My Loyal Shadow

I have been wanting to write about this subject for quite some time, but every now and again, the subject matter means so much to you it seems overwhelming to do it justice. I have a chronic illness & my closest companion is my dog, Daisy. A close member of my family suddenly lost their dog yesterday so I decided to write about Daisy while my heart is filled with love and not with loss.

I have lived with a dog most of my life. While quite young, my family had a very protective German Shepherd who was sweet to us but would rip the pants right off the oil man when he came to fill the tank. When she grew old and sick, my mom and older brother took her to the vet to be put down. My brother has been and is a stoic person. My mother said it was the first time she had seen him cry. We all loved that dog and my brothers’ expression of sadness was a dedication of what a great dog we had growing up.

Next, while I was a late a teen, our family had a Beagle, who loved to chew my text books and eye glasses, even when left high on a table. My mom would ask me, why do you leave things where he can get at them? As I gawked at her in disbelief, a part of me was still impressed this pot bellied stubborn dog would do anything just because he could. He was treasured by my younger brother and I will admit, even though the dog cost me a mint to replace university books, I had a soft spot for him.

When I moved out, I was never quite settled long enough to commit to a dog relationship. I believe once you make a commitment to an animal, they are yours for life. However long that may be. When my husband and I weren’t quite ready for children, I begged him for a dog. We were living in an apartment, so not the best of circumstances, but with love and a good home, dogs adjust. We bought the dog from a pet store, after I had visited the store and fell in love. She was a hound dog and beautiful. Being a first time owner, I made all the classic mistakes. Treated her like a baby (we even had a toy bag we would bring for her everywhere we went). And she did go with us everywhere. She also spent a lot of time alone as my husband and I worked full time. She would destroy things from boredom and attention. She actually managed to rip apart our loveseat right down to the springs.

Eventually, I became pregnant with my first child. We moved to a townhouse and our hound had a lot more room. Unfortunately, our actual baby took her spot in the “pack” and she was not happy about it. Our well trained dog, peed and pooped all over the carpet where our baby played. She would growl if our daughter came near her. Was terrible to walk, or should I say she took me for a drag ! But we made the commitment so we put up with her antics hoping she would grow out of it as our daughter became older.

Then I became pregnant with our second child. At this point I was a stay at home mom and with a two year girl and a baby on the way, had little time or energy to devote to our hound. She acted out even more. Tearing up dirty diapers and smearing them across the carpet. Lunging at anyone coming in our door. She escaped once and nearly ripped into a man crossing the street. We found out around this time we were having a boy. My daughter was very mild and gentle but I heard that boys were much more energetic, curious and hands on. We decided at that point it was time to re-home our hound. It was and still is one of the most heartbreaking decisions I have had to make. I loved her but had become afraid of her. I knew we were not meeting her needs plus I had serious concerns about the dog around my daughter and my son.

My husband found a friend from work who lived in the country who was willing to take her and bring her into his family. He had a large property, his children were older and it seemed like a good fit. I was seven months pregnant when I said good bye to her. I wasn’t strong enough to go with my husband to her new home. Which was selfish. And I have never seen or heard about her again as my husband switched jobs. A number of years went by and although I still felt an absence in my life without a dog, I felt after giving away our hound I didn’t deserve a dog. I had done the one thing I promised myself I would never do. I still feel the heart ache for our hound and wonder if she had a good life.

I did want my children to grow up knowing what it is like to have a dog in their life. And I missed the companionship. So behind my husband’s back I secretly started searching for a dog that needed rescuing. After many months, the local Humane Society had an ad for collie/retriever pups. My best friend and I went to check them out. When we got there, only two pups were left – a male and a female. So they put me in the room with both dogs and I felt drawn to the male dog. As I sat on the floor he ran over and bite my mouth. And puppy teeth are damn sharp ! The female came to me, crawled on my lap and almost immediately feel asleep. Her name was Dottie. And she picked me. We had to go through some formalities and I made many promises to my husband but the four of us brought her home that night. My son was still quite young and kept calling her Daisy. And that name seemed to suit her better.

I did follow through on my promises. I took her to puppy kindergarden. She was taught how to eat while the kids touched her bowl and her food. Because I was her main trainer and spent the most time with her, she became “my” dog. As she grew she resembled a border collie and had many traits of that breed. She loves to fetch, loves to swim, loves the kids, even likes our cats. She had her puppy destructive period, but hey, we needed a new floor in our hallway anyways.

As she grew and matured she has become a lovely dog. I learned from my earlier mistakes and am proud of the part I played to help her become a truly wonderful pet. She had it in her all the time, it just took proper training for her to learn. And she is smart !

