(Or, why I’m retiring!)
Seven (eight?) years ago I bought a house. It was pretty awesome. It was also a lot more responsibility than renting. Around the same time I injured my back, stopped writing (because I was suddenly too busy) (oh yeah, I’m a novelist), and became so scatterbrained that I couldn’t keep anything straight or get anything done.
The back: a year after it ruptured the first time, we finally stopped trying to fix it with medications and physical therapy and I had surgery to clean out the detritus that, we thought, was impacting my spinal cord. This began an entire year of PT where I had to re-learn everything.
The writing: this just kept sliding.
The scatterbrained: turned out I have ADHD (which probably exacerbated the clinical depression and anxiety I’ve had since childhood). ADHD is poorly named, and has a WIDE variety of symptoms. One of the weird things about it is that you might be coping okay at your current level of busy-ness, but add something else (like oh, say, buying a house) and all your coping mechanisms fall apart. Not just about the house, either: all of them. Like you’ve been juggling all those balls, but add one too many and the rest get dropped in the chaos. So, that happened.
Therapy. Medications. Hiring things done wherever possible. I got 80% of functionality back, and that other 20% was easy enough to ignore. If I just tried a little harder, found a slightlybetter way to schedule, was a bit better at leaving places on time… yeah. That would work.
And it did for a few years. But every year my functionality slipped a little more.
5 years ago I started having panic attacks at random. (Note: anxiety attacks are where you think anxiety-provoking thoughts, and it triggers an anxiety attack. Panic attacks are when you’re walking along going tra la la la and suddenly you’re having a panic attack. Both are incredibly horrible.) My therapist and doctors suggested a service dog, and my older training dogs were getting older. So I adopted a dog, trained him to be a service dog, trained him to be a working dog (he’s a better service dog), and went back at 60% functionality, never realizing I’d dropped that much.
By 4 years ago I had so much anxiety so much of the time that I could no longer recognize how it felt NOT to have it. It was my new normal, and so I didn’t realize how bad it was. (It was bad. It was bad enough that I frequently didn’t have time to shower. Who doesn’t have time to shower except once a week, if lucky?)
I started hiring help and training other people. (Okay, more other people.) The whole training-people thing was only sort of working out; most of them decided it was too hard and dropped out, back to “normal” jobs. I thought they were crazy. Turns out I was driving myself crazy, and outside people could recognize that and didn’t really want to follow in my footsteps.
3 years ago I started having heart palpitations. The cardiologist said they weren’t dangerous, just annoying. They started out as happening once every few months.
Then once a month.
Then a couple, maybe a few, times a month.
The more stress a person is under, the more any mental problems flare up. Same with back problems. I hired a personal trainer to help me keep up on my physical therapy, because I was in pain all the time again. I increased my meds and added two more to help me sleep. I started crying a lot. I still thought this was normal, that if I just tried harder I could do this. I wasn’t even working as many hours as “normal” people do, I’d think. I shouldn’t be falling apart! (I was working 10-11 hours three days a week with no breaks doing private training, attempting — mostly failing — to write 4 hours a week, spending easily 10-14 hours a week dreading answering emails, texts, and phone calls, spending 16 hours a week actually answering emails, texts, and phone calls, trying to shoehorn in updating my website, facebook, and blog, and when I boarded I worked 7 days a week for 2-4 weeks at a time from the moment I woke to the moment I went to sleep. Plus making time for my relationship with Quin, trying to see my horse, and taking care of house cleaning, yard maintenance, laundry, and the usual stuff. Patience and Laurie kept me breathing during this time.)
And I was doing it with ADHD, generalized anxiety, clinicial depression, heart palpitations, and panic attacks. Yeah, looking back, I shoudl have realized things weren’t right. But it was the frog in water effect: it had gained so slowly, I hadn’t noticed how bad it had gotten.
I spoke with my therapist and Quin (also instrumental in helping me try to balance my life) and we made all sorts of changes. I didn’t know it then, but I was already sliding too fast down the other side of the mountain.
