Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Something is Going to Kill Me & It Might as Well be Cheesecake

As a general rule, I try to plan ahead for everything and prepare myself for the worst. Okay, I don't always succeed. But at least my less-than-perfect choices create a perpetual state of guilt, so I have that going for me. (And when all my thinking ahead pays off, it's worth it. If you want to make sure you are often right and seldom disappointed, I highly recommend a life of anxiety and pessimism.)

So where do the dying and the cheesecake fit in? In this part right here where I point out that:
a) You can't prevent everything. (Believe me, I've tried.)
b) Everyone dies. Even healthy people.
c) There is no perfect path, not even the healthiest ones. There is only an infinite realm of possible choices.
d) One person's set of choices is not the right path for everyone else.
e) If your path includes eating lots of cheesecake and dying due to complications from cheesecake consumption, your path is not "wrong," your death is not some sort of failure.

This is not the first time I've realized this. It might not even be the first time I've discussed it. But it's something I have obviously not internalized to the point that it is my default thought process. So if I'm repeating myself, I'm sorry-not-sorry. I need to repeat this until it's all that I hear, and until it's all that everyone else hears in their heads.

Being thin is not a virtue. It doesn't make you a good person. It doesn't even make you a better person than someone else just because they happen to be fatter. It's not a sign of psychological and/or cognitive superiority. It's not an indicator of moral superiority. Being thin doesn't stop you from dying.

Being fat is not a crime. It's not a sin. It's not a moral failure. It's not a psychological failure. It's not a cognitive weakness. Being fat is not an actual cause of death. 

Body fat levels and body size are not simply results of individual control. They are not simply the result of calories in vs. calories out. There are genetic factors. There are metabolic, hormonal, and other biological factors. There are gut biome factors. There are nutritional factors. There are the biological set points, levels, and default processes that are the accumulation of a person's lifetime of choices. There is the individualized interaction of all factors for each person. And there's the fact that science keeps changing what it "knows" about all these factors.

When you put that all together you find there is no magic formula. There is no right answer.

Which is why runners have heart attacks, vegetarians get cancer, people in the "healthy" BMI category commit suicide, and fat people die of diseases that they could never have prevented with a "better" diet and more exercise.  

I could go on ad nauseam with examples of how "health" and death are not direct results of any given body weight or any designated measurement of body fat or any particular diet. I could write millions of words to explore what being "healthy" really means. But I'm tired of participating in a society-wide obsession with the subject. Life is already hard enough. I'm a bit of a hedonist, and I find enjoyment in relatively unhealthy food. If you don't like that, bite me. There's plenty of me to go around.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Too Old For This, Not Old Enough to Escape

There is a set of thoughts that has been weighing on my mind with increasing heaviness over the past few years, a tangle of thoughts regarding money, happiness, purpose, value, worth, sacrifice, fulfillment, responsibility.

What do I really need to make me happy?
What makes life worth living besides happiness?
Do I have a right to be happy? Does anyone have a right to happiness? Do I have a right to try to make myself happy?
Should I feel guilty for taking what I want if I'm not actively harming people to get it?
How much sacrifice is enough?
How much contentment is enough? How much responsibility do I have for creating my own sense of contentment, fulfillment, and acceptance no matter what the circumstances?
How much do I owe to other people? How much responsibility do I have to the rest of the world?
Am I a good person? Am I a good enough person? How much do I care about becoming a better person?
How much responsibility do I have to change? To fight against myself when what I want is at odds with what I should be?
Would I be happier or at least more at peace with myself if I forced myself to do and be what I'm told is right?
What are the consequences of rejecting moral standards adhered to by my friends and family? Is maintaining social cohesion its own moral imperative? Will I be content with accepting the consequences for failing to adhere?
Would I be happier if I stopped caring so much about what other people think?

These questions have weighed upon my mind even more so in the last 6 months as I've become increasingly frustrated with being unable to find a solution to the one overriding problem that has emerged: I don't want to work full time anymore, but I can't accept the consequences of not doing so.

Money and time. It's all about money and time.

