Posted on February 29, 2020
After my last post, I was scrolling through my YouTube ‘Watch Later’ playlist when I saw this video. It may have been masochistic but I watched it and thought it might be relevant to post here, especially after my last post.
Our experiences (my recent experience at least) are very different as her cat was ill for an extended period and Lucky, although struggling physically, was happy and engaged and as healthy as an old dog could be until the night before. There wasn’t really time to come to the decision comfortably (or as comfortably as possible) but, for me, as distressing as it was, I knew it was time. It felt like he was telling us that. So again, (potentially) different scenarios.
She talks about Quality of Life scales and I looked them up but again, that sort of thing wasn’t really applicable in our situation. The change was so dramatic that we would’ve taken him to the vet regardless. In my opinion, I’m not sure a scale or internet numbers can make that sort of decision for you. I think that’s a decision only you and your vet can make.
She mentions financial situations, which is an important point. We were lucky (a pun that never got old – at least for me) that Lucky was insured so we were able to get him the painkillers and medications he needed, the hydrotherapy to build and then manage muscle mass, and cover the vet appointments. If I could give anyone with a pet one piece of advice, it would be to insure said pet. It’s been a life saver, quite literally at times, with our animals and I’m so grateful. It’s also given us the time to get used to the idea of the loss of them because it’s often been less sudden (Lucky might’ve deteriorated in a day but he’d been struggling – with support – for a while so we were aware of the situation).
“If your pet is terminally ill, you may have to put them down before you feel comfortable doing so and if that’s the case, it’s okay. I want you to know it’s okay.”
She mentions five factors that help you to make this decision:
She also explains the process of the in home euthanasia of her cat, Jimmy.
“What I found most comforting in this time is the following words from my therapist: ‘Jimmy found a loving and wonderful mother in you. That is a part of life that transcends time and gets to be yours always. Your time with your pet is yours, always. And you’ll know when it’s time to let them go. It’s a very brave, compassionate, and really hard decision but I and your furbaby trust that you will do right by them.'”
She ends with a variation on her usual closing: “I’m Anna Akana. Go and adopt some fucking cats and love them for me. Goodbye.”
Posted on February 22, 2020
On the 29th January 2020, we said goodbye to our beloved dog, Lucky, whom we’d had for nearly sixteen years. This is hard to write about – that’s why it’s taken so long for me to write and post it – but I felt like it would be a dishonour to him to not write about him so this is a piece about his life, how much we loved him, and how much we miss him. I’m not going to lie: I’m already crying as I write this so fair warning that this will be an emotional piece. It’s going to jump around a bit but I’ll try and keep it roughly in chronological order.
We first met Lucky when he was two or three days old. I was pretty young – only nine years old – so I don’t remember how we found out about the litter of Labrador puppies that needed homes but we’d been talking about getting a dog for a long time. In fact, it was one of the reasons we moved from London to Brighton. We didn’t want to have a dog in London. As it turned out, we lived all but next to a park and the puppies were on the other side.
Holding such a young puppy is a magical experience. They’re all sleepy and soft and they have too much skin. Plus, they smell amazing. I’ve never understood the whole baby smell thing but puppy smell is just wonderful to me. I don’t know if the puppy I first held was Lucky but I like to think so. And there’s no way for any of us to know.
We spent the next eight or nine weeks visiting them, playing with them and bonding with them. There was certain ones that had already been claimed and we ended up with the runt. Lucky, our beautiful, little runt. He was so funny looking as he grew. He was all disproportional: he had a long body with short legs, a big head, and a squished up face (don’t worry – he ended up proportional and I may be biased but I think he turned out to be the most handsome of the litter). But we thought he was gorgeous and loved him from the moment we knew he was ours. It was great to be surrounded by puppies, playing together and chasing and chewing each other, but we were just entranced by our baby and spent every possible moment with him.
Eventually they were ready to leave, eating solid food and mostly house trained. I remember the first night: he spent a lot of time exploring his new home (he was only allowed downstairs, giving our cat, Snubby, the upstairs floors to escape from him if she needed a break) and then fell asleep and we let him sleep on the sofa. He wasn’t going to be allowed to do that but we figured it was a special occasion. It was so cute. He was still so, so small. Then we put him to bed and went to bed ourselves. He cried all night, suddenly alone for the first time in his life. We all ended sitting on the top landing, out of his sight, desperate to go to him but knowing that it was the right thing to do. It’s what you have to do.
