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- Mental Health Self-Help
The Black Wolf, and the White Wolf; Which One do you Feed?
How do you leave your past behind? How can people do things – horrible things – and then just move forward with their life, struggling to be a good person when they know they have that bad lurking in them?
I think they just forget. They don’t want to think about that, so they just leave it behind and try to move on. Is that okay to do? Is that the right thing to do? Or is the right thing to be reminded of it, constantly, every day, the way society does to people when they find a flaw in them?
People hide their faults, because they don’t want to be reminded of them every day. People pretend it never happened.
People put concealers and bandages over oozing, un-healing, infected wounds and go out in public smiling to show they are in no pain. Those ugly aspects of them are not there, and truly, no one sees them unless you tell them about it. So just be quiet, and smile.
I can’t. I never have been able to be quiet and smile, especially when it is my fault. I am an insurance agent’s nightmare, and cannot be trusted at all in a cover up. The only thing I can do is block; and I do that extremely well. I have great caches of memory that are completely blocked away, and I don’t think it’s because of what anyone ever did to me. I think it’s because of things that I did; that I simply do not want to think about.
This has stopped me, completely, from moving forward.
So now I’m going to think about them. I’m going to write a series about the things that I’ve done that I will never, ever, forgive myself for. These things that I’ve done are what hold me back now, because I know me. I don’t trust me. I don’t trust emotion, and I don’t trust pain, but these two things are an integral part of life; there is bad pain, and good pain, and the bad pain makes you do things you regret. And now, above all else, I know for a fact what I am capable of doing.
People struggle to be good, and for the most part, they are, as long as things are going well. But when things start to go wrong, the pain, the stress, the emotion overwhelms them, and that, my friends, THAT…
… That is when you show your true colors.
I know what my true colors are, and I don’t like them. Not one bit. So when people try to be my friend, I block them with all my heart and soul; I’m kind to them, I want to help them, but I don’t want them to ever come too close and trust me to have their back. Because if and when it comes right down to it… I won’t.
I want everyone to know that about me. I don’t want anyone to ever be disappointed in me again. To do that, I can’t make false promises. I WILL NOT be there for you when you need me most. I simply will not be there; do not count on it.
So… here it goes.
Personal Experiences. Starting with the Big Dog
I had a dog. His name was Roper. He was a huge mix between a Rottweiler and St. Bernard, and he was gorgeous. He had the Rottweiler colors; black, brown and white, with the huge, drooping-jowled head, shaggy fur and long tail of the St. Bernard.
But this story isn’t about him.
When Roper was old, he got hip dysplacia in his back legs, and developed a bone tumor in one of his front legs. All the muscle melted away and atrophied in that leg because he couldn’t use it, and a dog without three legs can’t walk. I had to make the decision to put my big dog down.
For that, I feel no guilt at all. My heart says I had his back; I wouldn’t let him suffer like that just because I wanted him to live forever. I do not believe death is a bad place to be; we all go there, eventually. I think it is a release. Once the vehicle you are in no longer functions, it’s time to get a new one.
After Roper died, another dog appeared, out of the blue, at my sister’s house in Kentucky. He was a great big mutt, with the look of a German Shepherd and the coloring of a Rottweiler. He had the pointed German Shepherd ears, but they flopped at the ends, and he had a huge pink tongue that constantly lolled out of the side of his mouth, which always seemed to be open in a happy grin. He didn’t walk or trot; he lollopped around on great huge paws.
Strangely, no one would claim him. No one even knew where he came from. He just appeared one day. People threw rocks at him and shot at him, and after a while he hung out a lot in my sister’s yard. Not because he was welcome there, no. My brother-in-law shot at him and threw rocks at him as well. For some reason, he just stayed. My sister said he had to go, or he was going to end up dead.
He reminded me a lot of Roper; it was almost as if Roper had come back in this mysterious way. I missed Roper so much, and this dog was big, like him; he had the same coloring, like him. His personality was very different, though. Roper was a stoic solid protector; this dog was wiggly and friendly; just a big, dumb dog.
I took him home.
No one had ever named him, and he had appeared to us full-grown. I just called him Big Dog. He was an outdoor dog, and had run the backwoods and fields of Kentucky’s farm land. I kept him outside, as he preferred to be outside. If you brought him inside, he would never knock anything over with that exuberant tail, and he would burst his bladder before he’d make a mess in the house; your house, or any house. Even when I left him with the vet, he would wait until he was outside. I remember being very upset about that, because the vet I had taken him to did not walk the animals outside. When I picked him up, I swear, he went in a solid stream for at least 3 minutes once we made it to grass. His bladder had to be bursting. He was never trained or house broken that I know of. That’s just how he was.