It's probably also about aging, being at least a partial introvert, dealing with the circumstances of my own particular life experience, and how my personality and brain are responding to the world at large as it changes.

I believe I was born to be a housewife, but I was also born to have some sort of career. I want to have some work to do and to be able to put my brain to good use. And I want a paycheck. But I am sick of not having the time or energy to connect with the things that fulfill me and give life some meaning. I am sick of trying to cram everything that isn't work into the two days between work weeks. And I'm sick of these things being robbed of their restorative value when they end up being forced efforts.

I am literally sick from these things. Over the last 6 months I have made myself sick from the stress and anxiety of not having the time to do the things that I need to do beyond work. I was sick from being up at night with a sick cat and but still having to get up at 4 in the morning to start my 12-hour work day routine. I was sick from trying to figure out how to squeeze vet appointments around my work schedule. I was sick from taking days off to take care of my dying cat and grieving her loss, and knowing that those "vacation" days were being traded off for actual relaxing days off later. I was even sick from trying to squeeze otherwise-relaxing social events into an already-too-tight schedule.

In the last couple of months, the stress of all work and no play has brought me as close to either some sort of clinical depression or some sort of anxiety disorder as I've been in years. It's brought me as close to being suicidal as I ever want to be again. (Not as close as I've been in the past, but that was far too close than anyone should have gone without getting help.) It gets better --much better-- after I have a work day off, and then starts to creep back over me until I have another work day off. Which makes it seem all the more obvious that having more days at home is definitely one answer.

I just don't know how to make it a viable answer. I can't quit work. I doubt I could get another job that was even remotely as flexible and fulfilling as the one I have. And that wouldn't really help because the problem isn't my job; it's working full time. But, I can't afford to switch to part-time, regardless of whether it was at my current job or a new job. The one hope I had --working from home one or two days a week-- seemed to be just over the horizon, but has stalled indefinitely.

I'm starting a four-day weekend thanks to having the rest of the windows installed today and tomorrow. And despite the fact that I'm writing this downer of an entry I already feel better for having these days off. Despite the fact that I have to deal with the phone guy tomorrow and yet another bill for having them try to fix a problem they can't seem to find. Despite the fact that I am expecting the vet to tell me that Gordon has cancer. Despite the fact that a cancer diagnosis will mean being forced to make extremely hard decisions. Despite the fact that choosing treatment would mean I could very well have to deplete my entire reserves of both emotional strength and vacation time to deal with vet visits and cat care. Despite the fact that it could mean that I might not have any time left to take off when Mom is here in September or that Mom might never get to meet Gordon. I don't see Life making anything any easier in the near future. But dealing with it all would be exponentially more difficult if I hadn't been able to take a couple of sick days in the last few weeks and to take these two days off.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mental Health Day

When I was in grad school, I was treated for depression. The doctor prescribed Prozac and suggested counseling. Even though I knew the counseling part would probably help even more than drugs, I never went. I was working two part time jobs, doing graduate course work, and spending almost every other waking moment with my friends. When did I have time to deal with counseling? Besides, my work and my social interactions were their own form of "counseling" which helped keep me from spiraling too far down.

I think the Prozac helped. I'm not really sure. I don't even remember how long I was on it. If I remember correctly, the doctor ran out of coupons and, faced with the increased cost, I decided it was time to stop taking it.

I did finally get some counseling a few years ago. As winter wore on into early spring I found myself wondering more and more seriously whether it would be possible to suffocate myself to death by shutting myself in one of the closets in the attic. I wondered how long it would take Tim to find me and I felt sad for what it would do to him. And then one day I realized my wish to be gone was so overwhelming that I didn't care about hurting anyone else. It was like a slap in the face, and I immediately got the ball rolling on starting counseling.