As I mentioned, we already had a cat, Snubby. She wasn’t a particularly social cat at the best of the times and she was deeply disgusted by this enthusiastic, bouncy… thing. She mainly stayed upstairs for the first few months but when she had to get anywhere near him, she’d swipe at him, leaving him bewildered as to why she didn’t want to play or at least engage. But she wanted nothing to do with him. Over time, she became a bit more relaxed around him (i.e. less swiping) but she never did anything more than coexist with him.
We got to straight to work with the training. He was really smart. We continued with the house training, sit, stay, drop (the toy, stick, whatever he was holding)… he never quite grasped that one. Or wanted to grasp that one. He loved to bring you things; he just didn’t like to actually let you have them.
One of my favourite memories of training him though, was teaching him his name. In various combinations, we’d go down to the woods where there was a somewhat closed off path (meaning he couldn’t really go anywhere but down the path) and stand about ten metres apart. We’d call his name, again and again, and he’d run back and forth, rewarded with treats. We probably spent hours doing that and eventually he learned that his name was Lucky.
Season after season, we’d walk through woods, over fields, by the sea… Because of school, Mum working from home, and what turned out to be my Autism and Chronic Fatigue, Mum did most of the big walks but I still managed some of them. My favourite ones were in the summer, flinging balls for Lucky and he’d run so fast that he’d overtake them, sometimes tripping over his own legs. The woods and the fields… they were all especially magical at golden hour. Those are my favourite memories of walking him.
He also loved to swim, which was very helpful when he developed a problem with his elbow and needed hydrotherapy. Labradors are notorious for problems with arthritis so we knew that it was something we were going to have to deal with during his life (thank god we insured him: he had so many medical problems throughout his life). Anyway, he loved hydrotherapy. He would chase a toy around a small pool of warm water and the hydrotherapist would actually have to hold him back to stop him exerting himself (the jacket is a flotation jacket so he could focus on swimming and not on keeping himself afloat). He absolutely loved it and it really helped his elbow.
One of my family’s yearly traditions is spending a week in Norfolk, usually in the autumn. We’d stay in a cottage and then a caravan closer to the beach and we’d walk through the woods and through the sand dunes. It’s one of my favourite places. I step onto that beach and it’s like I’ve found something I didn’t realise I was looking for. It’s magical.
Lucky has always loved it, from the lounging on the caravan deck to chasing sticks into the sea. As he got older, he managed less and less until he was basically just chilling on the deck with the odd walk around the caravan. But during our last trip together, we drove to the flattest beach and walked slowly out to the shallows. We paddled together and rolled the tennis ball that Lucky had picked up somewhere back and forth. We were very aware that this could be the last time so we took our time and tried to enjoy every second. Then we slowly walked back, stopping multiple times for Lucky to rest his legs. There was a sadness to the day but we tried to just live in that precise moment and having said all of that, I look back on that day and smile because I know Lucky was happy.
There were years of love, years and years of love. I wish I could describe all the details but we’d be here until Christmas. Longer. For a long time, my morning routine began with a shower and walking the dog at about 7am. That was my day and it was a good way to start the day. I missed it when life changed, even though the early start was early.
When Snubby was put to sleep in (2014), me and Lucky got even closer. He’d stick close to me and greet me with great enthusiasm whenever I came home from uni. He was always very sensitive and in tune with people’s emotions (the older he got, the more sensitive he got until he even had to leave the room when people on TV got upset). We spent a lot of time that winter, curled up in front of the TV together, warmed by the fire. It was very comforting.
About a year after Snubby was put to sleep, we got a new kitten, Lucy. My world just didn’t make sense without a cat in it. And Lucky’s reaction was so funny. You could almost see him rolling his eyes. I tried to make sure I still spent a good amount of time with Lucky, just the two of us. But I could almost see the ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ look in his eyes.
