I’m in it. My chest is caving in on my lungs. My head is spinning. Every time I close my eyes I see the gruesome sight and then my mind rushes into a fury of terror. My blood rushes hot through my body. My breathing becomes rapid. Then chills run down my arms like lizards running across sidewalks on a muggy Florida afternoon. It’s summer and I’m sitting here with a sweater on.
A variety of stressors can trigger my anxiety. A common one for me is being out in public (this has been exacerbated by all the masks). Much of my anxiety results in irrational fears which only exacerbates the condition.
Today my anxiety has been triggered by my cat. One day Hitch was a happy, healthy, playful, snuggly four year old cat. Then on Monday I found him licking some gruesome infected wounds. The emergency vet asked me how his paws and underside might have gotten burned. I spent the next four days nursing him and coming up with theories on how he could have gotten so badly burned. All I knew for sure was that he had gotten out of the house recently.
A follow-up appointment on Wednesday upset me even more as they removed the bandages and I saw the extent of his wounds. I was instructed how to clean them. My stomach churned. My chest tightened. This was going to be a long road. I don’t deal well with medical situations. I had so much anxiety that night of having to clean him the next day, so sleep evaded me.
By Friday he wasn’t eating or drinking, so I brought him back to the vet. I had orders to feed him by syringe. As soon as we got home Hitch started crying in the litter box. Often. Crying myself, I called the vet back and made an appointment for that afternoon. Deep down I knew that this was the end.
He had a blocked urethra. Then the vet started adding everything together. There was no singed fur. The wound pattern didn’t make sense. This wasn’t a burn, it was a septic infection leaching out of his body through his skin and paws. He had a superbug caused by an animal bite and it was destroying his body.
“This is a black and white situation,” the doctor said. We talked through the treatment for the urethra blockage, the six month healing of the skin, and the probability of organ damage. We euthanized.
He’s not hurting anymore.
But I am.
I’ve put down many cats in my life. I’ve seen them drift into a deep sleep, then fade into a lifeless body. I’ve stroked their sweet heads, knowing that this was the humane thing. But this cat’s life ended with horrifying images burned in my brain like a cattle brand. I can’t turn the pictures off. I see Hitch hiding in the corner of the linen closet behind the curtain uncomfortably resting his head on the cone. I see his undressed wounds festering and bleeding. I remember the painful task of cleaning him.
Then I start to see what wasn’t – his wounds growing and worsening. Our other cat contracting the illness. My son somehow getting deeply wounded – even dying. My mind spins. My body sends out warning signs that a panic attack is barreling through.
My son, Arthur, plays joyfully next to me as I read Tennessee Williams, “A Streetcar Named Desire” to get my mind on something other than my dead cat.
“Mom, come build a rainbow tower with me,” he excitedly cries.
I will my body down to the floor to build. Forcing my mind to focus on the colorful blocks, but I am yet again pulled away. Pain from tense muscles shoots from my neck to my head. I take a deep breath as the dizzy spell runs its course.
I took every effort to make sure Arthur didn’t see any of Hitchy-Poo’s wounds. We had a really good talk about heaven. He’s excited to see Hitch and Jesus in heaven.
How do I cope? I cry out to God in my journal. I write a blog post. I read a book that doesn’t take much thought. I exercise. I play with my son. I take my emergency anxiety medication. I take deep breaths. I talk to my mom and my husband. I allow myself to cry.
A chronic anxiety disorder never goes away but there are ways to cope. This one will take me time to recover from, but with God’s help, I will recover.