Just doing something proactive made me instantly feel better. I had my allotted 10 counseling sessions, and every time I went I felt practically giddy with relief. Even though my counselor didn't do anything except listen. No advice, no exercises to try, no suggestions, no interpretations. She just listened. Which meant that on the way home from each session I ended up thinking, "But wait, I never really talked about my hard core problems." I had all these thoughts, fears, problems, questions that I'd been contemplating my whole life and what came out of my mouth at my counseling sessions was banal crap. And my counselor was just a kind, gentle listener who never helped me get deeper, who never guided me into discussing anything that would make a long-term difference in how my brain functioned.

When my 10 sessions were up and the insurance wasn't going to pay for further sessions without proof that I needed more help, I used that as an excuse to stop seeing her. I had fully realized by that point that, despite enjoying having someone to talk to, our sessions weren't accomplishing anything substantial. Plus, it was fully spring by that point and the influence of my Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms was gone. I was somewhat giddy simply from that change in the seasons, and didn't feel like I needed to pay someone to listen to me anymore.

Since then, I've done a lot of thinking (and worrying and soul searching and debating with myself) about depression. And the two-prong conclusion I always come to is that a) I don't know whether what I suffer from is really depression and b) whether it is or not, I feel guilty for not being happy.

Is it depression or is it self-indulgence?
Is it depression or is it just a bad attitude that I ought to be able to fix if I tried hard enough?
Is it depression or is it just a negative personality that I was born with and should learn to accept?
Do I even have a responsibility to myself or to other people to change?
Does that potential responsibility depend upon whether the cause of my problems is biological or not?
Do we even have a right to expect to be happy?
Do we have a responsibility to the rest of the world to be happy?
Is it my own fault that I expect too much?
Is it my own fault I can't deal with change?
Is it my own fault I worry constantly about bad things happening?
Is it my own fault for not being able to prepare for every bad thing that could happen?
Is it my own fault for being fat, which creates some of the physical problems I'm dealing with and has a biological effect on my brain?
Is it my own fault for retreating inside myself instead of reaching out to other people?
Is it my own fault that I'm making it worse by feeling sorry for myself?
How can I feel sorry for myself when people I care about are grieving lost husbands and fathers?
How can I feel sorry for myself when other people I know are dealing with real depression issues?
Why have the feelings I've been fighting with for at least 6 months finally come to some sort of head now when I should be worried about other people instead of myself?
Why doesn't everyone understand how awful I feel all the time and feel the same way?
Why can't I be like everyone else and not feel awful all the time?
Am I just a bad person?

Now I remember that part of the problem I had with talking to my counselor was that all the evil, dark, angry, empty, painful, negative, lost, alienated, frustrated, worried, fearful thoughts that fill my head all the time sound silly and/or stupid when I try to say them aloud. They're especially hard to discuss when I'm not feeling bad at the moment of trying to discuss them. The relief of being in the counselor's office was always so great that I suddenly couldn't really talk about all those problematic thoughts in a serious way.

But when I don't have anyone to talk to, when relief isn't lifting the pall of darkness from my soul, when I have a quiet few hours to myself away from everything else, I can write some of those thoughts. It's like talking to myself, which is what I do all day every day anyway. But writing relieves some of the pressure of having it all locked inside my head. Writing allows me to transcribe all that damaging rumination and gives me a chance to organize all the thoughts a little better. And being able to express these kinds of thoughts while their pain is still upon me allows me to say them without feeling like my feelings are silly or stupid. I can't control how anyone else who reads them interprets them. But I don't actually care at this point. I'm not doing this for anyone else right now.

Right now I'm worried about the fact that I've felt stressed for months on end. Right now I'm worried about work and I'm worried about the fact that I've been worried about work for months. Right now I'm worried about money and the house, and I'm also worried that I shouldn't be worried about money and the house. Right now I'm worried that I'm making life harder than it needs to be. Right now I'm worried about why I can't seem to cheer up and find meaning in my life, and I'm worried about the fact that this has been a problem for months and months at this point. Right now I'm worried because my body is giving me all sorts of grief and I'm not sure what, if anything, I can or should do about it. Right now I'm worried that I can't seem to find any time or energy to be passionate about anything --not even my garden. Right now I'm debating whether this is really depression this time. And right now I'm deciding I'm not going to do anything about it yet, at least not medically.

