Me and Burning Out

I’m burning out. After months of propping myself up, telling myself that everything is going to be okay, and a few weeks of struggling with a new puppy, I’m starting to get exhausted in a way that I don’t know how to recover from. This is a dangerous place for me because it’s prime depression ground. I know that after I was first diagnosed with cancer I entered a kind of hyper-vigilant phase. This often happens to me during times of personal or family crisis. I step up, I do what needs to be done and I manage. I take care of whoever needs taking care of, I provide the shoulder to cry on, I neglect myself.

Generally speaking, this kind of behaviour isn’t particularly destructive. Most of us will have to step up and manage personal crises, care for loved ones etc… and there will always be some combination of adrenaline or sense of personal duty to keep us going. The problem is, eventually that runs out — or at least it does for me. In 2013-2014, when I had to act as a caregiver for my mother, I looked after everything. I did all the housework, cooking, driving to and from appointments, grocery shopping and ran all the errands. I also went back to school part time and managed my coursework. It was familiar territory for me in many ways, because I also had to care a great deal for two of my grandparents when I was in my 20s, but it was difficult. It’s never easy to see your parents suffering — it is the definitive indicator of your finally becoming an independent adult. I think, no matter how old we get, we tend to see our parents as people who should be looking after us and not the other way around.

My mother needed surgery and once she began to recover from that, I truly began to fall apart. I fell down into a deep, depressive pit and could not claw my way out: I spent about 18 months playing Final Fantasy XIV (the MMO sickness finally hit me) and taking one easy course in my certificate program at a time. I convinced myself that as long as I could complete the courses, I was totally fine.

I wasn’t totally fine. I was anything but totally fine. I needed help and (probably) medication. While depression is a consistent issue for me, I have had sustained periods where my depression worsens to the point of my not being able to function. Over the years I’ve come to recognize that significant burnout is one of my major triggers. A crisis occurs, I step up and go at it until I run out of steam, and then I fall apart.

So, right now, I’m a little terrified. My dog, Daisy, died on October 20, 2017. Two weeks later, during the first week of November 2017, I was hospitalized. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with cancer. By the end of 2017, I had had a port installed and started chemotherapy. Despite some fairly minor fear and nervousness, I have stood up and faced these issues head on. I haven’t been on the floor crying, as some expected me to be. I’ve been productive and I’ve made an effort to enjoy myself, despite side effects that limit what I can do with my spare time.

But then we were stupid and we got a puppy. The greatest piece of advice I could ever offer someone right now is that you should not get a puppy when there are things going on in your life that are stressful and potentially life-changing. People will always tell you that puppies are hard, but reading/hearing that and then actually living it are two totally different things. Puppies are much more difficult than anyone will ever tell you and the fatigue from cancer treatment certainly doesn’t make things any easier and any other major stressors in your life won’t help you either.

When we first got Frankie, I went through another short phase of hyper-vigilance. My adrenaline got going and I was able to manage everything again. I trained her when I was able, became much more mobile, and generally felt physically stronger. A few bad days later, however, and I’m starting to feel all that strength leaving me. I just don’t have the energy right now to sustain the kind of consistency that Frankie needs. I’m tired and I’m sick and I get lazy sometimes.

I know that things will get better with Frankie and I know that, eventually, we will bond properly and I will love her more than anything, but I’m scared right now that all of this new stress might push me somewhere that I don’t want to go. I’m going to make an appointment with my social worker as soon as I can so that I can talk with her about how to avoid falling into another dark and awful pit. I’m hoping that talking about it with a professional will help me a great deal. I think also, a little vacation will help. Next week, my boyfriend is coming for a visit and, hopefully, that will be a nice break where I can be a little selfish for a few days and recharge my batteries.


