The BetsyG-Spot

Love, life, and sex in the suburbs

My Very Bad Year (So Far)

May 11, 2018 Category: Uncategorized, Wheel of Fortune, Wildcard

Day by day, my doggy is improving. Yesterday he started to show signs that he could shake himself out head to tail. Today he did so more convincingly and, when I leashed him, he didn’t snap at me or shy away; he came over readily but looked up at me with a lingering sadness. Later, when I called him over to my chair, he came, let me pet his head, stayed while I stroked his back, massaging him lightly.

How far he’d come since three days earlier, when my neighbor’s new greyhound decided Noshi looked a bit too much like a rabbit. I can guess, now, how rabbits die by way of greyhound. Parker went for the jugular, shook my 22-pound ball of fur like a stuffed animal. Two things saved Noshi: Parker’s large canvas leash and his owner’s hand, both coming between one dog’s teeth and the other’s neck. The blood that painted Noshi’s white fur red was from a human, not a dog.

Noshi is slowly recovering, but I’m not. As I joked yesterday, “What’s better for a case of PTSD than watching your dog being violently attacked?” Nice to know that, through all the bad things that have happened in the last 10 months, I still have a sense of humor.

I can write that my dog was attacked and you might feel sympathetic. But you can’t know, and I hope you never know, what that looks like. You can’t see his terror, the wide-eyed expression of betrayal. You can’t see his mouth open, screaming. Screaming! My dog was lying on his back, jaws squeezing his throat in a peaceful moment when he wasn’t being shaken, screaming like a person. And I was watching, helpless, thinking, “My dog is dying. My dog is dying. This is how I’ll watch my dog die: bloody, in a terror.”

That’s the image I’m left with, the image that comes back to me every time my baby whimpers and snaps at me when I try to leash him. His neck is tender, and there’s a lump on his head—either that or a tick; I’ve not been able to get close enough to find out. I try explaining to him that I have to get the leash on him so he can go out. He eventually complies. He has to. As we walk, I measure my relief as his gait improves and he trots like the magnificent animal he is. But his newfound fearfulness, his pain, prevents him from being a maniac. Pulling on the leash and barking at cars is too painful. Barking is painful. I’m thrilled now when I hear him vocalize. Normally that’s annoying as hell.

I’m glad to see him recovering physically. Psychically it’s going to take more time—I hope less than it will take me. This dog does not have a great memory, but he’s not stupid. He knows what happened. It’s in his bones now. I do have a great memory. It’s in my bones too, only deeper. The images grew roots.

Not that I would ever benefit from an experience like that, but I did not need it now.

I’ve been experiencing a bad year—remarkably, the worst year I can remember, and I’ve had some bad ones. Working backwards, I had what I guess you would call a nervous breakdown, even though there is technically no such thing. In a bit of circular thinking, being in that state upset me, made me cry at my weakness, at my inability to cope with life’s harshness. I cried because I couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t remember, couldn’t think, because I have to rely on medications to get through my days. Weak.

Why the nervous breakdown or, since that’s not an actual DSM diagnosis, the major depressive episode? The array of professionals who are taking care of me list shock, emotional trauma, and the aforementioned PTSD, all on top of some underlying, untreated mental health issues, including depression and a mood disorder. This turns out to be not a good combination for being able to function.

I can tell you where the shock and emotional trauma came from and, I suppose the PTSD. Preceding the breakdown (I’m going to call it that, for convenience’s sake), my closest friend at work killed himself. Maybe you know someone who died this way. Maybe suicide has affected your life in a profound way. Maybe you know. If so, you have your nightmares, and I have mine.

I’ve not written about this yet, except in song—my loving ode to Greg—and his eulogy. So bear with me, and if you can’t take this horror on top of the story about my dog, you can stop here.

Greg was a 30-year-old naif, my sweet and salty coworker. I’d met him when he was an excruciatingly shy 27-year-old. I was the first person to bring him out, help him to become a social being. Ultimately, it became a two-way friendship, mutual in every way. We entertained each other, kept one another company, helped each other out with technical and personal work challenges, and lent each other support through emotional trials.

Before Greg killed himself, I knew he was suicidal. Two months prior, he began trying various methods to end his life, to stop the unrelenting pain he was experiencing. I tried everything to prevent it, including secretly contacting his parents. The week before he died, he said he couldn’t go through with it but that he wanted to lie very still until it was over. But when his father called him after I alerted him to my new concerns, Greg seemed to rally. He had a good week.

But then something triggered him. He texted me about it. “Oh my fucking god,” he wrote, and then the phone went silent. I didn’t really believe what I knew was happening was happening. I had worried he would figure out the one way to end it that would work. Had he? Had he? I can’t begin to tell you my thinking at that point, but I waited. I wrote to him a bit later, asking him to contact me and then telling him I was going to call the police. And then I did.

I waited all afternoon for word from him or from the police while I went about my business. I got impatient and located a police scanner online. I tried to get it to rewind to the time I’d called the police three hours earlier, but I couldn’t. I could get it to rewind only about 15 minutes, when a wisp of a report came through: “Clearing out of [his address].”

