Generosity and George the Cat

It has been a whirlwind of emotions since taking #GeorgeTheCat in for his annual check up. What began as a routine wellness exam (that we could barely afford) and a rabies vaccination (because we live on Vancouver Island and raccoons, rats, and bats are a thing) ended up being a financial crisis.

For anyone who doesn’t know, George the Cat was abandoned at the house we eventually purchased in the south end of Nanaimo in November 2017. When we took over possession, there was garbage, clothing, used needles, human feces, rat droppings, and much more in both the house and the garage where George had been sleeping.

Olivia and I spent all our free time hauling out industrial sized bins of debris, old appliances, flooring, a toilet that had rotted through the floor, and tents from squatters set up in the backyard. The modest money we had set aside for renovations was depleted within the first 30 days.

We began feeding George, then known only to us as The Cat, before we put an offer in on the house. He was left behind by the previous owners and had no food or clean water. We immediately purchased cat food that we kept in the car and went back daily to feed the cat. I honestly think he’s part of the reason we took the house.

After getting possession of the house October 31, 2017, we began the deconstruction. The Cat would come to the front and sniff whatever we were hauling out but never came close enough for a pet or a conversation. Until three week’s in, when we were sitting outside having a lunch break, he let Olivia pet him. Of course I was jealous, who wouldn’t be? This adorable chunky cat.

It took us a full year to get him to trust us enough to come indoors. Once we could, we took him to get flea medication and get a check up. That was last year. We discovered that he needed a broken tooth removed and deep dental clean. That bill cost 1700 total start to finish. At the time we figured that The Cat, who a neighbour advised us was named George and had been in the neighbourhood for at least 11 years, deserved to live a happy life and die of old age after being abandoned.

Flash forward to last week when our friendly neighbourhood vet advised us that a second tooth on the same side of George’s upper jaw was causing him pain, my heart felt like it was in my stomach. I have been off of work for over a year due to mental illness and had only begun a seasonal part-time job in effort to test my ability to go back to work. Olivia works a seasonal job that sees annual layoffs around December. There was no way we could afford another large veterinary bill.

We had a hard conversation that if we couldn’t come up with the money, we were going to have to surrender George the Cat to the SPCA in effort to get him the help he needed. George is now 14 years old. He’s bonded with Lottie, the kitten we adopted in August, and is indoors 95% of the time. He has lived at this house his entire life. George went from running and hiding under the bed at every noise, to actually playing and cuddling with us and his sister Lottie.

Olivia, George, and Lottie

The last thing we wanted to do was break up our family. We feared that George would die of heartbreak or stress if he couldn’t remain home with us, but we also knew there was absolutely no way to pay for his care. I had $1.51 in my account at the time, and Olivia had $150. Our credit cards are locked in a drawer while we pay them off. I’m making student loan payments to the tune of $400/month on top of regular life expenses. We use the food bank bi-weekly and when we do need new clothes, we shop exclusively at thrift stores. There was absolutely no wiggle room.

I felt weird about it, but knew I needed to try something. So I started a Facebook fundraiser for the cost of the procedure and George’s most recent vet bill. In less than 72 hours, from just eight donors, we had the entire bill fully funded. George the Cat gets to stay with his family. His surgery is booked for November 28th. As long as there are no complications, we have enough to cover the bill. I even put a down payment with half of the raised amount.

If you would like to contribute to the cost of aftercare, or keep up with George’s recovery, I’ll be posting updates to the fundraiser page here.

We are nowhere near finished the house, but it is comfortably liveable and safe for the cats. We are all warm, dry, and fed.

Thank you to everyone who helped us keep our grumpy old man cat at home with us.

No one should die that way: a personal story of the opioid epidemic in Canada

Guest Post

Content warning: discussion of abuse, drug related death, attempted violence, trauma, mental health, loss. If you or anyone you know is in immediate crisis call 911. Those experiencing less immediate crisis can find help at Crisis Text Line.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lys Morton is a Queer Canadian writer who is learning to call Vancouver Island home. A Creative Writing student at VIU, you can find his work and what he’s up to on Facebook at Lys Writes Now and Twitter @LysWritesNow.

