Miss Migraine: Understanding limitations

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on June 2, 2015. I wanted to share this again now because I’ve been in a bad migraine cycle on top of having a full-to-bursting schedule. This go-round, though, I’m making sure to fit dog walks in no matter what, because they really DO make me feel better.

“You jump into things without thinking about how much work they’ll be.”

That’s what my partner said to me one morning. “Give me an example,” I said.

“I do most of the dog walking.”

Okay, stop. What? I’ve had dogs my entire life. I have been walking them for almost as long.

My partner’s statement made me feel like he thinks I’m not willing to do the work required to take care of our dogs. Like bringing these animals into our lives was some whim, because I saw a cute puppy in the pet store window and thought it would make me more attractive or something.

(Just to be clear, our dogs are not from pet stores. Pet store dogs often come from puppy mills, where the mothers are bred over and over again until they die. The people who run puppy mills don’t pay attention to things like the suitability of the dog for breeding, they just want to make money. My corgi is from a responsible breeder and our German shepherd is a sort-of rescue.)

My corgi Lexi sniffing the air.

Lexi is sniffing the air at the dog park (Dec. 5, 2012).

I adore my dogs. Every day I look forward to coming home to their excited greeting and unwinding from the day by taking them for a good long walk. With one rather large caveat.

Enter chronic migraine land.

Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), I have a horrible migraine, and walking becomes incredibly painful. Each step is like a hammer blow to my head. So yes, my partner does a lot of solo dog walking.

To be fair, ninety-nine percent of the time he understands my limitations and gladly takes on extra work so I can rest. But when he gets tired or has a headache himself, he sometimes lashes out at me–because my migraines are just as frustrating to him as they are to me.

When he says things like that, even if he doesn’t really mean it, it plays directly into my guilt and self-doubt over the fact that I can’t do any kind of physical anything without getting a migraine (thankfully, this has changed in recent years, thanks to a change in medications and a lot of hard work on my part).

I often feel like I don’t deserve to have dogs. Or own a home. Or be a writer. I feel like I’m not good enough, because there’s a brick wall (migraines) between me and the thing that prevents me from engaging fully.

Intellectually, I know it’s silly to think about things in terms of deserving them or not. I can only do what I can do. My partner knows that. And a majority of the time, he respects that.

But it’s hard and frustrating for both of us when we feel that I’m not able to pull my own weight.

How do you react when family members accuse you of not doing enough?

Missing Lexi

Me, Jaina, D.J., and Lexi at Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

I had a dream about Lexi the other night. My dad’s dog Neo was there, too, and they were both puppies again. We played tug like we always used to, and when I squished her she got mad at me (also like she always used to).

Neo was about a year old when we got Lexi, and the two of them used to play together in our backyard. Neo was a huge German shepherd, and he could fit most of baby Lexi’s body in his mouth. He would flip her over and she’d paw at his muzzle, grring at him. They both liked to dig holes, so in the summer Neo would dig a hole and Lexi would “help” by laying down in it. We had to say goodbye to Neo almost two years ago, so I like to think they are running and digging and barking with each other wherever dog souls go when they leave this earth.

Neo with his favorite ball. I couldn’t find a picture of the two of them together.

Lexi liked to dig right up until the end. Most corgis aren’t diggers, but Lexi sure was. She would paw at the dirt with reckless abandon, getting it everywhere, including all over her fur and nose. I’m not sure she ever had a goal in mind—sometimes if it was hot she’d unearth the top layer of dirt to get to the cooler layers beneath, but mostly she just dug.

The first month of not having her was difficult, but I’ve been missing her a lot these past few weeks. I’m not sure why it’s been hitting me so hard lately, but every little thing reminds me of her. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I still expect her to be on the bed between us. She would raise her head up and look up at me to make sure everything was okay before falling back asleep.

Jaina doesn’t bark when we get home. She’s always at the door with her ears back and her tail wagging furiously, but she doesn’t vocalize other than maybe a happy whine. Lexi always started barking as soon as she heard the car door shut—and she kept barking until she was good and ready to stop. My parents’ shepherds bark like maniacs when anyone gets home (including me if I’m visiting), so it’s kind of weird that Jaina doesn’t.

D.J. and I have been spending a lot of time with Jaina since June. Taking her for lots of walks, making sure she gets plenty of play time, spoiling her with trips to the frozen yogurt place, taking her out to dinner with us, things like that. I know there are moments when she misses Lexi, too. I brought Lexi’s bed down from the third floor, and I watched Jaina sniff it. I saw the recognition of Lexi’s scent in her eyes and body language, and then she laid down next to the bed for a few minutes.

I spend a few minutes with Lexi’s ashes every day, and trace the impression her little corgi paw made in the clay. I still can’t help buy cry when I think about her big round eyes imploring me for another treat. But even when I miss her so fiercely it feels like there’s a supermassive black hole in my chest, I’m happy, too. Happy that we got to share each other’s lives, happy for her companionship and loyalty, happy for all the adventures we had, the mountains we climbed together.

The intense loss I feel is an indication of how strong our bond was, how much we went through together. One of my college professors once said that grief never goes away—you just stop feeling it so strongly every second of every day. You still feel it, and it’s always there, but the time between moments of grief becomes longer the further away you get from it. But, it’s still there. That always rang true to me.

