The truth is that sometimes writing for this blog is just plain hard. As I’ve said in my introduction, I feel like I’m a genuinely positive person. Even when life gets hard, I’m always on the lookout for the silver lining. When you are struggling with anxiety, sometimes you just don’t have the energy for scouting out that silver. That’s where the struggle to write comes into play. I promised to take you along on my journey, but what do I do when a leg of the journey can only be traveled via the struggle bus? Do I skip those journal entries and only tell you about the good stuff? Or do I go ahead and share that the bus smells and the bathroom is out of order?
In the interest of keeping it real: the struggle bus sucks. Welcome aboard.
Even though I’ve faced some hard times in my life, I have never ever struggled with anxiety until now, and I don’t know why it’s cropped up. Is it my hormones? (Curse the nurse that uttered the word “perimenopause”.) Is it from the major tornado that recently devastated my city? Is it from the fact that we’re living through a pandemic, rationing and oh yeah, the whole country is on fire? Heck, are you sure we aren’t all experiencing some anxiety?
My anxiety seems to focus on two things: my sudden death from usually random and unlikely causes or the death of one of my dogs. And it is ANNOYING.
Given some of the stuff I grew up with, I’ve done the hard work of therapy, and I’m doing it again. I’ve done the best I can to objectively know myself. What’s my personality type? I’m a C with a healthy dose of D. I like research, knowing the answers and then organizing them, but I can be a bit of a bossy pants if no other strong, effective leadership steps up. What’s my enneagram? I’m an 8 with a strong 9 wing. They call this “the bear”. I can be assertive, and I’m definitely unafraid of conflict. Thank God for that 9 wing that kind of tones all that down. Instead of just being a total bossy boots, I tend to be more quiet and firm. None of this explains the anxiety.
So then I just start sifting through all the reasons that I could possibly be struggling with this, and in this world, it seems like it could be nearly any of my recent circumstances. But I think that some of it may be because of the death of my little dog, Willa.
Willa was a Welsh corgi – a bit on the small size – weighing in at 21 pounds of might and fearlessness. She was the boss of my whole farm. She wasn’t afraid of anything. The only thing she didn’t like was swimming. The Man and I adored her.
Her death was tragic and 100% avoidable.
One rainy day after work, I was outside doing all the evening chores: closing up the chicken coops, tending the garden, closing the greenhouse. The Man came home while I was in the garden working. The dogs ran up to greet him when he drove in as always. He stopped the car partway down the driveway to talk to me and then rolled down the driveway to pull into his parking place – and rolled right over Willa.
A 21 pound dog and a car driving over her are totally incompatible. She suffered a pneumothorax injury, but didn’t pass away right away. She hung on for almost 24 more hours. She was a fighter.
The thing that I can’t let myself off the hook for is this: in that split second before The Man rolled down the driveway, I wanted to say: “Make sure you can see all the dogs!” And I didn’t.
I didn’t do it because I’m THAT person. I’m that overly cautious and cautioning friend. Have you thought of every possible outcome? Have you weighed the cost? Did you turn off the oven and unplug the iron? I’m the caution queen. Many of my people find it annoying. I warn. They roll their eyes. Some of my friends don’t even want to go on vacation with me because this bend in my personality makes me not quite fun enough to travel with. I’m great for dinner, but not good enough for a week in Antigua.
The thing is this personality trait is what saved me. Hyper-vigilance is a trait I developed as a kid to keep myself safe. If I could see every outcome before they occurred, I could plan ahead. I could plot an escape. I could know where to hide. It’s hard for me to look down on it; it’s what got me through.
That’s also the funny thing about the enneagram – it’s far more nurture than it is nature. My nature is quiet and easy-going, but my formative years developed in me such a strong need for control that it actually warped my whole personality. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing – especially as I’m rather a big fan of me – but it is worth considering. What did the world do to us? And can it be undone? Should it be undone? I don’t know.
The key thing that makes us ourselves – such as that defining need to control and be hyper aware of potential dangers – can be really good things! But sometimes the best things about us can also be our great weaknesses.
In my case, my tendency to go overboard makes people annoyed with me including The Man. That rainy day we lost Willa, when I wanted to say “Can you see all the dogs?” I held back. I held back because I knew The Man would sigh and roll his eyes – the worst response he ever gives me to anything by the way – and I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want to annoy him. I held my tongue and lost my dog.