I allowed my physical problems to give me an excuse to take the day off, and I've used some of this day to at least take some of the pressure off my brain by writing this. I'm already feeling more positive, and I'm going to use the rest of the day to do what I want. I'm going to go putter around outside for a bit, and I'm going to try to make myself go for a walk. I really think getting in some daily walking might make a big difference. Then maybe I'll go read outside later on. And if I can find someplace to work on jigsaw puzzles, I might start one. A little exercise, a little relaxation, and maybe a little "order & method" for my "little grey cells." And then we'll see where I need to go from here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

New Cat Files #1: The First Caturday

When I got home from work on Friday, I backed the car into the turnaround spot by the porch and started collecting my things. When I turned back to open the door, Tim was looming outside my window. I was like, "What are we doing?" And he was like, "The shelter closes in an hour so if we hurry we can at least meet the cats tonight and get things started."

Have I mentioned how much I love this man? I hadn't even thought about doing that since I was completely focused on finishing the house reorganization and cleaning that we needed to do that night. I thought maybe he was just in a hurry to grab some dinner so we could get back and get working. I'd also gotten the call from the vet that Gytha's ashes were ready to be picked up, and I'd messaged him about that. So, I was also thinking he might be in hurry since we had to do that as well as get some food.

But no, this man wanted to go meet the cats. And he wasn't just doing it for me. I mean, going to great lengths to make Cat-Mom Wife happy is one thing. Going to greater lengths because he's just as eager to be Cat-Dad Husband is an even better thing. These will be the first cats to truly be completely "ours" and that makes me a little verklempt.

When we arrived at the shelter we told them what we were looking for, and they took us in to meet Snoopy (Robert) and Yoshi (Gordon), the bonded pair of 2-year-old males we wanted. We also met a couple of the older female cats, but nothing really gelled with the ladies. The boys didn't suddenly come out of their shells or warm up to us immediately or anything, which was fine. We weren't expecting them to. So we went back to the desk, got the application, and told them we'd be back in the morning.

We got Gytha's ashes after that, which somehow seemed right to me --that she was back home before any new guys moved in, maintaining her status in a way.

Fast forward through McDonald's for dinner; running to Petco to try to grab now-immediate necessities like dry food, litter, and replacement scratcher pads; moving the rest of the furniture to complete the 'we completely rearranged half our house' project; scrubbing the old litterboxes; washing the old cat scratcher wheels, cat carriers, and other durable cat items; vacuuming the entire house one more time; and making sure everything was cat-proofed enough and/or welcoming enough to bring new cats home.

Yadda yadda exhausted; yadda yadda didn't sleep much; yadda yadda Dunkins. Within 10 minutes of the shelter opening Saturday morning, me and Achey-Semi-Zombie Husband were signing in again and handing over our application. An hour and a half after we got there we were loading their carriers into the car and heading home.

We let them out in the back hallway, with the sunroom on one side and a bathroom with a litter box on the other. Perhaps it isn't the "ideal" exclusionary situation which is recommended for new cats, but it's close. And it's as close as we were able to come in the time we gave ourselves. Yoshi-Gordon immediately slunk around behind the sunroom couch. Snoopy-Robert hid behind the blanket we use as a curtain to insulate the back door in the winter. But within a few minutes, he'd discovered the back of the couch, too. We have a king-size cotton blanket that we use as a couch cover, and it hangs down to the floor in the back. They tucked themselves between the bottom flap of the couch upholstery and the blanket, so you can't see them at all when they are back there. But, you can see where the blanket is pulled taut over them. We moved a water bowl, a couple of food bowls, a few toys, and a scratcher wheel in there and left them alone.

We left them alone most of the day. I sat on their couch while I talked to Mom on the phone for awhile. We went in and talked to them periodically throughout the day. Then at about 8 last night we decided to go hang out on the couch in there for a bit before going to bed. Tim worked on his computer, and I played Solitaire on my iPod. I was exhausted and was about to go to bed when we heard little noises from behind the couch. Then we realized we could hear purring. That woke me up a bit, so I stayed a little longer. I was about to fall asleep sitting up when I heard more noises from behind the couch. A black head peeked up over the back and looked around, then disappeared. Of course, that woke me up again, so I waited a bit longer to see if there would be any further developments. But, there weren't any before we finally decided to haul our weary butts to bed.

