Premenstrual Dysphor–What??

About once a month I kind of lose my mind.

For the past two years, I’ve been experiencing bouts of depression, crying jags, insomnia, irritability, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, and complete lack of motivation. The thing is, I experience this for a few days to a week, once a month, around the time that I’m ovulating.

Unfortunately, it took me until just this year to realize there was a pattern and maybe the things I were experiencing weren’t because I’m really emotional, have a lot going on, or am just a depressed mess.

It seems as though I have something called PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder).

After a really bad argument with an ex (who is still a friend) a few months ago, when I threatened to harm myself, I realized something was really wrong. I was fine two days later. I scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist to discuss what I believe to be a hormonal imbalance of epic proportions.

I have not taken birth control in approximately ten years. I kinda really hate it, truthfully. I have tried several types and have had some kind of adverse reaction to each one. That is part of why I’ve put off this self-diagnosis for so long. One of the first measures a doctor will suggest is birth control to regulate the body’s hormones. And, well, once you come to terms with the fact that you could have really hurt yourself, you’ll do just about anything to feel like yourself again.

I’ve only told a few friends about my attempt to harm myself, because, naturally, it is something that typically angers and worries friends; it’s something that makes me feel guilty and ashamed.

At the end of April, I had my appointment with the doctor on the same day I was going to NYC for the weekend with a female friend to visit some of her friends and the guy I’ve been emotionally attached to for the past year.

The amount of relief I felt as I stepped out of the doctor’s office was amazing. I wasn’t better–but I was finally out of denial and making the first step to being a healthier, happier person.

Fast-forward to the next day, where I am sitting on a patio somewhere in Brooklyn with this gorgeous man who’s holding my hand as I swallow my pride and tell him that I’ve finally decided to do this for myself because I have a problem. Instead of scoffing at me or telling me that PMS isn’t real (ways I fear people will react), he said he thought it was great, that a lot of people won’t come forward and confess they have had “bad” thoughts, and that I shouldn’t worry about silly things like side-effects (bloating) from the birth control.

I started the pill a few days after returning from NYC, and it’s been one month and a few days of shutting off my phone alarm at 8pm and swallowing a tiny, pink disc packed with hormones.

So how am I feeling?

It’s not a panacea. At least, not yet.

Week one was terrible. Every side-effect I could have from the pill I did. Nausea, indigestion, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, headaches, and my period lasted for 13 days or something ridiculous like that.

Then, the side-effects began to level out. However, around the time I would start ovulating–week three or so of the pack–the familiar feelings of sadness for no reason started creeping in. I recognized it right away. Nothing was going negatively in my life (at least, not more than usual) and I was doing good things for myself like going to yoga and spending more time writing, yet when I got home from work, I wanted to go to bed immediately so I could just restart again the next day.

Commercials would make me cry, I would get snappy. I had trouble sleeping at least one of those nights. Although, I will say, it was less pronounced. The symptoms after only being on the pill for a few weeks were already beginning to smooth out.

In a little less than a month, I have my follow-up appointment with my doctor, where we’ll discuss if this is working for me. I’m on month two, and am feeling better already.

This isn’t all unicorns and daisies–Feelings I didn’t even know I had began to surface after the first few days of taking the pill:

  1. I can’t have children
  2. What happens if I stop taking the pill?

I am 33 years old and am not in a committed relationship. I have wondered if I would ever have children at this point. After beginning the pill, this massive fear came over me that I might never have children if I’m already 33 and I’m going to be on the pill for a while.

Of course, there’s the counter: What happens if I stop taking the pill, because, by some miracle, a man wants to spend his life with me and we decide to spawn life? Will I spiral into hormonal imbalance? Will I have postpartum depression? Do I need to take the pill for the rest of my life to feel sane?

I’m trying to heed the advice of my friends and take it one day at a time, and focus on the immediate and getting better now.

I have also begun to think of my intake of birth control as a temporary aid.

There are so many other healthy adjustments I have made to my life after years of alcohol use, late nights, and drama:

  1. I have a regular exercise and yoga schedule
  2. I spend at least a couple of nights a week completely by myself, sober, and choosing positive activities, such as cooking, chores, reading, or writing
  3. I have separated myself from situations/people who were making me unhappy
  4. I am eating better
  5. I am reconnecting with my spiritual self

All of these things are natural ways to enhance serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. They are also probably things that will help naturally regulate my hormones.

Once I’m feeling good enough, perhaps I can try going off the pill again to see where I’m at.

But for today, and in approximately two hours, I will punch that tiny pill through the foil, swallow it down, and feel comfort in knowing that I don’t have to suffer.

