Over and Over, She Rescued Me

Let me tell you guys about Sallie.

Fourteen years ago, as I was finishing up my sophomore year of college at UNC, I ventured over to the Orange County Animal Shelter in search of a dog.

Because every undergrad with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex needs another living creature to nurture and sustain.

I was immediately taken…by her brother, a brown Lab-looking puppy. I excitedly asked if he was available, but apparently everyone else was also gullible to his puppy face, and he was already claimed. I returned to his cage and a tiny black blur caught my eye. This critter  of a dog was rolling around, biting her brother’s belly and having the time of her life. I took a closer look. This one looked a little naughty. And like a lot of fun.

I asked if she was available.

She was.

I called my parents. My dad agreed to help sponsor her adoption if, and only if, I named her after an old bulldog that used to wander over to our old house and visit our family dogs when I was back in high school.

Sallie was her name.

The freshly minted Sallie (a Lab/Chow, definitely no Bulldog in there, but whatever, Dad) promptly got scheduled to be spayed while I finished up final exams. I headed back to the shelter a few days later, picked her up, promptly drove to the beach, and we started a fourteen year journey together.

Sallie

Over time, Sallie moved with me (seemingly) countless times, stood by my side through various boyfriends (and some major heartbreak), undergrad, my first “real” job, grad school, meeting Paul, losing my dad, one TBI, having a baby, and back to school again.

 

When I had my TBI almost four years ago (what has happened to time?) and returned home from the hospital mute, Sallie was very confused. I don’t think she really understood what was going on and why I suddenly couldn’t speak to her. Our other dog Sadie has always been very sensitive and empathetic, and she immediately picked up the feeling that something was wrong with me. It was so odd to watch their different reactions.

Sallie was always the rock, the mostly unflappable one, in our animal family – she didn’t always make the brightest choices (if I could interview my college boyfriend, I would have him report about the time he had to jump into the lake by the apartment I lived in during my junior year – Sallie decided to run and jump into the lake one day in hot pursuit of some geese…then refused to come out). Then again, I didn’t always make the brightest choices in how I trained her (I use that term so, so loosely). There are so many things I would change if I could, but I think if you are in any relationship for long enough, you probably feel the same way as time passes (also, Shelley, I’m thankful you didn’t kill Sallie and/or me after she ate your phone…and your glasses – and yes, I still feel guilty!).

I have more memories of Sallie than I know what to do with, save for using them to pad my heart and hopefully try and soften the blow of what feels like a gaping loss.

We sat with her yesterday as she drifted off. When the vet gently confirmed that she had passed, I leaned over her and heaved tears into her fur. The last time I did as such was the day my dad died, and the feeling of grief and loss was second only to that moment.

And I thought – I have shared the worst moments of my life with Sallie. And in those moments, Sallie’s companionship and understanding made life bearable. And that makes Sallie was of the best things to ever happen to me.

It is hard to accept that she is gone, but experience tells me that these hard, unforgiving days will soften in time.

I am grateful to have called Sallie my best friend, one of the loves of my life, who rescued me far more often than the one measly time I adopted a tiny black fur ball from the animal shelter.

Advertisements

Baby Steps

photo

I was never that girl who spent much time dreaming about being a mom. I am not overtly “girly,” nor do I consider myself overly maternal (though I would bet our plethora of animals might say otherwise).

Rather, my desire to have a baby just sort of developed naturally over the course of time. During that timeframe, several of my friends and acquaintances became pregnant and had children. Yes, it is entirely possible to be thrilled for someone while feeling a tinge of sadness and regret that you are not the one sharing such news. I had to realize that feeling that way didn’t make me a horrible, selfish friend. It just made me human.

Time went by and I became pregnant at the end of last August. I shared our news very early on. I didn’t have misgivings about doing so because I figured that if things went wrong, I would want the support. It didn’t make sense to me to hide something I had wanted and waited for – if I had had a miscarriage, I would have been devastated. But what if no one knew? Paul and I would have been alone, and I didn’t see the point in that. It’s such an individual preference, I know.

I have shared so much in this blog about my recovery from grief and my injury. Yet, I could never had quite prepared myself for the entirely different door that being pregnant opens. And I have to say, it’s been at times very uncomfortable for me.

