Sophie’s Story

Sophie and I  found each other when I was 18 years old, and she was 8 months old.

My sister Cristina’s mom Beth found Sophie wandering in her apartment complex parking lot. She was thinking about keeping her, but the second I met her, I knew we were a perfect match. She was all ears and fluffy tail, and she made this little trilling noise when I petted her. I was smitten. Beth said I could have her, and I was ecstatic.

I had just moved into my first apartment; a crummy, 400 square foot box with zero security. But it was mine. All I had was a fish to keep me company, and that wasn’t going well. I needed Sophie, and she needed me. (Sophie’s full name is Persephone, but Sophie has been her nickname since she was a kitten.)

Sophie quite literally saved my life. There were times when the only reason I woke up, the only reason I didn’t kill myself, was because I needed to take care of her. I cared about her and loved her way more than I loved myself. That kept me here. She knew how to comfort me when I was anxious or having a flashback. Sometimes the presence of her little body in my lap was the only thing that kept me grounded, kept me from completely losing touch with reality.

We moved apartments and then eventually moved back with my mom. I had to go to treatment, and I hated being away from her. I have to say, I wouldn’t have gotten through my twenties without her.

The last eight years that I’ve been in this house with my mom and sister, and Sophie has been living exclusively with me in my room (her choice; she refuses to interact with the other cats) have been wonderful. It’s really Sophie’s world. I just sleep here.

Sophie is not just a cat to me. She has literally saved my life at times. She has comforted me through painful autoimmune flares, PTSD flashbacks, depressive episodes, and manic freakouts. She has never cared whether I’m severely anorexic or if I’m overweight. She’s never cared if I look great or I look like shit. She doesn’t care if I’m crying or I’m laughing or I’m panicking. She’s there. She loves me. In the most simple, unconditional, beautiful way. She just loves me.

So no, she is not just a cat. She’s a best friend. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a child. She’s a reminder to me of God’s unconditional love. She’s a furry therapist.

That’s my Sophie.

So here’s the thing. Lately, she has not been doing well. She was diagnosed with early kidney failure a few months ago. She’s been having some kind of allergic reaction, probably to fleas, which we cannot seem to keep up with. She’s had several serious UTIs as well as cystitis. The vet said today he wants to rule out bladder or kidney cancer. When they start asking “quality of life” questions, that a bad sign. And this isn’t even her regular doctor. No, her regular doctor had to go and have a baby, and is on maternity leave until July. My friend Deede pretty much summed about my feelings about this when I told her that even my veterinarian was pregnant and she replied, “Fuck that bitch.” Only semi-sarcastically. (It just seems that I can’t turn my head without seeing another pregnancy.) And honestly, I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, less-than-hopeful, and like I’m just chasing symptoms, not really getting to the root of the problem. Sophie has been my cat for nearly half my life; I know her. I know her energy. And I feel it waning. I feel like she probably won’t make it through the year. I could be wrong, but that is my strong feeling, knowing her as I do. She does not seem herself; she seems tired. And I want to make sure that I do the right things for her.

So here’s what happens when you’re me, or you’re someone else who has C-PTSD: These possibilities turn into what the experts call “anticipatory grief.”

This means that I automatically think the worst. That means the other day, when I found her sleeping in her litter box, which is a sign of distress in cats, I began bawling uncontrollably, and not for the first time.

I spoke to her about her funeral. I promised her I would hold one, a little memorial service. I told her that I would inter her ashes in the garden at St. Mary’s, because that’s home, and no matter where I move in the future I can always come back and visit. I told her that I loved her like I’d never loved any other cat, and that she was my little soul mate.

Here’s the thing guys: she’s not dying. Not imminently anyway, not that I’m aware of. But this is anticipatory grief. It’s a defense mechanism. If I imagine the worst, and I grieve before the worst happens, then my brain thinks it won’t be so painful when it actually does happen.

I have no idea if that’s true. My feeling is that nothing will cushion the blow of losing Sophie when the time comes. It will be extremely painful, as all losses are. I have always called her my “baby” and I’ve always “mothered” her, but I’ve felt particularly maternal towards her since I found out I can’t have my own children. I know there are people who think that people who treat their cats or dogs like children are morons. Look, I understand the difference between a cat and a baby. I’d never compare myself to a parent of a human, or compare my loss of my cat to the loss of a human child. But for all intents and purposes, Sophie has been a child to me, and I have been her mother. And that may be all the mothering I get to do, so losing Sophie will have a particular sting to it.