2 years ago COVID hit, and we went into quaranetine. For about 2 months I was at home. It was long enough for me to decompress, catch my breath, and actually become interested in writing again. (Writing has been my lifelong dream. I wrote my first novel at 16, even if it was terrible, published my first short story in college, my first novella at 15-ish years ago, my first novel right after that, and continued on until… I bought the house and everything started falling to bits.)
At home with COVID rampaging, I was happy. I pitched a tent in my house and slept in it. I played with the dogs for the first time in a LONG time. Even worrying about money couldn’t bring me down.
Then everyone went and got dogs, and needed help, and I started saying yes. I quickly ended up on the phone with my therapist, having had a break from my anxiety and realizing how bad things had gotten. I was in tears because I couldn’t have that happen again.
Over the summer before last, I was off and on a wreck and okay. I got some really interesting cases. I tried to figure out how to do more teaching and less one on ones. I talked to vets and taught them some animal handling skills. Good things happened.
And bad things happened. My panic attacks and heart palpitations, noticeable by their absence, made a hearty come back. My emotional crashes grew more frequent and worse; sobbing on the couch for days at a time, because I felt so overwhelmed. Cash passed away.
Just when my therapist and I thought maaaaaybe we had a plan that would get me through another few years (maybe), my back went out again. Not as bad as the first time; I knew this feeling, and worked faster to get help, so I spent less time crawling, less time on a cane, and started healing quicker. Even with all that, when we looked at my spine we found three bulging and squished discs, four ruptures within those discs, one vertebrae that was unstable (it did whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted), facet arthropathy in twelve of my facet joints (arthropathy is like severe arthritis, and your facet joints are the flanges on the vertebra; they join with the ones above and below, making… uh… joints) and various other, smaller problems. I started PT again. My parents came to stay with me, because I couldn’t do things like pick up the dog bowls to feed the dogs. Over months my back improved by tiny increments. Driving was the worst; driving to San Jose and back was impossible.
Answering work emails, texts, and phone calls, and having zoom sessions, triggered heart palpitations that made me sick all day or panic attacks that did the same. My hormones went crazy, so PMS might only last a few hours here and there, but it was so severe I was afraid I’d hurt myself.
I was suicidal as a teenager, had a plan and everything, but for the first time in my life I purposefully hurt myself because it was the only way to make the pain inside stop. I used my fingernails and sliced my fore arm in a couple of rows, knowing it would just look like I’d been scratched by a dog. I didn’t tell anyone. I was ashamed and horrified.
I got PRP injections and, like a miracle, they worked. My back got better. I started going back to work. My mental health worsened. Lily died.
I hurt myself again, because the feeling of being overwhelmed, hopeless, and — “unhappy” is such a menial word for such a huge feeling. It was like I was being swallowed by all the dark things, and I didn’t know how to reach out, but if I hurt myself it all cleared for a moment. It terrified me.
I talked to my therapist. (Not about hurting myself.) We figured out how I could work less, build a curriculum to train dog trainers, and that helped. I talked to my psychiatrist. He adjusted my meds, and that helped.
I went back to work, and almost immediately my back and head got worse again. I was having heart palpitations every day. My ADHD was out of control: my impulse control was non-existent, I would forget what I was doing between seeing that the coffee was done and turning to get a mug, I lost my temper over and over, my emotions were these big, scary things. I once went into an hour-long rage — thankfully just around my house — screaming and sobbing and hysterical because a client emailed to ask me for the name of the treats I’d used. It took me hours to do a load of laundry because I couldn’t focus on what I was doing, and my working memory was nonexistent. I still hyper-focused on dogs, and I could put on a mask and fake that I was okay with clients, but more and more I had to cancel appointments because of heart palpitations, panic attacks, or back pain. I didn’t realize I should have been canceling appointments for other reasons, too.
I got new meds for my heart. I’d never needed regular meds for my heart.
A new chiropractor moved my vertebra just wrong — it was the unstable one, and he didn’t even crack it, just thumped it — and it ruptured again.
