Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Be Nice (to yourself)!

Yesterday marked one month since my sweet dog passed away. It wasn't as traumatic of a milestone as I feared, but I was still feeling a bit low. While I was picking up some groceries I decided to buy a bouquet of flowers, in honor of Ritz and to add some bright color to my kitchen. My cashier was a girl in her late teens. I hadn't seen her before at that store. As she scanned the plastic wrapped bunch, she asked who the flowers were for. I smiled and said "They're for me". Her face fell a little and she let out a pitiful "Awww" sound, as if it were a sad thing and she felt sorry for me. I opened my mouth to respond but quickly closed it. I know there's nothing I can say to an 18 year old girl to make her understand why a 34 year old woman buying herself flowers on a Monday afternoon is not a sad event. I think at that age, I still thought men bought women flowers to woo them, instead of to apologize and that surely an adult woman buying herself flowers must be an old maid.

I believe part of the reason it seems like a strange gesture is because we don't really do a lot of things for our selves in our society, especially women. When I started seeing my life coach, one of the first observations she made was that it didn't seem like I was being kind to myself in my life. I thought that was absurd until we did more work together. It was the proverbial lightbulb going off above my head: I  had been living my life to please others. I was worried about cleaning the house, getting a raise, visiting my mother, not because I wanted to but because that's what others expected of me or that's what I thought they wanted from me. Now don't get me wrong, it's not like I just said "Okay, I'll stop doing that" and things changed. It's still a struggle for me. I often have to check in with myself to make sure my motivations are true and not just for someone else. But I wasn't raised that way, and I don't think many of us are. We learn to do what we're told and what's expected of us from an early age. I think it's even hard to see how that can be a negative at times. I think of course I want my partner/mother/boss to be happy and to do what they want. Now, it's easy for me to see that this isn't always true to myself and I'm actually doing the boss/friend/mother a disservice. In the end, I'm not happy and therefore not much fun to be around so the other person doesn't end up having a good time either.

When struggling with a choice, such as should I go white water rafting with my boyfriend and his siblings, I ask myself "What would serve me best?" and I lay out the options and listen to myself. Yes, I want to spend time with my boyfriend but I don't like rafting, in fact it scares me a lot. I'm going to be afraid and he's going to be worried about me and no one's going to have a great time so I think I'll stay home and weed the garden and have dinner with him when he gets home. It wasn't easy to do at first but it's extremely helpful. Once I got the hang of it, I saw that decisions became a bit easier and I spend less time putting up with situations I don't enjoy. I challenge you to give it a try. Should I really spend $8 on flowers while I'm unemployed? Absolutely. And I don't have to justify it to the cashier or to anyone else!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My New Normal

It's a strange feeling to have survived one of the worst things you could imagine happening to yourself. This has happened to me once before, when I got divorced but that was different. That was more of a gradual change with time to adjust to the fact that it was happening. Don't get me wrong, it was still difficult but I knew what was happening. This time I didn't have any warning.

One of the benefits of working in a veterinary clinic is that any time I'm concerned about one of my pets, I just take him along to work for a check up. So when my Shar Pei, Ritz, didn't want to eat his breakfast and seemed like he didn't feel good, I loaded him into the car thinking I'd take an x-ray to ease my mind. No one ever got too concerned when I took Ritz to the clinic because he had a chronic disease and I was often overly cautious and/or able to treat him easily. I was definitely not the only one who was shocked by his abnormal x-ray, then abnormal blood work, then abnormal ultrasound. When the doctor was preparing for surgery and discussed the possibility of not waking Ritz from anesthesia, it was out of the question for me. When he found the advanced cancer throughout his abdomen, he woke him up and let me bring him home. 48 hours later, the doctor was at my house performing euthanasia. Obviously I've always known that at some point, Ritz would pass away. Only 25% of the dogs with his illness (Familial Shar Pei Fever) live past five and the average life span for his breed is 9-11, so when he turned seven last August I knew what a special occasion it was.

I'm fortunate that I'm 34 years old and had not experienced a significant loss before this. I'm thankful that I was able to make the arrangements  and have a couple days to say goodbye. This little dog had been by my side for almost eight years. I got him shortly after I separated from my ex-husband and when I moved from North Carolina to Montana to start over,  Ritz was in the passenger seat. It was just the two of us living alone for a few years. I wouldn't be the person I am without that creature. He was my companion and my guardian. I remember lying on the floor with him after he'd passed away, crying out "I don't know what to do" over and over because I simply couldn't imagine my life without him. He was at my feet when I went to bed at night, when I woke up in the morning, even when I was in the bathroom. Some days I look around in awe of the fact that life in still going on without him.

It's been almost four weeks since he passed away and although I'm getting used to the fact that he isn't here anymore, I'm not any less sad. I cannot put into words how much I miss him. I pat his urn every day (but I don't pick it up because he didn't like to be held). My friends and family have been incredibly kind and supportive. They say things like "He'll always be with you" or "He's watching over you" but I have to admit I don't feel any of that at all and I'm disappointed. All I feel is a huge absence, but with a sense that he's coming back. There are times when I still feel like I'm waiting for him to come in from the yard.

In an unforeseen but positive turn of events, Ritz's passing gave me an opportunity to bow out of a job I wasn't enjoying and was planning to leave anyway. My significant other has been extremely kind in encouraging me to take some time to not worry about working so I can take care of myself and heal. However that means I'm home all day and notice Ritz's absence that much more. Before he passed away, I kept thinking "I can't go back to normal after this" and what I've learned is that I didn't have to. I couldn't, actually. What I'm working on right now is creating my new normal, a new me that doesn't have a chronically ill dog who sometimes threatens to bite people. Instead I have one "normal" dog who keeps me company and doesn't ask for much in return. I've been sleeping in, reading, doing yoga, walking Charlie, gardening, writing and roller skating. Sometimes I don't eat breakfast or have a beer at 1pm. Sometimes I feel a little anxiety about not working (and not being motivated to do so either) but I know this isn't going to last forever. I know one morning I'll wake up and feel like getting a job. Until then I'm going to try to enjoy this final gift from Ritz.

Me & Ritz 2010