I tried to imagine what clearing out meant, but I knew, of course. I knew but pretended I didn’t. Finally, I called the police in his town, and the officer on duty made up an excuse to put me off, told me someone would call me soon. I knew what that meant, too. But I didn’t really know until the phone rang, when I saw the initials that I thought somehow meant police but it slowly dawned on me were his mother’s, coded to hide our connection from Greg.

I answered.

“We know,” she said.

“What do you know? They haven’t told me anything.”

“Greg is dead. He’s dead.”

I remember vividly my reaction, and it wasn’t my usual calm. It was instant, like the stab of a dagger: “No no no no no.” I was crying, wailing, thrashing on the couch, my face in a pillow. “No no no no.”

“There’s nothing you could have done, you did everything you could,” his mother assured me, such a strange thing to say under these circumstances. She was in shock.

She told me how he did it, although she didn’t have to, since I’d surmised the only method he would try that would work. For sure he’d researched it and knew what he was doing, had what he needed at the ready. I’m sure he’d done it right after his last text. He was gone when the police got there.

Among the reasons for the very bad fallout for me were that a) one of my best friends from high school had also killed himself, involving me in his first attempt, and b) I think and remember visually, almost photographically. You can predict all the other reasons: the loss, the trauma, the shock, the grief. But you can’t imagine (I hope) the stress of trying to save a life—two lives—and helplessly watching the inevitable unfold. You can’t imagine the way this act of suicide has haunted me, the images that come.

And so much more. Telling his manager. Telling his closest friends. Being at the center of the circus the next day at work—comforting, explaining. Helping his parents find a funeral home. Writing the eulogy. Visiting the site for the reception to assure his mother it was not a nightclub…recording and sending her a video as proof. All of this I did because I was the only one who could do it. I had to do it. For Greg. For myself.

(Three days after my 20th birthday, I’d played nearly the identical role when my high school friend jumped into that gorge at Cornell, ensuring I would not intervene as I had the first time he attempted.)

After Greg’s funeral, I tried to function. Within a week, I learned that wasn’t possible. I discovered this on Valentine’s Day when my sister sent me white roses, my favorite. When I saw the bouquet, I wept for an hour. That’s not an appropriate reaction, I thought.

The next day, at the insistence of my new therapist, I started my leave of absence. I’ve been out from work on short-term disability since then, about three months now.

I’d said earlier that I was going to work backwards through the year’s events, and that’s only a few months, right? The week before Greg died is when a broken heart kicked off the depressive episode. I wasn’t heartbroken in the usual sense, i.e., due to a failed romance, although romantic feelings were at one time involved. I was heartbroken because the first person in my life who I felt was a soulmate bluntly told me that he did not feel the same. A long and rocky slog had preceded that conversation, but hearing the (at last) honest words was overwhelming. Greg, of course, was helping me through it just before he died.

But it all really started in August, when my father’s health took a sudden nosedive; he died two weeks later. I handled that, and the stress of being his executor and emptying his house (with Greg’s help), healthily. But that one came back to bite me. The best person to talk about the suicide with—endlessly, as we did about such things—was my father. I want to talk to my father. I want to talk to my father. Taken on its own, my father’s death was manageable. But in these circumstances, it was a compounding factor. It didn’t help, in the same way that this attack on Noshi didn’t help. How’s that for understatement.

There are bright spots and glimmers of hope. I am fortunate—blessed—that the company I work for has been supportive during this period, and our short-term disability benefit gives me full pay before I move on to long-term disability. (I still can’t believe I’m this person, just as I’m having real problems accepting that Greg is gone.) I have been improving slowly and can function now. I’m getting a lot done—all of it having to do with my house and getting my life in order. Once I started to function again, I learned that I am terrible at relaxing and taking care of myself, that I can’t stop moving, can’t stop planning, even knowing that it is impossible to plan when I can’t even predict how I will feel from one day to the next.

All along I’ve been working on music. The song I wrote and am producing has kept me sane. Now I want to go back to work. Actually, it’s more like I want to be well enough to go back to work.

Until today, there’s been no hint that I might again be able to perform my job, which is technical writing. My brain hasn’t been able to work like that. I’d not written anything, except for the song, since the eulogy three months ago. Last night was the first time I was able to read a book; I finally got through a chapter of James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty. I also watched TV, something I haven’t had the strength for. (That’s sad.)

These are good indicators. I’m still waiting, though, to enter a program stabilize my moods and learn techniques to improve resilience. Maybe I’ll learn not to leave myself so vulnerable.

Despite the setback and new trauma created by the attack on my dog, I’m getting there. I’m hoping that all the painful images will fade with time, or at least that I will learn how to live with them and to stem my daily tears.

It’s been a very bad year, but unlike Greg, I will never abandon hope for the future. I’ll give these last two months of the year from Hell a chance to begin to turn it around.

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