Stories I tell myself

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Don’t you love it when you learn something new and within a few days, WHAM! Exhibit A is all up in your face?   Yeah, it happened like that to me just a few days ago.

The other night, as part of a series of talks in the Awakening Joy class I’ve been taking with some friends of mine, author MJ Ryan was talking about some recent findings in neuroscience.  To paraphrase (very poorly), she basically said that facts are initially processed down near the base of our brain. This is the  where the input from our senses is initially processed, or as Sgt. Joe Friday would have said “just the facts, m’am.”  But  in some upper segment of the brain stuff from our past is stored – in particular traumas, strong memories, etc.  So, what happens is that the data/facts then get filtered through all this stuff from the past and this makes up our interpretation of those “facts”.  So, for example, if someone was bitten by dog, when they see a dog, they see something dangerous  and react accordingly.  Whereas dogs and other animals have always been a source of love for me, so I go all ooey gooey and start talking in an annoyingly high voice.  Same input. Different interpretations based on past experience. Got it?

Just a few nights after hearing this lecture, I noticed that Sasquatch is limping pretty badly.  I freak the fuck out. My mind immediately thinks he is in end stage renal failure since muscle weakness is a symptom of a very sick kitty. Within the past three years I have experienced two much beloved cats die of kidney failure. So, that’s where my mind went even though Sasquatch has not displayed any other symptoms of kidney failure (excessive thirst, weight loss, vomiting).   Within a few minutes, however, I catch myself in my story and recognize it for what it is – a story based on past trauma.  Breathing deeply, I attempt to come back to the  present moment and try to parse the story from the facts.  Intellectually, I was good.  But, deep in my body – my chest, my gut – Sasquatch was still dying.

Knowing the symptoms of renal failure, I was able to back myself off that particular ledge, only to jump over to another ledge: Sasquatch probably has diabetes, and his limp is the result of diabetic neuropathy in his leg.  Yes, that’s it. And why does Sasquatch have diabetes? Because I’m a very bad owner and haven’t taken him to the vet in five years and have done nothing to help him lose weight.  Oh my god, my cat is dying and it’s all my fault.

Even though I was aware my dire diagnoses of Sasquatch were all just stories I was making up based on pretty flimsy evidence, my mind raced most of the night. I would sleep an hour or two and then wake up and reach out for Sasquatch to make sure he was still alive.

First thing in the morning I call the vet and was able to get an appointment for late in the afternoon.  I spend most of the day  doing a lot of breathing meditation and trying to keep myself off the ledge.  My gut is in a knot and I can’t eat. Sasquatch, meanwhile, appears to be the same as he ever was, except for a slight limp.

Transporting this cat anywhere is a huge challenge.  Sasquatch, you see weighs 29 lbs and is deathly afraid of the car. He also is quite smart and knows when I am even thinking of trying to get him out of the house and into the car. So, in addition to being quite convinced he was dying, and I was also fairly certain that in transporting him that I would lose him, because, well, that almost happened a few years ago (which in retrospect makes a hell of a funny story, but it was also incredibly traumatizing for both me and the cat).  Normally, when transporting him for his annual grooming, I make a Sasquatch burrito by wrapping him several times in a blanket and then whisking him out of the house and into the car like some kind of kidnap victim. But, that won’t do at the vet because who knows how long I’d have to wait to get into an exam room. So, I employed the burrito technique and then stuffed the burrito into a dog carrier (sounds like some kind of concoction that Taco Bell would come up with – “New from Taco Bell! It’s the Burrito Dog!  An all meat burrito stuffed into a hot dog bun!  Perfect for those times when a burrito seems just a bit too ethnic.” Available in Arizona only)

The actual vet visit was less dramatic than any scenario I had running in my head. Sasquatch refused to show the nice doctor his limp and instead jumped up on the bench, yowled and stuck his head into my purse.  She gave Sasquatch a once over, and did not find an obvious cause for the limp.  She speculated it was probably arthritis and that I should try to trim 4-5 lbs off of him and put him on Cosequin for his joints. But, she wanted to do blood work to rule out any other possible causes. I was relieved when she told me we would have results the next morning.

By the time I got Sasquatch home I was done in. I had planned to spend my day off catching up on errands, doing a little cleaning, and relaxing with a good book.  That didn’t happen, but at least there was some relief in knowing that I would have an answer to Sasquatch’s mystery limp within 24 hours.  Yet the elephant that had parked itself on my chest was still sitting there. My body was fully in the story, even though I was intellectually aware that I was probably over-reacting.

The next morning while waiting for the results I found myself getting way too invested in the USA vs Ghana World Cup game.  Soccer seems much more interesting when you’re using it not to think about something else. Good thing the game went into overtime because the phone didn’t ring  until  2pm

“Miss LB? This is Dr. Burke. I have Sasquatch’s test results.”  she said in a measured professional tone.

“Yes?” The elephant on my chest feels like he’s invited a friend or two over.

“His blood work came back perfect. Everything is right down the middle. Looks very, very good.” I could hear the smile in her voice.

Like a damn fool I start crying in relief. “So, no signs of kidney insufficiency?” I felt compelled to confirm.

“No. Not at all. His kidneys look good. Glucose levels good. Thyroid good. All the things we start to worry about in an 11 year old cat.  He probably has a touch of arthritis and he may have taken a bad jump. If it doesn’t clear up in three weeks, we’ll do X-rays, OK?”

“So, basically he just has an owie.” I said.

“Yes, it appears it’s just an owie.” she laughed. “Have a good day.”

With that reassurance, the story I had been telling myself drew to a close.  The elephants got up off my chest and ambled away.

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5 responses »

  1. never let the facts get in the way of a good story. awls swell the ends well? N E ways at least you came up with a good marketing tool for TB.

  2. thank goodness 🙂

    But it is fascinating how each of our brains interprets the same facts differently, according to our past experiences, and then sets up its responses based on that filter.

    It obviously has an evolutionary benefit, meaning that we can learn from our past mistakes and avoid danger etc, but it also causes all sorts of stress and anxiety when the information we have is limited but our brain jumps to a conclusion.

  3. Also, that’s the best advert for Taco Bell I’ve ever heard.

    And I’ve never even seen a Taco Bell (they don’t exist in the UK or Australia)!

  4. Cats: if they can’t scratch you to death, they’ll kill you with a heart attack. But they do it with love. Right?

    I can’t wait until the cat burrito makes it up to St. Louis. It’ll make me eat at taco bell again. Or I’ll buy one and just marvel at it before I throw it away. Either way, Taco Bell now has my money. Thanks a lot for nothing!

  5. thank you for this post!

    last week i learned:

    that my angel-cat had an owie tail (not a broken back from which i would have to release him … *cue back-story of the cosmic bunny)

    that it wasn’t my fault due to switching a minor piece of furniture around, things happen outside too, mostly so in fact …

    that i blame myself in advance for everything that happens to my beauties

    that there’s an infinity of elephants who can’t wait to squish my chest

    as always, beautifully written …. yes, i’m somewhat over the top in the self-blame and misery dept it seems … back to focussing on Light 101, eh?

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