Hilariously, Lucy adored Lucky and wouldn’t leave him alone. She always wanted to play, bringing him toys and pouncing on him and so on. It was so cute. And he didn’t know what to do with that because he’d only ever known a cat that swiped at him. So it took him a long time to adjust. I don’t think he ever loved her the way she loved him but he tolerated her and her love of him. She was always in his bed, both when he was in it and when he wasn’t, and she even went on his evening walk around the block with him. It was adorable.
Once the elbow issue had been resolved, he didn’t need hydrotherapy again for a long time. But then, as he got older and his muscles in his legs started to weaken and waste away, we went back to hydro. He loved it and would swim so hard that the hydrotherapist had trouble monitoring the extensions of each of his legs. Over time, he slowed down, content to get to the ball; he knew it would be there when he got there. We continued liked that for years, managing the muscles in his legs. As an older dog, we couldn’t build the muscles back up but we could keep him going, keep him as strong as possible. And he loved it. And I loved watching him do it because you could see how happy he was.
As I said in my Birthday Rules post, for my 24th birthday, I actually got to do it with him once, which was a really special experience. It was really hard work and there was a lot to concentrate on, but it was surprisingly therapeutic for me as well as him. We both fell asleep on our respective soft surfaces when we got home and could barely make it through the day. It was funny to think that I was experiencing what he experience every time he had a hydro session. It was a really cool way to spend my birthday.
Moving house changed things, as much as I wish it hadn’t. The living room was upstairs and having spent his whole life being told he wasn’t allowed upstairs (plus his rather dodgy legs – he was about fourteen at the time), it was a difficult adjustment. He did eventually make sense of it and join us upstairs, in the living room (where I spend most of my time), which made me so happy.
He was making his way upstairs quite easily until one evening when everything changed. I was sitting at the kitchen table when I looked up and saw that Lucky was tilting his head almost ninety degrees. I thought he was having a stroke. Mum drove him to the emergency vet and they said he would be okay but I wasn’t convinced. The next morning we took him to our usual vet and he was diagnosed with Geriatric Vestibular Disease, so he was essentially having constant vertigo. Poor baby.
The next couple of weeks were very stressful as he was treated and slowly recovered. He did eventually recover but he was never quite the same. Personality wise he was, but physically, he had deteriorated quite dramatically. His balance was awful and was until the end and his legs, especially his back legs, were very weak and kind of like they weren’t completely within his control. From that point on, he needed a harness so that we could help him up when he was lying down, as well as up and down the stairs into the kitchen. Plus his head remained tilted for the rest of his life. That always made me sad. It’s something you never think you’ll miss: your dog looking at you straight on. I really, really missed it.
Interestingly, he became much more attached to my Mum after this experience. Apparently that’s not uncommon: for a pet to become particularly attached to one person after a traumatic experience like a period of serious illness. The hydrotherapist said she’s seen it happen a lot. He always wanted to be with her and couldn’t settle if she was absent, for ten minutes or a couple of days. It was quite distressing, not to be able to soothe him.
As I’ve already said, his legs were very weak. I got home a few weeks ago and he couldn’t stand. And whatever I did, I couldn’t get him on his feet. It’s like his back legs had given up. It was like he’d give up, like he was done. Like it was just too hard. It was horrible. I ricocheted between calm and rational and then terrified and frozen. I don’t think I can write any more about that night but in the morning, the decision had been made – as I’d expected – that he was going to be put to sleep. I knew it was coming and I knew it was coming then. I was expending every ounce of energy holding everything together. I felt like I was literally holding the pieces of the outer shell of my body together, and therefore holding all of the overwhelming emotions inside. I managed it for the most part, although a few tears escaped on occasion.
We got him to the vet and stood around him, stroking him, as the vet gave him a series of injections and then he was gone. But this was different to my last experience, different to when Snubby was put to sleep. I held her in my arms as they injected the drugs and I still remember the moment she was gone. But it was like Lucky was already gone (god, this is horrible to write). That thought was a sickening, awful one but that’s how it felt.
They left us alone with him to have a few moments but when it was time to leave, I had Mum get someone to be with him. I just couldn’t leave him alone. I couldn’t do it, even though it wasn’t really him anymore. At least that’s what people say. I’m not sure what I truly believe about that. Anyway, we stood outside the vet (they let us deal with everything later) – the four of us – and cried. And cried. And cried.