So I let myself have my time with Lexi every day, and I let myself cry, and I let myself miss her. It’s the best thing I can do for myself.

 

Every end is a new beginning

Lexi sitting by Lake Elizabeth in Allegheny Commons Park.

Monday, June 4th, we said goodbye Lexi.

Her life was full of things she loved, and we strove to maintain her quality of life right to the end. With degenerative myelopathy, there’s not really a tipping point. It’s a slow, steady progression that robs the dog of her mobility and eventually her breath. Although the disease itself is not painful, in the final stages of respiratory failure and esophageal paralysis, the dog suffers and the chances for a life-threatening complication are high.

Over the past two weeks, we noticed that sometimes she would try to bark, and nothing would come out. We noticed that she got overheated even in the air conditioning when it was in the low 70s outside. She was too weak to walk in her harness anymore. She flipped over a few times and couldn’t right herself. Her eating slowed down. She was less comfortable, or it took a lot to make her comfortable.

I spoke with our veterinary neurologist. She said, “I know it’s hard because she’s still Lexi, but from this point, no time is the wrong time to say goodbye.”

I looked at Lexi, and Lexi looked at me. Dogs can’t speak, but in that moment we communicated. She was ready. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I called Lap of Love, an in-home veterinary hospice care and euthanasia provider. We scheduled the appointment. And then we went out and had fun.

D.J. came home, and we took Lexi and Jaina to Allegheny Commons Park. Lexi rode in my lap so that she could stick her nose out the window and smell the fresh air. It was a beautiful day–blue skies, not too hot, not too humid. Perfect weather for sniffing. Her body felt so warm against mine. She rested her head on my arm, and I wanted to stay like that forever. Lexi always sniffed with her whole nose, inhaling deeply and letting out big puffs of air–snorfing, as we called it.

We pulled her in the wagon around the Aviary and the dog park where she herded so many other dogs in her younger years. We walked around Lake Elizabeth. She sniffed the other dog smells, the duck and geese smells, and the green tree smells. We sat in the grass together, just sitting, just enjoying the presence of us as a family.

A selfie of the four of us.

Together, the four of us have hiked National Parks, climbed mountains, driven halfway across the country, explored the city, and so much more. We’ve cuddled in bed together, the four of us crammed into our queen bed, Jaina usually curled into a ball and Lexi usually spread out to her full length, taking up the most space of anyone even though she was the smallest. Lexi always knew when I was sick or hurting, and she would nudge me with her nose to distract me with her cuteness. She would also nudge us if she wanted pets or a treat–she was never shy about telling us what her demands were.

When an ambulance drove by the park, we all howled together, me and Lexi and Jaina. We took selfies and laughed. D.J. helped Lexi explore by supporting her so she could “walk”. Although she couldn’t pee on her own anymore, we expressed her bladder a little at a time so she could leave her scent around “her” territory, like she used to do during our daily park walks.

Lexi was too weak to use her harness anymore, but she could get around a little with more support from one of her human servants.

After the park, we drove to Starbucks and the dogs got extra-large pupaccinos. When we got home, we enjoyed a Feast of Cheese, and then we sat outside until the vet arrived.

Dr. Aspen was kind and gentle, and made Lexi’s transition peaceful and easy. We sat in her favorite spot by the table where I write, and I held her in my lap. I petted her ears and her head, stroked her fur, and kissed her nose. I told her how much I loved her, but of course she already knew.

Jaina smelled Lexi’s body at the end. We curled her up into a basket and wrapped her in a blanket, and the three of us walked her out to Dr. Aspen’s car. Jaina was sad, but she understood what had happened. She’s been a little mopey over the past week, but she’s not confused or distressed.

This week we picked up Lexi’s ashes. I still cry every day, usually many times every day. Jaina has been sticking to my side like glue. I suspect she is both sad herself and senses that I am sad, so we have been comforting each other.

The house feels so quiet and empty without Lexi. She may have been a short dog, but her personality was huge. She knew the sound of our car and would start barking her “welcome home” bark as soon as we shut the car doors. I set my watch by her–she was always on top of breakfast and dinner times, outside time, and bed time. Sometimes I think I hear her whining, but of course it’s a bird outside (perhaps a cat bird imitating her?).

Saying goodbye to someone you love is never easy. I don’t believe in heaven, and the Bible says animals don’t have souls anyway. I do believe that death is transition, that it is a beginning that comes after the end, but what form that beginning takes I can only guess at. If nothing else, Lexi helped me become who I am today, and my life would have been much different without her. I can feel her presence everywhere–not just in the physical spaces she inhabited, but in the deepest places of my soul.

I miss her. I miss her happy barks and the way she snored while she slept. I miss her corgi waddle and her perfect downward-facing dog stretches. I miss her grrs and her nudges. I miss the soft silkiness of her fur and holding her paw in my hand. I miss the cold wetness of her nose and the warmth of her eyes that saw me in a way no one else could.

I miss her, I miss her, I miss her. I know I always will. But she is my dog, and she will always be my dog. I wouldn’t change our life together for anything. I am full of joy and laughter and gratitude for the fourteen years we shared, even though I’m crying as I write this.

Every end is a new beginning.