Don’t misunderstand – I am thrilled to have this baby. It’s just everything else that has thrown me for a loop. For someone who has shared so much, I am a very private person, and so many things have been a rude awakening for me.

I expected the advice – some welcome, some not so much. Paul and I have an idea of how we would like to raise our child, and I don’t think that always jives with how other people might want to do things – that’s okay, too, as long our wants as parents are respected.

As I pointed out, for example, I am not overtly girly, and I don’t plan to raise my child that way. If she grows up and wants to play with dolls and play dress up and watch 500 movies about princesses, then so be it. But I also don’t intend to push her toward being any one way. I just want her to have the opportunity to be herself.

As soon as people found out that I was having a girl, I found myself struggling with their reaction. Here is a news flash. I have one pink shirt in my own wardrobe. What makes people think that I need 500 pink shirts for my baby? Why do we just automatically assume that girl=pink? I don’t begrudge the color – it’s just not my preference. That hasn’t changed because I’m pregnant.

Which points toward the bigger issue and what I have been struggling with the most – yes, being pregnant and having a baby changes your life. But being pregnant in and of itself doesn’t mean that I am a different person or that my personality just changed randomly.

I am still me – I am still Jenni.

I didn’t like being touched randomly before – what makes people think I want to have my swollen, tender belly touched or rubbed? Especially out of the blue?

It’s like people consider my belly to be entirely separate from my body. Just to reiterate – it’s not. And as a public service to all other pregnant women, please stop reaching out and touching us without asking. Maybe there are some women who don’t mind, but I would bet the majority of us would at least like to be asked first. People didn’t reach out and randomly rub my stomach before I was pregnant. How weird would that be? Food for thought.

Paul and I also have struggled mightily to keep the baby “stuff” under control, which is difficult when people are excited and want to give you ALL THE THINGS. And again, I am so, so grateful that people are excited for us and want to help. I really, really am – but similar to the whole belly touching thing, be mindful of who you’re dealing with. Some people might welcome a plethora of random baby gifts, and that is totally fine. But some people might be more minimalist and just want specific items. Nothing wrong with either way of being – it just seems to be difficult for people to get sometimes.

I have struggled to maintain my sense of self over the last eight months. I have not ridden a horse or run a few miles in months, and it’s hard to lose that sense of self, even if only temporarily – but I don’t think people realize that sometimes. And so, it’s more important to me than ever to still be regarded as who I am and who I was before – even as I prepare to welcome this new life. Physically preparing for this change is challenging enough!

While grieving my father and then during my initial recovery from the TBI, all I wanted was to find some sort of sense of normalcy again. Emotionally, being pregnant has been a crazy balance between being so excited and so terrified. The only “normal” thing about this is knowing that in some way, everyone who has been there has dealt with these emotions in some way or another – it’s just always eye opening once it finally happens to you.

 

 

Heal Over

Last year as my mare recovered from a severe episode of founder, I leased a nice, (mostly) well-behaved gelding named Winslow. Over the summer, Winslow developed a nasty little sore near one of his front feet. We never figured out how he got it – probably just being a dunce in the pasture.

We (myself and his owner) would treat the sore. It would scab over and appear to heal, and then somehow he would always come in, having irritated it. It never appeared to bother him or interfere with his daily activities (admittedly, his daily activities weren’t all that demanding); it just wouldn’t go away completely.

Winslow moved on to another local barn and is enjoying being semi-retired and teaching kids and adults how to ride. I hear that the sore is still there.

station

A little over a year and a half since my accident — and over two years since losing my dad — I have found that this blog has changed and evolved with trajectory of my recovery. My recovery no longer refers solely to my physical injury; it also refers to my emotional recovery from two very different, tramautic experiences.

I have discovered that emotionally, dealing with a significant loss is much like Winslow’s sore. The acute phase of grief needs to be treated and acknowledged for what it is: a trauma. It may not be a physical trauma, but emotionally, the impact is every bit as devastating. And, much like a sore that scabs over but never seems to fully heal, grief has a lasting impact.

A few weeks ago, Paul and I finally set out to clean out the radio station building that my dad owned and get it ready to sell. Continuing to deal with the repercussions of a sudden death is a weight on the people left behind. The weight is not only dealing with the grief of the loss but also with the fact that we can’t fully move on with other aspects of our lives until the logistics of death are dealt with in full. In our case, it just happens to be a much more complex situation.

