Incognito Press

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Posts Tagged ‘cat’

The Medicalization of Grief

Posted by E on August 29, 2015

sadness heart tree

We like to think we live in a diverse, tolerant, understanding society, when nothing could be further from the truth. The Cult of Positive Thinking has made it socially-acceptable to be shunned for expressing real emotions: sadness, grief, any manifestation of loss that isn’t perfectly encapsulated by a prescribed set time, after which you are supposed to “move on.” There are craploads of online articles that purport to answer the question “What is normal grief?” (emphasis mine), “What is the difference between grief and clinical depression”, “Grief – What’s Normal and What’s Not?” and “A Helpful Guide to Coping with Grief and Loss” – as though something like this can be easily slotted into a How-To guide. As if, you can grief for a certain period of time, dependant on the degree of closeness to the deceased, and afterwards you’re clinically abnormal if you do.

So what is “normal”? Three to six months for an elderly parent? Nine months for a spouse? One week for a pet?

Leo Dec2011 smallWhen my beloved cat Leo, who was like a child to me, had to be put down in 2012, I could tell that my grief wasn’t socially acceptable. Of course, no one actually came out to say, “It’s just a cat,” but I know that’s what they were thinking. His death affected me viscerally for two years, well past socially-acceptable norms. I didn’t think of Leo’s soul and spirit as a “cat.” He was a family member. But in our world, there is an unspoken denigration of any species other than Homo Sapiens. And in this society, nobody wants to talk about grief. After all, how long are you supposed to grieve a “pet”? A week? Is the loss even considered “serious enough” to take time off work?

What if it was a child? How long are you supposed to grieve, before you are expected to put your best face on and be a “role model” for the world? Years ago, I read about the tragic, violent death of two New York City children murdered by their live-in nanny. Stabbed to death in their bathtub, during bath time, to be precise – a violent and brutal end to lives that never had a chance to bloom. Their mother had kept a meticulous blog of their life, full of wonderful, creative activities – picnics, playdates, the best Manhattan kindergartens money could buy – and when they were murdered, social media swarmed upon those photos. There was a kind of disturbed glee at the fact that someone in an upper-class, $10,000 per month rental apartment, could suffer loss.

But loss always feels the same. Whether you’re in the lowest or highest income brackets, to lose a child – indeed, anyone you love deeply, with all your heart and soul – is the worst ache you can ever experience. And yet the expectation was that, after a certain period of grief (say, a year), the family would move on with their surviving middle child and life would go on. Indeed, they did – they established a foundation and art scholarships in the names of their dead children and nowadays are all about being positive and carrying on the dead kids’ “legacy”.

PROZAC SAMPLE ADI wonder how much of that “positivity” is the result of social expectation. If you “get over” such a tragedy, you’re a role model for “moving forward.” You get to go on talk shows and get applauded for being “strong.” If you don’t, you’re a loser who must be mentally ill. Personally, I couldn’t recover from such a loss. I’d want to die. We all die anyway, right? So why live with pain for another 40+ years (statistically speaking, based on my current age)? How does one recover from such a loss and get to be a poster child for Positive Thinking?

ritalinWe live in a fucked-up world where the DSM-5 (Psychiatry’s Holy Bible) classifies grief as a potentially-abnormal phenomenon, a mental illness to be medicalized and treated with psychotropic drugs (a billion-dollar annual industry) if need be: Prozac, Paxil, Lithium, Ridalin, and everything in between. The meds are only supposed to mask the grief that you’re not supposed to manifest in polite society, to mask the unacceptable pain we all feel but aren’t allowed to speak about.

Don’t make any assumptions about me and my stance on this field, by the way, particularly as my BA was a double major in Criminology and Psychology – essentially both being fields of study focused on classifying human beings as criminals or abnormal – but these days I wonder all sorts of things. I guess it’s understandable, especially since I’m grieving the loss of my own mother.

My mother isn’t dead – not physically, anyway. But for all intents and purposes, she is gone. Taken by a disease worse than cancer and stroke and traffic accidents and all things combined: Alzheimer’s. You see, when a person gets cancer, there is time to grieve and say goodbye. Preparations for departure get made. When it’s a car accident, the initial shock is brutal – but at least you don’t see your loved one in a vegetative state for years, trapped between here and there.

But this horrible, awful thing – nobody gets it. How could we evolve as a society in terms of human rights and technology, yet at the cost of burying our true feelings deeper and deeper?

Sadness is NORMAL. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date – it lasts as long as you feel it in your body. I experienced severe trauma in my first, formative ten years of life. It still affects me today. And it’s certainly not for a lack of counselling or Prozac. But sometimes trauma, grief and sadness can take decades to resolve. And sometimes, a part of it remains with you for life.

And that is perfectly fucking NORMAL.

Iablanita bridge 2

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

I feel like my mother is dead already, but it’s not politically-correct to mourn her yet. People don’t understand when I say that she’s gone, because technically she’s still alive. And I recognise that for as long as she’s alive, it’s socially unacceptable to grieve as though she’s dead.

And yet, she is.

My mother was an awful, abusive, neglecting parent – mostly because her own “mother” didn’t care to raise her and her father had died in her infancy. She grew up wild and feral, with no maternal instincts, and I wasn’t a planned pregnancy. And therefore I too, skinny and alone, raised my own self.