We went home and I spent the day collating photos of Lucky because I needed to have something to do that related to him. I needed to hold onto him. And now we’re moving forward, physically at least. I don’t think we’re moving forward emotionally yet. I don’t like the idea of ‘yet’.
We’ve since had a card from the vet with his paw print and a little packet of forget-me-not seeds, which I personally really appreciate. That was really kind of them and it’s already really special to me. We’ll have to decide where to plant the seeds but personally I like the idea of doing it where we can see them. Through the kitchen doors, maybe.
Soon we’ll get his ashes and have to decide what to do with them too. One idea is to scatter them where we taught him his name. I like that idea. But it has to be unanimous and we haven’t made a decision yet. We don’t even have the ashes yet so there’s no point worrying about it just yet. We’ll figure it out.
As a soul, he was a bit of a legend. Everyone who knew him loved him, even people who weren’t that keen on dogs. He just had some magic in him. I love him more than I can ever express and I will miss him for the rest of my life. The house feels empty and there’s a big gap that actually feels tangible in our lives. I have moments of calm and acceptance and then suddenly I remember and the bottom drops out of my world. It’s awful. And I just want to cry all the time, about Lucky but also about anything and everything. I’m just so sad. My body – my universe – is just so full of sadness. I just can’t believe I’ll never see him again. I’ll never stroke the brown patch on his nose or stroke the softest ears in the world. And when I automatically glance downstairs as I move around the house he’s NOT THERE and it just doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s awful; I think anyone who’s ever lost a pet can relate to this.
I was talking to a friend the other day and they said that he lived a good life. And this friend wasn’t wrong. But when I think about it, I think the more important part is that he lived a loved life. And he did. He lived a very loved life.
Posted on December 31, 2018
This year has been a struggle. Almost eighteen months ago, I made the decision to change my medication and that has basically been my life ever since. Lots of pills and doctors appointments but mostly dealing with the side effects, everything from nausea to shaking to a complete inability to think clearly. I don’t think I realised what a huge undertaking it was going to be but it’s not exactly surprising: you’re throwing all the chemicals in your brain and body out of whack. I tried Venlafaxine, Lithium, and Lamotrigine; I weaned myself off Venlafaxine, tried Amitriptyline, and now I’m taking Pregabalin and Clomipramine. This is the most promising combination so far and I’ve actually had a few really good days so I’m cautiously optimistic. But it’s been a long, hard road, sometimes so difficult that I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. And I don’t really feel able to acknowledge the good bits without paying tribute to the really tough things I had to go through and so got through.
The first of The Big Difficult Things was moving house. God, that was a struggle. Having thought that I’d found some sort of peace around it, when it came to the day, I was absolutely devastated. There were a lot of tears – from all of us. That house was my home for fifteen years – home to the greatest triumphs and tragedies of my life – and so, to some extent, it will always be my home. I think I could probably walk into my old bedroom twenty years from now and fall right back into that old rhythm.
I’m still learning the rhythms of the new house. There are days where it feels normal and then others where I hate it so much I could scream. Most of the time, it still feels like someone else’s house. Someone else’s house with all our stuff in. But every day is a step in the right direction. We’re filling all the empty space with memories, slowly but surely.
I’ve been writing a lot about Claire Wineland of late but I couldn’t write about this year and not mention her. Her death was another of The Big Difficult Things of this year. I stumbled across her YouTube channel late last year and have been following her on social media ever since. She was – and still is – a big inspiration for me and her death hit me really hard. It just makes no sense to me and never will and I’m still struggling to cope with that.
And through all of this, depression has been my constant, oppressive companion. While I had experienced depression before, this was a whole new kind of prison. The lows were lower than I’d ever experienced and there were several pretty scary moments. And as well as affecting my mood, my depression made it almost impossible to write songs. I’ve had many discussions about writer’s block over the years and I’ve always thought that there are things that can make writing difficult and so you have to figure out what’s causing the block and address it. In my case, it feels like depression suppresses the creative part of my brain: I don’t get random sparks of inspiration, I can’t solve problems creatively, and any active creativity – like songwriting – is like pulling teeth. It feels like writing songs requires a certain level of functioning that I’m just not capable of reaching while depressed. I want to write more about this – about depression and writer’s block – but that’s for another post.