He didn’t like it inside, and I have never been one to make an animal do anything if I could see it didn’t want to, so I kept him outside.
None of my animals have ever been “pets”, exactly. Within the confines of society, I let them do pretty much whatever they want to do, as animals. They live as animals, not humans. I guess they are more like company, to me. We share a living space, and we help each other out, when we understand the body language.
I got remarried and had a baby, and during all this I moved a couple of times. I tried to make room for the Big Dog, but the outdoor space kept getting smaller and smaller, living in the suburbs of the city. He wasn’t happy. He wanted acres, and I couldn’t give it to him.
I was also in an amazing amount of pain. I had my kids late in life, and this one was my first. I had screaming back pain and sciatica, and after the baby was born, the pain was still there. I had trouble keeping house, let alone doing the yard work that is required when keeping animals, and feeding and caring for a huge dog.
Then, we had 2 dogs; my husband brought home a little stray he found in a pipe at work. She looked and acted as wild as a red fox. She had a long, sharply pointed muzzle, like a Collie, but with her blotchy purple tongue, I believed she was a Chow mix. She was wild and crazy and not very handle-able, but she was just a pup, so we kept her in the yard – the very small yard – with the Big Dog. We named her Sheila. She promptly destroyed everything we had in the back yard. She was a chewer.
Big Dog and Sheila
My husband and I fought a lot over the animals back then. He had no use for animals at all; they were nothing but a lot of extra work. You had to clean up after them, feed them, maintain them; you had to find someone to take care of them if you were going out of town. They were very inconvenient; just a lot of yard destruction, shedding fur and mess; a lot of extra work to do for no reason. That was pretty much all he saw in an animal, back then. He saw no reason to help care for them, as he could do without them anyway. So it was at this point in my life that I did things I would have raged about people doing when I was a teenager with high ideals.
That teenager with the high ideals has eaten a lot of crow. But I digress.
Big Dog didn’t stay outside full time; he came in from time to time and explored the house, but only when he wanted to. He would ask. That’s how it is with my animals and me; they ask, and I respond. They had me trained more than I had them.
Anyway, I had brought our wee baby home, and he was brand new. I wasn’t used to having a completely helpless little life in my house as of yet. I laid a blanket down on the floor in the living room, and laid the baby on the blanket to let him kick and squirm for a while on his own. I went into the kitchen and started cleaning. After a while, Big Dog bumped at the door; that was his way of asking in. Thoughtlessly, I went to the door and opened it, and he jubilantly bounded into the house, bounced at me for a minute, tongue lolling, and then bounded off, full of spring and exuberance, into the living room.
Where my baby lay, completely unprotected, on the floor.
Horrified, I ran out of the kitchen by a different exit to try to cut him off. But it was too late; Big Dog was in mid-air and coming down right on top of the baby. It was too late; all I could do was watch.
It happened so much faster than I can explain it. But I saw this, all of this, in those few seconds of time; I SAW.
Big Dog was in mid-bound. He looked down, saw the baby, and a look of complete surprise came over his face; his ears perked forward and that intense look of interest dogs get transformed him in mid-leap. Instantly, he straddled his legs and came down on top of the baby, all four legs stiffened and paws splayed out; not a single paw touched my child. And he stood there stiff as a board, very still and quiet, as he gently and thoroughly sniffed that baby all over. My son looked a little disgruntled when the dog’s wet nose snuffled at his face, but that was all.
I stood there, horror stuck, panic stricken and relieved all at once. It was a matter of seconds. Then I moved forward.
Big Dog looked up at me when I moved forward, and immediately the stupid grin came back with the lolling tongue and his body waggled; but carefully. He stepped away from the baby and I put him back outside; then I went to check on my little one, who was absolutely and completely unharmed.
I’ve struggled with emotional pain all my life, as I am bi-polar. Physical pain is another matter. I hate pain of any kind, but I hate medication worse. So for 5 years, we struggled along, and I took care of the animals as best I could, which wasn’t good enough. I gave birth to my second son, and the back pain and emotional distress did nothing but get worse over time. I saw a doctor, as I worked full time, but I was laid off from my job when my second son was 4 months old. The financial situation became very strained. At that point, I stayed home to take care of my children, and this in itself was a cage to me. I had always worked and taken care of myself, I was a completely independent woman. But now, I had lost my financial freedom, and felt powerless in my own house. I had no say anymore; I wasn’t on the board of home decision making, as I was no longer a contributor.