Let’s talk about abuse, the opioid epidemic, overdose, and the general tone of comments you see around these topics.

June was an odd little month this year. I’m in this part of PTSD healing where my brain goes “dude, you’re doing so well, you’re so much calmer! Here… process this” and then dumps a bunch of memories that have been sitting in the repressed bank for some time. The start of June found me shifting through quite the collection of these memories, much of them centering around one individual. We’ll call him Jack.

Jack and I were in grades 7-10 together, and he is the guy that created the “glorious” moniker of She-Man. I don’t quite remember when he coined it, but I do remember it spreading like wildfire in the school. And the various times teachers accidentally called me that moniker because they heard it more in reference to me than my actual name. And when I started responding to it instead of my name.

Jack also has the privilege of being the guy that introduced me to “Saved Your Life: Boss Level.” Sounds harmless enough, right? Everyone and their dog played “Saved Your Life” during my teen years. Push someone and then immediately pull them back, shouting “saved your life!” It was the hip Tide Pod challenge in my days.

“Boss Level” was Jack pulling this stunt when I was near stairs, at the busy intersection where the city buses rolled through, beside the car lift in mechanics class, operating the burner in science class, and numerous other occasions. On average it was a daily occurrence. Jack’s face has more traumas tied to it, but I’m not exactly ready to FB post that stuff.

As I said, June found me shuffling through a lot of these memories, coming to terms with them and doing that whole healing thing. As I’m doing this work, I get a message from an acquaintance who knew both Jack and I. Simple message, quietly informing me that Jack had died from a fentanyl overdose that month. Now, wasn’t that news met with a roller coaster of emotions.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that there was a strange sense of relief at this news, which was then promptly followed by frustration. Because yeah, Jack put me through some horrible things, but that does not change one very key fact in this world.

No one should die that way.

It’s no secret that we are in the middle of a crisis. You see it on the news, on Netflix, strewn across social media. Since the beginning of 2016, Canada alone has lost over 10,300 people to opioid overdose. And over 90% over those deaths were accidental.

Like many large problems in our world, there is no simple answer to this particular crisis. There are numerous factors that come into play, countless flaws in systems that people fall through. There is no “on/off” switch to any part of this crisis.
But one single fact stands. No one should be dying from an overdose.

We have tools in this war; harm reduction strategies, safe consumption sites, naloxone training, legalization. But people are too wrapped up in their scorn to even contemplate these strategies.

I don’t care how many times Jack put my life in jeopardy, he did not deserve to lose his this way. Not when there are tools that could have saves him. And if he didn’t deserve this, no one did.

My friends have lost too many of their friends in this epidemic. The list should not be as long as it is. And then they have to deal with the comments of people who refuse to sit for a moment and contemplate the scale of this crisis. The faces of it.

Better writers than I have noted how similar the opioid epidemic is mirroring the AIDS epidemic that started back in 1981. The similarities in people’s scorn for those caught up in this battle. The front line workers screaming for support. The governments that only seem willing to shrug their shoulders at this war. As a queer guy, this scares me. To sit and watch this story play out once again. Because I’m in a community still healing from the generation that was lost to AIDS and to people’s apathy towards it. How long will it take communities to heal from this loss?

As I said, there is an odd sense of relief I feel knowing that Jack’s never going to be able to hurt me again. But that’s my thing to work through, because that initial fact still stands. He should not be another number in this war. We have the tools and ability to end this crisis.

Can we get some compassion going so we can stop this?

When going back to bed doesn’t work: sometimes “sad” is code for something more.

I miss when I was little and going to bed for a while or taking a bath was enough to reset. I am realizing though, that it probably wasn’t. I’ve had (at least internalized) anxieties and phobias as long as I can remember.

I used to ask my mom bizarre questions when we were travelling about falling off the side of the highway to our death, or the moon crashing into earth and killing us. I used to turn off my bedroom lights and run to my bed—even until age 16.

I’ve always obsessed and replayed traumatic events in my mind and reacted in outbursts from fear that presented as anger.