Tell Cinderella to Get Real

In my former life, I once tried on wedding dresses.

I recall not feeling that beautiful in them, nor was there a magical “yes to the dress” moment. My oldest sister and I went in secrecy, because I knew my step-mother would want to go and I would have to listen to her constant criticisms over what she liked or didn’t like, and I just wanted to have fun. 

We went to Alfred Angelo’s in Manchester. A friend of mine had gotten her dress from A.A. and I loved the styles.

Why didn’t it feel like a defining, life-changing moment for me? That day, I should have read the blatant sign screaming at me that I didn’t want to get married to this man, but I blindly ignored it and blamed my absent excitement on the notion that none of the dresses “did it” for me.

The day a girl tries on wedding dresses for the first time has been built up in our minds from everything we read in books, see on television, or gaze at in magazines. My assumption after that day at Alfred Angelo’s was that it just wasn’t as glamorous as media and Disney movies make it out to be.

It is true that I ultimately did not want to marry that man, but it is also true that we tend to these rituals and fantasies until they grow to unparalleled and impossible ideals that cannot be matched.

I found a bunch of photos that my sister snapped the day I tried on dresses. Standing there, in my very small frame of a body, I felt like I was swimming in those gowns. What I didn’t realize was the reflection in the mirror staring back at me was actually drowning.

wedding dress mirror

She was told as a young girl that she would someday fall in love, get married, and make beautiful babies of her own. She believed it whole-heartedly. Never was there a doubt in her pretty little head that a man would bend down on his knee and present his eternal dedication to her just liked she had played over and over in her head since she was about twenty years old.

What she wasn’t told is how much work it takes to keep love alive if you want to dress in white and flash your sparkly diamond.

Wedding gown side

No one taught her in school that healthy relationships require the most work and effort you will ever put forth towards practically anything in your life. No one gave her the necessary tools. Only time, experience, and many, many broken relationships provided some scattered bricks from which she could begin to build, after brushing away the dirt and debris, a steady path towards a symbiotic romance. So far, it has taken almost thirty-three years.

Why do we continue to beat into the pliable minds of children that there is always a prince charming who will be beyond romantic and make us swoon? That we will have to do little to entrap his interest, because if we dress and act a certain way, men will just fall head over heels staring at us from across the room the second we enter.

This is dangerous. This is quite possibly one of the biggest lies we can ever tell our youth.

Yes, trying on dresses is (supposedly) fun, an adrenaline rush, and bound to make women feel like a princess for a day–but that’s just one day. What about all the days leading up to that day? How about all of those days that will follow?

We are so focused on having our Cinderella moment of transforming from dull to enchanting that not enough energy is being transferred to where it belongs most: our actual every day romances and relationships.

We have been irrevocably irresponsible in promising our children that they will be loved and it will be seemingly easy. Only focusing on the Cinderella moments in our stories allows ill-prepared humans to sloppily throw themselves into relationships with reckless abandon.

dress with false smile

The false smile on my face is telling the camera to hurry up and take the photograph. Nothing else.

Up until that point, I had tried to no avail to create the perfect relationship, unaware of how volatile other humans were no matter how careful I tried to be with my actions and their emotions.

I regard myself as a hopeless romantic even knowing the truth about relationships now. I am wiser and know the incredible heap of man-hours it takes to maintain a balance and grow love that can sustain.

The complete dearth of realistic advice dispensed in my youth has not totally addled my heart and hopes for love, but I am jaded. I am worn, pained, and covered in battle scars. I am continually fighting my childhood-born urges to be a princess swept off her feet. In an attempt to remain pragmatic and sensible, I have come to terms with the fact that not every man I fall for or even every man who may love me back wants the “black suit standing at the altar” moment with me, because maybe he realized too early and without real warning that Cinderella and Prince Charming’s fantasies were a bit whack.

The biggest favor we can do for the younger generation is to be a bit more practical about what we tell them. I’m not touting that we should debase their idea of love completely, but for god’s sake, give them some useful knowledge about how hard it will be and how devastating it will feel to be broken-hearted. We need to refuse to lie to them, telling them they will without a doubt have these things some day.

I wish someone had helped me along the way instead of letting me stand there in my white gown wondering why it didn’t feel enthralling to finally be the princess.

I still want to wear a white dress; I want a man to devote himself to me in perpetuity. But I’m not a fool, and I know it’s not what every man wants from a woman, no matter how charming and romantic he can be.

I know that the responsibility that comes with adorning myself like a princess for one day means that I will work my entire life to be a loving person who negotiates, forgives, sacrifices, compromises, and listens.