I go about my daily life but always carry around a sore, just scabbed over. I cut it open much less frequently than I used to. However, it doesn’t take much to irritate it.

We had saved my dad’s office for last. I knew that under his desk were a couple of pairs of his walking shoes, left just as they were before his stroke. There were also a few items I had stored under the desk to deal with at a later date. However, when that date came, it was like getting hit with another blow.

For me, cleaning out my dad’s desk was like cutting an artery open.

Regardless, I knew that these things needed to be done. In the end, seeing the building completely emptied, I felt a curious blend of sadness and optimism. Since his death, I have longed to just be sad. I can handle the grief itself but adding insult to injury by having to deal with all the things he left behind is just too much at times.

I find it interesting how much this blog has changed over the past year and a half, and I often think my experience is not unique. I just happen to have laid it out in writing from the beginning. I don’t often write specifically about my injury anymore because it has become a part of what I have been through and not necessarily who I am. I visualize what happened to me as being completely separate from losing my dad, who was and is a part of me.

Of course, I wish that my own injury had never happened. But in a way, I am richer for it. Because I have recovered so well, I can use my experience and insight to help further research and assist other people going through similar situations. The experience also took me down a different emotional path.

Since time sort of paused at first after my injury, and I became immediately focused on recovering, I didn’t have as much time to sit and wallow in emotional despair (do I sound dramatic? Good, I mean it!). I suddenly had to become very focused on something besides the loss.

When I finally got back to a place in my physical recovery where I could re-visit my grief about my dad, I was struck by how inspired I felt by my dad and how grateful I was to have had him in my life. He had a mental fortitude that I could only hope to emulate.

Often in the past I would encounter other people who had lost significant others (whether it be a parent or other loved one) and who seemed to be carrying on like normal. I was mystified about how I could accomplish this. Of course, now I understand that coming out on the other side of loss causes you to re-define what normal is. There is no mystery involved, no secret to discover about how to carry on.

You just do.

Stage 5: Acceptance

At some point over the winter, I stopped wearing makeup. Now, I never wore a ton to begin with, but I still felt naked leaving the house without at least a swipe of powder. I never had the best complexion, and I was self-conscious.

Just after New Years, my face was angry. My body was angry. And my mind was angry. I had accomplished some big milestones–I flew to Texas for a work meeting and presented in front of a large group of (sometimes intimidating) people. Paul and I finally got my parents’ old house cleaned out and listed for sale. And I had competed in my first dressage show in almost three years.

But I was tired. Really, really tired. Not from a lack of sleep, really, but just from being bone tired. I had been carrying around so much stress internally that I felt like I was going to lose it, and it showed, both in the way I felt and the way I looked.

I’ve never been afraid to ask for help, but I’ve always tried to do things on my own first. I actually think considering the past year and a half, I did pretty damn well. But, it was time to wave the white flag. I got to work making some appointments for myself.

So somewhere along the way, as I stopped to take care of my body and mind, I stopped wearing makeup. It was weird at first. It had always just been a part of my routine. Shower, get dressed, makeup, go. Suddenly, my routine got a lot simpler. And that was odd at first.

But then it became natural. Sure, there is absolutely nothing wrong with makeup. But suddenly, I was enough. I didn’t need it to feel put together.

Acceptance. It’s not just about accepting other people. It’s also about accepting who you are.

For me, it’s been a long process.

I am now a girl with a speech disorder, and that’s alright. Please note, I didn’t say it was fun. But it’s okay. It’s just who I am.

Many people wear their physical scars proudly–as a testament to strength and recovery from some traumatic event. I think of my apraxia in the same fashion. The fact that I can mostly control it at this point just symbolizes how much I have been kicking its ass over the past 11 months.

I am also a girl without a father, at least in the sense that I no longer have my dad to call on when things get tough. Or to surprise on birthdays. Or simply hug. That new identity has been much harder to accept. And yet, I have been working on it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean forgetting.

I accept that these facts are immutable. There is nothing I can do about it. But after one of the longest winters I can remember (or at least it felt that way), I, too, am changing with the season.

Do you think that the little caterpillar is always ready to break free of his cocoon and fly? In truth, he probably doesn’t really think about it. He just does.

Well, however we work our way out – does it really matter?