards in housework and meal planning/prepping are not the same as mine (not that he didn’t try – thank you Nathan!), so our house became an overwhelming junk pile of insurmountable trash and we both got really unhealthy from eating takeout all the time. This was going to be the year of getting our health and fitness levels under control, and for the first six months, we went so far backwards – incredibly disheartening.

Something I’m still sore about is how revealing it ended up being about the lack of community around us. Very few people helped out during this time. I get that ‘severe haematoma, sprained knee, lacerations and massive soft tissue damage’ doesn’t sound as dramatic as ‘broken leg’ or whatever, but I was really shocked at the number of people we were supposedly close to who didn’t even care to ask how it was going or if we needed any help. A positive from that is that I have a much clearer idea now of who our real friends are.

Just before Christmas, my grandma went into the emergency department with pneumonia. She never came home and died in April. This was awful, but worse still because there was so much up and down, so much hope and grief drawn out over such a long time… so many months spent dreading every phone call just in case it was the worst. I still miss being able to just call her and ask her questions about gardening or tell her stories about how spoiled my dogs are so she could pretend to disapprove. There are so many stories I’ve never heard or I’m only just learning now, and I know it’s going to be hard in the future when wonderful things happen and I won’t be able to share these things with her. But she was very religious, so if there is a heaven, I know she’d be there, and she’ll just know without me having to say anything.

A few weeks ago, my sisters were in the Lombok earthquake. It was horrendous and there was a full hour where our family thought that we were exchanging the last messages we would ever send to my sisters before they died in a tsunami (tsunamis, or specfically Posie and Rupert being ripped from my arms in a tsunami, is one of my recurring nightmares so it rattled me a lot). They saw so much death and destruction, and I will never forget my sister’s description of the violence of the shaking knocking her to the floor, and running as fast as she could while buildings collapsed all around her. I would never want to say that “my trauma” was anything on the same scale as what they experienced, but it was such a terrifying thing that rippled out from them and really affected me too. My sisters were watching Dante’s Peak this afternoon and making jokes about how unrealistic the earthquake depictions were, but I could barely look at the screen as this huge swell of anxiety surged through me. It’s making me a bit anxious about my Bali trip in nine weeks too.

So there it is. I’m not writing this for pity, mainly so I can stop vague-posting. Life isn’t meant to be wonderful all the time, but it has been a shocking run. I never expected my first year of marriage, especially, to look like this – being a newlywed is supposed to be blissful and fun, not watching your depressed wife lay on the sofa chowing down painkillers for months while your house turns into a hovel. But things are finally turning a corner, and there are exciting things coming up. I have a feeling this next year is going to be the honeymoon year that we didn’t really get to have.

We are going to Bali in October. I’m so excited about this, because originally I was going by myself and was a bit down about it… but Nathan surprised me by taking a few days so we can be together for the first part of the trip. The rest of it will be my writerly retreat of solitude – I am fully planning to eat banana pancakes every day, swim in the pool, nap, read, dodge geckos and get a ton of writing done. I am currently in the planning stages of my novel – I want it all plotted before we go so I can dive straight into it.

Another good thing is that we got a treadmill (I’m calling it the dreadmill). Magpie season is especially bad around here because we live right near a nature reserve, so it will be great to exercise indoors for the next few months and not risk losing an eyeball every time I leave the house. I’m making a plan to be able to run the 5km in the Melbourne Marathon with my sisters in a few months, wish me luck!

It’s our birthday in a few weeks (yes, it’s the same day) and I haven’t got any concrete plans yet, but I think it should be a full treat yo’ self kind of day. I sorta kinda want to go to the Pancake Parlour, even though I always regret it when the food coma hits after drinking those giant soda floats. We’ll see. But I also kinda sorta want to go on safari at the open range zoo. And I sorta kinda also just want to have an at home spa day with Lush bath bombs and expensive body butter, lay around all day in a robe, eat sushi, drink Veuve Clicquot and watch Bridesmaids and How to Make an American Quilt and The Joy Luck Club and Twister (ha). Again, we’ll see. It is Nathan’s birthday too, so I have to balance what I want with what he wants (he’d probably love any of those options, to be honest).

And in April, I’m doing the single biggest thing to date for my writing career by attending Fiona McIntosh’s masterclass in South Australia. I am thrilled that she has such a stellar record of getting attendees on the track to publication, but into really good contracts too. It seems like she has such a knack for knowing how to give people the tools to turn themselves from hopefuls into professionals, so I can’t wait. Next year is going to be the year I sell a novel, I can feel it. When it happens, I’m honestly going to throw myself a party. An excuse to buy some more expensive shoes and wear one of my completely over the top cupcake dresses, if nothing else. I never had an 18th or a 21st, but it seems like such a bigger milestone to celebrate my first novel, so why not?