You know why Disney movies always end with the perfect moment? Because if we saw what followed, then we would disillusion our youth and they would see what a real relationship consists of. Why this is such a horrible thing to display to our youth I don’t understand, except that maybe once people realized how hard commitment actually was, they wouldn’t want it.

I know how hard commitment actually is, and I still want it. Real romantics always do, because we don’t see love as a fairy tale; we know it to be a veritable force, because we dragged ourselves endlessly across hot coals to find it, and when we work that hard for something, white dresses are just one day out of the countless we spend making the ones we love feel adored, all while dealing with the messes we both make when we’re outside the ballroom and in our simple rags of every day existence.

dress facing forward

Fifty Shades of No Way?

[Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this if you don’t want some idea of what happens in the book/movie, Fifty Shades of Grey]

Okay, okay. I will admit it. I finally jumped on the bandwagon of Fifty Shades viewers and watched the movie. I had acquired the book on my kindle, because when someone says not to read something, it almost makes you want to read it.

I had heard mixed reviews from some of my friends that the movie does an injustice to the “kink scene”–as in, people who are actually into dom-sub relationships and specific fetishes.

I’ve read some of the book, and the writing isn’t very good–I’ll admit that–but the part that I thought was done with consideration, at the very least, was the subtleties of the art of seduction.

See, I’ve read The Art of Seduction, by Robert Greene. I’ve discussed the book with others. I’ve literally employed tactical devices within the book. Seducing men was never a problem I had; I’m what you’d call a natural at it, but I was lured in by the psychology behind the art.

In the book (as much as I’ve read) and the movie, Christian and Ana are in a constant “game” with one another to assert their dominance and have the upper hand–yes, even though she was characterized as the “submissive”. This might seem like something only relatable to the world of kinky sex fetishes and fantasies, but I assure you, it’s not.

Power plays occur every single minute of every day between all types of relationships, whether it be parent and child, boss and employee, friends, strangers, and of course, romantic entanglements. Humans are just naturally hard-wired to react and respond in ways which will allow our “status” to remain on stable ground.

Let’s say we go out on a first date with someone we really enjoyed. Obviously, we want to talk to them right away afterwards or perhaps even try to see them the very next day. Most people, out of a perceived level-grounded, almost nonchalant collectedness will back off for a few days. Or we get the text we’ve been waiting for all day from the person we care about and we don’t want them to know we had the phone right next to us. Seems too eager, right? So, we don’t answer for two hours.

These are all defense mechanisms, clearly, as are most embodiments of power plays. It’s important to have the winning cards, not only so we don’t get hurt, but also so that we sustain interest. That’s the part I’m most concerned with. I’ll attend to the former later on.

Interest.

How to entrap and intrigue the other party. How to keep them on their toes. How to, in the case of Ana and Christian, magnify the intensity to such a point that both parties are intoxicated and enamored beyond what they can any longer control. It starts to roll like a rock down a hill, and as it careens, it gains momentum. It does, unlike a boulder tumbling down a cliff, require maintenance and attention. But if the mystery and intrigue, the carefulness and affection, the let down and subsequent gentle caress are all there between both parties, then it piles and amasses until something like mind-blowing sexual chemistry erupts. Or complete infatuation. Or beautiful, romantic love.

It may seem like power plays are bad things, but they are not necessarily. If used with sensitivity and good intention, then they enhance and add flavor to our relationships.

In Fifty Shades, I see this occurring. There are the not so great parts–Ana continually wanting something she can never fully have; Christian being cold and emotionally distant due to an awful upbringing and abandonment from his biological mother. This is the part of the movie that I think (think?) critics take issue.

In having knowledge about the “kink scene” or dominant-submissive play, I know that respect, limits, pleasure, debriefing, and ultimately, a more bonded, intimate relationship are key elements. Does this seem to be missing from Fifty Shades? I actually don’t think so.

I think it’s a movie. In the book, there’s more elaborate description of what the relationship entails, but in the movie, like movies do, you have to gloss over a lot of that to make it engrossing.

Sure, there’s a business meeting to discuss the matters of the contract, but it’d be boring if it were just this mutual discussion with hugs at the end, or this ongoing play-by-play of every line in the agreement, complete with coffee and bathroom breaks, and phone call interruptions. This isn’t real life; it’s a movie.

The business meeting is, in fact, one of my favorite scenes in the movie, due to the tantalizing, empowering nature Ana suddenly displays when she teases the crap out of Christian and then leaves him high and dry. She didn’t do this to be cruel; she did this to pull him further in.

Well, it worked. There’s science in it. It’s like the dangling carrot in front of the chariot horse. What’s going to keep him running? What’s the prize? The ever elusive idea that he is *this close* to what he wants. Getting what we want is good too, we just have to know when and when not to give in completely.