Today was no different. There was a moment where I had a very real fear of being t-boned by a car that was travelling too fast as we were driving. When we got to the parking lot I instantly wanted to cry, but shoved it down. Then as we walked through the store I was increasingly irritable, and almost had a melt down at the checkout for “no reason”.

When we got into the car, the only way I could articulate how I was feeling was, “I’m sad. And I don’t like it.” 

I’ve been “sad” for a while. I don’t like it. I’m “working” on it. Reality is, most people with mental illnesses learn to manage but don’t “get better”. I’m having a hard time grappling with this idea. I take more naps than I ever did before, but wake exhausted and weepy most days.

I’ve restructured my nutrition to remove refined sugars and empty carbs and replaced all that crap with stuff that grows in dirt or on trees. I’ve noticed a difference for sure, but still feel incredibly sad most of the time.

Sad is the only way I can describe it concisely. I am on edge, on the verge of tears, suffer from headaches and stomach issues related to anxiety. I continually have muscle spasms from holding my neck, shoulders, and legs in tension without thinking about it. I have excessive jaw pain caused by a dental condition that is exacerbated by clenched teeth when I sleep.

I am often afraid to sleep because I relive traumas with incredible vividness that I “forgot” had happened. I feel disconnected when I remember something and share it with my partner and then feel guilt and shame for bringing it up when I see the hurt in her eyes. I know intellectually that she is hurting because I am hurting and she cannot fix it, but emotionally I feel like letting her in harms her in some way. So I tell her I’m sad instead of how bad the storm in my brain is.

It’s true what the majority of articles say about support being the number one factor in living with mental illness. Without the support of a few key friends and my loving partner, I wouldn’t be here. In a city, and likely a country, where mental health and addictions are treated by the same branch of government and share the same funding, those of us who are high-functioning fall through the cracks. People like me are aware of our illness in intense detail. We are emotionally detached, not in recovery, because it’s the only way to survive.

We go to the physician or emergency services and calmly tell them we’re at the end of ourselves only to be turned away. The most common advice I receive from healthcare professionals is to “practice self-compassion”. When will invisible illness be taken seriously? Why do people have to “have a plan” to be considered at risk for suicide? Is thinking about it more than daily not troubling enough?

It is not troubling enough to make my partner get out of bed because I heard a noise at 3am and think that someone is most definitely in my house trying to kill me? Is it not troubling enough that I either cannot sleep or sleep 15+ hours in a day? Is it not troubling enough that I feel like crying for literal months but cannot manage a tear? Is it not troubling enough that I get such anxiety when we arrive at events I used to love that we have to leave right then?

For now, I just tell people I’m sad. I’m hoping one day, that a doctor will listen enough to how that plays out in my life to actually do something about it. Until then, I’ll be with Olivia and my cat.

Climate Change Anxiety is Real

A recent article posted on CNN dives into how climate change anxiety is a real threat and covers some ways to address it. “Paralysis caused by fear is a real problem,” the article says. I whole-heartedly agree with this. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter what outside pressure is causing the fear—climate change, racism, recent events in the US surrounding women’s reproductive rights—this fear is leading first to outrage and then to hopelessness.

Hopelessness is the common thread through various levels of depression. It begins with a sense of overwhelm and an inability to place exactly where the pressure is coming from. Many afflicted with high functioning depression seem to be healthy, or at least equipped with healthy coping mechanisms. What happens when the ability to cope is overwhelmed by the storm of hardships hitting survivors from all angles?

Lucas Wolfe, in his article When Your Depression Stops Being High Functioning on The Mighty wrote, “I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t hold a thought in my head. I lost weight, and the light of life drained from my eyes. I was a shell of my former self, and for the first time since the depression began, I couldn’t successfully hide my battles from those around me. Everyone could see something wasn’t quite right, but no one knew what was wrong.” He was paralyzed.

Contrary to the text I am plugging into my lap top right now, I am in the same place right now. Like Lucas, no one in my life knows what’s wrong—neither do I. Like Lucas, “I had made the transition from high-functioning depression to major depression, and it was shocking how little I could do.” I’ve spent the better part of six weeks in bed and avoiding texts, phone calls, and social interactions. I’m afraid that people will see me, like really see me—my fear, my trauma, my gross mess.

