Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I'm Not Crazy

We look just like you. We act just like you. We laugh, we cry, we get frustrated. We're not that different than you.

It’s difficult to explain or put into context how someone with an invisible illness or chronic pain feels on a daily basis to someone that’s never experienced it. It’s equally difficult trying to explain the side effects of chronic pain that bleed into your emotional and psychological wellbeing, or how it has the ability to change or alter your attitude and sometimes even your personality. It’s difficult because sometimes words just can’t help. It’s not something that can be discussed or put into words, because the words themselves aren’t powerful enough.

I guess the first thing I should do is to make sure you understand this one simple point – we don’t want your pity. Pity doesn’t make us stronger and it doesn’t make us feel better. In most cases, it makes us feel worse. Pity is the energy sucker and the depression bringer – the harbinger of the bad days to come and the hopelessness of ever feeling a completely pain free or symptom free day again. Pity does just as much damage as the physical pain; it weakens our resolve to cope gracefully. So please don’t feel sorry for me. I do enough of that myself on the really bad days – the days were I spend forty-five minutes trying to convince myself that getting out of bed is a good idea.

In explaining my particular brand of chronic illness, I’m just trying to shed a little light on what I go through on a daily basis because I see some of you looking at me like you don’t know what to do with me, or what to say to me. One day, I’m laughing and smiling and the next my face in pinched and I’m having a hard time moving around. Unfortunately, this is the daily struggle that I have come to own and make allowances for. I understand it’s hard to determine whether I’m having a “good” day or a “bad” day without actually knowing me well. There might be some physical indicators – I limp slightly when I walk; I wince when I flex certain joints; I shift a lot in my seat while trying to find a comfortable position. The emotional indicators are much harder to see. So, if I ramble a bit, I’m sorry. It can be attributed to two things, a very specific symptom of Fibro called Fibro Fog (which I will attempt to explain later), and the inability to find the right words.

Now, with that being said, let’s start at the top and work our way down – the technical first and then the practical. The term "fibromyalgia" derives from new Latin, fibro-, meaning "fibrous tissues", Greek myo-, "muscle", and Greek algos-, "pain"; thus the term literally means "muscle and connective tissue pain." (1) It sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? It’s really not. I’ll start with the basic symptoms (the ones in bold italics are ones I either experience daily or often enough to warrant acknowledgement), which include:

Chronic and widespread muscle pain
Muscle spasms
Muscle tightness
Joint and muscle stiffness upon waking or staying in a position for too long
Abdominal pain
Tension or migraine headaches
Jaw and facial tenderness
Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet
Reduced tolerance for exercise
Muscle pain after exercise
Swelling of hands or feet, or the feeling of swelling (without actual swelling)
Painful menstrual cramps
Tender points
Tingling or burning in the arms and hands
Rapid, fluttery, irregular heartbeat
Weakness of limbs
Nerve pain
Moderate to severe fatigue
Decreased energy
Fractured sleep
Anxiety/Free floating anxiety
Mood swings
Unaccountable irritability
Sensitivity to odors, noise, bright lights, medications, certain foods, and cold
Sensory overload
Cognitive overload
Difficulty speaking known words
Directional disorientation
Poor balance and/or coordination
Short-term and long-term memory impairment
Diminished attention span
Trouble concentrating
Inability to recognize familiar objects or surroundings

It’s a lot to take in, right? Trust me, everyone ever given a pamphlet or the “this is your diagnosis” speech from a physician feels the exact same way. The endless list of symptoms, the host of medications that need to be taken daily - it’s all so overwhelming that you just sort of sit there in a daze trying to comprehend it all in the minutes it takes to read it. But here’s the awful truth, the symptoms I’ve listed only cover what people are comfortable in talking about with their doctors. There are, no doubt, more symptoms but these are the major ones and not every Fibromite (a term coined by those with Fibro for those who have been diagnosed with Fibro) suffers from all of these symptoms.

I’m almost done with the technical mumbo-jumbo, I promise.

There is no blood test to determine if you have Fibro. What most doctors will do is perform what’s called the tender points test. There are 9 pairs of tender points a physician will put pressure on. If pain is experienced in 11 or more of these spots (in addition to other varying symptoms), you’re diagnosed with Fibro. I experienced moderate to severe pain in 16 of these spots – the worst being in the hip region where I jerked away from the doctor so hard I actually landed a foot away from the exam table.

Isn't this grand? This is the only "real" way to test for Fibro, and why a lot of people don't believe it exists - because there's no hard proof that it does exist. Not really.

That being said, I was diagnosed more than a decade ago with this. A decade ago, Fibro was viewed very differently than it is now. Back then, most doctors didn’t believe it was an actual disease since it couldn’t be viewed under a microscope or determined with a blood test. We were considered hypochondriacs and told to go home. In most of our homes, our spouses and family and friends didn’t believe there was anything wrong with us because the doctors didn’t believe anything was wrong with us. We were considered liars and fakers and attention seekers.

