on positivity: a letter to my younger self
the most important relationship you have (+ how to improve it!)

ver la bella : how to stay positive + present when life's hard



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? 



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Oh dear, so sorry about Bella! I also have a dog that i love so much and i can relate to your feelings. i am aware that he will (most probably) go before me, and this makes me so sad i don't even want to think about it. his health is ok but each gray hair that he gets is a reminder... i try to cherish each moment with him and am already thankful for all the love and lessons he's sharing with me.
i think people without pets can't really understand this emotions...

By the way, thanks for Madonnas Cd, it's really entertaining!

Petra - Thank you. It's been tough coming to terms with her illness when I thought I had at least 4-8 more years with her, but I'm trying to focus on being positive and present. Definitely cherishing every moment I have with her! (You're welcome for the CD - glad you like it!)

Yuck. Yuck yuck yuck. These things suck in the worst way. I'm actually kind of going through this sort of thing with my Aunt who is battling cancer. The situation is similar in two ways: 1. She's nearing the end of her fight, and I feel really guilty if I don't get a chance to talk to her one day or if I don't make an effort to call her more. I put pressure on myself to have excessive communication, because that's what I feel like I should be doing - when in reality we both know we're thinking about eachother and forced communication isn't necessary. I always need to remind myself that I shouldn't feel guilty for living my life as well. 2. The celebration instead of mourning concept (that you seem to already have down). My Aunt was diagnosed four years ago, and looking back I could not be happier that our family responded the way we did. We've spent four years enjoying every minute with eachother. She went on trips, we made extra visits, we soaked up every moment, more so than we would have done without the diagnosis (as crappy as that sounds). When it's all over, you'll look back and remember those amazing times and you'll be SO glad you didn't waste your time together being sad. It's hard to do, and of course you're going to be upset at times, but remember that there will be times for sadness later. For now, enjoy the time you DO have.

Anyway, just my (very long) $.02. Bella is very lucky to have you, and the stars will align in whatever way they're supposed to. Thinking of you guys!

Juliana - Thank you so much for keeping us in your thoughts and for sharing what you're going through. It's such a difficult thing to go through, and it's so nice to feel like I'm not alone. I agree that the stars will align where they are supposed to and even though it's hard to accept that, I have to keep that in mind. I'm sorry to hear about your aunt's illness. It sounds like you and your family have been really making the most of the time you have with her, which is awesome. It's so hard not to be sad, but celebrating life is a much more positive and productive way to deal with illness. And, as you said, looking back and remembering all the fun you had will be so much more fulfilling than looking back on months of sadness. I'll keep your aunt (and your family) in my thoughts.

I'm so sorry to hear about Bella. My dog is 10 years old and has brain cancer. Believe me, I know exactly how you feel. She's your baby. The initial shock was very difficult and I was in tears for almost everyday. The vet told me she had 3 to 6 months to live. This was about six months ago. She is still doing well, i.e., eating and playing. I am doing everything I can to make her comfortable and happy. If you're upset and stressed, believe me, they will take that on as well. I know it's easier said than done. I take it moment by moment. But remember, she's still alive, don't mourn the living. When things get difficult for me, I meditate and take deep breaths for 3 to 5 minutes a day, sometimes twice a day. This helps me keep everything in balance. When you're calm, Bella will be calm. This will help alleviate some of her symptoms or pain she may be in. Just remember that you're not alone as there will be times that you feel like you are. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Bella.

I just wanted to add that my dog Howie was diagnosed with 75 per cent kidney failure and went on to live three more years quite happily with medication and a careful diet. Apparently kidney problems in dogs are much less predictable than in cats and other species.
It was a major blow when he was first diagnosed as he was very young and it meant some lifestyle changes for him (he had been a canine blood donor before, which was part of why he was diagnosed in the first place) but I focused a lot on number 4 above. As it turned out we ended up having a lot more time with him than we had first thought, and boy oh boy were those years made richer by keeping it in mind.
My Howie passed away (not from kidney failure, thankfully) quickly and painlessly just over a year ago. I miss him terribly but I'm also so very thankful for the opportunity to have shared my life with such a wonderful animal. He lived life very much in the present, accepted people (and other animals) just as they were, and always had a positive outlook. I should be so lucky as to live life like him.

I wept for you and Bella, but am also glad you're finding ways to be present now with her and with yourself. My beloved cat of nearly 15 years, Shadow, died the day after this last Christmas. She was so precious because she saw me through some of my toughest days--deaths of my brother-in-law, father, and mother, my breast cancer, and my broken and surgically repaired ankle. Though she's gone,and I have two new cats (Missy & Molly), the love Shadow brought to my life will stay with me, as your and Bella's love will never be gone no matter what the days ahead hold for each of you. Peace and Blessings!