And yet today I feel something I’ve never thought I could ever wish for – that the abusive, unkind person she used to be still existed.

Iablanita bridge

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

Because I could be angry. I could hate her. Because I could try – as ineffectually as it might be – to lash out, and at least attempt to explain how her behaviour affected my life.

But all there is now is a shell – a person with the same DNA, but a body vacant of its spirit. She’s only 70 years old, but early onset Alzheimer’s has taken whatever had remained of her. I’m only grateful that, even though I had a 50-50% chance of inheriting the APOE gene from her (which she tested positive for) as well as from my maternal grandmother who also died of Alzheimer’s, my 23andme results show that I did NOT get the Alzheimer’s gene. Although it’s something that still terrifies me each time I forget someone’s name, each time I have to search my brain for a particular word.

And so yesterday, while visiting her at Mount Sinai hospital, I hand-fed her dinner and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. Because she is a child now – a child who harmed me in so many ways and will never understand how she has scarred me. But now there is nobody to stand on trial, nobody to hold accountable.

So while I spooned rice, turkey mash and gravy into her shaky mouth, it dawned on me that the person who wounded me is gone. Dead. There is only a small, vulnerable child left in her place. But nobody around me understands this because, for all intents and purposes, this woman is still alive.

So perhaps I’m not supposed to grieve and mourn the death of her. After all, we’re not allowed to mourn the non-dead. To mourn longer than usual. To express any sorts of feelings of raw pain and anguish, of depression and loneliness, because there is no motive. The pain of my childhood is long behind me, right? And my “mother” is not dead. Not clinically, anyway.

And yet, I am.


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What to do with the kitty?

Posted by E on October 16, 2008

Last Thursday (exactly a week ago today) I rescued a stray little kitty. It’s a tortoiseshell girl cat about a year old, maybe a month or so younger. I’d spotted her for quite a while in the marshy ravine area by the houses where I go walking. She never wore a collar but she was always so incredibly affectionate, running up to me meowing like she’d known me forever.

So coming up to the Thanksgiving weekend (in Canada it’s in October, for all my American readers), the weather has been turning freezing cold, and now this kitty ran out of the bushes straight for me. She was as friendly as ever, but in the worst shape I’ve seen her – severely malnourished, with every bone in her ribs sticking out, and the ribbed column of her spine bony against my hand.

That was it. I coaxed her into playing with me while the partner went to get the car and a cage. An interminable fifteen minutes and near-scratches later, we had her in the cage, and off she came into our lives. Poor thing. She was so severely hungry she ate, no, inhaled everything we gave her – dry kibble, wet can food, I mean everything. She even went for a carpet fiber before I got it away from her. (So far with us she looks as if she’s put on a pound already.)

As Murphy’s Law would have it, however, emergencies only ever happen after hours on a long weekend. I was determined to hang on to her and keep her safe and well-fed until the holiday was over. She has been doing quite well, kept in our roomy basement, and I think may have even gained a pound (the ribs aren’t so prominent anymore), but she is battling constant diarrhea. It’s horrible.

Last night we took her to her first vet visit, where she was dewormed (hopefully the medicine will cover the specific parasite in her tummy) and put on metronidazole and special vet food, but it’s too soon to say if it’ll work. (I’m really, really hoping she will heal soon – she has such a powerful urge to thrive). I also strongly disliked the vet clinic where we went, so even though it will be a longer drive back to our old neighbourhood before we moved here, for the next vet visit I will take her back to our usual vet, who has the most wonderful clinic in the world – clean, spotless in fact, roomy, and of course everyone there is polite, doesn’t rush you and really cares about their furry clients.

The issue is, I’ve just spent $89 last night on the checkup and medications, and I’m not sure if I can convince the partner to keep the kitty, who I named Sophie. She’s had some allergen issues with other things, and our current boy-kitty is more than enough. I’m not even sure if I can keep another cat, what with all the out of town work we go on. Every no-kill shelter I’ve contacted seems to be full, and I don’t have it in me to stick sweet, friendly Sophie in a cage at the Toronto Humane Society, where they could put her down if she’s not adopted within a few days.

As a tortoiseshell, I think she’ll be harder to adopt out because her fur colours are really contrasting on her face, and some people might think she’s uglier than, say, a tiger-striped tabbycat. Even though her personality is wonderfully sweet, a shelter might kill her. And if I am supposed to at least attempt to integrate her and Leo (our current kitty), I have to get her to take some blood tests, and vaccines, etc. The cost is more than I can afford right now.

Did I mention she is declawed? I’m not against declawing per se, but I draw the line when some bastards decide to put their poor declawed cat outside where it cannot defend herself, where she can’t even run up a tree if the loud neighbourhood kids whom I see playing around the area all the time decide to go after her. From the looks of her, she barely caught any food – the area is marshy so birds don’t fly close to the ground there.

Before you ask – I had the vet check her for a microchip, and yes, she had one. However, when we called, the phone number had been reassigned, and the name does not exist in the phone book. There are no Missing Cat posters or flyers anywhere, either. If you saw this cat last week, you would also clearly realize that she had been put out and left to fend for herself and starve.

Does anybody have any suggestions, or can contribute even a few dollars to go toward Sophie’s upcoming vet treatment? Please contact me, or click the Paypal button link in the top right on this blogsite. I’d really appreciate your advice, any financial aid, or simply some good wishes for this abandoned kitty.



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