This is the game.

In this way, I do not think the movie did anything wrong. There’s a constant give and take between the two of them for this attainment of “love”. Christian is also protecting himself–that’s part of why the idea of controlled, submissive sex and romance is so appealing. You cannot get hurt if you don’t allow anyone to penetrate your armor. He may have exemplified his guardedness and inner turmoil in a way that was not okay for a dom-sub agreement at one point, but we are all messy humans who continually blur the lines between what we should and shouldn’t do and with what intentions.

Having a degree in Psychology, I actually found this to be a natural (and cliché) path for the movie to take. A plot merely about fetishes with no depth: How are you going to make a box office hit? People like romance. We like protagonists and antagonists. We like movies that will our souls to seek change. We like anything we can relate to on a personal level.

I’ll come forward and say it: I related to this movie on a profoundly deep level. The movie itself wasn’t profound, but its effect on me was. No, I have never been whisked away by a stunningly beautiful billionaire, and I haven’t been chained to a wall in a “play room” (although it sounds fun). However, I know what it feels like to be entranced by an insanely gorgeous and charming man. I know what it is to have him forever far away, and often times, emotionally distant and protected. I know what it is to watch everyone around me go on dates with their significant others, and I know what it’s like to have plans broken at the drop of a hat because something career-wise has popped up and taken precedence.

I know what it’s like to be in the position of Ana, where it very much appears to be romance and love, and have the other person contradict it. I know what it’s like to be abused by the person I love, too. This isn’t all one person, of course, it’s a collective.

But I know.

In this way, I could so truthfully relate to the emotions felt, and as an “incurable romantic”, my heart spasmed when Christian confesses his fears and childhood trauma to a sleeping Ana, because he wishes he could tell her consciously.

I gasped at the scene in the elevator when their lust was first manifested, and I delighted in each passionate kiss Christian launched at Ana the second she walked in the door, because I know exactly how those things feel.

Christian is driven to say to Ana that she is everything he wants, and Ana tells Christian, choking through sobs, that she’s in love with Christian, which makes him recoil. I know what it is to feel as though I am everything that someone wants but never secure enough to say those three words.

When Christian smiles at the text Ana sends, expressing how she misses him and wishes he were there, was probably one of the most tender and painful moments for me, because every time I press send on the end of my phone saying the same thing to someone I care about, I am hoping, no matter how emotionally protected he may seem at times, that he is secretly smiling because he cares, too.

Fifty Shades, although not prophetic or enlightening, substantiated the art of seduction, the deeper, darker colors of humanity, which mold and shape our behaviors, and still kept present a hint of hope for change, which to every incurable romantic, is our raison d’être.

Sweet 16

I remember being sixteen years old, tightly stuffed into a friend’s basement in Worcester, MA, feeling higher and happier than a child chasing a trail of pearlescent bubbles.

It was New Year’s Eve, 1999.

I was there with my sister, mutual friends, and the boy with whom I was completely infatuated from the first moment I saw him that summer. I wore black vinyl pants and remember my crush saying to me on the ride to Worcester, “I can see myself in your pants. No, really. It’s not a pickup line. I can see myself in your pants.”

He braided me an aluminum foil bracelet as we stood by ourselves in the kitchen, tucked away in a corner, where we rubbed noses and giggled about how Eskimos and gnomes kiss.

I remember hanging out in one of my friend’s van outside listening to DMX and Dr Dre. I vaguely recall our friends’ band playing that evening in the tiny basement. I also remember eating peanuts while chewing gum, and realizing as my gum dissolved and slid down my throat, that that’s why people use peanut butter to get gum out of girls’ hair. Epiphany. I was hopped up on illegal substances and the world was my oyster.

As the ball was on its descent into the year Y-2-K, we all joked about how the internet would shut down, chaos would ensue, and the beginning of the end would follow thereafter.

None of that happened, of course, but when the countdown reached zero, I grabbed the boy and kissed him so sweetly. It was my first New Year’s kiss and I was on ecstasy.

Very early on the morning of New Year’s Day, I went back to the boy’s house and he laboriously peeled the black vinyl pants off my sweaty body. I lay in the boy’s bed, while he tried to do sexy things to me and I was coming down. I was tired, and it just wasn’t working. Frustrated and selfish, he broke up with me; I was mostly naked in his bed and trapped at his home without a ride.

Later that morning, forgetting what he had done only hours earlier, he in naive slumber, curled his arm tightly around my waist and pulled me in to snuggle. I just lay there and cried silently.

Happy New Year.

That boy became the man with whom I reunited seven years later and almost married.