I'm so sorry to heat about Bella's illness. I don't know how kidney disease affects dogs compared to humans (I'm sure different in some way), I can relate in some way in that my mom has been battling kidney disease for a long time due to diabetes, now she is in end stage renal failure (never a candidate for a kidney transplant due to the diabetes). You are doing the best thing for her in the care and love you are giving her. I try to be diligent with my mom in asking her all the time how she's feeling, what were her vitals like today even if it annoys her. Too bad. I know you can't do the exact same for Bella since she can't talk (well words that is) but I'm sure she knows and feels you are doing what's good for her and helping her. It always amazes me how dogs can feel emotion so strongly and want to comfort you if sad or make you more happy if it's fun they are picking up. So very much to learn from such warm little beings. I will keep you and Bella in my thoughts and send many soothing rubs and love her way. Hugs to you Dani.

Tanalee - I'm so sorry to hear about your dog, but also happy to hear that it's been six months and she's still doing well. I really appreciate your support and inspiration. You make a great point about staying calm. Doing so will benefit both me and Bella. I'll keep you and your dog in my thoughts as well. I hope she lives much, much longer than the doctors anticipated.

Jill - Thank you for sharing this with me! Even though the vet seems pretty certain she won't last more than a year, you just never know and your example gives me hope. You've also reminded me how inspiring dogs (like Howie!) can be. They are such great role models for living a positively present life.

Mary - I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your cat, Shadow. Even though it's been months, I'm sure it's still very difficult to be without him. Thank you for the great reminder that what time and love Bella and I share will always be with us, no matter how many more days I have with her. That's such an important thing to keep in mind!

Saggleo - That must be very difficult, dealing with your mother's illness. I really cannot imagine it, but it sounds like you are doing a great job of helping her through it and making sure she knows you care. Even though Bella can't speak, there are definitely ways I can show her how much I care. Plus I think dogs can somehow just sense emotions, which means they can probably sense love too. I'll be thinking of you and your mom. Stay positive!

I am so sorry to hear about Bella's illness. I don't think you are being over dramatic at all. Bella is a member of your family and it's natural to be upset. I would feel much the same in your place. I don't know how you are able to break through all the awfulness to focus on staying positive. Your words prove how strong you are and how lucky Bella is to have you to care for her.

No matter how much time we have with our pets, it is never enough. I think in some way having a pet is brave. We know they are likely to pass away long before we will and yet we still give them our hearts. As hard as it is to contemplate saying goodbye, I do know I'd rather have the memory of my dog, than never have had her in my life at all.

I will be thinking of you and wishing Bella well.

Kristine - It's definitely been a challenge to stay positive, but when I think about how much she is able to pick up on my emotions, it makes it easier to stay positive for her sake. You're so right about how having a pet is brave, but like you I'd much rather have this time with her (however hard) than not have had any time with her. Thank you so much for thinking of us!

Aah so sorry to hear about Bella. In times like this, I just try and go with what I feel as much I can without judgment. It is so easy and natural to feel negative, in times of stress but you always know that your true being is joy and happiness and it will return. I see the negative emotions like a cloud, allow and accept them. I know that I will be positive once again when the time is right and I don't push it. Try not to be so hard on yourself. This is a tough thing and you are allowed to be devastated and sad and that does not mean you are being negative. You are being human and feeling pure emotions for your dog and that is ok. If you force yourself to feel something you don't then you repress an essential part of yourself and that is not healthy. You feel sad let yourself feel sad. You feel negative and that is ok. You know what your true state is and it will return when the initial shock of the news is absorbed. You do not have to be positive and present every moment of your life. All you can do is try your best in any given moment.

You are doing really well and already looking at the positive things which is brilliant and shows your strength of character.

Wishing you all the best xx

Tania - Thank you so much for wishing us the best. And thanks for the reminder that it's okay to feel without judgment. It's okay to be sad and negative at times. I think the important thing for me is not to dwell on the negative emotions. Trying my best is the best I can do and so far it's been working pretty well.

I'm so so sorry. I know how hard this can be. we lost our dear cat in December and i still miss him. bella is a blessed pup to have you as her human :) wishing both of you strength and grace. xo, nicole

Nicole - It's very tough with lots of up and down days (today being one of the not-so-great ones...). I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your cat. Losing a pet is truly devastating, and I hope you were able to enjoy whatever time you had with your dear cat. Thank you so much for the wishes of strength and grace -- I can certainly use those right now!

thank you for sharing this article. i'm so sorry to hear about your litle bella :'(
we lost our beagle dog 2 yrs ago. those last 3 months, we're living horrible ways... crying, struggling, all the world seemed colorless and felt just so unhappy..
i really admire your possitive way of thinking and all of your energies.
whishing you and your bella all the best.
Fan from japan :))

Mimi - You're welcome. It's definitely been a tough situation with Bella, but I'm trying the best I can to enjoy the time I have with her right now. I'm so sorry about your loss. Even though it was two years ago, I know how hard it is to lose an animal. Thanks so much for reading (and commenting!) all the way from Japan!

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