Grief is love. It just looks different.

Today is World Sleep Day.

No, I'm not kidding, that's a thing. I know, I know, it may sound ridiculous, but do you know how important sleep really is? As a chronic pain Spoonie who is participating in full-blown rehabilitation workouts for the first time since mid-November, I am being reminded just how important sleep is. Sleep, my friends, is self-care.

According to WorldSleepDay.org:

"World Sleep Day is an annual event, intended to be a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving. It is organized by the World Sleep Day Committee of World Sleep Society (founded by WASM and WSF) and aims to lessen the burden of sleep problems on society through better prevention and management of sleep disorders. World Sleep Day is held the Friday before Spring Vernal Equinox of each year."

Why I've been losing sleep.

Before my surgeries in December, the pool at my local rec center was broken for a few weeks around Thanksgiving and by the time they got it up and running I had to take time off from the water for my temporary implant. I continued working with my personal trainer, Jacob, until the day before my permanent implant was placed on December 28, 2018. What does any of this have to do with sleep or grief? Stick with me, it will all come together, I promise. (If you stick around for the end of this post I'll include some links to some of my favorite self-care and sleep-related items.)

After many (7) weeks of recovery I was allowed to return to water aerobics in early February. However... just about that time, my dog Rosebud got sick. What we thought was going to be a minor mass removal surgery on February 13 turned into a full-blown acute pancreatitis attack. This, in addition to her increased seizure activity over the winter and her swollen lymph-nodes and other sudden symptoms, proved to be too much for her to fight. We said goodbye to Rosebud on February 20.

Photo Credit: Sarah B. Gilliam Photography, Columbia, Tennessee  Tattoo done by Jason McDonald at Electric Hand Tattoo Company in Nashville

Photo Credit: Sarah B. Gilliam Photography, Columbia, Tennessee

Tattoo done by Jason McDonald at Electric Hand Tattoo Company in Nashville

I finally returned to water aerobics on February 27 and was cleared to return to workouts with my personal trainer on March 12. From December 28 - February 27, I was losing a lot of sleep. Post-op pain was the first thing to start attacking my sleep cycle. Then, my body wasn't getting the exercise that it was used to as I spent the majority of that period on restrictions following surgery, not allowed to bend, twist, reach, and so on. Finally, as Rosebud's health declined, I began losing sleep to worry... and then grief.

Then, I started emotionally eating. A lot of sugar. Sugar does not support sleep.

When I don't sleep my pain increases exponentially. I track all of my sleeping, eating, and hydration data, in part because I am nerdy AF and in part because I need that data to better care for myself. I know that when I get 7 hours of sleep, I feel ok the next day, but my pain may begin to increase or breakthrough the stimulation from my implant. I know that if I get 8+ hours of sleep a night, my leg is less inflamed and generally my pain is more controllable. During these weeks where Rosebud was sick and then ultimately we had to let her go, my pain was flaring for days at a time. I spent three days in a row at levels of pain around 6 or 7 and even had a level 10 pain day in there.

How I righted the ship.

I gained 7lbs in two weeks, was crying every day, and avoided even looking at my daily planner, let alone planning anything in it. I saw what was happening and I knew it couldn't go on for much longer, so I made an emergency therapy appointment. I sobbed for over an hour, spilling my guts and all of my sorrow and pain and fear out onto my therapist's office floor.

Who am I without Rosebud?
How do I navigate the world in which there is no Rosebud?
Rosebud made the world safe for me again at a time when it felt so scary and unsafe, and love felt so risky... what do I do now that Rosebud is gone? How do I love and live without fear?

To which my therapist said:

"Sweet girl... that dog got you through some of the very worst moments of your life. She dedicated every ounce of herself to you every day of her life, and she got you standing on your own two feet again! She made sure you could walk again! So, what? Now you return to the place of terror and darkness you were in before she came to you? And what, make all of her life's work for naught? No. You move forward with caring for yourself and getting better because that's all Rosebud wanted in this world. You honor her by doing the things you know you need to do to get better and feel better."