Now, sixteen years after that emotional bumper car ride, I am sitting here in my favorite, thread-bare bathrobe in my cozy apartment. I am thinking about how many dull years have passed. How many of them I spent being a normal, young adult with a relatively stable existence. How many of them I spent with that same boy, and how many I have spent without him since we split. How so many of those years since we broke up were anything but stable or dull. How grateful I am to be where I am sitting today.

One thing that has always been consistent in all of my teen and adult years is my struggle with love. Oh, I find love, I just can’t keep love. The last three New Year’s Eves have been spent with friends, doling out hugs and cheek pecks at the ball drop.

Four years ago, I experienced something akin to my sixteenth year. I told the new guy I was dating since J and I broke up that I loved him for the first time. On New Year’s Day. It wasn’t planned. I wasn’t trying to be romantic by choosing a special day; it had just been six months together and fifteen years total since I had known him, and it came out of my mouth as we lay in my bed after drinking several mimosas and fondling each other. He reacted poorly. Understatement. His reaction was the worst reaction anyone could possibly have to being told they are loved by their girlfriend.

First, he laughed nervously. Really hard. Then, he pulled me in for a hug and swayed us back and forth for an extremely uncomfortable amount of time. It felt like three decades. We both silently shared a cigarette on my porch, and then, abruptly, he told me he had to go.

My New Year’s track record is excellent.

This year I feel good, though. I’ve been taking a lot of time to focus on organizing my life and my home. I have been writing a lot. I don’t really go out or drink very often at all and am in bed by 10 or 11 each night. I cherish my girl cat and lavish in all this extra time I have to be near her because I am not out getting messed up. I am yet again reconnecting with me, my favorite person to hang out with.

I cannot predict how the year will progress nor do I really want to. There are a couple of projects in the works that will keep me focused on my hobby and love for writing and editing, and I am finally loving my body and taking care of her needs.

Coming from the girl who always has put others before her, I am no longer content to be that person who lies there, quietly stifling her tears, while men abandon her right as a human to have her own fears, feelings, and thoughts.

And while I may be romancing someone currently who makes me swoon, blush, or feel dizzy, he is not the center of my world–he is just a very lovely and enticing piece of it. I like my life and I damn well should. It is mine after all. No one else’s. I live it for me and those who come into it, like my friends, family, or this romance, are all just enhancements and embellishments to the steadily polished bowl I’ve been working on for nearly thirty-three years.

I used to repeat the mantra, “I am happy; I am healthy; I am wealthy; I am wise.”

I think as I move into this new year of 2016, I am going to focus on the simple sweetness.

There’s a calm radiating throughout my being, because I’ve been chasing the metaphorical dragon for years and am finally ready to be me. To be the girl renewed from years of bad relationships and abuse; to be the girl strengthened against giving herself to men just to feel wanted; to be the woman who is comfortable in her new shape but still yearns to feel healthy in body, mind, and spirit. But mostly, to be Amanda, the person I know most intimately.

Amanda loves to read. She loves cleaning. Her home is an homage to the things she cherishes most: her cats, her friends, and music. She is nostalgic and loves to read her old journals (and then immediately shred them upon completion). She is sappy and enjoys eating popcorn by herself while watching comedy romances. She puts herself to sleep each night by petting her cat and listening to science documentaries. She writes in a gratitude journal. She requires time to herself every day to feel whole. She loves writing and making music more than she loves most things, and she gives her heart freely and generously to the people who mean the most to her. She does this not because she has to, not out of guilt, fear, or obligation, but because when Amanda feels like Amanda, she is a resonating channel of love.

From what I know of Amanda, she is sweet. She is kind, caring, and sweet. She’s snarky, sarcastic, whiny, and selfish, too, but no one likes a perfectly polished bowl, now, do they?

May I only hope that 2016 simply holds that presence of free love, if nothing else. It might just be the sweetest sixteen I’ve had yet.

It Is Ours

The thing that makes love so great is not that it’s beautiful. It’s not that it makes us a better person. It isn’t even that feeling love makes us seem less alone in this world.

It is that it is ours.

Of course, we all know that sharing a moment with another human, complete with passion and adoration is beautiful. It more often than not inspires us to achieve greater things within ourselves. Having the companionship of another soul that complements ours helps alleviate the mundanity and hardship of everything we encounter every day: tough and trying days at work, hours running errands or scrubbing our toilet bowls. Paying bills. Choosing 401ks. Moving into a new home. Grieving a loss. Giving birth. Long car rides. Sitting at home with a television show or playing a board game.

Here’s the thing–all of that might be a hundred percent true, but that’s not what makes love so great. What makes love so magnificent and shiny, so unparalleled and desirable, is that it belongs to us. We are experiencing it. Ourselves. Together.