Media Round-up for 11/03/2018

Altered Carbon

altered carbonAltered Carbon is a new Cyberpunk science fiction series on Netflix starring Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs, a former cop and rebel who has been in prison for over 200 years. In the world of Altered Carbon, human beings have become practically immortal: each person’s personality is stored in a disc in their neck (called a Stack) and that personality, unless killed in a particular way, can continue living as long as they can afford to purchase and maintain a body (sleeve). Sleeves are outrageously expensive, however, and lengthy lifespans are only really possible for the extraordinarily wealthy. Kovacs is freed from prison by one of the wealthiest people on earth in order to work on a murder case and we slowly learn his backstory as he is working to solve the mystery.

I wanted to like Altered Carbon, but I didn’t. Aesthetically, it’s incredible. The visual style of the world is gorgeous to look at but, in my opinion, it fails in most other aspects. I loved Joel Kinnanan in The Killing, but I found his accent work to be pretty bad in Altered Carbon and, while he’s been praised for his performance in the series, I thought it was mediocre at best. In fact, the quality of the acting in Altered Carbon was poor overall, though I think that Martha Higareda’s performance as Kristin Ortega was particularly egregious. Her line delivery is so consistently wooden that it’s a little embarrassing. Acting-wise, the best performances came from Will Yun Lee (as past Kovacs in a different sleeve) and Renee Elise Goldsberry (as Quillcrist Falconer and former love interest of Kovacs).

The story of Altered Carbon also failed to maintain my interest. I kept watching the show hoping for a real mystery plot to unfold, but I was ultimately disappointed. The development of the show’s main villain was handled particularly poorly as their motivations were so ridiculous and psychotic that I just couldn’t identify or sympathize with any of it.  If my boyfriend and I hadn’t been watching this show together, I would have scrubbed through at least half of it.

Jake Buvala – I Got a Dog, What was I Thinking

It’s no secret that my mother and I have been more than a little overwhelmed with our new puppy, Frankie. During out first week together, I had several ugly days where I hardly slept and my anxiety was getting the best of me.  I didn’t like Frankie, I wanted to send her back, and having her in the house was uncomfortable.  These negative feelings were making me feel horribly guilty.  I love dogs, I love animals and, right now, popular culture is telling me that Frankie and I should be having a magical relationship.

During that first week I spent a lot of time googling.  Unfortunately, a lot of the resources I found were just making me feel worse — like I wasn’t being consistent enough and generally like I was a jerk for having the negative feelings.  And then I found I Got a Dog, What was I Thinking.  Jake Buvala is a dog trainer and blogger over at 3LostDogs.  His e-book is an easy-to-read, quick and dirty guide to some of the more challenging aspects of bringing a new dog into your home, such as biting and chewing, crate training, potty training and other behavioural adjustments and issues.  The information in his book isn’t new and you can probably get it for free elsewhere, but the tone and attitude of the book were an enormous help to me and it’s probably the best $13 I’ve ever spent.

What Jake gets right is that he acknowledges that you and your new dog won’t be super best buddies immediately and that your relationship with your dog needs to be built over time.  It doesn’t make you feel guilty for making mistakes or for not loving your dog as soon as you bring them home and he provides a lot of useful information that has been terribly helpful to us.  If you find yourself in a difficult situation with a new dog, I’d recommend that you check it out!

Cancer/life update: struggling at the halfway point

This Friday (March 2, 2018) I will be having my sixth chemotherapy treatment, which means that I will be halfway through my original treatment plan.  My second chemo cycle (one cycle is two treatments) was difficult.  The neuropathy in my hands became less uncomfortable due to the lowering of my Vinblastine dosage, but those two treatments just made me feel sicker: more nausea, more fatigue, more gastrointestinal upset, heart palpitations and anxiety.  I was worried that I was going to feel progressively worse after every treatment.

Fortunately, the first treatment of my third cycle wasn’t as bad.  I was able to leave my house on the Monday after, which is pretty rare for me, to pick up our new puppy, Frankie.  Since then, symptom-wise, I’ve had one of the best periods between treatments since I started chemo in December.  During my last visit with my oncologist, I even received the news that if my next PET scan (now scheduled for April 7) doesn’t show any remaining active disease, two drugs will be removed from my protocol: Bleomycin and the steroid that goes along with it.  This would be fantastic, since Bleomycin has the nastiest long term side effects and the steroid I am given to prevent me from having an allergic reaction to Bleomycin raises my blood sugar and is the most likely cause of my heart palpitations post-treatment.