When people call you crazy and an attention whore for so long, you almost start to believe it. You would believe it if it weren’t for the constant pain and fatigue and the fractured sleep. There was something wrong with me. I knew there was something wrong with me. There had to be something wrong with me. People don’t normally feel this amount of pain when they do simple things like walk up a set of stairs or do the dishes; they don’t look and feel so tired; and why will no one believe me when I tell them this?! No one believed me – not my husband, not my best friend – my family was too far away to be a daily part of this, so I didn’t talk much about it on the phone with them.

This is how I lived for two years, going from doctor to doctor, being told each time that there was nothing wrong with me. Until I found my current general practitioner (he’s retiring soon and I have no idea what I’ll do without him because I doubt I’ll find another doctor as sympathetic as him, or one who listens as well as he does – when I tell him certain medications either don’t work or make me feel weird, he switches things around to find a better treatment cocktail). I sat in the exam room and cried as he tried to decipher the words I was saying. Thirty minutes and half a box of Kleenex later, he looked at me and said the most beautiful and hope-inspiring thing I’d heard in two years: I believe there’s something wrong, and we’re going to work together to figure out what it is – no matter how long it takes.  

With those simple words began the two year journey to specialists that were up to and more than three hours away from the small town I call home. X-rays and CAT Scans and MRIs and so many muscular tests I thought I was going to scream. (Side note – the test for carpal tunnel – PAINFUL; it involved weird, bendy needles and machines and having muscles contract with the needles still stuck in them; I cried and it took weeks to recover.) Finally a rheumatologist got it into his head to perform the tender point test and bam, just like that, I had a diagnosis.

My primary and I went through an additional two years of trying various combinations of medications to help manage the symptoms and pain, because that’s all we can do. Manage the symptoms and pain. There isn’t a cure. If anyone ever tells you that they had Fibro but a change in lifestyle or location made it go away – they were misdiagnosed. Fribo doesn’t just go away. The symptoms lessen and worsen depending on a multitude of things. But it doesn’t just disappear. There are millions of us that wish that were the case – even if it meant living on an island surrounded by a bubble. At least there’d be no pain.

Recently, connections have been made in the brain when it comes to how Fibro works in the body. So, I guess technically Fibro is all in my head. It’s just not psychosomatic, it’s neurological – the pain senders/receptors in my brain are essentially working overtime (think a toddler hopped up on sugar without a nap). The little area in my brain that processes pain has decided to take over my entire body and make life a both a little miserable from time to time and a little… adventurous?... because I never know what my day will hold in terms of symptoms or pain – most people with Fibro will fluctuate during the day and night, feeling okay at times and feeling much worse at other times. Fun disease, right?

Now on to the difficult part: explaining how it all feels. There’s nothing like giving myself challenging subject matter to write. In my travels online, there have been a lot of people that attempt to write about chronic illness and invisible illness. Some have been very good, some have been average and some just don’t make sense at all.

The Spoon Theory ( has some very good points and is adequate in explaining how we have to pick and choose what we do carefully in order to maintain the status quo. It talks about how some of us have to think a little further ahead to the consequences of doing too much, which is true. Some of us do this, but we do it so often that it becomes second nature and automatic (if I do this today, I’m doing to pay for it for three days, so is it really worth doing today). There are a few things she says that I don’t agree with. One of them being, “I have been forced to think about everything I do. Do you know how many spoons people waste everyday? I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted “spoons” and I chose to spend this time with you.” With the mentality and attitude like that, you’ll alienate the friends you have and they’ll constantly worry that you’re taking on more than you should when you decide to do something fun with them. Yes, it uses up some of our precious resources, but most of us would gladly live with the added fatigue and soreness because its human interaction with the people we love, and no person can live completely without human interaction. For most people, spending time with loved ones outweighs the physical ramifications of doing too much. It also alienates the people in your life that are healthy by telling them they don’t really think about what they do every day, they make the wrong choices. After all, you would do things differently because you somehow see a little better due to the illness you have that keeps you from doing the things you need and want to do.

Then you have Spoon Theory Garbage ( which is pretty much the anti-spoon theory. Or, maybe not the anti-spoon theory so much as the author just doesn’t like the way the “spoonie” community treats people. She’s pointed out that the “spoonie” community has alienated people and made those with different viewpoints feel like their symptoms are less severe than theirs and therefore their opinions don’t matter. Invisible illness sufferers have enough enemies (pain, fatigue, uncontrollable symptoms, sleeplessness, medications, doctors, non-believers, people that don’t understand) without attacking each other. She also pretty much makes the same point I did above by responding to the same phrase with this: “In short, my time is fracking precious, but I’m choosing to sacrifice it to the God’s of agony that ruin every moment of my existence in order to spend time with you.  So be greatful you privileged healthy person, you.”

But, Beth, that doesn’t explain to me what you’re feeling on a daily basis. To which I respond, do you know how hard it is to find the words? I’m trying. So again, I’ll start from the top.

** I should note that not every fibromite feels symptoms the same way. Each person experiences things differently, so this is just how I feel during particular times.