I was also attempting to take care of my mother and my in-laws, all of who were growing older and needed care. My mother-in-law had uterine cancer, my father-in-law had COPD, and my mom was getting dementia. In an attempt to pay back for my lack of money, I cleaned, ran the errands, took care of the kids and the elderly, and my back screamed in defiance of all of it, as did my emotions. I had no one I could talk to about any of it, as my husband is not a conversationalist.
He really had no sympathy for any of it. He was raised believing you do what you have to do and shut up about it. You cleaned the house today? You took your mom to a doctor appointment? You volunteered up at the school? What, do you want a cookie? You’re supposed to clean the house! And you chose to volunteer; you didn’t have to. He had a point. When I tried to talk to my mom about it, she looked at me vaguely, and said something that made no sense at all. My mother-in-law flat out told me that she had her own issues and didn’t want to hear anything about our family struggles. They upset her, and she really did already have enough on her own plate; she was caring for a man with COPD, and she herself was dying.
Finally, the pain and stress from all of it was too much, and during a bout of emotional drama, after having another of our continuous arguments about the animals, I snapped. I took Big Dog and Sheila (who was at that point about 10 months old) to the pound.
Big Dog and Sheila
Yes. I did that. After what I told you above, after what I saw that dog do, I took him to the pound. Sheila I wasn’t at all concerned about; she was a young, beautiful little red fox. But Big Dog.
I got to the pound and took them inside, and a very nice, older woman helped me put them in cages, and she gave me paper work to fill out.
I gave up Sheila easily; my husband had brought her home, so I rationalized that she was not really my dog. Plus, she was young and pretty - she was very adoptable.
For Big Dog, the paperwork I filled out was notably different. I wasn’t signing to have him put up for adoption. I had to sign away his life. I had to sign in a box that gave permission to euthanize him.
I questioned this. He was too old, she said. He wasn’t adoptable. I pleaded. I begged. I told the story of his life and how he would never go in the house, I told about his wonderful temperament. She just looked at me and smiled at me sadly, and told me if I was leaving him here, I had to sign the paper.
I sat down by the cage and hugged Big Dog and cried. She said, “I can see he’s been well taken care of for all these years. You were a good owner, and you did your best by him, for the time you had him.” That was all she said. After that, she let me be.
He sat there very quietly and patiently, while I leaned up against him inside that cold steel barred cage, with my fingers wrapped in the thick black shaggy fur around his neck.
He knew something was wrong. People don’t hug you and bawl all over you when something’s not wrong. He wasn’t concerned for me; I could tell he knew this wasn’t about me. It was about him. Maybe it was another disagreeable vet visit; it had that sort of feel for him, I’m sure. But he had no idea what I was going to do to him. Not this. Never in a million years. He trusted me.
He trusted me.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, why didn’t I find him a home with a friend? Why didn’t I take him to a no-kill shelter? Why didn’t I…?!?
Why didn’t I. The long and the short of it is, I didn’t do any of those things.
I signed the paper and left.
I can’t tell you the whole story of those 5 years I struggled after my first baby was born. It was an emotional roller coaster, and to this date, I have to say it was the worst 5 years of life that I have ever had to live through, made all the harder because I lacked support. I had no friends to lean on, talk to, or to give me advice. I was alone in my house with no job. I didn’t even have co-workers. My family was too sick to worry about any of my petty concerns, which in truth really were very petty. There are people out there who would have loved to have my life, just as it was, and yet there I was, struggling along in that state.
Over those 5 years, off and on, I did try to find him a home, but there was no interest. Those 5 years were very bad for everyone, it seemed.
The truth is, when you take on an animal, they become your responsibility. I was responsible for him, and if I gave him away, he might really be neglected or mistreated; and I have seen a lot of neglect and mistreatment in my years as a veterinary technician. People get up in arms about taking an animal to a shelter; you are their forever home. You wouldn’t leave your baby at a shelter! People do, though. People leave their babies in a lot worse places; but once again, I digress.
After considering all the options I had open to me, I believed it was my only responsible choice. But I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to do it, it was just an option. I left it in the back of my mind. So even though I did it impulsively, in a fit of rage, distress, pain, and emotional upheaval, it was not really a spontaneous decision. It had been an issue that was in my mind for years. These animals are my responsibility.
I signed the paper. What happened to him was on me and no one else.
