Sometimes it's alright not to be alright
Today marks the anniversary, 1 week ago I said goodbye to my beloved Flash.
He had at that point deteriorated to such an extent, that I was carrying him outside and then holding him steady just so he could have a wee and rest his head against my legs as he did so.
The day before, when he had really begun to struggle standing on his own I had phoned the vets. By this point I had been on the phone with them at least once a week.
You see Flash is my first adult pet, and I barely have any experience of watching a human succumb to cancer much less my favourite four legged friend.
As his cancer progressed his nerves and joints began to fail him too, with arthritis and each time his health deteriorated a little bit more, I didn’t know whether this was a normal progression or something sinister and the vets we’re nothing but kind, patient and understanding.
So on the day before, when I phoned explaining he can’t stand on his own anymore, the vet delicately breached the subject of deciding whether it was time to start considering what to do next, whether his quality of life was still there and I immediately burst into tears. She continued to talk realising that I couldn’t and suggested I look up a well known questionnaire where you essentially answer a lot of questions on a scale of 1 to 5 on his behaviours. The higher the score the higher the quality of life and anything 50% or lower would be deciding to let him go.
He scored 51%.
I told my ex, so he could pop round to say goodbye, he after all had been Flash’s step owner for the 2 and a half years my ex and I had been together and Flash loved him. Even in his state of deterioration he still got excited when my ex walked in.
They had a cuddle and I had a cry.
After he left, I carried Flash outside to let him do his business, and then carried him to the makeshift bed I had made next to mine and that was the last night I had with him.
I had, rather stupidly decided that I would carry him the mile to the vets, and so when I booked him in late the following day, I put on his harness for the first time in months. He barely reacted and that cut through me too.
I carried him for about 30 yards when a neighbour spotted us and asked if I needed help. I explained what I was attempting to do and after calling me an idiot (and rightfully so) he ran up the road to get his van and he drove us there.
Out we got and there I sat, with Flash lying on the floor of the vet car park. I practically laid on the floor beside him, waiting for the vet and hoping they would take their time, and what seemed like a split second later the vet I spoke to on the previous day came out to meet us.
Right before I stood up, Flash and I, for the last time made eye contact.
He winked at me, I winked back and he lowered his head back to the ground.
In a flood of tears I was trying really hard to hold back, the vet started saying stuff about the ashes and that due to Covid they weren’t allowing owners to come in for it.
I was ambivalent to this as I knew there was no way I could be with him when they did it. I was barely holding it together as it was and for me, the goodbye had already happened anyway. I didn’t want my final memory of my spritely pooch of him dying in front of me.
I handed him over, and watched them disappear into the hospital and I ran.
I just kept running until I was suddenly at the park and unable to breath through the tears.
I had already planned to stay with my sisters when it happened, when he had to go and so I got my back together which took me such a long time because my brain wasn’t in gear.
And for the first few days all I really felt was relief.
From the moment, 6 months earlier when I had been told he had cancer I had been on edge about it. Constantly worried that he was in pain and constantly worried that he would go before I was ready.
But you're never ready. Even when you know it’s the 100% right thing to do.
I try to picture him, as he was before he was sick in my head which always makes me laugh and it’s now the day to day stuff that knocks me for 6.
Dropping food on the floor and on autopilot telling Flash to leave it, same with putting food on the coffee table. Automatically holding out my empty bowl of banana and peanut butter for Flash to lick and each time, the stab of loss cuts the open wound.
Had this happened 2 years ago, I would currently be in the middle of the mother of all booze benders.
I know exactly what I would have done - I would have gone to several different shops on the way back from taking Flash to meet his maker and bought as much wine as I could carry. I’d have got home, and immediately started to work my way through said wine, whilst watching something terribly sad on tv and not telling a soul.
I’d have self destructively suffered in silence until which point I was either out of wine or passed out.
Then I'd told people and just got angry with them for telling me how normal it is to be upset.
My anger would have turned inwards and I’d truly hit self destruct - trying to work still without telling anyone and making a complete hash of it and just sitting in my living room in the dark, cradling a bottle of wine and crying alone.
This would have gone on for weeks, I would have managed to get myself together enough to function but it would have been iffy and then the sleep paralysis would have kicked in and the migraines. My anxiety would have ignited as would have my intrusive thoughts (OCD).
I know this is how I would have dealt with it, because that is how I always dealt with everything.
Losing Flash is the hardest thing I have ever gone through and I’m not even yet scratching the surface of learning to live in a world without him and yet it’s also the first truly sad thing to happen to me since I got my ducks in a row.
I’m sad, I’m tearful but I am in no way destructive. If anything I have been hugely productive. I have shampooed all the carpets several times, put together a desk and a stool, made more face/body cream. Done quite a lot of baking and eating the baked goods. Started a new 30 day challenge and finally pulled up all the weeds in my tiny front garden/yard thing.
I have also been in contact with people instead of shutting myself off the world, but this in itself has presented me with a different problem. Very much dependent on either how close I am to said person, or how much they understand recovery.
I’m starting to get a little bit annoyed with people who ask me how I’m doing and when I tell them (baring in mind I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve I wear it like a jacket) I’m not just going to say ok or coping but I will tell you ‘my heart feels like it’s fallen out of my bottom and now some kid is kicking in down the road’ or ‘I managed to stop crying for a whole minute so that’s progress’, they tell me it’s normal and it will get better and then remind me of how far I have come.
Now, I know this sentiment is done out of love and care for me, but it doesn’t stop it from being quite annoying.
And when I think about it, whenever I’m having a low day the same thing happens. I keep getting reminded of how far I’ve come as though having a low day, or feeling grief is not something I’m allowed to do incase I relapse.
Thing is, if I was going to relapse I would.
Someone telling me how far I’ve come will not change that because ultimately my strength and weakness come from within me. And if I can’t convince myself to not drink, I don’t know why anyone else thinks they have a chance to.
Conversely if I was out with someone who was trying to convince me to have a drink, the same basic principle applies. There is nothing that person could say or do to convince me to have a pint if I don’t want it.
Someone that has gone through depression and is now back to being strong mentally, is still allowed to have a down day.
Flash is gone, he was my bestest friend. He taught me that love can be unconditional. If I was sad he would insist I cuddle him, if I was happy he would insist I cuddle him, basically no matter the mood he insisted I cuddle him. When I would cry he would go that step further and place his head on my chest and this is the sadness of it.
I’ve cried more in the last week than I have done in the last two years and it’s because I no longer have the one friend that has seen me through it all.
But I’m different now. I have found my inner strength, my inner peace and my confidence. Dealing with any terrible situation is hard enough, but for me, this time it’s different as I have zero inclination to do any of the destructive stuff I used to do, but that doesn’t mean I know what to do instead.
It’s like learning how to swim again, making sense of how I cope now. As far as I can tell it involves cleaning, baking and walking in excess.
Sometimes it’s alright not to be alright is a Samaritan’s slogan, one that really moved me because of the power of it and I hoped this would help people in crisis understand that it’s perfectly ok for them to feel the way they do.
But the message isn’t just for people in crisis, it’s for the people who have someone they care about that is going through a tough time or are in crisis.
Sometimes it’s alright for them not to be alright.