I actually slept really well, confident that they would be fine and hoping they would come out and explore while we slept. I got up this morning, and was washing my face in the upstairs bathroom when I realized it looked like the litter box in that bathroom had been used. I put on my glasses and was so excited to find it was true I almost woke Tim up just to tell him. I'm not sure I've ever been so happy to clean a pee clump out of a litter box. That means at least one of them came upstairs!!

That made me even more eager to get downstairs to look for evidence of exploration. The first thing I saw was a broken food bowl on the dining room floor, and I actually laughed because I was so happy to see that they'd been out doing things. I don't know why I even left the extra empty food bowls out. I'd set them up on the old feeding spot on top of the radiator cover even though we hadn't put out any wet food for them. My first thought was actually, "Well, it's a good thing I went ahead and ordered more last night!"

The second thing I noticed was that there were toy mice in places I hadn't left them. I'm not even sure yet if they are all new ones or if they managed to find ones under furniture that I missed. That would be impressive!

I checked the sunroom and both food bowls had been obviously gobbled from. The downstairs litter box had also been used.

For now they are back behind the couch, but at least I know they are eating, peeing, playing, and exploring, and that's actually more than I'd allowed myself to expect the first night.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A Week Without Cats

I finally threw out the Honey Nut Cheerios at the end of last week. They've been sitting on top of the refrigerator in the Tupperware cereal keeper for at least five years. Despite the capabilities of Tupperware, the Cheerios have been somewhat stale for many of those years, but we held onto them because we had discovered Gytha liked them. Every once in awhile we would drop a couple on the floor and she would gobble them up. We had also discovered recently that she had a thing for Wheat Chex. What she really loved, though, were Wendy's french fries. She stole one right out of Tim's hand a few years ago, and since then we've always made sure that if we went to Wendy's she got a fry of her own. The best part was that she wouldn't eat it if you just set it in front of her; she had to "steal" it. We'd set it off to the side somewhere and wait for her to find it, swipe it onto the floor, and then enjoy her prey. There were other foods that inspired a lot of interest, but I don't know that she would have eaten them. She was intensely attracted to black olives, at least on pizza. But we never gave her one. And the smell of strawberries drove her crazy, although she never actually ate them when I offered them to her. 

She was also in love with the freezer. I have no idea why. Our refrigerator has the freezer on the bottom, and every time we opened it when she was around she ran up and stood in front of the opening. She didn't try to steal any food, or climb inside. It didn't matter what season it was, either. She just loved Freezer. 

Gytha was the most adorable cat. Yes, I'm biased, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong. When we called last Monday afternoon, the woman who answered the phone was one of our regular vet techs and she knew Gytha as soon as I said her name. When we came in she came over to see her and commented that she had the most beautiful eyes and she'd always loved her beautiful eyes. It's kind of ironic, because the fact that we were so well known at the vet's office means we had been there an awful lot. But it was also a comfort to have such a connection with the people taking care of us, especially at the end. 

I don't think I've ever felt a softer cat than Gytha. Not really sleek, not fluffy, but a perfect medium between the two. I loved petting her when she'd recently given herself a bath because that's when her fur was the absolute softest. I never had to give her a bath, which is good because I don't think that would have gone well for anyone involved. After the ultrasound, she came home with the hair around her poor shaved tummy wet and caked with, presumably, the ultrasound gel. I took a warm wash cloth and tried to remove as much of it as I could. She was already having tummy trouble and I couldn't imagine that letting her try to clean that all off herself was a good idea. I was actually pretty annoyed with the hospital for leaving her like that. It had been about 4 hours since her procedure by the time I picked her up; they had plenty of time to get rid of that mess. That was the second time she had to go to that animal hospital (which was NOT her regular doctor's office) and both times I was not particularly happy about how they treated her. But in both cases, they were the only choice that wasn't hours away. 

