juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Be ye warned of discussions of pet health/aging/death.

A little while ago, my family's dog Jamie (a fourteen year old black lab; lab life expediency is 10-12 years) had a health scare that resolved to be a probable brain bleed, collapsing, some seizing, labored breathing, etc. We did the entire routine of family panic, "the dog may be dying" phone calls, considering trips to the emergency vet; the crisis resolved overnight and they were able to take her to her normal vet the next day. She's been acting old-dog normal since, with all the ongoing health issues but no new ones. But the vet still believes she won't make it through autumn, if only because they see most old animals die in spring and autumn when the changing seasons add new stressors.

Talking about this with Mum after the fact, she said that she'd used me as an example of calm and acceptance when everyone was doing the crying freakout thing—which startled me to hear, but makes sense. I've seen so many companion animals die, both recently and generally. I am on intimate terms with non-human animal death, in ways I never am with human death, even when I know the deceased. These dying animals are in my care or care-adjacent; their lives and deaths and my responsibility. None of that has a negative connotation, and I have gotten really good at calmly accepting end-of-life events.

When Mama died, so quickly, despite lifesaving measures, we still had a sense of absolute certainty. We watched her transition from skittish bedraggled stray to a playful, profoundly affectionate, calm housecat, and that was our doing; we also helped her in sickness, and made the decision to euthanize her, and that was equally as beneficial to her wellbeing. I cannot have one of those things without the other, nor would I want to. This one thing, providing love and care to animals, is within my ability, and there's nothing I'd rather do.

My sister got a mini red merle Australian Shepherd named Tiber last year, and, I mean, he's a good dog, but I was watching my family replace Jamie, not with intent but because it was easier to bond with a lively young dog than to accept Jamie in her old age, with her failing body, her loud panting, her constant need to Be With. They were looking after her physically, but their emotional energy was diverted. And, to be honest, I don't think Jamie knew or cared; with her blindness and exhaustion came a particularly dogged affection, a love unswayed by physical or social concerns. But seeing the impatience and distraction she received bothered me.

When I explained all of this to my mother (everything except the quiet judgment, obvs.), my emphasis was this: I was sad when she seemed like she might be dying, but not afraid and not sorry, because I regret nothing about Jamie, not the life I had with her, not who she is now, neither her eventual death. It's not an inconvenience or a price to be paid for the better parts; it is part of an experience, and that experience is the thing I value most in my life.

I don't expect them to do that, to turn tolerance into engagement and value Jamie-now as easily as Jamie-then. But not everyone engages with companion animals the way I do, and to be honest my engagement is something I've severely fucked up and undervalued in the past (and that I do regret). But her health scare woke them. They know not to take for granted the time she has left, and so to engage with her in that time, even if that requires patience with her old dog ways. I'm glad to see it, because she deserves the world—they all do, these animals we pledge ourselves to, but Jamie does in particular.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
That massive depressive episode that began with my sister's cancer diagnosis finally died a lingering death (I gave up tracking its length by the end, it started in July 2014 and lasted until ~June 2015, so it was basically a year of my life), but a ~month later I had a resurgence of my normal month-long (I think, I hope, but I'm not measuring; I'm too tired for real records these days, I'm just trying to wait things out) episodes, so: I have been absent-ish from social spaces/friendships because I'm not feeling great; it's not a severe episode, but I was just beginning to feel hopeful about recovery when it began so it's bitter and gently spirit-crushing. You know, more than depressive episodes usually are.

- - - - -

May-June back pain episode did resolve a few days on Tramadol.

- - - - -

Dare is settling in well! When you adopt a pet, but especially a cat, you make an (informed, one hopes) gamble: they are their own people, so, while they do adapt, their underlying personality will shine through. We gambled well with Dare—her outgoing nature counterbalances her blindness, and makes her a good fit into the house's preexisting social structures. What amazes me most is how bright she is, how proactively engaged with her environment; she's more aware than anyone in the household, nevermind not having eyes.

