Goodbye, My Best Friend

So tomorrow, I lose my best friend, someone I love more than anything in this world. I’m talking about my cat, Max. I’ve had this cat for almost 20 years, that’s all of my adult life. I don’t really even remember the day she was born, I was so little. The story goes, one night it was raining really hard, and my family must have been watching tv, because we were all in the living room. We hear a knock at the door, we have no idea who it was, it was late, we lived in the middle of nowhere, and we weren’t expecting anyone that night. It was a young couple, it must have been their first time on the mountain, because they seemed very unfamiliar with the area, and the customs of the people who lived there. It was very common for the pets of the residents of the area that I lived to be outdoor animals, that were allowed to come and go as they pleased. So needless to say we were surprised when this couple held a small kitten that was only a few weeks old. They said they found it wandering the road, in the darkness and the rain. Instantly, being children, my siblings and I begged our parents to let us keep the kitten, and we somehow won them over. That cat’s name was Tiger, or so we named it. We had tiger for a few years, she was our family’s first pet. That was until, somehow tiger became pregnant, most likely from one of the next door neighbors cats (the neighbor probably didn’t watch The Price is Right, because he didn’t believe in neutering). It was around Easter of 2000, that Tiger gave birth to 7 kittens herself, even though she was only a few years old (we didn’t really like spaying our animals either). I still remember, she gave birth in the closet of my sibling’s and my room, underneath an antique chair that had been in storage. It was wonderful, and even though my parents didn’t let us keep all 7 cats (they put some up for adoption) we ended up keeping 4 total. 3 girls and a boy, their names were Mrs. Whiskers, Mrs. Angel, Maxine, and Mr. Precious. We named the other 3 as well, but their names I don’t remember as well. It was soon after that, that we got a puppy, a collie named Cassie. Not long after that, the mother, Tiger, ran away, never to be seen again. It was a sad time for my family, but like I said, all the animals were more or less left to roam the surrounding area on their own, Tiger just never came back one day. I was lucky enough to have the one boy cat of the litter, which I named Mr. Precious. Unfortunately for me, when they were all about a year old, Mr. Precious ran away too, never to be seen again. This broke my heart when I was a kid. Luckily, we had an extra cat that no one claimed as their own, Maxine. So I, no longer having a cat to call my own, began to treat Max as my cat. We had those cats for many years before tragedy struck, Mrs. Angel, my brother’s cat got hit by a motorcycle while we were on vacation one year, killing her almost immediately. Needless to say my brother was heartbroken, and still is I think to this day.

My family only had 2 cats left. Soon after that, we lost my dog, Cassie, and the whole family mourned. It was not much longer after that, my parents got divorced, my mother, my siblings and I moved to the house we are in now. However, we left our 2 cats, Max and Mrs. Whiskers, at the old house, because my mother always hated cats, and saw this as an opportunity to be rid of them once and for all. About a year after we moved in, my mother finally gave way to us kids, and let our cats move in the the house with us. They were horribly malnourished, and infested with fleas. Those first few weeks were terrible, as they looked so sickly. As a quick side note, my cat Max, has had a tumor on her side for the past 10 years or so. The vet told us that operating was impossible as it was fused into her rib cage, and there was no guarantee that even after it was removed that it wouldn’t grow back. Luckily it was cancerous, and she didn’t seem to be bothered by it, the opposite in fact, she loved to be pet on it. Back to today, she once again is horribly malnourished, the tumor is now stealing all her nutrition, and she’s growing more sickly by the day. It is now, that I’ve decided that I’m going to put her to sleep tomorrow. It was a very hard decision to make, probably one of the hardest in my life. Like I said, I’ve had this cat for all of my adult life, and I’ve loved her more than anything. It is now, out of love, that I need to end her suffering. I’ve put it off for too long, in the hopes that she would get better, and she has only gotten worse. My selfishness has only caused her to suffer more. This is the hardest thing that I have ever done, when I decided earlier this week that I would put her to sleep on Saturday, I’ve been in a state of sadness and anxiety. I don’t want the day to come where I have to say goodbye. Saying goodbye to any pet, especially one you’ve had your whole life, is incredibly difficult. Experts say that sometimes it’s even worse than losing a human family member. Yet, the time has come, regardless of whether I wanted it to or not. The last thing I can do for her is show her how much I love her, and send her off peacefully. So tonight, I’m making her a handmade dinner as her last meal, a shredded tuna steak, covered in catnip with a side of milk. In the hopes that when tomorrow comes, she can leave happily, knowing that even up until the end, she was loved dearly. I just hope that for her sake, I can make it through this difficult time. I want to thank you all in advance for your love and support that I’m sure will be pouring out.

Yours,

Wolfgang

May Max Rest In Peace.

The Things We Do When We’re Lonely

Despite having lived with people for most of my life, I’m no stranger to loneliness. In fact, those of you who suffer from depression as I do can probably attest to the fact that you can feel lonely in the most crowded of places, surrounded by the most loving of friends and family. When it sinks its teeth in, nothing can bring you back.

I’m lonely right now. I’m lonely through situation – my wife and son have left on vacation and I wasn’t able to go with them – but I’m also lonely through isolation. Because of the events that led to them leaving without me (I forgot to book the time off from work), I feel a great measure of guilt, which only serves to deepen my sense of loneliness – a sensation that somehow I deserve to feel this way, and that I shouldn’t do anything about it.

