Life Without Lucky

It’s been just over a year without our beloved Lucky. I’ve thought about this post for a long time, about whether to post it a year after he was put to sleep but I decided that I’d rather post on his birthday. As of today, he would’ve been seventeen years old. We had to have him put to sleep roughly a week before his sixteenth birthday, a long life for a Labrador, especially one with several long-term health problems. I wish he was still with us but he was ready to go. I’ve heard people say that before and thought I knew what it meant, but I only truly understood it the night we had to make that choice. He was just ready, even if we weren’t.

I still miss him. I still miss him greatly, as I know the rest of my family does. He was one of those dogs that even dog-ambivalent and dog-disliking people fell in love with. He was so sweet and gentle and obliging. And he just loved everybody he met; you couldn’t help but fall in love with him in return. He became a bit of a legend within our circle of family, friends, acquaintances, and further; there are connections in our lives that are entirely a result of Lucky inviting himself, and therefore us, into their lives.

There’s so much I miss about him, so much I think about when I think of him. It hurts but it also makes me smile because he always, always made me smile. He was a dog of simple pleasures. Affection, food, a good walk, and a good snooze was all he needed in life. But he certainly had his quirks (just like the rest of the family). As a puppy, he ate everything he could get a hold of, from bananas to the radio remote; he once turned the gas oven on in an attempt to reach a cake on the sideboard – that could’ve ended disastrously… He loved meeting new people but always seemed somewhat confused about what he was supposed to do when he met other dogs. He spent a lot of time sleeping on his back with his legs in the air. He got upset and left the room when people on TV got emotional, let alone people in real life.

Some days, it still doesn’t feel entirely real. I’ll still look for him when I pass ‘his’ spots and expect to see him there. I’ll still tiptoe when I get up at night to make sure I don’t disturb him. I still expect him to greet me at the front door when I get home. And then it hits me all over again. There’s a hole where he should be and I feel it every day.

But as much as I miss him, I am – in a way – grateful that he hasn’t had to cope with the pandemic. He obviously wouldn’t have understood the pandemic itself but he was so sensitive and he definitely would have sensed our anxiety – certainly my almost constant panic. It would’ve been so distressing for him; I would’ve hated for him to go through that. And given his age and all of his health issues, chances are that we might’ve had to have him put to sleep during one of the lockdowns and the only thing worse than having him put to sleep would’ve been having to do so without being allowed to be there with him. That would’ve been unbearable. So, as awful as it was, I know that it could’ve been worse. That doesn’t make me miss him any less but it does give me a sense of… something… that I don’t think I could’ve had otherwise.

So, here we are, just over a year without our lovely Lucky. It’s hard and it hurts but I wouldn’t have given up that time with Lucky for anything. And to be the ultimate cheeseball, he might’ve been called ‘Lucky,’ but we were definitely the lucky ones.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Back in October 2020, I had a long overdue blood test. I think it was actually supposed to be the test that told us whether I’d absorbed and responded properly to the iron infusion I’d had in June 2019 but with starting the Masters and then the pandemic, it had only just become possible.

Going out and going to the Doctors’ Surgery did cause me a lot of anxiety – I’m still struggling with going out and with feeling very vulnerable when I’m out – but the appointment felt very safe and very efficient. I was probably in and out in less than ten minutes. About a week later, we got the results back and my iron was within the normal range. So all good there. However, my Vitamin D levels were seriously low, so low that they wanted to take immediate action. I was prescribed Colecalciferol, a prescription Vitamin D supplement, and instructed to take one a day for ten weeks.

It wasn’t surprising to hear that my vitamin D was low. It’s not uncommon for autistic individuals to have low vitamin D levels and with the pandemic and lockdown, I was staying inside a lot more and therefore not getting as much sunlight as usual, let alone the sunlight I needed. So I wasn’t shocked. I was pretty wary about taking supplements though: my last attempt with supplements had rendered the anti-depressants I was taking at the time completely ineffective, leaving me in a deep, dark hole of depression. Even though I stopped taking the supplements immediately, the anti-depressants never worked again. So I was concerned that something similar might happen again and I’d lose the only consistent (and I use that word loosely) anti-depressant I had in my toolbox. But my doctor explained just how important it was to get my vitamin D up and despite my anxiety, I committed to taking them.

For the first three weeks, I didn’t feel any different. My sleep was as sporadic as ever and I was constantly tired, something that is very much linked with my anti-depressant medication but is also a symptom of a vitamin D deficiency. Week four passed and I still didn’t feel any change but my Mum felt that there had been a slight shift, in my day to day behaviour and my engagement in whatever I was doing. She couldn’t quantify or qualify it any more than that but she did have a feeling that something was slightly different. I was reluctant to believe her, not feeling it myself.

Weeks five and six were tough: I was constantly exhausted and incredibly depressed, although it wasn’t always noticeable, covered up by anxiety-induced busyness. I was sleeping a lot but I was still tired but by the end of that sixth week, I was starting to wonder if I felt different. It’s just so freaking difficult to tell when the change you’re watching out for is so gradual. I wasn’t sure, just cautiously optimistic.

I’d been instructed to go back to the doctors’ surgery for another blood test between four and six weeks to see how I was responding to the supplement. It was closer to six weeks given some difficulty getting an appointment but when it finally happened, it was quick and efficient, just like the first appointment.

During what was the seventh week of this period, I was still tired and sleepy but again, I was starting to think that it wasn’t quite as bad as it had been. It wasn’t drastically better but I did feel a slight – intangible, I guess – difference. But week eight gave me a real sign that things were changing. I was still fatigued easily, still had days where I was really sleepy but I suddenly noticed that I wasn’t needing to drink as much Red Bull as I had been. Ever since I started this round of anti-depressants, I’ve been relying on Red Bull to keep me awake during the day and when the vitamin D first showed up as  problem, I was probably drinking three a day – more when I was commuting to university (and yes, I’m aware that this isn’t healthy and have a plan with my psychiatrist to address it, although that has been derailed somewhat by the pandemic). But during week eight, I realised that I was getting through the day on one, sometimes less. Still not super healthy, yes, but a really good step in the right direction. And if I wasn’t feeling like I needed them as much to stay awake, then I had to assume that my energy levels were improving, to some degree at least.

When the blood test results came back, they showed that my vitamin D levels were back within the normal range but still pretty low so my doctor wrote me a new prescription for the rest of the winter with potential for extending it throughout the duration of the pandemic. I’m grateful for that; it’s one worry off my mind at least.

My energy levels still aren’t great. But getting my vitamin D levels under control was never going to be ‘the fix.’ Fatigue is a constant in my life, between my anti-depressants, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and other health (physical and mental) problems. But that doesn’t mean I can’t improve my situation. Getting my vitamin D levels back up has helped, hopefully hydrotherapy will help, perhaps the next anti-depressant won’t have such bad side effects (whenever I have time to try a new one – mid-Masters isn’t exactly the perfect time, especially having just reached the modules I’ve been most excited for). Sometimes I need to rage and cry about the pretty constant tiredness, but most of the time I can look forward and focus on the next thing that could help.