Normal Days

The only way I know how describe the normal aches and pains I feel each day are: a) remember your last bout with the flu? You went through body aches, high temperature, sleepiness and general blah. That’s the type of body ache I normally feel, all day, every day. Or, b) for those that have never had the flu, have you ever lifted something a little too heavy or maybe worked out for the first time in more than a week, or started a new workout routine that features muscles you haven’t used in a while? The morning after, those muscles are sore, really sore, and you have trouble moving normally. That’s the feeling. Now, sometimes randomly, I’ll get this weird itchy feeling (usually on my hands, wrists, forearms and feet), almost as if little fiery bugs are crawling just beneath my skin. It can feel a lot like pins and needles for most people, only itchier. The downside is, if I scratch these little irritants, I end up getting hives in that particular area. It’s uncomfortable, especially on the top of my feet, but not painful until the itchiness becomes unbearable. Headaches are also a common thing, almost a daily thing – but you all know what those feel like because we’re not the only sufferers of headaches.

Flare Ups

Remember the flu-like/day after workout feeling? Now, add to that a random sharp, radiating pains originating from a specific point in your body. Mine is usually my hips or wrists. Every few seconds, a new wave washes through the body. How to explain? Have you ever stayed sitting in a specific position for so long that your knee or ankle joint is painful to move? You stand up and suck in a really quick breath because putting pressure on it, or turning the joint sends a sharp pain shooting up your leg and into your brain. It’s that, only without the need for movement. That’s what the joint flare ups feel like. The muscle flare ups feel a little differently. Ever have a sudden muscle cramp in the bottom of your foot? It’s that exactly, just in whatever muscle it decides to attack during that particular flare up. These are the days you might see me needing the help of a cane or some other object like the wall to keep myself steady as I’m walking.

The people that know me well, know when this happens. Everything from my attitude to my personality changes when this happens.


Most people get a solid block of sleep, usually spanning somewhere between 4 and 8 hours a night. On a good night (a non-flare up night), I average about 3 to 4 hours of sleep – even if the light is off and I’m in bed for 8 or so hours. Staying in one position for too long causes a mini flare of pain that registers in my brain and causes me to wake up enough to stretch out and find a new position to lay in (difficult when you have a dog, a cat and a kitten that all love to cuddle). These stretching episodes tend to happen with random frequency, usually a minimum of once an hour and a maximum of six or seven times an hour. On flare up days, forget sleeping more than two hours total in a night. Because the sleep is fractured, I don’t spend a whole lot of time in that REM place where the body rejuvenates itself and the mind works through the day’s problems. I spend enough time there not to go absolutely insane, but not enough to feel a whole lot better in the morning. On the plus side, though, I spend more time in that space between sleep and awake which means I can remember more of my dreams. Though, now that I think about it, I’m not so sure if that should be listed in the pro column.


Recovery time for certain things can take up to a few weeks, depending on how badly I've overextended myself, which is why I have to choose carefully what I do.

During the week, I have to set my alarm clock thirty to forty-five minutes earlier than I need to get up, strictly due to the fact that when I first wake up, my muscles are too sore to just jump out of bed. That half an hour is used to get out of bed by degrees so I don’t inadvertently hurt myself. Don’t get me wrong, I can just roll out of bed and have many times due to emergencies, I just know I’m going to pay for it later in the day (and will continue paying for it for up to a couple of days). I tend to shower in the evenings, because it’s just easier for me to do so and the heat from the hot water helps relieve some of the aches from the muscle pain, also, mornings are a bigger bitch to me than evenings and nights. So, what would normally take you ten or fifteen minutes (to convince yourself that you do, actually, have to get out of bed and go to work), takes me about thirty to forty-five minutes. It’s not that big of a deal, it’s just the allowances I have to make for myself and the time required to make those allowances.

Fibro Fog

I swear it sometimes feels like I'm going insane. I know I know the word I want to use, but it's never there when I need it to explain or describe something.

Nothing sucks quite as much as Fibro Fog. The physical pain can be moderated (mostly) with medication, but there is nothing that can be done for Fibro Fog. You know that feeling you get when you walk into a room and you forget what you were going after as soon as you stepped into the room? Yeah, it’s that, only it doesn’t just encompass that one task. It’s not being able to remember names or faces or birthdays or anniversaries or what you had for breakfast or if you remembered to take that stupid freaking pain pill that morning. It’s like you’ve taken too much cold medicine and you’re walking around in a haze. You can see and hear everything around you, but only about 20% of it makes any kind of sense at all. If I stare blankly at you when you start talking to me, it’s not because I’m disinterested in what you’re saying. Most of the time when that happens, my auditory things are telling my brain that you’re not speaking English and I’m mentally responding with, no habla espanol. It’s funny, except when it lasts for more than twenty or thirty seconds. Then it just gets scary. So if I forget your name, or can’t for the life of me remember your birthday, I’m sorry. It’s not intentional. I just have this fog that likes to tamper with the data retrieval part of the whole memory thing. It won’t get better, so try not to get frustrated if you have to remind me of things multiple times – like I have leftovers in my fridge. I always forget that, and food ends up going to waste.

With all of that being said, I’d like to reiterate, I didn’t write this up looking for pity. Sympathy and support and words of encouragement are always accepted and appreciated, but pity is one of those killer words and emotions that just sucks everything out of you. I merely wanted to try and explain what I go through because a few people have given me the “I want to ask questions” look, but they never do because they’re probably not comfortable in asking or don’t know which questions to ask or think I might get frustrated or upset if they ask. If I didn’t answer the questions you have personally, I don’t mind being asked. I promise. I’ll think carefully and answer them as honestly as I can. Information is power and the more information that gets out into the world about these invisible illnesses, the fewer people make statements like, “Fibro doesn’t exist” or “Fibro is imaginary.”