There are few factors in our existence that are greater than the driving, motivating force of what love does to us.

Love is way more than romantic words spilled between two people. It exceeds the actions we display and perform for others to show our affection and dedication. Lyrics and melodies of songs might move us to tears, but even they fall short. Commitment to our friends, family, and loved ones shows love. The ability to forgive and see a person for who they truly are without fault shows love.

But love is also so very relative. That’s what makes it so appealing.

Suddenly, a person who is seen as ordinary to others is extraordinary to us. Other people might see them as exceptional or amazing, but never quite in the way that a person who is swayed by love does. Suddenly, everything about them is a novel waiting to be unraveled. It might be the way their hair falls on their face, the pitch of their voice as they say certain words to us and only us, or the events in their life we know have crucified them–those crippling memories that have often kept them fearful and closed off to us–we learn to love those, too. And why? Because that’s love. It’s not rational. Not logical. No true calculations for how it works, when, and why.

It happens in that moment when we realize that the way they touch our collarbone makes our skin crawl with anticipation. It occurs when we only melt when they tell us we are beautiful. We spend minutes physically dizzy, thoughts spinning, trying to make sense of reality again. We smile just because we know they exist, and we smile harder knowing they smile because we exist, too.

Despite the thoughts and opinions of others, no one can take this away from us.

The world is seen through rose-colored glasses because of love, but we notice that it is never the same each time it is experienced. That is what makes love so great. It is never a repeated episode of something we’ve felt before. Each time, we swear it is the greatest, most unique thing we’ve ever felt, and it’s not because we’re idiots, it’s because it’s true.

I have tried forever to understand why humans put themselves in the blinding, gambling “trust” of love, and it’s not because we just continue to have hope that the “right one” for us is out there; it isn’t because we forget what heartache feels like. Most of us are starkly aware of betrayal and pain. Of situations which we thought we couldn’t overcome. But then that person comes along at the perfect time, saying the most perfect thing, touching us in the most incredibly perfect way, and we’re rapt. That’s just the beginning.

Over time, they continue to bare themselves to us. We share things with each other that only two people who are intimate do; we giggle in heated moments of lust when bodies don’t accommodate our wants, and we heave in extreme passion at the pure excitement and enjoyment the other is having, because theirs is ours.

Most of what I’ve ever read about love is how to make it work, how it doesn’t work, or what real love is. I could write about that, because I think I know at least a few things about love, but it has dawned on me that the epitome of what we all want when it comes to love is that personal experience. That “us” feeling. Those moments, those memories, that can never be shared between two others. Only us.

It is the wave we ride on that spawns great poetry, body-shuddering love songs, and most importantly, it is the intoxicating dance that enables us to feel as though we are taking part in something special. There may be millions of people across the globe feeling this love thing, but amazingly, love doesn’t care–it only cares that we feel it.

In that way, love is so rare and beautiful.

I have written for years about what it really means to love, and how I feel love can be achieved unconditionally. None of that matters, because when it comes to actual romantic love, what matters is what two people feel. The true beauty of what we all crave with love is that it transforms us. It makes us softer, sweeter, more optimistic. It adds spice and meaning to the menial. It leaves a sedative melody humming through our body before bed, and it gives us sparks on our heels and thoughts as we move about our day. We feel this not because everyone can have it, but because we, ourselves, in this very moment, have it.

It is ours.

Baby of Mine

Losing you has been one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me.

I know you’re “just a cat”. But see, you were never just a cat.

The day that J brought you and your sister home, I didn’t know you were inside waiting for me, except that I did, because our loud-mouthed neighbor said, “Haaave fuuuuuun…” as J greeted me at the door after work.

When I walked in and saw your tiny little form perched on the back of my Nana’s old couch, I shrieked with excitement. Startling the shit out of you, you leapt a good six inches in the air and fell behind the couch. It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever witnessed.

You and your sister crouched under the papazan, weary of the two tall strangers who had taken you from your farm. But in no time at all, you were beginning to nuzzle up to our legs and play with the toys we had brought you.

We tossed around ideas for names, and before getting too far, I blurted out, “How about Zen and Aum?” I was studying to become a yoga instructor at the time, with many philosophical beliefs in Taoism and Buddhism. It just seemed fitting. J loved it immediately.

And so it was. Zen and Aum: Our “Buddhist” kitties.

Babies

I had written a tribute to you two when you were still babies. About the hell you would cause, the sleep we’d both lose, and the tumbling disorder of your fluffy bodies propelled by flurrying, cat-nipped feet. How amidst the chaos, your names seemed to perfectly fit as I would watch you curled into each other, sleeping, and see both my yin and my yang loves.