Going by that information, you can see that it was cold, calculated, and pre-meditated, but done in the heat of the moment. And I actually did it. I did it. I vowed that I would never have a dog again. I didn’t deserve that kind of trust again, not from anyone, or any thing.
Cold. Calculating. Pre-meditating. That’s what I am. I will keep the worst-case scenario stored in the back of my head and when the time is right, I will pull out the plan I’ve devised and I use it. Yes. That is what I do. You never know what you are going to do until you do it. You don’t know what kind of person you are until you are under that much stress, pain, and emotional imbalance. Until you have a total lack of any emotional support system at all. You DON’T KNOW what you are capable of, until you do it.
I was capable of doing that. And that’s only the first one I’ve written down, although to me, this is the one that has broken me. This is the one I cannot make better. I cannot make a U-Turn and make myself a better person, because it is done, it is written.
My Big Dog is dead. My great, foolish, dopey, lolloping, tongue dangling dog, who very gently sniffed my newborn baby from head to toe instead of crushing him and raking him indifferently with the exuberant bounding claws on huge pawed feet; he is dead. His good heart didn’t save him from me. This is how I repay loyalty. This is how I repay friendship, and trust.
How can I possibly forgive myself for that? Could you? I could try to explain it all away. I could rationalize, tell you all the reasons why I had to do it; in fact, I have. But those excuses aren’t good enough. No excuse is good enough. I will NEVER forgive myself for that. I have seen what it is I am, and I do not like it. Not one bit. Would I do it again? I have no doubt. If I was under that much pain and stress again, yes. I would.
My resolve is never allow myself to become like that again, but it is not an easy thing to do. You have to work at it your whole life, work hard at it, and there never does come a time when you can sit back and relax and “retire”. That’s a fable.
You hear about people all the time; they are good, quiet, nice people, until they finally lose their cool. Do you know what people remember about those people? Not all the years they were good, quiet, nice people. No one remembers that part. I did take care of Big Dog, and I loved him, but I still killed him, in the end. That woman behind the desk said, “I can see he’s been well taken care of for all these years. You were a good owner, and you did your best by him, for the time you had him.” But then I killed him, because I lost it.
You have to work diligently at yourself all the time, and if you have triggers, you have to be responsible for yourself and avoid them. This is why I will not allow myself to have friends. We still have animals in the house, but they are not mine. If I have ever hurt someone by being distant to them, they really shouldn’t feel that way. I like people. I like animals. I love all life around me. But this is what I am capable of. I will work diligently to prevent it every happening again, but in all honesty? I can’t say that it won’t.
These help - they don't cure.
This is why mental health care is such a tricky issue. This is why people blame medications and everything else for the things that people do; the horrible things they do. This is why you can’t let a rehabilitated rapist out on the street again. Because yes, a person can spend many years being a good person, and work hard in the doing of it; but they will not be remembered for that; they will only be remembered for the moment that comes when they repeat their offense in their darkest hour.
Often, that darkest hour comes right after they say, “Oh, I’m alright now. I don’t need to take these medications anymore” or “I don’t need a counsellor, or therapy anymore.” That is the scariest part about mental health care; it's the point where people think, “I will be all right now.”
If you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, then you can never think that. Never.
If you have mental instabilities - if you have a chemical imbalance - if you have actual physical, organic reasons why your body over-reacts emotionally, and you know about them, you have to SIT on them and CONTROL them for the REST of your LIFE. Ordinary people may need help with depression and anxiety when there is a life event - a divorce, a death, a new job - some sort of stress. That is a temporary thing. But folks with chemical imbalances don't need an event to occur in their lives for these horribly painful feelings to manifest. The only thing we need is for our bodies' to secrete the enzymes and chemicals that cause these feelings to happen. And we do this, for no apparent reason at all! THAT is why it's a mental health issue; because it's abnormal. Our body organs are functioning abnormally and we need chronic medical support. A diabetic cannot simply stop taking their medication, even when they feel really good, and neither can we.
Both physical and emotional pain can, and is, caused by the release of secretions, which is triggered by the brain. For us, there is no reprieve; it can happen anytime, anyplace, and for no reason. There are no vacations from ourselves; we are always there.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your life status is like; how much money you make; it doesn't matter if you feel really good right now. You will always have to ride out a storm at some point, but the greatest danger point for us is when we truly feel GOOD, and don't think we need help anymore. People with mental health issues must always be sure they are prepared for all of the unexpected unpleasantness of life, but even more so for all the good points in life. Don't drop the ball when you are at your peak. You can never relax your vigil.