After noticing that my pup, Bella, had lost about a pound (quite a lot for an 8 lb. dog!), I took her for a checkup. I'd expected be asked to make some changes to her diet, but I never thought I'd be facing a dire diagnosis: kidney trouble. When I received the initial test results (results that were vague but disheartening), I experienced what I guess are typical responses. First I was shocked, then incredibly sad, then swept away by a wave of powerlessness and disbelief. All the while I was bombarded with the barrage of questions in my mind: How could my little pup -- only 8-years-old and so seemingly healthy -- be suffering from such a serious illness? How would I be able to see her in pain? How would I be able to face losing her -- something I always knew would happen, but could never imagine happening so soon? How long would I have with her? How could this be happening?
Over the next few days, the rush of negative emotions and rhetorical questions were endless... I cried at the sight of her little body curled up on the couch. (How could that spot on the couch someday be empty?) I clenched my fists in anger at the sight of a neighbor walking his new puppy. (Why was his dog's life just starting when my dog's life was ending?) I panicked at the sight of the vet's number popping up on my cell phone. (What more bad news could he have to deliver?) I lay awake, wallowing in self-deprecating doubt. (Could I have done something to prevent this?) I hated the sight of her eyes filled with fear and distrust as I gave her the twice-daily dose of medicine. (If I was helping her, why was it hurting us both so much?)
After two months of celebrating her presence, so grateful to have found her after she'd gone missing for a day, the sudden influx of negative emotions surrounding this little ball of fur was overwhelming, smashing into my heart with the force of a wrecking ball. I'd prided myself on looking for the positive, on striving to be present no matter what, but all of the words I'd written, all of the advice I'd doled out to others, was suddenly so hard to embrace.
To those of you who haven't been through this, it might seem as if I'm being dramatic. After all, one could argue that she's just a dog. She might be just a pet, just one part of my multi-faceted life, but she means so much to me. Those of you who have (or have had) a close relationship with an animal know how important these relationships can be. And I might be losing that relationship so much sooner than I'd ever anticipated. It was a tough pill to swallow -- but unlike Bella, who snapped at me and hid behind furniture when it was time to take her pills -- I decided not to fight it.
Choosing to be positive and present right now has not been easy. I want to curl up in bed and sob. I want to leave town and pretend it's not happening. Of all the things I want to do, staying in the moment isn't at the top of my list. But after the initial shock and sadness wore off, I realized I needed to stay as positive and present as possible -- both for my own well-being and for Bella's. It's a constant struggle, but here's what I've been doing to keep myself focused on the positive and the present:
5 Ways to Stay Positive + Present
(No Matter What Life Throws At You)
1. Accept what you cannot change.
Life is a mysterious, fragile thing and it's so hard to know why some things happen when they do. To make it through this crazy world in one piece, we must accept what we cannot change. To find peace, we must respect what is. Much as I would like to turn back time and make Bella well again, much as I would love to find a way to stop her from getting sicker, these are things I cannot do. I cannot change what is, no matter how much I might like to. Accepting the current situation is incredibly difficult -- and I'm not quite sure I will ever fully embrace it -- but choosing not to accept it only causes angst and stress. Accepting it doesn't mean I like it, doesn't mean I wouldn't give anything to change it. It only means I have a place of peace where I can recognize that some things are out of my control.
2. Be positively proactive.
While there are somethings you cannot change -- like the fact that Bella's sick and not going to get better -- there are other things you do have control over. Every morning and evening I give Bella her medicine, crushing up pills in her food and facing the tortuous task of syringing liquid syrup into her snarling mouth. I take her to the vet, petting her and whispering reassurance during her belly-up ultrasound, holding her shaking body in the waiting room. These things are difficult, but I feel better knowing that I'm doing something proactive to help her. I cannot change the situation, but there are still things I can do, actions I can take. However small, there is always something we can do to make even the most difficult situations a bit easier to bear.
3. Share how you're feeling.
Talking about the pain and sadness makes it seem more real, which makes me hesitant to do it. When I first heard the news about Bella, I acted like everything was fine, like I wasn't fazed at all. Only later did I open up, break down, and share the pain I was in. It didn't make it go away -- perhaps nothing will -- but opening up to someone else, falling into the open arms of someone who loves me, made the burden a little less heavy. It sometimes seems braver to keep smiling, to act as if nothing's wrong, but that's actually not very positive or present. It's just pretend. It's okay to experience emotion and it's so helpful to share those emotions with others. Letting it out frees you a little bit, making you feel a little bit lighter.
4. Enjoy what you still have.
The initial waves of sadness made it difficult for me to recognize that Bella is still here, still sitting by my side and looking up at my with those sweet brown eyes. Once I took a step back from my own pain, I realized things are unsettlingly the same. She is still here. I am still here. I could choose to lose myself in my sadness -- or I could choose to embrace the time I have left with her, enjoying every single moment she's by my side. In choosing the later, I found a source of joy in the sadness. I was so thankful to have her -- and, as a result, I became even more thankful for everything. Impending loss casts a bit of magic on life, making the mundane sparkle. Every moment starts to sparkle and shine.
5. Take care of yourself.
Putting yourself on the back burner is all too common when a difficult situation starts to swallow up all of our time and emotional energy. With an onslaught of new things to worry about, think about, and do, caring for yourself can seem like an indulgence -- but it's necessary to keep yourself positive and present. No matter what else is dominating your day, don't forget yourself. When I first heard about Bella, I didn't want to even leave her for a second, the guilt overwhelming me every time the door clicked shut behind me. As the days have gone on, I've realized that neglecting myself doesn't help me -- or her. During this tough time, we both need me to be at my best, which means I need to take care of myself.
These five things are not easy to do. When I pet Bella and feel her tiny bones protruding from her fur, it's hard to accept her illness. When Bella and I battle during daily medicine doses, it's hard to know if all the proactivity is really helping either of us. When I break down and cry, I wonder if I'm just wallowing in self-pity. When I snuggle up to Bella for a cuddle, it's hard to enjoy it knowing that she might be in pain, that someday I will no longer have her to cuddle with. And when I do things for myself -- run an errand, enjoy lunch with friends -- it's hard to shake the guilt that I'm not spending all my time with my little dog who won't be around forever. Yes, staying positive and present has never been harder for me than it is right now -- but I know that it's ultimately much more rewarding than the alternative, which would involve me focusing on the Bella-less future, on all the sadness and pain that will come with losing her. I'm certain those emotions will come -- and the loss of her will be devastating -- but I've been doing this Positively Present thing long enough to know that if I don't focus on enjoying the moments I have with her now, if I don't focus on the positive of still having her here with me, I'll someday be looking back and wishing I hadn't wasted those final moments with her.
Anyone who has a pet knows that they pick up on our emotions. Whenever I'm sad, Bella will curl up beside me in solidarity. Whenever I cry, she scrambles over to me to lick the tears from my face. She's always been in tune to my emotions and if I want her to experience whatever time she has left in a happy state, I must focus on the positive, must put on my bravest face and smile -- not only for all the wonderful years Bella and I have shared, but for every single moment I'm still lucky enough to have her in my life.
How do you stay positive + present when life's hard?
Any advice for someone like me who is struggling to stay upbeat
during a difficult situation?