Having said all of that, there have been good days, as well as good experiences on bad days.
By far the best part of this year has been the time spent with my friends and family, whether that be online or in the physical world, in Nashville, London, or Brighton. Or anywhere in between. These people have kept me going through the hardest period of my life so far and I’m so ridiculously grateful to them for that.
I got to travel a little bit this year, which was amazing. I managed to get back to Nashville where I had the most intense ten days possibly of my life. I got to see some lovely people, write songs (or try to), listen to some of the best songwriters in the world, and play a Song Suffragettes show. Even though I was incredibly anxious about it, that may very well have been the best day of my year.
I also travelled to Iceland for the first time and saw so many beautiful things, including a 60m waterfall, the Diamond Beach, and the Northern Lights. The natural scenery in Iceland took my breath away time and again. It felt like the first breath you take after being underwater. Of course, there was a lot of anxiety during the trip but it helped me in a way that only the magnificence of nature is able to.
There have been more wonderful live music events than I can count: Paramore, Kelsea Ballerini, Sugarland, Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby (and all of Tin Pan South in Nashville), Frank Turner, Betsy Lane, The Shires, Sinead Burgess, The Brummies, Halsey, Kina Grannis, Aislin Evans, Maren Morris, and of course, Taylor Swift. Despite the anxieties around concerts, these are the places where I feel most alive and so, throughout this difficult period, I’ve always tried to ensure that there was another concert to look forward to.
And despite my musical struggles this year, I’ve actually played a few gigs and played shows that I am so proud to have been a part of. I got to play with WRTW again and it was even more fun than the first time (if that’s possible). I played Autism’s Got Talent in London, which was such a great opportunity. I played for Brighton Soup and Disability Pride in Brighton, two amazing organisations that I can’t praise enough. I also played Summer Fest in Worthing, my first show with my awesome friend, Richard Sanderson. And of course, I got to play a Song Suffragettes show when I was in Nashville.
I’ve also managed to do a handful to Autism research studies, as well as giving blood. I’ve been feeling so useless so I tried to contribute as best I could during this time where I’ve felt incapable of contributing anything at all.
Another big part of this year was getting used to the kittens: my cat had two kittens in February and me and my Mum just fell in love with them so we ended up keeping them. I love them dearly but it has been a major adjustment and a real struggle, especially with the daily battle that is depression. So this has been both a good and a bad thing. I want to write more about this whole experience because there were – and still are – a lot of complicated emotions involved. But above it all, we have Lucky and Lucy and the kittens and I love them more than life itself.
So, that’s it: 2018. It has been a hard, hard year, and one I’m very happy to leave behind but I’m cautiously optimistic about the next few months and the next year. I’ve felt better in the last couple of weeks than I have all year and I’m hopeful that this is characteristic of what’s to come.
“2018, the year of living, fighting, but ultimately, surviving depression. There was a lot of gold in the grey but I’m so ready to move on to 2019.” (x)
Category: animals, anxiety, autism, depression, event, holidays, medication, mental health, music, treatment Tagged: 2018, 2018 in review, amitriptyline, anti anxiety, anti depressants, anti-depressant, antianxiety, antidepressants, anxiety, cat, claire wineland, clomipramine, concert, concerts, creative block, death, depression, family, friends, grief, halsey, happy new year, iceland, kitten, kittens, lamotrigine, life, lithium, maren morris, medication, mental health, mental health blog, mental health blogger, mental health blogging, mental health treatment, mental illness, moving house, nashville, new home, new house, new year, performing, pregaballin, singer, singersongwriter, song suffragettes, songwriter, songwriting, support system, taylor swift, treating depression, treatment, venlafaxine, writers block
Posted on September 8, 2018
I couldn’t not acknowledge that Claire Wineland died on Sunday. I still don’t really know what to say; my emotions are all over the place. But I did want to say this: I might not have known her in the traditional sense – we never met and our relationship consisted of a few interactions on Twitter – but she deeply inspired me and therefore meant a lot to me. I will miss her tremendously and my thoughts are with her friends and family. She was so, so special and her impact is on-going, like the ripples you see when you throw a pebble into a pond.