I’m constantly worried about finances, the environment, whether or not the world is even going to still be here before I pay off my student loans. I’m often wondering outloud to anyone who will listen what the point of it all is. What’s the point in making career goals when the world leaders are ignoring the facts and refusing to act to save our planet? What’s the point in working my ass off at a minimum wage job when it costs more to get to and from work that the sum of my weekly wages? What’s the point of getting out of bed when nothing about today is different than any other day? I am not alone in these questions.

Many of my peers have the same thoughts and voice the same fears. The two main themes emerging from our Creative Writing cohort were mental illness and environmental crisis. The two go hand in hand.

Andrea Marks Rolling Stone says, “The mental health impact of climate change is a one-two punch: There will be increasing anxiety about the future, as well as an increasing number of people undergoing the trauma of climate catastrophes like flooding and hurricanes” in her article How the Mental Health Community Is Bracing for the Impact of Climate Change. Marks went on to report, “A Yale survey in December found nearly 70 percent of Americans are “worried” about climate change, 29 percent are “very worried” — up eight percentage points from just six months earlier — and 51 percent said they felt “helpless.” Fifty-one percent felt helpless.

Just over half the population surveyed felt helpless at the current climate situation. We’re watching the world quite literally die before our eyes and our leaders seem more preoccupied with women’s wombs than whether or not there will be life on Earth in the near future. Liv Grant of the Guardian wrote, “Wild places dwindle, the animals and plants that live in them disappear. Climate change is now a certainty, and it will without a doubt lead to the loss of land, species, and ways of life. In the abstract this is disconcerting. Up close it is devastating. I worked on the BBC’s Climate Change: The Facts, presented by David Attenborough, and have felt this pain first-hand.”

So what do we do about it?

So far, all I’ve been able to find in my research is coping skills. Nothing solves the problem of climate related anxiety—nothing that is except for changing the trajectory of humanity. Western society is so dependent on capitalism and consumerism. These are the ideologies (where the dollar bill is more important than people, animals, and the environment) that are fueling climate change. When activists try to advocate for change the immediate outcry is “how will we make a living?”. My question is, how will your inflated bank account matter when we’re all dead?

Sooner than anyone wants to admit there will be global water and food shortages like human history has never seen before. Since my childhood, several animals have gone extinct. Bees are dying (they pollinate flowers to grow our food among other things). Unstable weather and forest fires are increasing. The science is there. Let’s stop ignoring it and actually do something.

Those with the power either need to use it or lose it. Vote like the environment actually matters.

Doubt: Watch Me

Doubt is a nasty germ. It creeps in subtly when things are going well and begins to breed in the background. First, it will show up disguised as rational thinking. Should I really be doing this? I know ________ is more qualified at __________ than I am. We begin to compromise. Before long, we avoid the things we once loved—things we know we’ve been good at before—for fear of failure.

I struggled for two weeks to write a short story in October. I am in fourth year of creative writing and have published several stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces. I was long-listed for a prestigious literary competition and have won prizes for my promise in writing. I’ve been paid for not only my own content but to create pieces for others’ websites as well. I’ve been solicited for publication from links I’ve shared on Twitter and been hired out for events due to my creative prowess. All this is true and I still struggle to create.

I’m not trying to humble-brag. If anything, I’m trying to remind myself that I am extremely talented at making something great out of thin air and sheer will power. I have three novels in progress but am terrified to complete them. What if they aren’t good? What if I publish them and only sell ten copies? Worse, what if I publish them and someone expects MORE? Doubt is a jerk.

I say to look doubt right in the face and say watch me.

When I finally buckled down and quit the debilitating habit of self-censoring, I produced a short story in under five hours that is already receiving positive feedback. It’s even spawning the idea for a chapbook of short stories unlike anything that is currently being done. It just might be that accidental best idea I’ve ever had. It was full of typos and a little rushed—I was outrunning doubt after all, and we all know doubt is a marathon runner.

That thing you love, that you miss, but you doubt you’re good enough/brave enough/_________enough to take it on again—it misses you. Tell doubt watch me. You’ll be glad you did.