- - - - -

Made a brief visit back home: my sister got a puppy, a Red Merle Australian Shepherd named Tiber who is currently 3 months old. She's still living at my family's home, so Jamie (who is now far into Old Lady territory) has to deal with him. He's ... well, he's a puppy, engaged and bright but overflowing with energy. They're doing pretty well by him training-wise; Jamie isn't pleased with the new dog.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Just got back from a week in Corvallis, a longer than average trip because I caught a cold on the way down. It was pretty minor, in large part because I had Devon to look after me and didn't try to travel while sick. I was nervous when I developed symptoms because I'm never great at dealing with adversity but I'm particularly shit at it right now, so I'm thankful. Unfortunately, finding ways to sleep with congestion has done a number on my back and I imagine I'll be recovering from that for a while.

My parents were out of town by the time that I was well enough to visit the house, but I did stop by to pick up a bag of Liberty apples (a tradition; these are my favorite apples in the world) and this year's crop is phenomenal, firm and tiny—I find the smaller fruits to stay firmer longer, be more flavorful, and be an ideal serving size.

While I was there I had a nice long talk with my sister; we haven't talked in person since her diagnosis, so the conversation was long and weighty and hugely reassuring. She's halfway through chemo, and has run into most of the predictable issues but none of the big and dangerous ones. I've always had an unshakable faith in her ability to deal with this, and that's not something that I say lightly: it's something that I know I couldn't deal with, not right now and maybe not ever; I believe that praising a sick person for their strength and bravery can easily slide into the realm of the problematic and belittling. I have a lot of predictable, essential anger at the whole Cancer Thing: it isn't fair and she shouldn't have to be strong—but she is: she has an intense capability and self-control and will, she's giving nurses and doctors What For to ensure she gets the treatment she needs and is able to continue to work and live as she wants to, she's dealing with intense emotional burdens with great aplomb. I'm proud of her and it was nice to have the chance to say so.

All that she's been dealing with also makes me confident in my decision not to get tested at this time, because I cannot do what she is doing.

I was also fairly honest with her about how I've been, which was—well, it was weird. Weird and pleasant, I mean; it fit the situation and felt good to share. But I tend not to be forthcoming about my personal life/health issues with my family, and there's something about the sentence "sorry, I've been too busy being sad to be present and supportive while you were diagnosed with cancer" which triggers every anxiety about the veracity/severity of mental illness.

I'm at ~4.5 months with this major depressive episode, which is by far the longest episode I've had since I dropped out of school; I'm sure that what's been going on with my sister has contributed to its longevity. The day-to-day experience is somewhat more tolerable than it was at onset, but I'm so worn down that it barely matters.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Sometimes I want to give people a sign that says I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE DEPRESSED (slash ANXIOUS slash MENTALLY ILL) and then have them wave that around instead of talking.

This is directed at no one; it is a whispered response to a complete internet stranger that wasn't even talking to me. Just so as that you know.

I'm still not doing great. Two weeks ago my sister graduated from the University of Oregon, so I went for that—and Father's Day, as it was the same weekend; and attendant extended family (uncle and his family, grandfather with wife) activities. To my surprise I was happy for her almost entirely without jealousy/resentment (on account of my failed college experience), although graduation itself was mildly triggering. The whole weekend went fine and it was absolutely exhausting, in part because events like that always are, in part because of some specific circumstances, in part because I'm still just not doing well.

It's depression, mostly at this point. The back is still bad, more or less, but it's plateaued at this new level of always this bad and so I'm learning to live with it. That was hard to do over the graduation stuff, so I ended up trying two new happy pills. Verdicts: Vicodin (hydrocodone/paracetamol) was moderately effective but had more side effects, largely spaciness—intense, emotionally non-responsive spaciness. Neurontin (gabapentin) was extremely effective, rendering all my muscles (all of them! even my shoulders, which hold tension, not pain) into limp noodles and me likewise; I experienced some moderate unsteadiness but Devon, who would better know, says it did less to my cognition. Neither were as awesome as Tramadol, but 1) they were out of Tramadol and 2) much of my love of Tramadol stems from its side effects, which worries me. Would I take Neurontin again? Yes, but I'm not constantly thinking about how badly I want to take it again, which makes me think it's the better drug for me.

