I’ve been struggling of late, more than I am somehow prepared to admit. It’s almost as if admitting to it will see me weaken, drop my guard and fall in to some kind of low-level breakdown… I don’t know. I feel like my insomnia has somehow taken over, even though I’ve been earning an extra hour in bed.
Over the last few months, I’ve watched at least a couple of films where the main character suffers some form of insomnia, which then leads to further consequences. In each situation, there is a clear ‘trigger’ for these episodes of lost sleep; some of which, only become apparent (to both the viewer and sufferer) as the film rolls on.
Here, I’m going to write about why I might be suffering with a constant lack of sleep.
An obvious answer would be to say that I’m unhappy with my life and still, as ever, lacking in direction. Those large portions of days, months and years I spend in work are ever futile. I have no career. I do not know what I want to do. I’m in my thirties now. I do not have enough passion for my current role or employer and have already overstayed my intended duration by three-years.
It would be easy to analyse my living situation and blame external factors, instead of taking accountability… One neighbour who opens his noisy garage door, disables the alarm on his bike and then revs off at 6.20am, even on a weekend… But I’m usually up before 6am. At 5.30am, it’s expected that I’ll hear the five-second crash of glass from the local pub, as those bottles (presumably) hit the bottom of the recycling van. In the summer, there is daylight and a vocal wood pigeon, if not two.
More pressing than all of that, I’ve been blaming myself – and, I’m sure, some would say, wrongly – for a tragic event that happened almost a year ago.
It was at the end of July last year that my dog died. There isn’t a day that goes by where I do not think of her and miss her more than I have ever missed anyone. Also she’d spent the last two-years living with mum and my sister during the worst of her decline, she was a significant part of the second-half of my life.
I don’t think I’ve written the story before so, in an attempt to keep it brief; here goes:
Two days before she left us, I took her on a walk. I hadn’t walk her for the best part of a year, due to the fact that she had just turned seventeen, her legs weren’t what they used to, she would struggle to keep up with me (I’m a fast walker, but still) and I felt it would’ve been cruel, in a way, to force her.
As I say, she had recently turned seventeen. Ever since she reached twelve, I’d spent many moments wondering ‘how long?’ she might have left; mentally preparing for the day I hoped would never come. Anyway, this guilt dawned upon me that she might not make eighteen – she’s a small dog and I think average age expectancy is around fifteen. There’s an area of woodland I had grown up close to and known at an earlier age. With my dog, we had lived close by for a good ten-years. Yet not once, did I ever take her for a walk there and I wanted to right that, while there was still time.
So, with an afternoon spare having finished other duties ahead of schedule, I took that opportunity. She was somewhat eager to join me in the car but also, somewhat confused; having not been anywhere with me for a year and, well, she was old, deaf, losing her eyesight and possibly developing psychological issues.
I had intended the walk would last about half an hour. Initially, I enjoyed seeing her plod along, eager to explore this never-before-seen landscape. Maybe fifteen minutes in, we reached a point at which I thought we be a good point to stop and turn around. As we did so, I noticed. I saw that she was slightly less ‘nimble’ than at the start of this short walk. I saw that she was struggling.
I regret now that I didn’t pick her up and carry her. I wanted her to walk it off and improve. I hoped. I didn’t want to believe. Only a few minutes from the car park, we passed a couple of people outside a building where one commented to the other on how my dog had ‘something wrong with her leg‘… I was nearly in tears.
That drive back home; I knew it would be the last we’d share together. I dropped her back at mum’s and she seemed no worse than at the end of the walk. Still, I was worried and unwilling to hang around for too long; craving the sanctuary and solitude of my own private walls.
That evening, my mum phoned me to say that she wasn’t right and she was sitting very awkwardly, with her head tilted to one side. She would not eat and had to be carried out to the garden to go to the toilet. I couldn’t bare seeing her and wanted to avoid it for another twenty-four hours, in the slim hope she’d recover.