So you see now, I’m in a tough spot. I haven’t forgiven myself for Willa. I truthfully don’t even know how. My job was to protect her and safeguard her, and I failed to do so because I was afraid of a sigh. Because I can’t let myself off the hook for Willa, I’m afraid I’ll let my other animals down to their ultimate demise. I’ve drifted into Crazy Town (on the formerly mentioned Struggle Bus).
The Interweb doesn’t help. Every other Facebook post is about some new potential, life threatening disaster that could kill my dog from essential oils to xylitol to cyanotoxins in the water. You want to know how common most of those things are? Well, my spell check doesn’t even recognize them as words, yet I’m wasting countless time every day looking for what could kill my dogs. Is it the water? What’s in their food? Should I really give them this medicine? Should I lock them in the house because they could escape the fence and get hit by a car? Or should I let them run out in the yard because if I lock them in the house it could burn down?
Honestly, it’s exhausting. And it sucks the joy and fun right out of my everyday life. And I wasn’t all that fun to start with.
Especially lately. The cyanotoxin thing? It’s a real thing. You can look it up. It’s an algae in the water that is extremely toxic to dogs – like one lick equals death. There is no treatment. It doesn’t matter how fast you get to the vet, your dog is still going to die. Since I hike and kayak a lot, it is my current greatest fear. I was so worried about it that the C in me stepped to the forefront. I found a company that makes testing kits and contacted them about buying some. They asked me what for, and I told them. They told me it was “cost prohibitive” for private citizens to test every body of water every time they recreate, and that my state should be monitoring water safety. Being an Eight, that did nothing to comfort me.
This is my second year in cyanotoxin high alert status, and it’s seriously hampering my style. Usually in the winter, I hike around my own backyard. I have miles of backcountry at my disposal literally out the back door, and when it’s cold (and therefore snake free), it’s my own personal playground. I feel safe there. I feel like the dogs are safe there.
When summer comes (and therefore the snakes come out), I tend to head towards the more maintained state parks or walking up creek/river systems. The hotter the summer, the more creeks I visit. The more creeks I visit, the more I have to worry about cyanotoxins.
After the tornado came through, they set up some trauma counseling for those of us who were volunteering with the first responders. One of the things they stressed was getting out into nature, and that should be so easy for me since nature is my first love. But lately it just triggers my anxiety in such a major way.
This past week, I took a hike with the dogs through one of my favorite creek systems. It was beautiful. It was secluded. It was perfect. I had a great time. I was on a high (similar to the Rocky Mountain kind John Denver sings about). Right until I thought I spotted algae in the water.
I immediately brought the hike to its conclusion and headed back to the trail head and the car. I knew the dogs should begin showing symptoms within an hour but that I wouldn’t be able to save them. My only goal was to get them to the car so I could get them home to bury them. How could I carry both dogs all the way back? How would I choose who to carry if I had to? Would the park rangers help me? I was in tears hiking to my car. My dogs were frolicking and oblivious – and also not poisoned by cyanotoxins.
This is my life now apparently. One of the things I love doing more than anything in the world feels utterly spoiled.
Why? Because I’m supposed to look out for my dogs and prevent them from getting into dangerous situations, and the whole world feels like a freaking dangerous situation.
My therapist suggested that when I start to get anxious about things like this that I stop myself and say: “I am not in charge of life and death.”
And I’m doing it.
And the whole time I’m doing it, I think to myself “I was in charge of Willa’s life and death, and I screwed up.”
Y’all, I adore my dogs. Like more than maybe a normal amount. My life is dog-centered. I wish I could move to Great Britain so that I could take my dogs MORE places and still be “normal”. My dogs would totally dig hanging out in a pub. I can’t imagine my life without them, but life with them is now so hard. I’m so sure that I’m going to fail them in a fatal way.
So there you have it. No silver lining. No great destination. No mountain top view on this leg of the Quest. Nope, it’s struggle bus all the way, and you have to share your seat with a chatty stranger who hasn’t showered in a week. And the air conditioning is broken. And your window won’t go down.
Maybe the next leg will be better, but until then, I’ll just be here feeling responsible for life and for death and crumbling under the weight of it. Maybe in a day or two, I’ll come up with a silver lining, but I doubt it.