With all this great news, I should be feeling awesome, especially since I have a new puppy in the house, but I am struggling: mostly with Frankie.

My mother and I haven’t had a puppy for 15 years and, needless to say, we had completely forgotten how difficult it is to raise one.  It doesn’t help that we were a little spoiled with our last dog, Daisy.  For example, she was at least partially crate trained before she came home with us, she had excellent bladder control, and, being a terrier, she was smart and easy to train.  We kinda took it for granted that we knew what we were doing.  Frankie had only ever been in an activity pen and had only been outside a few times before we brought her home.  She had accidents in her crate nearly every night because she had no idea it was her bed and we figured we would toss her in there and she would just understand how it worked, exactly the same way Daisy had.

We are definitely doing the best that we can and the strategies that we are now using to crate train and house train are working, but it’s been very stressful for me.  I keep worrying that I’m going to make mistakes that will give her bad behavioural habits and every time she has an accident inside, I feel as though I’ve failed her somehow.  The guilt is also difficult.  Whenever you get frustrated at your puppy, you feel terribly guilty about it, because we all feel like we need to love and adore them all the time.

I also have other worries about the logistics of managing everything during chemo weekends, since my mother’s mobility issues are worsening recently.  I won’t go into any detail about this, but it’s made sleeping difficult: I am so worried about chemo, my mother, and Frankie that I haven’t been sleeping well.  Over the past 2 nights, I’ve probably only gotten about 7 hours, which isn’t great for a person who is undergoing chemotherapy.  I’ve been laying awake in bed worrying and feeling anxious.

Sleep deprivation + worries about raising a puppy + cancer and chemo = stressful combination.  Up until now, I have managed the stress and emotional difficulties of cancer and chemotherapy quite well, but the addition of everything else has made me hit a wall — it’s all catching up with me at once.  I’ve started reading an ebook that I think will help me to process the puppy stress, but I think it’s going to take me awhile to get used to everything and get over the guilt.

Update: I wrote this on Monday, February 26.  It’s now Tuesday the 27 and I had a great sleep last night.  I’m feeling a bit better about things, but we have a long way to go.


Introducing our new puppy, Frankie!

This toy is actually bigger than me!

This post will be a bit photo heavy! I hope you enjoy all the pictures of our new puppy!

I’m sure that most of you know already, but our dog situation has taken another little turn. I’m sure most of you will remember that we originally purchased a French Bulldog puppy named Chester. When we first visited him, Chester was only about five weeks old and we were not able to take him home with us immediately. During the weeks that he was still living with his birth family, the problem that the breeder believed was only a minor cosmetic defect grew into an issue that may be difficult to manage down the road (I won’t go into details). Given everything that we are going through right now, the breeder recommended that we instead bring home the other remaining puppy in the litter: her name is Frankie!

Can’t sleep without a Santa!

Of course, we initially had mixed feelings about all of this. We are ecstatic to welcome Frankie into our family (and honestly we do prefer having female dogs), but we are also sad that Chester is having so many issues and we are concerned for his well being. The breeder has assured us that she will be watching his development and making sure that he gets the treatment and care that he needs and her family is lovely so we hope that he will be all right.

Yes, I am the cutest puppy the world has ever seen!