Cue my chronic illness. Because my illness is in my lungs I became unable to walk her. I had trouble getting in and out of bed so the walks which helped to manage her energy slowly came to a stop. I was worried that at this point she might start acting out. My husband, daughter & best friend all attempted to walk her but she would struggle off the leash and head straight to our front door and bark until I let her in. At first I thought she just wasn’t used to being walked my anyone but me. I soon realized it was much more than that. As I struggled to do anything in the house, she was my shadow. Watching me, comforting me, even urging me to keep trying. When I could do no more, I rested on the couch and she lay on the floor right in front of me. Only moving when I did.

When we began to see doctors to find out what was going on, I became very anxious. I was scared and because they knew the cause of my illness but not how to treat it, the uncertainty was frightening to say the least. My kids were 10 & 7 when this began. I was worried for them and my husband. But Daisy would stay by my side, put her head on my legs as I cried, laid beside me as I slept – which was and still is a lot. The doctors put me on prednisone & oxygen so I was stuck with a tube in my nose everywhere I went & thanks to the meds,  the mood swings were anywhere from OCD, to depression, to anxiety … Not too many good ones. Daisy managed to side step the tube as she followed me. Sensed anxiety so would sit near but make no demands from me. I never had to ask for anything from her, she seemed to know what I needed from instinct.

As the years have gone by, Daisy has been a constant comfort to me. Not able to work any longer, she is my company during the day. She lies with me and never gets out of bed until I do. She is extraordinarily protective and sounds like Cujo if we are alone and someone rings the door bell. Even as I am writing this, she is lying beside me, patiently letting me type my heart away without a peep. I can’t imagine my life without her. She is so much more than a pet. And I deeply love her, bad breath and all. I hope I have added to her life as she has added to mine, but I don’t think that’s possible. I understand that not everyone is a dog person, or even an animal person but everyone knows a true & loyal friend is very hard to come by. Well, this is what Daisy is to me. The most loyal, loving, true friend I have ever had. I am thankful for everyday we have together. She is my best friend.
This post is dedicated to Cosmo who will be greatly missed by his “pack”.


The troll under the bridge

Anxiety is part of everyone’s daily life. It’s the degree of the anxiety that can change from person to person. Driving to work, feeling as though you are late and the boss might be ready to jump down your throat will cause a feeling of anxiousness. Going out with a new person for the first time can also cause anxiety. It’s the amount of anxiety and the ability to copy with the effects it plays on your mind that make a huge difference.

My therapist has told me that anxiety is fear based … that in order to overcome any type of anxiety, one must face these fears repeatedly. That caused me to feel anxious. The idea of facing the things I am most frightened of is not a pleasurable thought. Sitting here, in my bed, writing, safe & sound – this feels good. It’s calming and safe. Oh, that word … safe. Seems to be the opposite of anxiety. But is it a coping technique?  No. It’s an avoidance technique. But some times denial is not just a river in Egypt.

What I find most disturbing is the anxiety attack which seems to hit for no apparent reason. I have awoke to an anxiety attack … full blown. I was breathing way too fast, sick to my stomach, full shakes everywhere, sweating, knowing this was it – the final curtain. I was having a heart attack & my husband & kids would find me on the floor of my bathroom. Focusing on the the anxiety made it even worse.

My husband woke up and determined because of my shortness of breath, it was my lung inflammation acting up. He decided we were going to the hospital. I have anxiety surrounding hospitals, which is a story for another day. This just increased my laboured breathing.

My daughter, who is finishing her first year in nursing came in to see what with all the commotion was about. Luckily my son sleeps like a rock. My daughter held my hand, put a bucket in front of me and said “throw up if you need to but it’s just your anxiety”. And I did. Throw up a few times, apologized of course,and she just sat there. In her pjs, holding my hand and started telling me a stories about some of the funny things that have been going on at school. I realized that her distraction was causing a chain reaction in my anxiety as I was listening to her instead of the pounding heart in my chest. I slowly came out of it, exhausted but grateful to have people close by who cared enough to help me get through it.

When you are alone & it happens, this can be extremely challenging. My shortness of breath plays tricks on me, believing my lungs are shutting down and I am going to smother . Again, my therapist said with an anxiety attack, you will breath much quicker in short breaths, which in turn actually increases your oxygen supply. Which is a good thing, but doesn’t help when you are certain you are going down for good.

He told me the worst ones last on average for 20 minutes and if I can get my mind to focus on something else it won’t last as long. If not, then an anxiety attack can’t kill you, so just let it do it’s best and know you are going to be alright soon. This isn’t particularily helpful when going through a full on anxiety attack. It’s overwhelming, terrifying and I feel like I am not going to pull through it. But since I always have, I guess he must be right. On days when one hits, it uses up every spoon* I have and then a few from the next day.