This next little part is for my friends, because, no doubt, you now have concerns about asking me to go out and do things like go to the movies, or just hang out at one domicile or another. Don’t. Don’t question whether or not I’m physically up to it. I know my limitations and that’s my worry, not yours. If I’m not up to going out, I might suggest doing something a little more low key. If I’m feeling worse than normal, I’ll warn you that I’m not feeling great, but I will always want to see you. Y’all are my family and if I absolutely couldn’t do it, I’d let you know. Just keep inviting me to do things, keep showing up at my apartment with a night filled with talking or movies or food or crafts. I’d rather deal with the aftermath and see you than be physically “okay” and not see you. So, stop worrying! I mean it. Just take it on faith that some days I feel like I can accomplish a lot. Then there are days like these:

For me, it's my bed. My couch is fine and dandy, but my bed is the most comfortable place in the world - even if I'm not laying down in it.

And now, in closing, I’m going to provide you with a list of things most people with invisible illness hate to hear. My responses are snarky only because I’m so completely frustrated with these statements and I find that being nice about it rarely make people stop saying these things to me.

It’s probably just stress.  (Sure, stress can be a trigger but it’s not what causes Fibro.)

My (relative, spouse, friend) has it, and they manage just fine.  (Well bully for them. Each person experiences things differently, including chronic pain and fatigue.)

You’re just looking for attention.  (Actually, I’m not. I’m just looking for a little understanding and patience. A little compassion would be nice, too.)

But, you don’t look sick.  (If I looked on the outside the way I feel on the inside, you’d run screaming in the other direction. Be grateful you can’t see.)

You need to exercise more.  (Because the flare up that exercising would cause wouldn’t be more painful than my normal days.)

You’re not feeling better yet?  (I see you haven’t developed a sympathetic bone yet.)

Maybe you need an anti-depressant.  (Do you have a medical degree to go with your unprofessional, unsolicited advice?)

You take too many medications.  (I take the number of medications needed in order to function like a normal human being.)

I keep seeing (blank) medication advertised, have you tried that?  (Yes, I have seen that medication. No, I don’t have an extra $200 laying around every month to pay for a prescription that in all likelihood won’t work for me. I appreciate that I was thought of, but me and my doctor have it under control.)

It’s all in your head.  (Yes, but it’s not pretend.)

Maybe if you lost a little weight, you’d feel better.  (Weight is not a determining factor of Fibro. Fat people aren’t the only ones diagnosed with it.)

If you just had a more positive attitude...  (My attitude is fine most of the time. It’s when a flare up lasts for more than a week that I start to get cranky.)

I wish I had time to take a nap.  (I either nap or curl into the fetal position and cry. Which would you prefer?)

There are people out there worse off than you.  (Yes, there are. And thank you for minimizing what I experience daily while intensifying the guilt I already feel for being BROKEN.)

You can’t be in that much pain.  (Want to trade bodies for a week just to make sure?)

You need a hobby.  (I have several: reading, writing, cross-stitching, photography - or were you thinking about a different kind of hobby; one that magically cures chronic pain, maybe?)

Tender Points Chart borrowed from

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pets and Their Humans

My odyssey into pet ownership started in my early twenties with the addition into my home and family (then containing myself and the serious human relationship I was in) of a black Maine Coon named Shadow. My boyfriend (at the time) got a call from his ex-wife saying she couldn't afford to keep both their cats and asked if he wanted one of them. He talked to me about it and basically my answer boiled down to - go get him and bring him home. Now, before I get too into this, I'm really not a cat person as a general rule. There are a few in my lifetime that have won me over, but I prefer dogs to cats when it comes to companionship. Anyway, a couple of days later, the former boyfriend came home with this huge black fuzzy and shaking mound of fur. It took a couple of weeks for him to unclench himself and soon after, he became MY cat. He was my Sweet Pea (a pet name only I used) and he both ingratiated himself into my heart and drove me up the freaking wall. You see, he loved to nibble on roses and other live plants. There were a few rude awakenings in the middle of the night where he knocked over flowers on the headboard and doused me and the former man in icy water, petals and leaves. Thanks for that, Shadow.

For a few years, it was me and the man and Shadow all living in quasi peace - barring the knocking over of plants and flowers and random objects he took interest in. He would follow me into the bathroom and sit in the sink or on the tub ledge while I took a bath, or sleep on my legs while I tried to sleep through a ten pound cats sleeping on my legs. He was the first cat to completely capture my heart and I loved him like I haven't loved another cat since. The man and I got married not long after and we were together for a week shy of six years. I got Shadow in the divorce. I also got all the furniture since we didn't actually own any property and I was only working part time due to a restriction from my doctor (I'd been diagnosed with Fibro) and would never be able to afford replacing everything. 