I’ve also been lonely before in my life. It started when I first became depressed as a teenager. The first bouts of depression felt like they stemmed from a sense of insignificance, that in the grand scheme of things I didn’t matter, and nothing I did would ever amount to anything worthwhile. Feeling like a blip on the radar of life is a very isolating experience, I can tell you.

Later, I began to isolate myself from my friends at school, both deliberately and through sheer ignorance and bad luck. It came to a head one drunken night at a friend’s house where I made a fool of myself and got us banned from going over there again. My friends turned on me, left me and abandoned me, and I’d never known such loneliness. This led to some of my first truly suicidal thoughts.

When I went to college in London, I lived in a dorm but with a room of my own. That one year was the absolute worst of my life. I saw no one, spoke to no one, almost never got out of bed; I rarely showered, didn’t shave, stank, and fended off everyone around me with vitriol. I hated myself, hated my life, hated everyone else in the world. And I knew – absolutely knew – that it would never get better.

It did.

I met my wife, we had a child, and for a little bit, loneliness was delayed. But it always returned, in the deep of night or on a cloudy day at home when everyone else was away. And I did some strange things, some of which I recall fondly, whilst others are less positive.

In my teenage years, of course, I dealt with loneliness through self-harm. Before losing my friends, I would compare scars with one of the girls at work. Hers were always deeper, but mine were more plentiful. I dealt with it through drinking, too – sneaking whiskey from my father’s liquor cabinet as often as I dared.

Later, as an adult, I continued to deal with it through alcohol. I would finish a bottle of whiskey every few nights. I stopped cutting, but I drank more and more, and kept the loneliness at bay by minimizing my sobriety as much as possible.

Now, I find myself retreating to drink again, but I’m trying to control it. I know the things that will help, and the things that will make it worse. I’m trying to go out more (I’m writing this at a coffee house instead of my bed), trying to invite people to come over and spend time with me.

My cat also helps me feel less lonely. She is my rock, the one creature who will always show me affection no matter what I do or how I feel. When I pick her up she smushes her face into mine. I talk to her, I play with her, and I act like a complete goofball with her. It all helps.

But in the end, loneliness will always be there in the background, waiting to flood my life and drown me in solitude. I can fight it, I can cope with it, but I’ll never be rid of it. It’s as much a part of my life as my bipolar, my depression and my scars.

What makes you feel lonely, and how do you cope with it? Let me know in the comments.

Creature Comforts

I did not have a pet growing up. My mother hates animals, and my father knew how to keep the peace. Not having a pet growing up, I didn’t know what I was missing.

When I met my wife, however, she came with a cat. His name was Shelby. This is him:

Shelby (Profile)

He was a proud, aloof, and very British cat. He liked me, but he loved my wife (he would drool when he picked him up). He was strong and independent, an outdoor cat, and fought like hell to protect his territory. But when it came time for us to leave England for the United States, we had to leave him behind. Although he went to a good friend of ours who we knew would give him a good home, it was still a sad parting. A few years later, he died.

Over here in the U.S., we were renting for quite some time, and couldn’t adopt a new pet until we were able to buy a house. When we did, it wasn’t long before another cat became part of the family: Pia. Here she is:

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She couldn’t be more different from Shelby: intensely social, very vocal, at times psychotic, and with a deep intelligence that covers knowing how to open doors to what her humans want from here at any given moment. And she adores me.

We have a routine. Every morning I pick her up and we cuddle for a few minutes. She doesn’t leave me alone until this happens. Every night when I come home, I lie on the couch and she jumps up on my chest, settling in the crook of my arm, and falls asleep for an hour or two. This happens every day without fail.

There is a point to this, too, beyond sharing essentially my entire social life (yes – two cats). In the decades since I left home, I’ve learned a great deal about myself, and about people. My day job keeps me in the service industry, and I help dozens of people a day. Often, I see people come into my store with animals: most often dogs, although the guy with the parrot is probably my favorite. I know these creatures for what they are: service animals. Some are for blind people, some are in training, but many more are therapy animals, there to help that person cope with something in their life: a great, unknown weight that drags them down and stops them from the simplest of things, like going out in public.

I feel for these people deeply, because I’m one of them. My depression, my bipolar, manifests in drawn-out waves of intensity, and there are times when I can’t get out of bed, either – never mind going out in public or making it to work. I know what it’s like.

And since getting Pia, I know exactly why these people have therapy animals. As much as they are a tool for coping with loss, trauma and mental illness, there are so much more than that: they are a symbol of something so many of us are missing in our lives.

You see, while animals most certainly possess a wide range of emotions, there is a level of self-awareness they lack. As D.H. Lawrence once said:

“A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Animals get their love and care from others, and reciprocate in kind. Their lack of self-awareness translates into a lack of self-pity, which in turn translates to something we so desperately need: unconditional love.

Pia will love me whether I am happy or sad, high or low, ecstatic or depressed. She will love me when I’m there every day, and she’ll love me when I return from a week’s vacation. Pia’s love depends solely on how I treat her, and not on the fickle whims of human self-absorption. And why would I treat her with anything but love in return?

Whether I’m happy or depressed, Pia is a reminder that there are things in the world that are wholly good. That despite what people do to each other and have done to me, there is something – some creature – that loves me anyway.

That gives me worth when I feel worthless. It gives me hope when I’m in despair. And it gives me love when I feel abandoned by everyone around me.

So why am I telling you about my pets? Because I believe everyone in the world can benefit from socializing with the incredible creatures we share our planet with, and for those of us who struggle with our mental health, they might just change our lives.

Or maybe even save them.

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoAnete Lūsiņa