Perhaps they didn't appreciate her personality. She had plenty of it. Her first experience at the alternate hospital was for her radioiodine treatment for her thyroid condition. She was there for something like three days, and when I went to pick her up they made sure to tell me how vocal she had been. There were webcams in the cages of that particular unit, so I'd been able to see her online, and I'd seen her talking at people a few times. But given how sad she looked the rest of the time, I couldn't blame her if she didn't have anything nice to say. She wasn't quiet when they had to do things to her at our regular vet's office. They would take her into the back to do blood draws, urine sampling, x-rays, or whatever, and I would sit in the exam room listening to her complaining and laughing to myself, thinking, "Yep, that's my baby making all that fuss." It wasn't an angry cry; it wasn't a mournful cry exactly, either.  It was more like a cat version of whining "I don't want to!" repeated throughout the entire ordeal. But no one at our vet's office ever complained about her, or even gave any hint that her complaining was a problem. It was always clear that while she was a less than ideal patient, they liked her. 

Most people never saw the best of Gytha. She was fine with kids when she was younger. I used to bring the kids I nannied over to my apartment and Gytha had no problem with them. But when I moved her out here, she decided she did not like my nephews at all. And she never really liked any other children she encountered after that point. There were a few of our human friends that she liked, but many of the others she ignored. Usually the ones who wanted her to like them the most were the ones she ignored the most. Ah, cats. She saved her best antics, her cutest moments, her sweetest side for Tim and I alone. We, at least, knew how much of a blessing she was for us. 

I was also impressed by how long she remained so young in mind and body. It was only in the last few years that she gradually stopped jumping straight up onto the kitchen counter. But then in the last year she started leaping across the 3 foot gap between the sideboard and the dining room table. If she saw an opportunity to go for something interesting, she took it. It was only in her last few days that she started slowing down, and that's how we knew it was almost over. I had hoped we would have a few weeks more, at least. But, it was like she knew the results of her own ultrasound and it depressed her. Even then, she was still fighting to be herself when she could. She would spend half the day doing nothing but sleeping in her cave, and I would cry and cry thinking this was it. But then she would jump up on the radiator cover in the sunroom and watch out the window, follow me upstairs, jump up onto my lap, sit for awhile then climb up onto the radiator cover in the tv room where her cushion was, then follow me to bed and cuddle. She didn't eat at all on Sunday, or Monday morning. But she wanted to be in the bathroom while I showered that morning, like she usually did. She jumped up on the edge of the tub and licked water off the shower wall, which she also usually did. She even made a brief comment when I got the hair dryer out, which was another "usual" think she had started doing in the last month or so. She followed me downstairs, and even though she didn't eat, she stayed downstairs until I left. And as I pulled out of the driveway I saw her looking out the sunroom window, which she often did but hadn't done in awhile. I dared to hope that maybe she was somehow feeling better. 

But that afternoon when I got home I found Tim sitting with her on the couch in the sunroom, and he told me he thought it was time. She had tried to climb up the back of the couch and couldn't, and had started hiding behind the couch and in the closet in our bedroom. So, I made the call to the vet. We tried to spend the last hour or so with her, and she put up with it for awhile but then went into the closet to hide. I had such mixed feelings. She had made it up the stairs on her own, and I thought maybe she wasn't as bad as Tim thought. But then she hid in the closet. Then we put her in her carrier and she was crying and moving around in her carrier. Gink was so far gone by the time we had to take him in, I don't think he moved at all. Gytha was restless and back to acting like normal the entire time we were waiting in the vet's office. And they had to deal with a couple of emergency appointments, so we had to wait over half an hour. I finally opened her carrier and put my arm inside, petting her for awhile and then just to be there for her after she seemed to relax. We sat her in a windowsill so she at least got to watch the birds and the outdoors while we waited. When we finally got into the exam room, she kept trying to jump down from the table. I already wanted to just take her back home, and that was almost too much. The vet was kind of surprised to see her so soon; he also had thought she would last longer. I waited for him to talk us out of it or to tell us to take her home, but he didn't. They had to sedate her, which was both unnerving and calming at the same time. Unnerving because it made it look like she was already gone even though she was still conscious; calming because it meant she wasn't trying to fight it anymore. It also meant that it took longer for her heart to stop. We just kept petting her and petting her until the doctor finally confirmed she was gone. 