Good things happened, too. We visited Quin’s uncle for a couple of weeks. Quin and I went to Oregon for a friend’s wedding, and I saw several friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I adopted a dog for my little sister and her family (by request) and I’m in love and excited. Quin and I decided to get married (April 2nd, 2022!).
But I was in the fetal position on the couch, and I’d been crying for hours and I didn’t know why (how did I not know why? Things were so bad, and honestly I’m only realizing it now, writing this all out) when I thought, Maybe if I use a knife this time…
I had the presence of mind to decide that, if I stood up to do that, I’d call 911 and have myself committed. I still hadn’t told anyone that I’d hurt myself. Just nails on my forearm. Barely any blood. (Two of them scarred, but I scar easy.) It just didn’t seem that important.
On the phone with Quin that evening, I told him I was scared. It took a while to tell him I was afraid OF myself, and even longer to admit that I’d wanted to hurt myself. He came by my house and gently convinced me to go back to his place with him. He watched me for two days while I laid on the couch and cried.
On the third day I was exhausted, but not depressed or hopeless.
On the fourth day I realized something drastic had to change, and that my options were continue as I had been and eventually commit myself, or stop everything and make an about face. I had the energy to make some rough calculations, and realized that if I sold my house, I could take the next several years off. I could write full time and, if my and my editor’s plan works, come close to paying my bills in 3 years by writing novels. I’ve already planned out part time jobs I could do to make the money stretch, if I need to. None of them have anything to do with dog training.
I’ll be 41 in January. Everyone is asking me what I’ll do once I retire. I’ll write. I’m hoping that, after a couple of months break, I’ll be able to come back and update the blog with dog stuff. There’s a ton of emails and videos I kept meaning to turn into training posts, and just never got around to.
Also, I might not.
Maybe I’ll write a training book.
Also, I might not.
I’m going to write a lot of fantasy books. I’m going to sleep weird hours. I’m going to sit in the sun. I’m going to train Doc for mobility tasks. I’m going to scrimp and save to go see a horsewoman in SF who might be able to get me riding again, very slowly, without it damaging my back. I’m going to braid my horse’s mane and tail in intricate braids. I’m going to watch Doc run at the dog park. I’m going to write down every story idea that flits through my head. I’m going to laugh. I’m going to stop putting on the mask.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my clients. I love dogs. I love training. When I’m in the moment, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. But it’s killing me, and despite shifts in how I work and boundaries and what, exactly, I’m doing, it’s still killing me. I have the best clients, and I enjoy my time with them, and it’s killing me.
If you have a mental disorder, disability, or if anything I’ve written seems familiar, go find an outside source. Give them an honest breakdown of what’s going on. Ask if what you’re dealing with is normal. If the answer is, “No,” or “maybe, but…” then GET HELP. If it’s bringing you distress, GET HELP. If you think it’s just circumstantial, it’s probably not, GET HELP.
My ADHD is raging lately, and with it comes insomnia, anxiety, and depression. There’s a YouTube channel called “How To ADHD.” It’s light hearted and funny and definitely my brain, and if you’re wondering if it’s yours, or you don’t understand why ADHD affects people so much, or you just want a laugh, I suggest you check it out. (I’ll link a video below.)
I’m not going to edit this post. Trust me that however dramatic it seems, it was probably worse. I hope I’ll be around on here and my doggie facebook in March, but not before then. I have the best clients, and I want to thank everyone for being so understanding and patient with me lately. Now, hopefully, you understand this decision, too.
I’m going to be great. Thursday, Dec 23rd is my last day of work. I might fiddle on the blog or Facebook, but I won’t return to dog training. Thanks, all; see you on the flip side.
By the time I finished writing the last few paragraphs, I’d forgotten about the videos. Hello, ADHD. XD
Basically, I recommend the whole channel. But let me throw a few more up here…
So basically I have all the symptoms, they’re all raging all the time, but lessening my stress (by retiring and by selling my house – that’s a big load of stress off) and I’ll stop linking videos now.