Not long before the divorce, my mom called and told me she'd been sick a lot lately and things were getting harder and harder for her to take care of. She was living in Colorado at the time and after talking to him about it, we extended an invitation for her to move in with us to make things easier. She took us up on the offer and the first winter here, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. If you're keeping track folks, I was going through the separation (not to mention finding out he cheated on me with co-workers and my now former best friend as well as random strangers he picked up at the bar) and coping with a cancer diagnosis with the only person that has ever been a constant in my entire life. Me and my mother had some ups and downs, but she was a single parent and I was her only child. It was always me against the world. If it weren't for my amazing doctor, I would have turned into a basket case (he prescribed an anti-depressant when I told him "my husband's leaving me and my mom was just diagnosed with cancer and I'm the only one able to take care of her"). 

So, the husband moved out and Shadow and my mother stayed. I was still only working part time, my mother was still working, but not much, and the husband's income was no longer a factor because he was no longer living with us (he did, however, give me money to keep the apartment going, but most of it always went back to him in the form of food and cigarettes and his doing laundry at the apartment). 

After being diagnosed with cancer, me and my mom wrote out a bucket list for her. We were hopeful that she would make it through to the other side, but on the chance that she didn't, we wanted to make what time she had left as filled with amazing things as possible. During one of her week-long trips to Boston for treatment at Dana Farber, I went to the local shelter in search of a dog that could easily adapt to life in a two bedroom apartment with a modest backyard. I saw only one dog that day, Sebastian. A volunteer was moving him from the back of the shelter toward the kennels and he was white and tan shaggy and wagging so hard his whole body was shaking. He and his brother had just been rescued from a kill shelter somewhere downstate and both were suffering kennel cough. I explained to the woman about my mother and how she was undergoing cancer treatment and how the number one item on her bucket list was getting a dog. My mother was in her late forties and had wanted a dog her entire life and never had one. I then explained to her that I could either afford the adoption fee or the supplies needed to bring a dog into our home. She waived the adoption fee and gave me a voucher to get him fixed and soon I was taking this shaggy wagging dog home.

My mother called that afternoon and knew something was up because I was normally home by the time she called. She couldn't hear a dog and I played stupid, but she somehow knew something was going on. When she came home a couple of days later, Sebastian greeted her at the door and she cried. She finally had a dog, a companion to keep her company when she was home and in bed because the chemo took a lot out of her and her trips to Boston for radiation were worse than the chemo.

So there we were, the four of us: me, mom, Shadow and Sebastian (we changed his name to Merlin because he didn't answer to Sebastian - we started throwing out names to see if he responded to any of them and mom was really into Arthurian legends and when we threw out Merlin, his head whipped around and he barked; we took it as a sign). Shadow hated Merlin. Merlin was piqued with Shadow. A few months showed Shadow tolerating Merlin and heading to higher ground whenever the dog was in the same room.

During the long trips to Boston, Merlin ended up becoming my dog. And my husband came home with the intention of trying to make it work. Merlin and Shadow became cautious friends, but I felt bad about the pooch becoming mine. I think it had something to do with the fact that I'm the one that brought him home from the scary shelter, so he kind of thought of me as the human that saved him. Either way, my mom still didn't have a companion, so the husband and I decided to get her a kitten. That was an experience.

The little gray fur-ball came into our lives and was named Kilala. Let's do a quick math problem. In a good sized two bedroom apartment we now had three adult sized humans, one adult cat, one teenage dog and a kitten. Wacky hijinks were a daily occurrence. Shadow tolerated Merlin. Merlin was cautious with Shadow. Shadow hated Kilala. Kilala was interested in Shadow. Merlin was curious about Kilala. Kilala was scared to death of Merlin. It was insane. 

Mom got sicker. The husband moved out again and decided to file for divorce. And then mom finally was approved for disability. In the end, cancer ultimately claimed her about six months before the divorce was finalized. So I was left alone in a two bedroom apartment that held nothing but memories of a failed marriage and a terminally ill mother. The day my mother died, I went to work as normal. It sounds callous, but I couldn't stay in that apartment alone. I would have lost my mind. I took the next few days off, though. And during those days, Merlin climbed into bed with me and laid behind me. He rested his muzzle on my neck so his nose was pressed against my cheek. And he didn't move. The only time he got up was when it was time for him to go outside and time for food. Other than that, he resumed his position of protecting and comforting me. Shadow laid on the bedside table closest to my head. Kilala sprawled out on the foot of the bed. They rallied around me for as long as I needed them. And that cinched it. They were mine and I refused to give them up.

My doctor approved a new full time work schedule, but even so, I'd lost two incomes and trying to make ends meet on one income was a challenge. For six months (until I got my first roommate), I struggled to pay all the bills and still manage to keep food (both human and animal) and litter in the house. Ultimately I ended up living on rice and Ramen noodles for about six months. Now that I think about it, it could have been longer. I can't remember. It was a long time.

The new roommate(s) moved in and I was able to use the money saved to pay down on some bills and was almost set to do it alone by the time they moved out to a better situation. I was standing on my own two feet and had managed to keep all three of my animals. 