Aum–she is the butterfly princess of cats. So poised and sweet. She’s very quiet and dainty and brings with her a gentle presence of worship. She doesn’t ask for much, but she encompasses everything that is cat-like and dear to me. She represents a Universe of pure beauty.

You, Zen, were a dog wearing a cat suit. I’d pat my leg or call you and you’d come. You meowed for attention and wanted to be wherever everyone else was. You were on our laps incessantly and nudged Aum from her peaceful perch, wherever she may have been. You were kind of an asshole, but the most lovable one I’d ever known. Although you were clumsy and annoying, you had this wisdom about you. This ability to just relate to us in such a human-like way.

I can’t find that tribute now; it’s lost on an old blog site that has been “Under Construction” for the last year or so, but it doesn’t matter, because losing you has been far worse than losing any words or thoughts of you.

The day you became sick, I remember, started just like any other day. Six-thirty in the morning you began your loping around my pillows, stepping on my hair and meowing in my face. I’ve always joked that the only time I’ve ever hated you is at 6:30 in the morning, and on that morning, not unlike any other, I shoved you off the bed and rolled over to go back to sleep.

I got up, fed you both, and as I was leaving for work, I noticed you were hunched over a bit like you were going to upchuck your breakfast. This wasn’t uncommon, as you were a very impatient eater and often took in your food so fast that it would sometimes come back up. My roommate had the day off, so I figured if you threw up, he would be there to take care of it.

Later that day, I got a text from my roommate telling me that you threw up. I told him that sometimes happens. When I got home from work, I was with my friend, and as I walked in, you didn’t come running to your dish. That was peculiar. I went looking for you and peeked in my roommate’s room to find more piles of your puke. Then, you ate a little and began throwing up again. I contemplated bringing you to an emergency clinic, but this was the first sign of distress and I figured you probably had a stomach bug.

I monitored you all night. You drank some water. Good. You sat on the couch curled in to me. Good. You moaned when we pet your back. Not good. I was concerned but I didn’t think it was life-threatening.

I took a picture of you and your sister, both curled under my childhood blanket together on my bed–the very last picture I would take of the two of you.

Zen and Aum

That night, you slept right next to me, moaning out in pain every few minutes or so. I kept turning on the light to check on you. You just lay there calmly, nuzzling against my right thigh. I pet and kissed you. I told you I loved you like I did every day and night for the last six and a half years.

When I took you to the vet the next morning, it turned out that it was an emergency situation: your bladder had been blocked for days and could rupture at any moment, causing instant, extremely painful death. They operated on you; I went to work. I came to pick you up and brought you to a 24-hour clinic.

Zen at the Vet

It got way worse after that.

I don’t want to relive all the details of the procedures you had to go through or the money I spent–I just want to remember how you perked up when I came to visit you on Saturday after your second operation. You wouldn’t stop pushing your head against my hands and face. You curled up on my arm, resting your chin. You let me give you a hundred nose-kisses. You wouldn’t eat. Your breathing seemed abnormal.

Zen at Clinic

And on Sunday, the last day of your life, I sat on my bed with my ex boyfriend, crying hysterically, because I just received the phone call informing me that I should “probably come in and talk to the doctor in person as soon as possible.”

And on your last day, I did all of the things I always do: kissed your nose fervently, crunched and smashed your ears between my fingers, squeezed and massaged your tail and your perfect, pink paws. You were the only cat I’d ever met who loved paw massages. I told you I loved you and cherished you; that momma was here and it was okay. That I wouldn’t leave again.

When my friend left the room to use the bathroom, I whispered into your ear an earnestly sincere thank you for being the best cat and being there for me when I was falling apart and really needed you. I know you’re “just” a cat, but you and your sister were there for me when I didn’t have another living soul to understand me in my darkest moments of despair, and for that you will never ever be “just” a cat.

Zen Last Day

After four torturously painful hours at the vet, I left without you on the day I was originally supposed to bring you back home. My friend, who was so supportive to me all weekend, drove me home, while I cried on the phone to my mom. I drank that night and was surrounded by good friends. I had a really bad meltdown. I made a “too soon” joke that made everyone laugh, and my ex stayed the night to make sure I was okay. He passed out hours before I even went to sleep, but it was the thought that counted.

I spent time talking to my Brooklyn sweetheart on the phone, and he told me he was proud of me for how I selflessly and maturely handled the situation. That I made the best possible decision I could have for you, and that so many people would not have even been able to be in the room, let alone hold their pet as they took their last breath. I don’t feel like a heroine of any sort. I don’t feel proud. I feel like I did what any “mom” would do in that situation. I put aside any pain I was experiencing and made sure my baby felt none.