And of course, we’re building the dream house in about twelve months. I am beyond excited for that. I’m calling it Barbie’s dream house, Nathan is calling it Chateau von Doggeaux. Either way. I will be sad to leave this little house behind, especially because of all the memories, like bringing Posie home for the first time or when we got engaged. But the memories won’t go away just because the house will.

Apart from that, the summer beckons. I love summer, every second of the year that is not summer, I am yearning for it to come back. But this year, I have something that will make it especially fun. This is the one thing I’m not going to be completely upfront about in this post – it wouldn’t make quite the splash if I gave it away before I have photos for the full effect (yes, that is a very big hint!).

This post has made me feel better already. The negatives were horrendous, but the future is bright!

The Mean Reds

You know those days when you get the mean reds?

The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

— Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Anxiety is high right now. There are a few concrete reasons that I can pinpoint that are filling me with dread, but those few things seems to have grown tentacles that stretch into the most unlikely places. Places that don’t even exist or are so far out of my universe that you would think they would never affect me, but here I am. And suddenly I am crying over:

My great-great-great-grandmother who died in a workhouse when she was my age.
Rosemary Kennedy, who had the same birthday as me, and everybody in the world who ever suffered an ice-pick lobotomy.
Visions of Posie and Rupert being ripped out of my arms by a tsunami.
Being a ghost and perceiving my own mangled body on the ground after being in a plane crash, surrounded by artifacts of my existence.
Something terrible happening to Nathan and me suffocating to death because there’s no longer enough will in my body to even make my lungs work without him in the world.

I don’t have the best anxiety strategies, other than to pop a pill and try to focus on something else. But sometimes I can’t even do that, because anxiety can smother your concentration and enjoyment, leaving you frozen. I’m sure a little anxiety is probably good for you, but this is a giant waste. Of time, energy, tears, effort. Doesn’t it realize I have better things to do with my life?

I’m making little rituals of distraction. Drinking pots of different types of oolong tea. Listening to a lot of music that I’ve never heard before. Watering the garden every night and witnessing it come alive again after the heat. Taking one-on-one time with each of the dogs to stroke their velvet ears and tell them stories about what excellent dogs they are. I’m not sure if any of this helps, but it does help kill time, and one thing is certain – anxiety can’t last forever, I just have to wait it out.

Dread

It has been a LONG time since I’ve posted. Apologies to the two people who read here! But for now there is this:

I spent part of April and May with a jaw infection, so now, mere months after Nathan got his out, it seems it’s my turn to get my wisdom teeth out – I’m booked in for next week. And I’m a little bit terrified. So many people have told me great stories about how their operation was so easy, or they were in barely any pain, or they were eating normally 24 hours later. But according to the surgeon, that’s not how it’s going down for me. TN has a tendency to make things more complicated and this is no exception. It means a longer operation, much bigger incisions, more digging around in there, longer recovery period, bigger restrictions on how long I can’t eat for, bigger risk of complications.

I’m dreading this whole thing. It’s very scary to be on a countdown for something that you know is going to make you feel so much worse before you feel better, but worse – that it has the potential to plunge you right back into the worst pain imaginable. I’m really hoping though that it will be a cruisy week of eating custard, watching Netflix and having Nathan take silly puffy-faced photos of me – crossing all my fingers and toes!

part-time single

This long weekend can’t come fast enough. Normally, I’m fine with Nathan working interstate Monday to Friday. There are lots of benefits to the situation – his commute to work only happens twice a week, rather than twice a day. If he worked in Melbourne, he would actually spend more time on trains than he currently does on planes. It’s also a good thing for his career, to be able to travel anywhere, any time.

But sometimes… two days at the end of every week just aren’t enough. In both of our families, birthdays and anniversaries tend to be clumped together, which can mean that we’re trying to squeeze multiple obligations into each weekend, for months. At times like those, alone time is hard to come by.

In his downtime, all he wants to do is sleep anyway.
In his downtime, all he wants to do is sleep anyway.

A while ago, somebody tried to commiserate with me – “I know how you feel, it’s the same with us – I barely see my husband during the week either!”

Same thing? Not quite.

I kind of had to restrain myself with this one. Smile and nod. Yes, they work long hours; yes, they probably don’t spend much quality time during the week. But she gets to eat dinner with her husband and sleep in the same bed every night. If she needs a hug, she gets a hug. There is so much to be said for the physical closeness of simply existing in the same space, and I miss it. I’m surrounded by this home for two, yet I’m knocking around in here by myself most of the time. I don’t even know how people cope if their partner is deployed or something, for months at a time. When Nathan’s gone during the week, it’s not as though I’m suddenly living as a single person – in this house, the lack of him is tangible.

Rupert, the wonder dog – part II

**This is Part II of my first post about Rupert’s health issues. You can read Part I here**

Reflections, seven(ish) months later.

I’m having a lazy day and writing this from bed, propped up by pillows with the laptop on my knees. Rupert is curled up, sleeping at the end of the bed. He snores like a person, sometimes punctuated by little whimpery barks if he’s having a particularly vivid dream. Posie is, of course, busy doing her ‘job’ of guarding the house – patrolling windows and French doors, watching for any wayward neighbourhood cats that dare enter our yard.