We have completely fallen in love with Frankie. She is feisty and independent and loves to play (though thankfully she has much less energy than Daisy did as a puppy). She’s got a great personality, is very friendly with other people and she’s making progress on house training. Of course, the main thing she’s figured out so far is that there’s a possibility she’ll be fed a little while after anyone spends some time in the kitchen. House training has been a bit challenging due to the winter weather. We brought home our last puppy in the summer, so it was easy to manage scooping her up whenever she would eat or drink something and plopping her outside on the patio so that she could wander around the back yard and figure out where she wanted to go. We didn’t want to salt our back patio because we knew it would be difficult on Frankie’s paws and it has snowed a fair bit where we live recently. This has made our back patio a bit dangerous and dicey. We’ve had to anticipate Frankie’s moves and then try to get a leash on her and take her outside before she’s fully ready to go. She’s been improving every day, so I hope that, with time, everything will work out nicely.

Thanks, everyone, for your kind words and support on social media. I hope that some folks will get to meet Frankie soon — I can’t wait to start introducing her to my friends! Enjoy a few more photos below!

Places to go, hooves to chew!
Sleepy, big-eared baby!

We have a new puppy!

chester_crop.jpgIf you follow me on social media, you may have heard that my mother and I recently purchased a new puppy, a French Bulldog that we have named Chester.  Unfortunately, we won’t be able to bring Chester home for another month or so, but we are terribly excited about this new addition to our family!  Finding a new family dog has been a difficult process, one that we have been slogging through over the past few months.  Our previous dog (a miniature Schnauzer named Daisy) passed away just about two weeks before I became ill and had to be admitted to the hospital.  Since receiving my cancer diagnosis several weeks later, we have been pretty desperate to find a new companion and the process has been tense and emotionally loaded.

At first, I was 100% dedicated to adopting a rescue dog.  I felt like we had a responsibility to give a discarded animal a good home.  Many of the rescue organizations in my area, however, don’t have many dogs available, or they only have large dogs, which my mother and I just can’t manage.  A coworker had recommended one organization that is consistently rescuing and bringing a good volume of smaller dogs into our area.  I did some further research, saw that they were rescuing their dogs primarily from high-kill shelters in California, and I made up my mind that they were the best organization to work with.

And then we went to an adoption event.

The organization we chose has monthly adoption events in our area, usually at a local PetSmart.  They are above-board, they’re doing good work, and they treat and feed the dogs well.  It seems to be run by a team of two, one man and one woman.  At the event, we had a long discussion with the man (I’ll call him Bob) and he was adamantly against our adopting anything other than a senior dog.

Bob took one look at my mother (gray hair, walks with a cane) and decided that she would be completely incapable of looking after a younger dog.  He didn’t make any polite suggestions or ask us about how we might care for a younger dog, he just assumed and insulted.  He was very rude and he hurt my mother’s feelings.  Of course, he doesn’t know that we’re experienced dog owners or that my mother would gladly pay someone to walk the dog if she couldn’t manage, but he made unkind assumptions and acted on them in a way that was unkind and insulting.  This set my other completely against adopting a dog from that organization.

While that guy was a huge jerk, he did make some good points.  My mother is getting older and she does have mobility issues and I don’t plan to stay home forever to help her look after a dog.  After thinking about all that, I realized that we might need to reconsider.  My conscience told me that getting a senior dog would be a great idea, but I just didn’t think that our hearts could manage a lot of illness and veterinary visits  —  not to mention a possible death so soon after the death of our beloved Daisy.

And then my father suggested to my mother that we try to find a French Bulldog puppy.  Our family has a long history with French Bulldogs.  My mother adopted her first one in the early 1970s, when she was single.  Trina lived for several years after I was born and from then on we always had a French Bulldog as our family pet until 2003, when our last one passed away.  We were unable to find another Frenchie at that time and so we decided to adopt Daisy.

While I wasn’t keen on the idea of house training a puppy with everything that we have going on, once I began thinking about French Bulldogs, I began to realize how well they suit our current needs.  They are great companions who tend to bond closely with one or two people, they’re huge couch potatoes who don’t need lots of exercise and, essentially, they’re bred to be calm and relaxed pets.  They aren’t working dogs who need a lot of stimulation to be happy.  I know that, right now, this is the best option for our family.

I’ll be posting a lot more about Chester and his development in the future.  I hope you enjoy all the cute photos!