I had walked her too far. Had I not taken her on that walk, she would’ve been in less discomfort for those days.
It was horrible, seeing her like this. Her head and eyes looked towards me whilst the rest of her body remained still. Clearly, she was in a lot of pain. I felt awful. We were fortunate to have a local friend who’s also a vet and he immediately prescribed something to help the pain. But she was no better the next morning, or the evening that would follow.
My mum had issued an ultimatum, with the vet’s advice; that if she didn’t recover after a second night of this pain, the kindest thing to do would be to have her put to sleep. I didn’t want to admit to it but agreed. She didn’t deserve to suffer. She’d seen enough pain in her lifetime. Somehow, I felt like saying goodbye was going to be easy.
That next morning, mum phoned me (at around 6am) to inform of the situation and that the vet was already on his way over. I felt annoyed that she had assumed I wouldn’t want to be there. I immediately scrapped all intention of going to work (not that it took much persuading) and jumped in to my car; heart already pounding.
As I arrived, I saw the vet was already there. Fortunately, they had waited for me. One of my most haunting memories from that day came as I opened the living room door. Sat still in the middle of the room, she suddenly saw me and tried to hobble over in a hurried but pained fashion. I wonder what she was thinking. Was I there to make it all better? My mum burst in to tears.
I sat on the floor beside her, stroking her, comforting her and inviting her to lick my hand, as she always used to. Our vet calmly explained what was going to happen next and I held her, carefully, as he withdrew the large needle. At first, she just felt it. Then, as it went in further, her eyes lit up and she tried to retaliate, biting at my arms. There was rage in her face. What did she understand?
As she calmed down, moments later, she was able to stand and walk briefly, seemingly without pain. Moments after that, she would sit, facing away from us all, staring absently in to space. I kept stroking her, without response. It had happened so fast and suddenly, it was too late. This was it.
She remained sat for a couple of minutes before the next image that continues to haunt me – as she casually slid forward, now lying on all fours. I saw the life escape her in that moment, even though her heart would continue to beat for several minutes to follow. I could stroke her, I could offer my hand to her nose. But there was no response.
It was only as the vet checked her heartbeat one last time and told us she had gone that I burst in to tears, having held on for so long.
I do blame myself and I don’t believe any form of counselling would change that. Ironically, the counsellor I was seeing at that time was away for what could’ve been the next two sessions. If I hadn’t walked her, she wouldn’t have suffered on those days. To me, it’s as simple as that. My own selfish act to take her on that walk, after years of avoidance, ultimately led to her premature death.
I’ve tried to tell myself that it was good that I could be there in her final moments, which is an opportunity I would’ve missed, had she, at any point, passed away in her sleep.
I hate the fact that time is linear. It runs forward. It can stretch and accelerate but it cannot run backwards. We cannot undo what has been done. I think I kind of understand how Cooper felt in Interstellar – do not read or watch anything about that film until you’ve sat down to watch it from start to finish. Among many other reasons, it is essential as I use it as a form of emotional release… While it’s extraordinary, as a film, in its own right. Buy it! Watch it! Love it.
Life is cruel. How is it fair that our own lifespans can far outweigh that of another species?
Her life was over in seventeen years and she was apart of my life for sixteen, since the age of fourteen. Suddenly, I regret all those moments in the early years where I might’ve been too tired/lazy/depressed to walk her. Those missed opportunities.
As far as an afterlife goes, I hold no definite views or beliefs. I only know that, if I am to ever see her panting tongue again, it will be somewhere beyond this known existence. Her life is over. I’ve probably got four decades or more before my time… What if I forget? If I took my own life now, would I stand a chance of being reunited with her?
I think that’s all I have to write about this for now. No doubt, I’ll have something to say at the end of July. From past experience, I’ve come to believe that counselling can only do so much for me because I’m not wanting to help myself. I thank you for reading and, if you have anything you’d like to say or share then, I welcome it.