I have a theory about dogs, that they love having a job to do. A raison d’être. Just like people. I suppose it makes them feel important, or like they are contributing somehow. Nathan’s childhood dog Marshal would help bring the shopping inside, waiting by the car for someone to give him a bag to carry. My childhood dog, the million dollar globetrotting Xiao-Gui, was a bit of a Florence Nightingale – she would take up residence on the lap or bedside of whoever was sick, or in need of some comfort, and stay with them until they felt better. Posie looks like a bit of a princess, but she’s a fantastic watchdog. The barking can be annoying, but there have been times when I have been endlessly grateful for it. 

I’m not sure what Rupert’s job is, but today at least, he’s off duty. Or maybe he’s retired now. After everything he has been through, he’s earned it.

His eventual diagnosis was idiopathic pharyngeal dysphasia, which ultimately doesn’t say a lot. The veterinary team that cared for him at the hospital started with a long list of suspects, but ruled them out one by one, until we came to this – a condition without a name, a reason or a cure. The first few weeks after he came home from the intensive care unit were harrowing. Apart from twice-daily steam sessions, multiple rounds of tablets and constant supervision, Rupert required hand feeding three times a day, then being held in a sitting position for half an hour to ensure all the food went down. At first, he was so exhausted just from having pneumonia that he gave up after only a few morsels.

It was touch and go for a while, but eventually, things started to look better. Not all at once, of course, but a series of little moments that gradually gathered momentum. Rupert wagged his tail when my sister came to visit him. He got out of bed by himself to go searching for a teddy bear to snuggle. He started giving me his big-eyed, pathetic Oliver Twist tragic face again, when he’d eaten all of his dinner and was hopelessly full, but still wanted more.

It’s about seven months since his ordeal. He snores and coughs a lot, and still has to be hand fed (luckily, only once a day). We have to be vigilant about signs of pneumonia, but he hasn’t had a single relapse. He spends his days sunbathing on the lawn or napping on the sofa, but runs around like a madman and bucks like it’s a rodeo whenever he gets excited. And he’s still Posie’s BFF. Looking at the spirited, vibrant little dog he is after less than a year of recovery, I can’t believe how many people expected that we would just give up on him. It’s just a dog. He’s had a good life. He’s done his dash. It’s not like he’s a child. 

He is not disposable. And we will not give up on him. The vet staff have mentioned many times that Rupert is lucky to have been adopted by us, and that we were willing to do whatever we could for him. But we are the lucky ones. Rupert has done (and is still doing) his job – loving us – unconditionally, unwaveringly, without expectation. Dogs are so selfless and giving of themselves, and after everything Rupert has gone through in his life, it’s amazing that his love for us (and everyone he meets) just keeps coming and coming. The very least we can do for him is love him back.

Rupert, the wonder dog – part I

**This was originally posted on tumblr, but I felt compelled to repost here. You can read Part II here.**

I don’t normally use tumblr like a journal or a diary, but I’m a bit miserable and needed to ‘write it out’.

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Little Rupert is in intensive care. The hospital sent this photo on Saturday night. He’s spending his time between a nebulizer, an oxygen tent, and having endless blood tests. If he’s well enough for anaesthetic, tomorrow he will have an MRI on his brain, a barium x-ray and they mentioned testing the fluid in his lungs and taking muscle biopsies. Apart from the pneumonia, he has a mystery auto-immune muscle wasting disease.. they originally thought it was masticatory muscle myositis, but it seems to be affecting his shoulders and his ability to breath and swallow, too. The vets are confident that it will be treatable, but he has to get past this pneumonia first.

It’s not a nice or reasonable way to feel, but I wish this was happening to some other dog. Rupert’s biggest ambition in life is just to be cuddled, or sit on someone’s lap. He is so gentle and spirited, and his favourite trick is throwing his body weight backwards in your arms so you have to hold him like a baby.

What we know of his history is so awful – before we adopted him (free to a good home, in the classifieds), he’d had two years of being passed around between people who weren’t prepared to or able to look after him. Before that, he had been in the pound. He was free because of his separation anxiety – he is so desperate to be loved, he would go to crazy lengths to prove how submissive he was.. like peeing on the couch. We’re working on that! He still has some scars from his past life – some strange grooves on the back of his canine teeth, possible from chewing on a cage; if he ever sees a plastic bag on the floor, he immediately claims it as his ‘bed’; he loves his little sister, Posie, but he gets incredibly agitated around other male dogs. We don’t know when his birthday is, we don’t know what his first name was, or where he was born.

It’s so cruel and unfair that this should happen to him after everything he’s already been through. But if it had to happen, I’m glad it’s happening now – because unlike everybody else who gave him away when it got tough, we’ll stick with him through this.