After graduation I stayed a few more days in Corvallis and just spent time with Devon, and they were good days, but the monotony of depression is a mire, it rises over anything good and renders the entire landscape a bland sort of miserable. It's been months of this now, it's dull and not worth recording, and I invite it to fuck off, please and thank you, at its earliest convenience. This time around it's killed my appetite, which is fantastic because I just didn't have enough food-related neuroses; but no one wants to hear about how hard it is to shower or do laundry, and I don't want to write about it.

Dee and Devon both have been angels, in their limited possible capacity—further "it's not you it's me." I could write about August but I don't know how to do her justice. No spoons these days, so evenings when she's whining for food can be torture, but when I got back after a week in Corvallis ... she always demands immediate snuggles, and we had that, but seeing her again also rekindled this love affair and we've been head over heels for each other since. She is my cat in this devastating, heartfelt way, and I have never known a creature so beautiful. That doesn't idealize her, and I don't think she's half the cat I was expecting when I adopted her, but even at her most annoying I would not change her for the world. Even when the intensity of this love fades down, again, to background noise, the truth of that will not alter.

And everyone should have an overenthusiastic wigglebutt of a puppy come to meet them at the train station.

It's not awful but it's not good either, these days, and at this point I'm just waiting them out, but I might as well mention that they exist and so, still, do I.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Devon went Black Friday shopping (don't ask me why), so I took the train down to Corvallis on Saturday. Or at least I tried—after flirting with disaster, I finally got there right after they'd closed the train doors. An employee automatically rescheduled my ticket for that evening, and I called Dee and she came back into town to hang with me for a few hours before my departure. We wandered out from the train station, and then I began to recognize China Town, and then we were on Burnside and I could see the hotel where Express and I stayed last month. We were going to find a Starbucks, but I mentioned that Moonstruck, a Portland chocolater located in St. Johns (that bridge in their logo? that's our bridge), had a café in the building Express worked in, and that they served single-origin drinking chocolate—so we went there. We both tried the Venezuelan—74%, dark and thick even for drinking chocolate, pungent and bold; not the best single origin I've had, but easily the best drinking chocolate, and the employees were fantastic. From there I found us a Starbucks so we could sit and enjoy it, and then get water and lighter fare to finish. I felt so Portland to know where things were. We walked back to the train station and had an hour just to talk before the train got there, and it was easily the best thing to make of a bad situation.

On Sunday I had breakfast with my family—in theory a belated Thanksgiving, but in reality toned down and only made seasonal by homemade applesauce, but it was still lovely. As we were leaving, my sister—who is studying abroad in Italy—got back from a few days spent in Ireland, and we all got the chance to see one another via skippy, delayed webcam. My envy of Ireland is balanced against my admiration of what she's been doing with these last few months. Monday my period hit me hard—and I'm trying to deal with some insurance application stuff that's cast a long black cloud of anxiety over everything I do. But I played ilomilo on Devon's new phone, and I sorted BPAL, and it was good to see the boy. I was there until Wednesday morning—a little longer than usual. I came home to a cat (she seems to know when I'm due back, and turns into attention-hounding terror that morning) who immediately crawled on me to share my nap.

But I'm tired. Hanukkah starts fairly late this year, overlapping Christmas, but I'll probably go home when my sister comes back from Italy—see her, see my family, light the first candle and exchange presents, and then come back to Portland. Devon will probably visit before then, and maybe over Christmas; with me here to give medication to her disgruntled cat, Dee has the freedom to go visit her family for the holidays. I want to stay in one place and do as little as possible. I've met people, done things, gone places, and it's been fantastic, but it's getting to the point that I'm tired just to see days fill up on my calendar. I want to under-schedule this month, hibernate a little, be bare-branches dead and quiet, and recharge.

Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today!
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I'm headed home again tonight, for the last night of Hanukkah and to welcome my sister back from college for winter break. I lit the candles with my family last Friday as well, but this year, this will be our one and only night of Hanukkah with all four of us in the home.