I know that if we hadn't gone at all or had told them we'd changed our minds and were going back home, it probably only would have delayed the inevitable by a few days, possibly only by a single day. At the time I was angry at myself for not waiting, devastated that she was gone, and yet relieved that the anxiety of watching and waiting was over. But over the last week I think I've made my peace with our decision.

I have a significant degree of self blame for the loss of all four of the cats I've been significantly responsible for. For each case there was a period of time when I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to think about my responsibility for what went wrong without intense guilt stabbing through my heart and gut. Now I find that, while there is still at least some sense of regret for each, I can forgive myself for what I think I did wrong. That doesn't mean I wouldn't go back and change things. If I had a time machine and could only use it once, I would go back and take Knight and Grimm to the shelter instead of leaving them in a goddamn barn. I have no idea why I thought they would be better off and more likely to find a home that way than through the shelter. But I was naively optimistic and incredibly stressed at that point in my life. And so they presumably died alone and scared after being essentially abandoned outside after having lived their entire lives indoors and being mostly terrified of the outdoors. Yes, I would abso-fucking-lutely go back and do that differently even if it was the only thing in my entire life I could change. 

At least I don't hate myself the way I used to for that choice, and I can finally think about it without being filled with horror and feeling completely sick inside. And I never really hated myself for not saving Gink in time. Nor do I hate myself now for not saving Gytha. But, I am trying to learn from my mistakes so I don't repeat them. I've learned a lot about cat health from my experiences with Gink and Gytha. Gink taught me to get the damn blood work done. Every year. Find the money. And when they are older get it done twice a year. Pay attention to the litter box; pay attention to how much pee is in there. Gytha taught me that frequent vomiting --true vomiting, not regurgitating food-- should not be ignored. Don't assume it's "just hairballs" or a reaction to new medication. I hope that together the two of them have finally taught me not to take the easy way out first to try to avoid having the more expensive testing done. They taught me to set aside money out of every paycheck to save up for the more expensive vet visits that are inevitable. I would like to think that everything I learned --Gink's kidney disease discovered too late; Gytha's needle eating, recurrent constipation problems, thyroid disease, caught-early kidney disease, high blood pressure, vomiting, nausea, and stomach tumor-- would guarantee that I'll be able to make sure my next cats live longer than 14 or 15 years. Instead, the next cats will probably end up with something completely different that I'll blame myself for not having paid attention to earlier after it kills them. 

It didn't take long for us to decide we were ready to take on the adventure of adopting new cat loves. We've had a week of cat-less life, and there are certain conveniences we've allowed ourselves to enjoy. Plates of food can be left unattended! But, both Tim and I had the thought that it would probably be better if we don't get too used to a cat-free lifestyle. Besides, I miss all the sounds of sharing a house with cats. I miss having that non-human presence to make the house feel complete. It's another potentially trite but true thing I've realized: a house without cats doesn't feel like a complete home for me. No other cats will ever replace the special spots in my heart that belong to Gink or Gytha, but I have other spots aching for new furbabies. 

Before we can bring any new babies home we have to finish cleaning and rearranging the house. And there are two cats at the local shelter who are already bonded and need to be adopted together --EXACTLY what we're looking for. Which is why I've been pushing myself (and Tim) to get everything done as quickly as possible. Not an easy thing for us to do with the other things on our schedules, but I've made some major progress in the past two days. I'm trying to be realistic and accept that everything will work out eventually even if it isn't exactly the way I'm imagining it right now. Patience is not my strong suit, though. So, I'm doing everything I can to help move things along. I just can't wait until the house is all rearranged and we're starting the adventure of being "new" cat parents again!