The long convoluted point I'm trying to make is: I sacrificed a lot in order to keep Shadow, Merlin and Kilala. Not long after the final roommate moved out, Shadow became ill. He was eating up to ten cans of wet food a day, was meowing all night because he was going deaf and was having trouble moving around due to severe arthritis in his hind leg from where it was broken while he was with the ex-husband's first ex-wife. You see, Shadow was always my main man. When he started showing symptoms of weight loss shortly after my mom died, I asked him to wait a year. I couldn't deal with the death of another loved one so close to losing my mother. He waited three years. And now it was my turn to keep the promise I made him. I would take care of him. I brought him to the vet and the vet calmly explained to me that with a host of medications he could live another few years. But it ultimately boiled down to quality of life. If his quality of life was going to continue to slide, I didn't want him suffering anymore. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. 

The vet asked me if I wanted to be there when they made the injection. I said yes. I refused to let the last person he saw be the vet or the vet technician. I wanted him to look at me and know he was loved and to know I was so very sad to see him go and that I was keeping my promise to him. He took care of me all those years, it was my turn to take care of him. I wouldn't shirk the responsibility. I wouldn't turn my back during the hardest moments. The vet technician told me I could talk to him. I reminded her that he was deaf and couldn't hear me. Instead, I knelt down in front of the exam table, buried my fingers in the fur at his neck and scratched him in his favorite place. In doing that, I forced him to look at me. He flinched when they delivered the shot. His eyes never left mine. He was purring. He saw my tears. He knew how much I loved him. And then he was gone. 

I stayed in that room for ten minutes, crying so loud I swear I scared the hell out of whoever was in the waiting room. I gathered myself, though the tears didn't stop. I left the room and paid for the procedure and went home where I continued to cry for hours. He was my first "baby" and he was gone. He would no longer roam the hallway at night, yowling at the top of his blessed little lungs. He wouldn't lay on the ledge of the tub while I took a bath anymore. I gave away all the soft food I'd purchased to make sure he was eating. I folded some of his hair into tissue paper and put it in a plastic bag and tucked it out of the way. Shadow was gone and the house felt empty, even with Merlin and Kilala causing a ruckus.

In time, I was okay. I still miss him, but I look back on him with fondness now instead of sadness. He made my life better. He helped get me through the beginning and ending of a marriage and the death of my mother. I'll forever be grateful to him for keeping his promise, just as I hope he's grateful to me for keeping mine.

And now comes the part where my anger gets the better of me.

About two years after Shadow moved on to the next level of the game, I saw a post on a local "free" site via Facebook. Someone was moving and couldn't bring their cat(s) with them. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided, why not? I still bought enough food and litter for two cats because it was ingrained in my by that time. I could open up my home to another cat. It wouldn't be Shadow, but it would be a good home to the feline that came in. Raven came into my home the next day. She was tiny and dainty and log haired (nothing like the behemoth Kilala who had somehow managed to look more and more like Jabba the Hut over the years and is affectionately called Jabba the Kitteh). She spent the first night hiding under my bed. On the second day, I dragged her out from under the bed and reintroduced her to the food, water and litter box. A couple of days later, Raven's previous owner contacted me again saying she couldn't find a home for Raven's mother Willow and did I know of anyone. I told her I would take Willow as well. I didn't like the idea of separating a child from a parent. 

So, there I was - three cats and a dog. Merlin was used to having cats around by this time and showed subdued excitement and interest. Kilala hated them all, except Merlin. For four weeks, I lived through hissing and cat fights and broken things. I realized that the previous owner hadn't clued me in that they were indoor/outdoor cats and trying to wrangle two cats that want to go outside (both unfixed females, mind you) while hooking the dog up to the run in the backyard was a challenge I lost on a couple of occasions. Raven got out one night and simply didn't come back. I went after her and tried to catch her, told my neighbors to keep an eye out for her and if they saw her, to try and lure her inside. No one saw her. She never came back.

At the time of Raven's disappearance, Willow gave birth to six kittens - in my bedroom closet. The previous owner didn't inform me that she was pregnant. Yeah. I was thrilled. Not really. Now the tally was one adult human, one adult dog, two adult cats and six kittens. In a two bedroom apartment.

A week after their birth, when they started really moving around some, I found out I was highly allergic to kittens (or that many cats in a space the size of my apartment). I muddled through it and started looking for homes. I named the group the Killjoys (in honor of my favorite band, My Chemical Romance). The three black kittens didn't get names, because they were the first ones claimed by friends. The two gray kittens were named Frick and Frack. The tiger was named Party Poison (Poison for short). For six weeks, I had to get inventive to keep them in the second bedroom so they wouldn't race around my apartment. By this time, I was coughing non-stop and had hives all over my body. I just needed them to not get all over the apartment so I would have rooms I could find a little relief in.

Willow, the untrainable cat (she would snatch food right off your plate and wouldn't stay off the counters, even after two months of spray bottles and swats to the hind quarters), ended up going to a friend of mine with the runt of the litter (a tiny black female cat). The two remaining black male kittens, and Frick and Frack all found homes within a week of each other. I ended up keeping the Poison because he'd become attached to me and I to him.

Poison is now five months old and I've set up an appointment for him to get his first round of shots and get fixed during the beginning of January. It was hell trying to find homes for the kittens. And Raven was still missing. This is when the woman that couldn't keep Willow and Raven decided to post on the very same freebie site that she was looking for a cat to keep her company because her other one wasn't a cuddle feline. I about lost my shit.