I learned the other day, somewhat to my surprise, that my good friend [livejournal.com profile] aep didn't know that I was Jewish. I am indeed, in the most singular and cliche cultural form that you can possibly imagine. My paternal grandparents are both Jews hailing from New York (my great great [paternal paternal] grandfather was a furniture manufacturer, to be even more cliche; worse still, my grandparents retired to Florida and my grandfather lives there now), and I was raised as a cultural Jew. That is to say, I was taught Jewish stories and customs, but my grandmother was particularly agnostic and I never went to synagogue or had a bat mitzvah. I celebrated Passover with my grandparents each year, a tradition we no longer continue, and I still light the Hanukkah candles with my family every year. So while I'm the last thing from a devout Jew, and while you certainly can't see my heritage to look at me, Hanukkah is still rather important to me. We don't do much more than scrape the wax from the menorah, light the new candles, and put the menorah on the window sill, where its light shines down over the hill, over the city herself—it's no big ceremony, but I love it. We'll be having latka for dinner as well tonight.

A photo of the lit menorah on the windowsill, from my mother's arts blog.

ETA: Our menorah on the last night of Hanukkah, as well as the latka, again from my mom's blog.

(My mother's family is not-very-strictly Catholic, although she has always been spiritual/agnostic. I was raised agnostic, and along with celebrating Hanukkah, my family also celebrates Christmas, and we sometimes celebrate Kwanzaa with some family friends. I've been known to celebrate Yule, and to some extent still recognize the importance of the solstice. My papa's birthday falls right in the middle of it all—on the solstice, actually. As such, this entire season is important to us as a family, but tonight is the last night of Hanukkah, which is why I focus on it.)

My sister Allie started college at University of Washington in the fall, and this is her first visit home since then. Ironically, we keep in somewhat better touch now that I'm back home and she's away, but I've never been very good at keeping in touch. Still, rumor has that her first semester has gone quite well—she's adjusted to her (horrendously gigantic) school and even has a job up there, which is needless to say more than I've ever managed. She's taking the train down home, and I'm looking forward to seeing her. I hold such a sense of confidence in her now, a sense that I've never felt towards myself. I am the black sheep of the family, ricocheting between unstable extremes; she is a middle ground, so while she is by no means average or simple, she is balanced, she is capable.I'm older, I was a bright kid and a good student, and for a while I was the high standard to which she was compared. Now, I've dropped that standard, and she hasn't faltered. I feel a bit ashamed in the face of that, and yet proud at the same time. In her own way, in a way that I have never managed, she is brilliant.

It will be good to see her again, and good for her to be home. She deserves the break, after such a change and after college, of course. Plus, if nothing else, I know that Jamie—the family dog—will be excited to see her. She has three weeks here before she heads back north.

Elsewise, I've fallen into a brief hibernational rut. I do this often—not just during the winter, though it is hibernation all the same. I curl up in bed, and in between napping I find more things to do in bed. I don't leave unless I need to, and lately that's only been to pee and to see Devon in the evenings. Sometimes I just want the safety and immobility of my own little cocoon. It's not depression precisely, though it is I've no doubt related; it's more like quietude, a peaceful drowsiness. I've been entertaining myself with a lot of fic reading (from the hot recs over at [livejournal.com profile] daily_snitch, only a few of which have been any good...) and film watching (At World's End is as good as I remember and the DVD is great, but needs a director's commentary; The Polar Express is hideously bad; all the rest is old news and old DVDs), and I've made a new custom pony. I'll take pictures of her today (in just a few minutes, probably, before I nap) but I shant post them for a bit, because she's getting packed up and shipped off as a surprise gift for a surprise somebody. I'm pleased with how she turns out, and though the recipient doesn't much like snow, I hope she likes this pony. Another gift is going off today, fingers crossed and Devon willing, and those two alone is more than I expected to mail off already. I am horrendously unreliable, after all.

Now, to take photos, and then to sleep before I head to the house for sundown. I hope that all of you are well, and Happy Hanukkah to those that celebrate it.

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juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
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