I spent a lot of time talking to J about you, as well. He’s the only one who knows you like I do–like a parent does. He said a lot of soothing things I needed to hear. He knows your uniqueness. How you literally loved everyone who walked in the door.

He had this to say about you:

It was clear that he was thinking stuff. He had ego or id. Or something that made him seem aware. And for what it’s worth, I feel incredibly lucky to have known him. It’s sad in life that so often the brightest stars burn so vibrantly and burn out quickly. But he was yours. And now he’s part of the universe. And our lives are more special being able to have had him. Even if for only a short time.

He loved you so.

I just don’t know how to move on. I’m fine most days, but as I write this, I have cried several times. I just miss your perfectly handsome face and your truly lovable soul. I miss my lap cat and my best buddy.

The only thing I can think to do with this pain and void of missing you is to channel all of it into loving Aum even more than she’s ever been loved before. She is the true princess of her domain now.

Every single day I take care of Aum as I always did, except now with a little more tenderness, a little more attention. I make sure I don’t slack on her favorite things, like certain toys, being brushed, cat-nip or wet food. I pet her, hug her, and kiss her several times before bed each night, and even in the middle of the night if I happen to wake, I make sure she’s okay and give her some kisses. Then, I cover her purring, warm body up with a blanket. She misses you, but she’s very loved, and I notice a strange sense of calm in her, despite the obvious fact that she misses her companion. My baby girl finally gets to have all of the attention her social butterfly brother hoarded for years. She gets to be my only gem.

She will never replace you or the memory of you, but giving her equal and perhaps more immense love and affection is my way of paying forward the kind of love you inspired in me by being in my life for the beautiful, short time that you were.

You will never be “just a cat”. There’s no way. Not with the forceful, silly personality you had. Not with the amount of sheer enthusiasm for loving things you naturally possessed.

As J so succinctly said to me:

Clear your mind and say “Aum”. The very names you gave them are what needs to be. Say “Aum”. Find “Zen”.

Photo on 2014-01-16 at 00.29 #4

A Different Kind of Christmas

I don’t mean to sound like a grinch or a curmudgeon, but I generally kinda hate this time of year.

I didn’t always. When I was little, Christmas was my favorite holiday. Of course. Then, across my teenage years to early twenties, it became somewhat lackluster. I didn’t HATE it; I just found the “magic” of it to be unimpressive.

When J and I were together, there was a resurgence of the splendor. I made home-made cards for everyone each year, I decorated our home, we put up a tree. I loved wrapping gifts.

Then, my sister got engaged right before Christmas. She had been with her man a way shorter time than J and I had. J and I had been together for years. I was disappointed, naturally. A year later, right before Christmas, J proposed. That was a great Christmas; unfortunately, the jealousy spiked after we were engaged (seems counter-intuitive, I know) and he sabotaged our relationship in the following months.

Since then, I have celebrated three Christmases and this year will be the fourth. The first Christmas was great; I was dating someone new and went to his house to be with his family on Christmas Day. It was the next two years to follow that have made me entirely skeptical of the Christmas season.

For the past two years, absolutely horrific things have happened right around Christmas. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the events, because they are very private in nature, but both were severely traumatizing and heart-wrenching.

This year, I experienced yet another traumatizing event right after a good friend passed away. I reconnected with a man who made me forget everyone who’s ever hurt me, and then I sadly ended things with him at the end of summer. Of course, we are not very good at staying away from one another, so that’s a whole other thing. Then, my cat unexpectedly passed away, a friend’s mother passed away, and other friends have been experiencing a lot of upheaval in their own lives.

This Christmas? Despite all of that, it seems way better than the last two. It’s amazing what a little perspective will do. My roommate and I put up the tree on December 1st. I have decorations out. I have no money to purchase any gifts for anyone this year, because I am in quite a bit of debt from my cat’s vet bills, but I am not fearful of the day of Christmas, itself.

I don’t know if I’ll be waking up alone Christmas Day. I don’t know if I’ll be spending it alone this year. Strangely, I haven’t really thought about it too much. And New Years? I haven’t even made plans yet.

I’m still struggling and having a hard time with things. It’s been a very emotional year, but I don’t feel the overwhelming devastation of years past. What I feel is a want and a need to reconnect with myself in an even deeper way than I have been for the past year. To become healthy again. To write, write, write. And anything else that happens in between, well, we’ll see.

Sometimes, not really having expectations is a healthy mindset. Going with the flow of things has never stabbed me in the back.

This year, perhaps, I just have to “be”.