I hate to admit this, but there are some times I think, am I just dragging out the inevitable? Should I go ahead and let her cross the rainbow bridge now while she’s in decent shape and not in pain? Does that mean I’m giving up on her? Am I being selfish, trying to end my pain now so it isn’t prolonged?

I hate these thoughts. I don’t want to be having them. I think they come from a fearful, grief-filled mind. I want to be doing everything I can to keep Sophie healthy and alive for as long and she seems happy. To make the right decisions for her, to do right by her as her guardian and mother. But I am scared, tired, and overwhelmed, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Please keep up both in your prayers as we navigate these next few months together.

 

The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
    but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Proverbs 12:10

Tears from Fears

Having PTSD is weird.

Having Complex PTSD is weirder. You know, I have needed to cry for a while now. After a year of grief, death, loss, stress, excitement, pain, hard truths, and very little time to process, I have needed to cry. Really cry. The kind of crying that leaves you a red-faced, snotty, puffy-eyed mess. The kind of crying that comes from your gut. Loud, ugly, soul-cleansing crying.

Thanks to PTSD, I have not been able to do this. In order to cry like that, you need to relax. When your body stays in stressed-out survival mode the way mine does, your sympathetic nervous system does not allow your brain the luxury of feeling safe enough to feel emotions deeply. So they get shoved away, stuck on a psychological shelf somewhere. They wait. The weirdest triggers can bring about the crying, though, and it happened last night.

It was nearly two in the morning. I was about to try to settle down to sleep when I got a message from a dear friend: her cat, who is like her baby and her best friend, had unexpectedly died that day.

Suddenly, it happened. I was crying, and I couldn’t stop. The crying got loud. I didn’t want to have any attention or talk about anything with anyone in my house, so I crept downstairs, grabbed my keys, and went and sat in my car in the driveway. I just sat in the silence of my sealed car, like my own soundproof booth, and wailed.

And wailed.

I’m really not sure how long I stayed out there. I was messaging with my friend for part of that time, when I was able to stop and gather myself for a few seconds.

Here’s the thing about this type of crying: while it’s uncomfortable, I find it to be an incredible relief, almost like a prayer of supplication through my body: God, please take these things which have been weighing on me. As I express them through my tears, please take them from me and by your compassion replace them with your grace. Amen.

You want to know something weird? I almost enjoy crying. I’ve done a lot of it since September. That’s when I figured out how to cry.

See, when I was a child, I literally never cried. Ever. Not when I was being abused. Not when I broke my arm. Not when I smashed my finger in a heavy wooden door and my fingernail came off. I just. Didn’t. Cry. And I thought that was like, just an “abused child” thing. Like I was just super tough, because I had to be. But it wasn’t.

Through counseling I figured out that when I was being abused, it was my father’s specific goal to make me cry, to make me react in pain. He wanted to see me hurting and terrified; he got off on that. I must’ve intuited that, and as a way to defend myself, to hold some control, I stopped crying. I stopped reacting at all. I refused to give him what he wanted. Which meant that he became more and more violent to try to elicit the reaction he wanted from me. Which meant I withdrew deeper and deeper into myself to survive, until I didn’t know how to feel anything.

When I realized this, it was huge. I was able to see my inability to cry not as a fault but as an act of heroism on the part of the child that I was, who refused to feed the evil energy attacking her. And therefore, I was able to redeem my tears as something safe, something holy. Withholding them once protected me. Now, every time I’m able to cry it’s like spitting on my father, and saying: you won’t take this from me. Every tear is like a tiny baptism, a birth by water into the newness of life beyond that trauma.

So you can see how, even though crying is painful, for me, it’s an experience I’ve only really been fully having for a few months, and so in many ways I almost relish it. It’s a release most people take for granted that I never really had. I’m grateful because, even thought crying is usually seen as something negative, to me it has made me more whole, more human. How could I be anything but glad about that?

So yeah, PTSD is weird, and you never know what will set you off crying. I’m just grateful that at this point, that’s something I can do.

 

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:4-5