Six months ago, you couldn't keep your cats and now you're looking for more? You have got to be kidding me. And thus brings me to the major point of my story.

Pets are not disposable. There are no excuses, nothing anyone could say in order to explain away why they did what they did. There are very few circumstances in which I will say okay to someone giving up an animal (major illness, the death of an owner). The loss of a job or moving is not an acceptable reason. The moment you brought that animal into your home, you made it your responsibility to take care of it through good and bad, thick and thin. You don't find them new homes or give them to shelters just because times are tough. They're tough all over the place. You cut other things out, things that don't have feelings and personalities and souls. Cut down on your cable bill. Cut down on how much electricity you consume. Cut down on the material items you buy that don't include food. These pets look to you for comfort and basic needs. You want to know why most animals in shelters have trust issues? Because jerks like you, previous owner, think that animals are disposable and will adjust to new homes. Sure, they adjust, but they also become a little broken. They suffer anxiety just like humans. They love just like humans. They trust in a way humans haven't trust since they were infants. Throwing them away breaks all of that in them. 

And its up to the new owners, people like me, to try and fix them. It took years and a lot of destroyed items and a pulled up rug by the front door to convince Merlin that just because I was leaving didn't mean I wasn't coming back. Years. Now that he's been with me for a decade, he pretty much gets it. I leave, but I always come back. Because I made a promise to him the day I brought him home. I wouldn't leave him and I wouldn't give him away. He was stuck with me until one of us died. End of story. Its the same with Kilala and now with Poison. I made them the same promise. I don't make promises lightly. 

So, if I fall on hard times again, I have Cup-o-Soups stocked up in the kitchen and rice isn't all that expensive. I'll take my lumps and complain about my diet, but my animals will eat and I'll be able to keep them with me. Because nothing in this world gives you the specific joy that a pet can bring you. And for the owners that don't make those same promises to their animals, you don't deserve them. You never have. You never will. And I'll make sure you don't have the opportunity to get another animal. I'll call a spade a spade in a public forum just to make sure of it. If you don't like it, don't be a jerk to animals in the first place - and keep the pets you originally acquired.

P.S. Don't think I'm an awful person, Poison just entered my home after I got a digital camera and scanning all the pictures I took of the other three is a process I haven't had the time to do yet.

My beloved Shadow. Trying to take a picture of him was a pain in the ass. He was too fuzzy for the camera to actually focus on him.

Shadow and his beloved catnip teddy bear. He would carry it around everywhere and it needed to be patched up on several occasions.
Merlin. Yes, he sleeps in my bed. No, I don't want you to list the reasons why that's not a good thing.

I never claimed he was sane.
Kilala. I had the idea to take picture of the animals in snow. Believe it or not, she's in my arms and I'm also taking the picture.

This is what she does best.

Party Poison of the Fabulous Killjoys. He was playing hide and seek with a friend of mine.

His favorite place to sleep is my lap, apparently.

The little jerk likes to follow me into the bathroom. No privacy.

Yeah. He has me wrapped. Now, if I could just train him NOT to climb my curtains, all would be well with the world.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

You People Need To Stop

I've been a part of "The Walking Dead" fandom from the first episode that premiered three and a half years ago up to the mid-season finale that aired this past weekend (and to episodes that haven't aired yet or haven't been written and filmed yet). Like a lot in this fandom, as soon as I heard this show was actually going to hit the airwaves, my excitement grew until bursting. And then the premier aired and it was everything we had hoped for and so much more. It was groundbreaking. It was thrilling. It was a weekly character driven show that involved the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop and a major cast member. Minutes after the show aired, fan sites and message boards popped up like weeds to discuss each episode in minute detail and speculate on everything from why the characters acted and reacted the way they did to what could possibly happen next. In reading these fan sites and message boards, I found that most of the time, this fandom is a pretty great bunch of people. But, and I say this with a heavy heart, as with any fandom, there are those that make me regret being lumped into the same category as them. So bear with me while I vent because this has been bothering me for quite some time.

(Everyone complains, including me, but holy hell people, it's a television show, its easier to change the channel if you're that perturbed about it.)

 1. The Complainers with their weekly battle cry of "not enough zombie kills!" It doesn't seem to matter just how many zombies are killed in any specific episode, there just never seems to be enough for them. And if the body count is high, they complain that the manner in which these zombies were dispatched wasn't inventive, gruesome or water-cooler-talk worthy enough. My response to this comes in two parts. First, if all you want to see is a bunch of zombies die in incredible ways, play a video game. There are dozens out there that feature the annihilation of the shambling dead and you'll be able to have a little more control over how these things are killed. Second, without the character development episodes you dislike so much, you wouldn't experience the anticipating and the edge-of-your-seat-suspense of the what's-going-to-happen-next feeling. In order to achieve that particular emotion, you have to care - at least a little - about the characters. How this happens is character development - learning about characters over a chunk of time and watching them grow and change into the characters you now love and send out a weekly plead for their safe passage to the next episode. If the major and medium and minor players were nothing but zombie killing drones, the suspense would be gone. The suspense is there because of character development - end of story. Bitching about it won't change the show's format.