That was that. I snapped myself out of it, and I went back to water aerobics just two days later. I've stuck to my anti-inflammatory diet, diligently, since that week, and returned to my rehabilitative workouts this Wednesday. I am tired, let me tell you. And yet suddenly I'm sleeping 8.5 hours every night!

"Grief is love with no place to go."

Even though I snapped myself out of the worst bit of it, I don't want to give the illusion that I am somehow magically cured of my grief. Last night, in fact, I broke into deep, guttural and uncontrollable sobs and crying no less than three times, each time lasting between 30-60 minutes. My sinuses are still recovering.

The closest thing I can come to describing the pain is to say that this loss feels like the loss I felt when I was a little girl and realized with great clarity for the first time that my dad was really never coming back. He had passed away three days after my fourth birthday, and it took quite some time to understand the largeness of the situation.

This loss feels as big as that loss. And why wouldn't it? For 7.5 years, Rosebud was my constant companion. Especially during this past (nearly) two years, when so much of my life was spent on the couch or in my bed, writhing in pain, recovering from rehabilitation exercises, or attempting to avoid a flare in pain by sitting up or standing or walking too much. For those ten months in 2017/2018, when I couldn't walk hardly at all, I saw Rosebud and Nathan. That was it.

I have opened myself up to the love pouring out to and in from Rosebud more than any other human in probably a decade, at least. I don't know if I have ever allowed my heart to be so touched by a human as I have that dog. My trauma brain tells me that humans can't be trusted. Dogs, though, dogs are angels.

My mom sent me a quote a while back that I have come back to many times in the last 24 hours:

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” ~ Jamie Anderson.

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My heart will go on... even reluctantly.

The time will come when I have another dog. If I can talk Nathan into it, the time will come when I have another Boxer. No dog snuggles like a Boxer. I need that emotional support and safe, loving touch that comes with Boxer snuggles. Again, my trauma brain doesn't always trust human contact, but a dog's snuggles? Well, that gets my oxytocin flowing in about 1.2 seconds. (Click the link! it’s not just me, it’s science!)

Today, though, I had to practice some self-care... and sleep! I woke up around 5:30am as I try to every morning, took Nathan his coffee to wake him up, pet the dog we borrowed from our neighbor for a few weeks, Benny, and I honestly felt hungover with exhaustion. So, when Nathan went down to work at 7:50am, I coaxed Benny into laying down with me for some snuggles (he's only good for about 20-30 minutes of snuggles at a time) and allowed myself to sleep... for 3 extra hours.

Guess what though? I don't feel hungover anymore.
My pain isn't breaking through or flaring.
I was able to eat some lunch, get some freelance editing work done, and write this blog.
Sleep, my friends, is self-care. GET YOU SOME.

As promised, here are five items I'm currently enjoying for self-care, including that for getting through grief and getting better sleep, as of late:

  1. This book, Dead Set on Living: Making the Difficult but Beautiful Journey from F#*king Up to Waking Up, to remind me to keep fucking going, even if I don’t want to.

  2. These Affirmators! 50 Affirmation Cards to Help You Help Yourself - without the Self-Helpy-Ness! I got these as a gift from my friend Cindil. And as much as I used to roll my eyes at all the self-help hippy woo-woo shit, they help. Plus, they have unicorns!

  3. This fucking water pitcher, ZeroWater 10 Cup Pitcher with Free Water Quality Meter BPA-Free NSF Certified to Reduce Lead and Other Heavy Metals, because Hydrate or Diedrate, bitches. (No, I didn’t make that up, I don’t know who did, I saw it on a meme.) Good hydration levels = less pain, and I’m 10x more likely to drink water that doesn’t taste like shit. (I’m looking at you, Columbia, Tennessee.)

  4. These postcards, for which to color! Secret Garden: 20 Postcards because fuck everyone, binge some Hulu or Netflix and color some pictures and them send them to other people so you can make yourself happy and other people happy all at the same time!

  5. This weighted, aromatherapy sleep mask, Weighted Silk Eye Pillow Filled with Organic Lavender and Flax Seeds, 100% Hypoallergenic, because sometimes nice smells and things really do help you relax just enough to fucking sleep.