So what is the point of yet another article on anxiety ?  I write for therapeutic reasons for one, second is to let those of you who are crippled with some type of anxiety  know you are not alone, third to is to somehow change the stigma someone with anxiety is somehow “crazy| –  which of course if ridiculous, and fourth is to let you know takes a ton of courage to live with anxiety.

Anxiety, to me, is like that little troll under the bridge. You may cross the bridge 50 times and the troll stays where it is, but in the back of your mind it’s always there, waiting to creep up and attack you. Whether you stay in your comfy safe bed or go out into the world to maintain some kind of life. And I know I the troll won’t kill me, but he sure knows how to kick my ass. My goal for myself is to put that little shit under the bridge once and for all.
* THE SPOON THEORY by Christine Miserandino. She is the 1st

Have a “Crappy” Day

Well, I have decided to tackle the issue of pooping. Yes, poop. I said it. While my chronic illness affects lungs, the medicine I take to help control the inflammation really does a “number” on my gastrointestinal system. It has a serious impact on my day to day life, what I can do, where I can go. Imodium is one of my best friends. She comes with me everywhere. I have decided to name my next pet Imodium so I can say, do you mind if I bring Imodium with me ?

I do not have regular solid poops. I have had loose poops for many years now. Usually 5 or 6 per day. And that’s a good day. On the odd occasion the when the heavens open, shine down upon me & angels are singing, I have the odd regular poop. That event is celebrated in our house like a toddler pooping on the potty for the first time. I loudly announce it to my family, text my closest friends and a semi-party insues. I get a few TMI responses, but that’s ok. It IS something to be celebrated whether it’s personal or not. Again, one of the lovely side effects of having a chronic illness.

My inability to control how & when it comes can be frustrating and very embarrassing. I have said no to many invitations because this problem has cropped up and I just can’t leave the house. So do I honestly tell them the issue or use a little white lie ? Well, I lie of course ! I am too proud to tell someone I can go to your house for dinner tonight because I might poop my pants before I get there. Imodium works well but not always.

It has literally happened that I have not made it to the toilet in time. The emotional response to this is a strong one. What the hell is wrong with me ? How does my husband & kids even want to be near me ? I am so gross. I berate myself in such a way that I have crawled into bed and stayed there for days. I am beyond mortified with myself and beat myself up pretty badly when really, it’s not me. It’s a physical response to the heavy medication that my body has had to put up with for years. My therapist has finally convinced me I am none of those things and I tell myself to accept this like any other side effect. It’s still hard though.

Speaking of hard, I had a recent stay at the hospital, where due to the stress of the situation, I actually had a reprieve of my loose BM’s for FIVE days. I didn’t go once. I have to say, it was a nice change until I got home and decompressed. When I finally felt the urge, my God, I felt like I was in labour ! I was baffled by this change of events. How do people handle constipation ? It was so painful and exhausting. And this happened a few times until my loose ones came back. I really couldn’t tell you which is worse.

I know many people who can relate who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). You don’t know when and how awful it’s going to be and it’s always in the back of your mind. Where is the closest toilet ? Who will I be with today ? Will they understand or think I am the rudest person in the world? But I will say, constipation is pretty damn bad too. The worry, will I ever poop again ? The bloating, the cramps, the pain of having a BM pass. The time it actually takes for the whole thing to occur only to realize nothing is happening. Either way, poop issues affect our quality of life.

I know this is not the most glamorous subject to write about, but let’s face it, chronic illness or not, we have all had pooping problems of a sort at some time in our life. I remember watching an Oprah episode that said the shape of our poop indicates our health. If that’s the case, I can be spontaneous, hurried, explosive, a fireball and hurtful at times.

So there is my scoop on poop. Please have a healthy poop today !

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Get Your Groove On !

My psychologist has been working with me to try and help me deal with my phobic anxieties. One that has been difficult has been my anxiety of showers. I know there is a complicated issue behind it, but having the “why” just feeds the anxiety.

So to encourage myself to shower everyday & get past this, I created a playlist of very upbeat tunes and find myself lost in the music, not in my fear. To try to enjoy the experience rather than be fearful of it.  And crazy enough, it’s working !

“Different music genres can make or break your mood, we all know this. Music is important for regulating our emotional state, can impact our focus and has an effect on the overall way we feel. Music has been used for centuries to change energy levels, improve mood and even to help people who are ill or suffering from emotional trauma to heal.”

“According to research published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, people can successfully improve their moods and boost their overall happiness in just two weeks, simply by listening to specific mood-boosting music. Researchers from McGill University … the response to music comes from the chemical dopamine. Correlating increased levels of dopamine in the brain to corresponding music proves that humans obtain pleasure from listening to music… find the types of music genres that get you feeling great … Now go get your groove on!”

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