(I'm just going to sit here and try to reign in my temper, because you people just seriously need to stop. I mean it. Knock it off already.)

2. The Shippers with the idea that they think they know what will work better for the show than the creators, the writers, the directors, the producers and the actors. Most of the shippers want relationships between certain characters - the largest and most vocal shipper relationship is Daryl and Carol (a verbally abusive guy for the most part and a battered woman - yeah, that will work with no real problems). Other pairings I've seen shipped include Rick and Beth, Daryl and Glenn, Daryl and Rick, Daryl and Michonne, Carl and Beth - there seems to be a trend centering around their desire to see Daryl in a romantic relationship of any kind. Stop it. If you have your way, it'll turn into a hybrid of "Passions" and the "Dating Game" with zombies in the background causing wacky hijinks and mayhem, and cease being the intense character driven show we've all come to love. Be satisfied with the relationships that have spawned naturally (Glenn and Maggie, Tyreese and Karen, etc.) and content with the knowledge that those involved in the writing process know what they're doing. If they didn't have some sort of clue, the show wouldn't have increased in episode number for three straight seasons and we wouldn't be barreling toward the end of season four with a fifth season already green-lit for writing, filming and production.

(As much as I LOVE Daryl, he does not carry the entire show - there are other characters just as worthy as him - though not many.)

3. The Criers with the dire threats of lost viewership if one or more characters they love end up a part of the "Talking Dead - In Memoriam" segment. Are we watching the same series? Because I distinctly remember learning very early on in the first season that no is is safe - not Rick, not Daryl, not Michonne - no one is safe from death. Even with this knowledge, you're going to tell everyone that will listen, "if so-and-so dies, I'm going to stop watching the show." Are you kidding me? Each character is a part of a larger ensemble cast. If a character death furthers the plot and character development, why are you complaining - especially when you know the golden rule for this series? Hoe many major, medium and minor character deaths have there been in three and a half seasons? I did a little research and some counting and I have the answer. Thirty-five, and that's not including the nameless people in the Atlanta, Prison and Woodbury groups or the random single episode player that were only added as filler - add another thirty to forty so far for them. And yet you still make threats. It truly boggles my mind. (Of course, I make jokes about the deaths of certain characters to friends because it amuses them, but I'm not going to stop watching the show because a beloved character to me is shuffled off the mortal coil.) And if you're really that type of fan, good riddance. We don't need or want you anyway. **Side note, for all the people threatening to riot of Daryl Dixon dies, there's a quote from Robert Kirkman during an interview he did about the show that I'm going to share with you: "I get a lot of hate mail every time I kill anybody in the comic, which always aggravates me because it's like, 'it's been a hundred issues! Don't you know this by now? What are you doing?" Kirkman told reporters assembled after AMC's The Walking Dead panel earlier today at San Diego Comic-Con International. "But specifically about the Daryl think - that fan reaction is going to get him killed. I feel like it's a dare. Like, 'Oh, really? You're gonna riot? We'll see... we'll see. No one is safe." -- -- -- That being said, if you want Daryl to live a little longer, knock it off. If he dies, you have no one to blame but yourself.

(There's always those people that like to ruin if for everyone else because they just can't contain their excitement.)

4. The Spoilers that can't ever keep their mouth shut about anything relating to the show and will most times live-Tweet and live-Facebook everything, including their reactions. Posts include, but are not limited to, exclamations of "I can't believe they just killed so-and-so! Heartbroken!" 

Now, spoiler etiquette is a widely debated topic on the internet and with good reason. In this day and age, there are people that are astounded that there are those that aren't glued to their television screens when certain shows air. The truth is, not everyone has little to no responsibility. Some people have families; some people are having rough economic times and had to cancel their cable, satellite or whatever television subscription service they had in order to save money; some people work really insane hours and just aren't available to watch episodes as they air. Life is life and if you're a true friend, you'll be considerate enough to at least keep the major spoilers to yourself.

Even with the hotly debated spoiler topic, can we at least agree that major plot points and character deaths are spoilers that should not be idly thrown out into the internet universe? 

In my research of spoiler etiquette, there's been a lot of debate on how long people should wait until they start discussing things openly (either in person or on social media) what happened on the show without having to worry about spoiling it for anyone. One website proclaims the next morning - which I don't totally agree with (see above reasons for why people missed the show to begin with). One site (that I can't seem to track down a second time) decided 48 hours is a good time to wait. I can get behind 48 hours. The responsibility stops belonging to the person that has seen the show and starts being the responsibility of the person that hasn't seen the show. Some kind souls will wait up to a week to start talking about it, which is awesome for them, but I don't have that kind of self-control. Most of my friends (who surprisingly enough aren't able to watch "Walking Dead" as it airs for various reasons) know that I will answer spoiler questions if asked, but I always make sure before answering if they really want to know and just how much they want to know - just so I don't give away too much information.

There are more than those four fan types, but these are the major ones that irritate me when it comes to "The Walking Dead." I'm sure there are more, but they are less bothersome to me than this lot. Feel free to comment on which types of fans irk you the most and we'll commiserate together in the obliviousness that is the self-absorbed human.