So, with all of that said, I wanted to share one of her TED talks. She talks about living with Cystic Fibrosis, how hard it is, and how living with an illness can affect your perspective, as well as how people treat you. She’s an amazing speaker.
“You can have a painful life, you can suffer, you can experience what it feels like to be a human being – all those messy and gross emotions – and yet you can make a life for yourself that you are very, very proud of.”
“I wanted to share the fact that you can suffer and be okay. You can suffer and still make something. That the quality of your life isn’t determined by whether you’re healthy or sick or rich or poor. Not at all. It’s determined by what you make out of your experience as a human being, out of the embarrassing moments and the painful moments. It’s what you make and what you give from that place.”
She talks about reading a book by Stephen Hawking as a young teenager and learning about space and suns and black holes. Her enthusiasm makes me laugh out loud (and then cry). And that led her to learning about Stephen Hawking himself and the disease he lived with and all that he contributed to society anyway. He was her first role model.
She talks about how she questioned why she had to work so hard just to stay alive and how she was desperately looking for something to contribute, something to give her life meaning. She wanted more than just surviving. And then, at thirteen, she almost died and went into a coma that no one thought she’d come out of. But she did and she was just blown away by all the support she received. That made her realise that that is not the case in many families living with Cystic Fibrosis and so she created her foundation, The Claire’s Place Foundation, to assist those families.
Six years on, she was struck with the realisation that she’d become the person that she had been looking for, someone to look up to who was sick and still contributing to the world. She was using her experience to give something and she was living a life she was proud of, that thirteen year old her would be proud of.
“And that’s all that we can have in life. Because the truth is, it’s not about being happy, right? Life isn’t about just trying to be happy. Honestly, happiness is a Dopamine in the brain. If I was to sit here and tell you all to just be happy, I’d just tell you all to go smoke a joint and listen to Bob Marley and just call it a day. We don’t need any of this TEDx stuff, you know? Life isn’t about being happy. Life is a rollercoaster of crazy emotions: one second you’re fine and the next second you feel lonely and despair and like nothing’s ever gonna be okay again. It’s not about emotions; it’s not about how you feel second to second. It’s about what you’re making of your life and whether you can find a deep pride in who you are and what you’ve given because that’s so much more impactful, so much deeper than whether you’re happy, or content, or joyful. It’s okay to feel pain. In fact, if you can actually experience it without judgement, without, you know, trying to fix anything. Nothing’s wrong with any of you. Nothing’s wrong with me. I don’t care that I’m sick. At all. Genuinely. If a cure came tomorrow, I wouldn’t care. Because that has not determined the quality of my life. I’m not trying to fix myself. My suffering has given me so much, and I’ve been able to make something and give something to people from it.”
In some ways, it’s hard to watch because it’s devastating to see her so engaged and dynamic and thoughtful and funny and know she’s not here anymore. It’s hard to watch her talk about surviving the odds, surviving the coma she was in at thirteen, knowing that she didn’t survive the odds this time. But at the same time, this video is a tiny piece of proof amongst all the noise that she WAS here, that she WAS so engaged and dynamic and thoughtful and funny.
As I said, I will miss Claire immensely but I’m incredibly grateful to have videos like these to watch on the hardest days.
Posted on October 7, 2017
I found this video a little while ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Claire Wineland talks about her experience with death in an incredibly thoughtful and insightful way. Death is a subject that I’ve always found really hard to talk about (even think about, to be honest) so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I clicked on the video, or even why I clicked on it. But I’m so glad I did. Claire is very eloquent and I was very inspired by her honesty and sincerity. This video hasn’t solved my anxiety but it feels a little less blinding. I guess it’s validated my fear, made me feel like that’s okay. And I think some of her sense of wonder has rubbed off on me a bit. It’s really worth watching.
Some quotes from the video:
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as several mental health issues. I’m a singersongwriter so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is now available on iTunes and Spotify, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My second single, ‘Bad Night,’ is also now available on all platforms and is the first track from my new EP, ‘Honest.’